Maria’s Ristorante on Summit

8100 Ridge Avenue
(215) 508-5600

There are some restaurants that seem like froward children: disobediently loud and sordidly bereft of style or warmth of manner. Maria’s Ristorante is, to the contrary, cozy, courteous and calm, emulating the demeanor of its diminutive proprietress, Maria Dalicandro herself.

This neighborhood eatery is not even eighteen months old, yet its reputation in Roxborough has become legendary due to, for instance, Maria’s Eggplant Involitini, and her Three Meat Lasagna, each now blandished to be the best in the city.

One enters into a low-slung building that could be anything from a hacienda to a beauty spa. But once inside the front door, Italian pottery and artists’ depictions of urns overflowing with grapes are more than circumstantial evidence that you’ve entered the parlour of a Calabrian palazzo. There’s also Christina, the restaurant’s hostess, to greet you. She’s a stunningly beautiful young woman whose smile makes the Mona Lisa’s a mere smirk.

Sergio is the head waiter and one of “his tables” is to be coveted. Sergio's father is from Portugal, but his family lives in Paris. Therefore, his accent and intonation are that of Charles Boyer sailing through the Strait of Magellan. He attends to you with joviality and dispatch, making your meal an event.

Everyone’s repast begins with cut rolls delivered gratis with an accompanying flat plate filled with extra virgin olive oil into which hot cherry-pepper bits have been submerged. Soak a piece of a roll thoroughly in the spicy concoction and gush its soggy contents onto your tongue. Your eyes light up, your sinus’ passages expand, and your gulp is heavy and heated. Fabulous surprising beginning. A cold glass of Pinot Grigio from the bar acts as a welcome fire extinguisher.

A Caprese Salad ($7.95) of mixed baby spring greens arrives with tomatoes intermixed with fresh mozzarella, sliced prosciutto and a hint of basil. Simple and crisp and top-notch. (All entrées come with a similar salad but without the cheese and meat.)

If you order no other appetizer, make it Spiedino Romano (which may be off the menu). Square pieces of bread, French toasted in sweet egg batter, are loaded with melted cheese and warmed by prosciutto slivers. It’s as if breakfast were being served in bed.

But it’s Maria’s classic comfort foods that are her trademark. Her Eggplant Involitini, supra, is huge. She lightly breads half a dozen tenderest eggplant slices, rolls these among three different Italian cheeses, then sprinkles with parmesan and bakes until they can melt in your mouth. Which they do. “In Calabria, they were making this dish when the Dead Sea was only sick. That’s how old the recipe is,” says Maria knowingly. I’ve tasted nothing so splendid, old-fashioned and fulfilling in years. Every bite coats the inside of your cheeks with cheese, while leaving mid-mouth and lips to mash the silken eggplant portion into a passionately moist potion. It all magically dissolves upon one’s tongue, as if a concluding swallow were not required.

One might also ask for Maria’s dried Baked Artichokes, whose leaves emerge like rose petals from the oven, and taste like potato chips, but whose inner core choke remains soft, and subtly flavored by a buttery burst.

If you merely want a sanctuary of satiation, then try to finish the Three Meat Lasagna ($14.95). Your eyes and instincts tell you that a pillow has been delivered to the table. You must consider whether to eat it or rest your head upon it.

Layers of flat pasta-lengths are interwoven among horizontal rows of crumbled cooked veal, beef and pork. Melted mozzarella, provolone and parmesan cheeses slip lava-like in every direction in between the layers. All of the above is drenched in a red sea of sauce which looks as if only Moses could part.

Your fork and you begin the process of meandering on all levels. The pasta is soft on the palate, while the meats swim about in the heated crater of your mouth. The plethora of red marinara sauce penetrates your taste buds leaving a mist as you exhale.

I’ll not mention the Ristorante’s homemade gnocchi in Pesto Sauce ($11.95) or its Orecchiette ($13.95) playing among mounds of broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, garlic spikes and roasted red peppers, except to say “quality shows.” You’ll be whistling “Volare” for days.

Sergio’s group of waitpersons are polite and most helpful. They look to be local students with family ties to Maria. They seem to revel in your enjoyment of the food as much as she. It’s not uncommon for the entire staff to drift into the “piano room” on weekends, as the restaurant dinners are completed, to begin singing and laughing. After a few moments of music, we all have family ties to Maria.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back