Il Granaio Italian Restaurant
711 Concord Road
Glen Mills, Pennsylvania
Il Granaio, the elder sibling of Antica in nearby Chadds Ford, PA, is owned by chefs Josh Friedberg & Gent Mema. Fittingly enough, the name of this charming BYOB, which means “granary” or “barn,” is located in a building that formerly served as a granary for a local farm.
The interior is dark, rustic, and candlelit. It is also wildly popular. Two recent mid-week visits, for example, found the restaurant full and overflowing by the 7 o’clock hour. Be that as it may, it is the excellent authentic Italian cuisine that remains the chief drawing card for locals and gastronomic pilgrims alike.
An evening here begins with a basket of Italian bread accompanied by a luscious island of hummus surrounded a sensuous sea of herbed olive oil. My only quibble… the texture of the bread suggested that it had been cryonically preserved and subsequently resuscitated rather than freshly baked.
Starters include items like the ubiquitous Caesar salad – which was good but not outstanding – fried calamari, grilled marinated octopus, roasted golden beets & creamy barrata cheese (a fresh Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream), and whipped mascarpone & herbed ricotta served with crostini. The table favorite, though, was the simple but sublime Fritto Misto di Vedure. Freshly cut zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and onions were deep fried and served with a caramelized shallot and sage aioli. Everything about this presentation was right on the mark: the breading was as light as a feather, the vegetables delightfully crunchy (as opposed to soggy), and the aioli a perfectly delicious companion.
As you move on to the entrées, the element that most impresses is the incredible intensity of flavors. Take the Agnolotti Porcini, for instance… Agnolotti are basically small ravioli that the kitchen stuffs with veal and mascarpone cheese. It is, however, the marvelously flavorful sage, brown butter & mushroom sauce that propels this dish into orbit. The sauce grabs you by the taste buds and just doesn’t let go. A definite winner on all counts.
And the same may be said for the Braised Veal Ragout. Tender morsels of veal are slow cooked with a variety of root vegetables and then tossed with pappardelle pasta. A ragout is really a stew; and it is the slow cooking that allows the various ingredients to meld together, intensifying the flavor. And the large, broad, flat pappardelle noodles are the perfect vehicles for capturing and ultimately depositing all those extraordinary flavors in your eagerly awaiting oral cavity.
The Risotto Primavera is yet another highly recommendable main course. The risotto itself is as smooth as silk, with artichoke and asparagus adding their own unique flavor contributions. Then, of course, that tiara of pristinely fresh, beautifully grilled jumbo shrimp adds immeasurably to the festivities. The real kicker, though – a feast for the eye as well as the palate – is provided by a pool of roasted garlic pomodoro, which, in turn, is bisected by a savory circular ribbon of arugula pesto. Simply a must for true risotto fans.
The only entrée that didn’t quite make it, in my opinion, was the veal saltimbocca. While renditions may vary slightly from chef to chef, the dish is generally composed of sautéed veal medallions topped with prosciutto & mozzarella, companioned by sage leaves, and consummated with a light sauce. No question, the veal here is the real deal, not that faux processed garbage… and it is prepared just right, tender but with just the slightest hint of chewiness. Unfortunately, all the ingredients – and their distinctive, individual flavors – are drowned beneath a flood of rich brown sauce (see photo). I’m certain that some diners would find this presentation quite exceptional; but I much prefer a sauce that caresses rather than smothers the objects of its affections.
Desserts, though, are right back on track. The recently sampled lemon cheesecake doused with raspberry sauce is especially good. But even better is the lusciously addictive chocolate mousse cake. Silky smooth on the palate, this decadent denouement goes down nice and easy… and even easier with a shot of potent espresso
As noted above, chefs Josh Friedberg & Gent Mema not only own Il Granaio but also Antica Italian Restaurant & BYOB in nearby Chadds Ford (1623 Baltimore Pike, 484-770-8631, www.anticapa.com/). And when two restaurants with the same owner(s) are located in such close proximity to one another, a spirited game of comparisons & contrasts seems inevitable.
I reviewed Antica two years ago, May 2014; and when I decided to critique Il Granaio, I thought a return trip to its younger sibling would give me an interesting perspective on both restaurants.
So let’s begin with the ambiance… Whereas Il Granaio’s interior is rather dark and rustic, Antica’s three dining areas are light & airy and come replete with soft soothing colorations, an original stone wall, and framed prints by Chadds Ford’s favorite artistic son, Andrew Wyeth. Maybe it’s me, but Antica just seems a bit cozier, more openly welcoming.
But on to the food… In my opinion, Antica’s cuisine feels more sharply focused, more carefully prepared & presented, and more upscale in its approach. Recently sampled, for instance, were an eye-catching eggplant Napoleon; spinach fettuccini with mushrooms and pulled short-ribs; and a marvelous Arctic cod filet baked in casserole over sliced potato, artichokes, green olives & tomato, and herbed breadcrumbs (pictured). And these were more than enough to convince me that those few miles between the two restaurants do make a major difference. And as a professional “hired belly,” having observed the clientele at both establishments, there is no question in my mind that Antica is definitely aiming at a more sophisticated Chadds Ford crowd.
If this appears to smack of snobbery, so be it. But it is a smart restaurateur who knows his/her/their potential audience and targets it accordingly. If you are so inclined my complete review of Antica Italian Restaurant & BYOB may be viewed here: http://www.artfuldinerblog.com/blog1/2014/04/25/antica-italian-restaurant-byob-chadds-ford-pa-a-review/.
There is absolutely no question that Messrs. Friedberg & Mema preside over two very fine dining establishments, both of which I highly recommend… But I also freely confess that Antica has stolen this reviewer’s heart as well as his palate.