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Osteria Evansburg
3835 Germantown Pike
Evansburg, Pennsylvania
(610) 489-9886
www.osteriaevansburg.com

Ensconced in the digs formerly occupied by the Evansburg Inn, the new Osteria Evansburg is well named. An osteria is a casual eatery serving up hearty Italian fare in comfortable, unpretentious surroundings; and with its rustic bar and bright, airy dining rooms, this convivial establishment fills the bill quite nicely. Indeed, proprietors Roberto Mastrocola -- former owner of nearby La Fontana -- and Peter Paolucci -- late of the Patio in Lansdale -- have put together a most attractive culinary package.

Your first port-of-call will undoubtedly be the bar/lounge. Here locals hold court, sipping a brew or availing themselves of one of the reasonably priced wines by the glass ($5.00; $4.00 during happy hour). The Colli Chardonnay and Terre del Principe Chianti -- both of Italian descent -- are quite good. The restaurant also sports a compact wine list that marries well with the comforting cuisine. Try a bottle of Bergaglio Gavi ($33.00) or the equally pleasant Zacca Montepulciano "Riserva" ($32.00).

The crostini di pomodoro ($7.00), perfectly toasted Italian bread adorned with chopped tomatoes and tincture of basil, is an excellent opening move. Since the portion is also prodigious -- and an ample house salad is included with your entrée -- sharing among two or three persons might be the better part of valor.

For those with a penchant for the pleasures of the sea, the inordinately tender baby calamari with fresh tomato and basil ($6.00) is a marvelous prelude... ditto the baby mussels ($7.00). They swim to table in either a red or white sauce, but I would highly recommend the latter: plump bivalves bathed in an invigorating broth of lemon, white wine, basil, and sautéed garlic. The littleneck clams ($7.00), also presented in either red or white, provide a delectable variation on the theme.

My favorite starter, however, is actually a side dish: fresh sautéed escarole embellished with cannelloni beans and succulent sweet Italian sausage ($7.00). A specialty of the house... and simply not to be missed.

When it comes to entrees, there are, in my book, two acid tests for rustic, regional Italian eateries: the first is the somewhat plebian but always enjoyable eggplant Parmesan ($12.00); the second is the ever-popular veal saltimbocca ($18.00). How these dishes fare -- or fail -- are inevitably indicative of the overall quality of the restaurant's cuisine. Deceptively simple, yes... yet so easily mucked up. But I'm happy to report that Osteria Evansburg passes with flying colors.

The eggplant here is lightly breaded, nicely seasoned, and cooked through but not at all mushy at the core. And the accompanying side of spaghetti is another strong indicator that all is as it should be. The pasta is prepared al dente and is enveloped in a rich sauce that, atypically, doesn't leave a watery red residue at the bottom of the bowl. The veal is of excellent quality, firm yet tender, and embellished with a perfectly complementary white wine sauce imbued with sage.

On the seafood docket, the tuna and salmon (both $16.00) are beautifully grilled. The former is prepared puttanesca style -- rife with capers, olives, and anchovies -- and the latter is consummated with a spirited Dijon mustard sauce. You might also consider the fruitti di mare ($19.00), shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, and calamari in a red or white sauce pillowed on a mountain of linguine.

The kitchen also does a very nice job with chicken. Be sure to try the "Chicken Osteria" ($16.00), a plump, moist sautéed breast replete with broccoli rabe, topping of fresh mozzarella & marinara sauce, and savory bed of mashed potatoes. And the "Chicken Francese" ($15.00) is yet another winning presentation. The cutlet is thin yet moist, the egg dip and flour applied judiciously, and the lemon-white wine sauce a light and delicate caress.

Dessert-wise, the tiramisù and cannoli are both made on the premises, and they are top-notch. Other items, shipped in from Classic Desserts, are also quite good. And be sure to wash them down with a potent jolt of excellent espresso.

If you can't make the scene for dinner, you might want to stop by for lunch and feast on such savory sandwiches as chicken or meatball parmigiana, grilled sweet Italian sausage, or an "Osteria Hoagie: sharp provolone, prosciutto, lettuce & tomato, and roasted peppers (all $7.00).

The food at Osteria Evansburg isn't about to set any new culinary standards. But, then again, you don't expect it to. What you do expect -- and receive -- is rustic, reasonably priced regional Italian cuisine that is lovingly prepared and nicely presented. Throw in a comfortable, convivial atmosphere and casual, friendly service and you have a winner on all counts.

The Artful Diner
December 2005

The Artful 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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