Limoncelo Ristorante & Bar
499 East Uwchlan Avenue (Route 113)
Chester Springs, Pennsylvania
Limoncello, an Italian stallion mainstay on the West Chester, PA, dining scene, recently opened an outpost in Chester Springs.
Tucked away in a corner of the Lionsville Shopping Center, the restaurant’s façade, as you would surmise, is strictly strip mall utilitarian. The interior, however, is decked out in an attractive contemporary Tuscan-esque décor. To the right as you enter is the dining area, replete with nooks & crannies specifically designed for small gatherings; to the left, the bar/lounge awash with high-top tables and adorned with four flat screen TVs clearly beckons. This is an exceedingly comfortable space and, to my way of thinking – especially if you are dining à deux – preferable to the dining room, which can be overrun by extended families and noisy, ill-behaved progeny.
I must confess that my wife and I weren’t terribly taken with Limoncello during our first luncheon visit, a scant five (5) weeks after the restaurant’s debut, as there were a number of issues with both the food and service. These were undoubtedly the result of a newbie restaurant trying to get its act together and a lack of experience on the part of members of its staff. Subsequent sojourns, however, have proved infinitely more satisfactory; indicating, I believe, that Limoncello Chester Springs is now clicking along on all cylinders.
It should be noted that both restaurant locations are family owned; and it’s obvious that the Mingrino family cares about its patrons, as parents, sons and daughter are very much on the scene, in the kitchen as well as at the front of the house, to make certain that things are running smoothly. The food, of course, is southern Italian, based upon old family recipes – or updated variations thereof – comfortingly familiar, and, for the most part, very good, indeed.
The complimentary bruschetta, served to us during a recent lunch, seems to set the tone. The bread is properly crunchy, yielding a satisfying “bite” without causing any permanent damage to your frightfully expensive dental work… the olive oil, diced tomatoes & onions are all in proper proportion, which is to say not so generous as to dislodge from their perch and land unceremoniously in your lap… and there’s just enough garlic to keep away the vampires but not enough to offend your spouse/significant other.
Sandwiches are always solid choices for a noonday stopover. Selections include chicken, veal, and eggplant parmigiana; chicken & veal cutlet; vegetarian (breaded eggplant, broccoli rabe, roasted peppers, Portobello mushroom, and sharp provolone cheese); and sweet sausage adorned with peppers, onions, and tomato sauce. My wife’s nod, however, would undoubtedly go to the marvelously tender roast pork sandwich. Embellished with provolone cheese, it is also accompanied by a dynamite au jus dipping sauce.
My fave? The incredible meatball sandwich. During our first visit, this item arrived at table dried out and tasteless, sporting unadorned woefully wilted greens. Obviously it had been completely forgotten by the kitchen crew or a designated food runner and left to languish under an unforgiving heat lamp. Just recently, though, we gave it another try and were thoroughly rewarded. The pan-fried meatballs were moist and beautifully seasoned, the provolone properly melted, and the marinara decidedly zesty. Even the accompanying greens were at the peak of good health and splashed with a tangy vinaigrette.
Pizza fans can indulge themselves at both lunch and dinner with a variety of incarnations. The Margherita, for example, sports tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil. Thick rather than thin-crusted, as my wife and I prefer, the crust is, nevertheless, marvelously crisp rather than doughy; and toppings generously applied. If you’re a thick crust pizza fan, Limoncello’s versions are definitely worth a try.
Among the starters, the Arancini, “little oranges,” are something of a must. A specialty of Sicily, these are seasoned risotto croquettes that are filled with ground beef, peas, and mozzarella cheese, then breaded and fried to a golden brown. The two orbs sampled were slightly on the bland side, but still quite addictive when doused with the accompanying marinara sauce. And “addictive” is also a word that describes the “Drunken Mussels.” These plump, succulent bivalves swim to table in a broth fortified with Tröegs Dreamweaver Wheat Ale, crumbles of pancetta, and diced red onion. Crumbles of pungent Gorgonzola cheese provide the crowning touch.
