Chef Gianluca Demontis’ Bryn Mawr newcomer proves that bastions of exceptional cuisine are flourishing beyond the walls of the city
by Brian Freedman

As newly minted Main Liners—my wife and I moved to the area from Old City in September—we underwent the usual stresses about leaving our old familiar haunts in town. As we set down roots in a whole new part of the region, we also lamented the loss of the walk to our favorite neighborhood BYOBs, or the quick car ride to exceptional restaurants in Rittenhouse Square, Northern Liberties, Society Hill and other Philadelphia neighborhoods.

Of course, the Main Line is home to plenty of stellar dining options, as we were both well aware before we made the big move. We’ve become even more charmed ever since. Fraschetta, for example, is cause for celebration. This 50-seat BYOB in Bryn Mawr is owned by chef Gianluca Demontis and Rosemary Tran, so it has the pedigree to become a serious standout. (Just ask fans of their justifiably beloved Melograno.) Happily, it is delivering on those lofty expectations.

Fraschetta is set in a warm, rustic space, and staffed by a front-of-house team that’s well versed in the menu itself, as well as the ingredients used to create each dish. This is important because Fraschetta’s menu is packed with the sort of food you’re likely to crave just from reading the menu descriptions.

On the whole, Fraschetta delivers a payoff on the palate. Animelle, a lusty preparation of crispy-edged sweetbreads, ingeniously pairs those glands with a sweet-earthy tomato-onion mostarda. As if that weren’t enough, pecorino and the briny snap of capers amplify even further the classic headiness of the sweetbreads. The result is a dish that singlehandedly justifies toting along a nice bottle of Prosecco, in addition to the red or white you also should have.

Porchetta, if half a step too dry, was still a standout. Packed with flavor and as tender as you could hope for, the porchetta is crafted from a lovingly roasted suckling pig, with condiments that frame it brilliantly. The sweet-acidic notes of balsamic swirl through each forkful—porchetta, pine nuts and arugula—seem to hit every receptor on the tongue. Polipo, which singlehandedly embodies the many pleasures of perfectly cooked and sliced octopus, luxuriates in a tomato-based stew studded with peas.

In the same vein, the polpette al sugo—meatballs in sauce, essentially—truly demonstrates the confidence of this kitchen. After all, most of us, in my experience, use our mother’s or grandmother’s meatballs as our benchmark of meatball quality. I have a hard time having them anywhere—South Philly, Italy, Bryn Mawr—without comparing them to the ones I grew up on, so it was with mild trepidation and an admitted chip on my shoulder that I ordered these. They were, in a word, stellar. The beef, veal and pork blended together into a toothsome yet tender orb, and the accompanying homemade gnocchi balanced the richness of the balls themselves. The result: seriously accomplished meatballs, no matter what your standard.

That’s what Chef Demontis has always been known for: an ability to render the familiar and the comforting in ways that amplify their inherent pleasures without losing what makes them such stalwarts of the Italian repertoire in the first place. This is also the case with involtini di maiale, a rolled-up pork tenderloin with sage and prosciutto, anointed with a hearty pan sauce. The combination here results in a delicious tension between the sweet earthiness of the ham and the perfume of the herb. Again, the familiar is recast as something both new and comforting.

Fraschetta, then, is more than just the sort of place that the area truly benefits from; it’s a reminder of why I loved eating in the city so much when we lived there … and why we’re so excited about the suburbs’ flourishing dining scene. By any measure, Fraschetta embodies the best of both.

816 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr

Photograph by Rob Hall