I would also highly recommend the “Provolone Stuffed Sweet Sausage,” although the description is somewhat misleading. The sausage is not stuffed, as you may observe from the photograph, but three links arranged opposite three strips of sharp provolone cheese on a bed of broccoli rabe and roasted baby sweet peppers infused with garlic and olive oil. Misnomer, perhaps, but as picturesque as it is delicious.
On the other hand, if you're looking for an irresistible bit of greenery to assuage your noonday hunger or serve as a light and healthy dinner, nothing quite beats Limoncello's salmon salad. Start with pristinely fresh mixed greens, throw in a dash of red onions, colorful cherry tomato halves, marinataed cucumber slices, and toss with a totally beguiling honey Dijon balsamic vinaigrette. Sound good? Undoubtedly...but that's only the beginning. Add a dollop of delightfully creamy goat cheese, tender spears of asparagus and, finally, the crowning touch, a perfectly grilled - and seasoned - salmon filet. A relatively simple dish to put together, but the results of this incredibly delicious gastronomic gestalt are nothing short of sublime.
Entrées proper yield numerous interesting possibilities. These range from a variety of spruced up salads, pasta, veal & chicken dishes to Chilean sea bass puttanesca & stuffed salmon with lump crab imperial to pork chop Milanese to South Philly rib eye with provolone fondue.
Among the “old favorites,” the eggplant parmigiana is superbly done and the ultimate in southern Italian comfort food. The breading is nicely seasoned and applied judiciously; the eggplant is sliced neither too thick nor too thin and exhibits a perfectly firm consistency; the sauce yields just the proper balance of sweetness and acidity; and the pasta offers up just the right take on al dente. A variation on the theme is the eggplant and gorgonzola ravioli. Bicolored pasta pockets filled with earthy gorgonzola cheese are topped with lightly fried eggplant and immersed beneath a flood of Limoncello’s first-rate marinara.
The veal here is also quite excellent. The 14-ounce bone-in veal chop, for example, may be ordered either breaded & pan-fried parmigina or grilled & spruced up with a Mandarin orange/port demi-glace and companioned by luscious mashed potatoes and broccolini. And veal Milazzo is also highly recommended. For starters, the medallions are the real thing, not that Styrofoam-y processed garbage; and the texture is just right: downright tender with just the slightest hint of chewiness. Accoutrements include toppings of Parma prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and slices of Portobello mushrooms. Add a savory white marinara sauce and side of capellini and you have a dish that is worth the price of admission. Not exactly a feast for the eye (see photo) but certainly for the palate.
Desserts carry on the kitchen’s good work. The Limoncello cake combines buttery cake, a splash of Limoncello Liqueur, white chocolate chunks, and a Limoncello glaze; while the homemade bananas Foster cheesecake offers up sweet ripe bananas in a creamy New York-style cheesecake topped with caramel drizzle. Other selections include chocolate soufflé, crème brûlée pie, cannoli, and tiramisù. Once again, however, I find the commingling of peanut butter & chocolate impossible to resist. The chocolate peanut butter ganache tempts diners with the incredible decadence of homemade velvet chocolate cake filled with creamy peanut butter mousse and a rich icing of semi-sweet chocolate & whipped cream.
Limoncello also boasts a select wine list with several interesting options available by the glass. The Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio is an eminently quaffable white wine; and in the red wine department, I thoroughly enjoy the 2011 Casamatta, a Tuscan vintage produced from 100% Sangiovese.
As noted at the outset, I wasn’t terribly impressed during an initial visit to Limoncello… but this is a restaurant that grows on you, a restaurant with which you easily strike up a long-term love affair, a restaurant that woos you back again and again. A family-owned operation, this is an eatery that offers diners, good food, reasonable prices, comfortable surroundings, and personal service… and that’s a combo that’s hard to beat.
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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