This hidden gem in Conshohocken offers a menu’s worth of creative, flavorful Italian dishes in which to indulge
by Theodora Malison

My dining companions and I sat down to the table at Pepperoncini, an intimate ristorante a few blocks away from Conshohocken’s main drag, ready for anything. As my eager eyes perused the lunch menu placed on the white tablecloth before me, two particular items piqued my curiosity: first, the toasted ravioli, an appetizer foreign to my palate but alluring to my senses; and second, “The Goombah,” a pizza whose delectability I hoped would match the wildness of its name.

In either case, I was not disappointed.

When the toasted ravioli arrived, four perfectly rounded raviolis arranged in square formation were placed in the center of the table so our party could share. The crispy breading created the ideal outer crunch on these golden medallions, making them the ultimate in comfort food. The crisp shell provided a balance to the exquisite fluffiness of the three-cheese filling. Each of the raviolis was drizzled in a spicy roasted red pepper aioli, which set my taste buds ablaze. I nearly requested a dipping bowl of this seemingly God-sent creation; I couldn’t get enough of its bold, peppery flavor.

We’ll get to the Goombah in a few paragraphs.

Of course, any Italian restaurant worth its salt must offer a delectable meatball. Texturally smooth and savory, the meatballs at Pepperoncini were comprised of equal parts beef, pork and veal. Nestled in a tangy, Sicilian-style chunky marinara—made in house daily—the trio of hefty, meaty orbs provided a solid base upon which to start our meal. Although mildly seasoned and in need of another dash or two of salt, the meatballs would suit any carnivore’s palate. 

Onto the mains: Although well known for its traditional Italian-inspired chicken and veal dishes, Pepperoncini also earns high marks for its crispy, crusty pizzas, which include options ranging from the classic Margherita to the more exotic Faccia Brutta (roasted tomatoes, spicy pancetta, fresh mozzarella and soft-cooked egg). One particular winner was the Wise Guy, a white pie featuring a base of EVOO, sautéed garlic, salt, pepper and fresh herbs, all topped with flavorful gorgonzola, hot capicola, tomato and a heaping helping of baby arugula. The peppery bite of the arugula set off the tang of the bleu cheese in a way that was quite satiating, with the natural oils from the salami and cheese creating a sort of built-in dressing for the greens atop the pie.

The long-awaited Goombah, like its provocative name, made quite an entrance. I took advantage of the additional toppings option by adding grilled chicken to the already abundant list of toppings for this hunky, meaty pie. Vibrant shades of yellow, green and deep pink provided contrast to the whiteness of the mozzarella, for a presentation so colorful I had to whip out my iPhone to snap a few photos as keepsakes.

Ideal for the indecisive foodie or the one who wants it all, the Goombah is a sure-fire path to satisfaction. My first bite was the definition of harmony, though I wondered how such distinctly different ingredients could arrange themselves into one tangy, sweet and sour conglomerate of goodness. The acidity of the banana peppers took the bitter edge off the baby spinach, while complementing the heartiness of the prosciutto di Parma. The grilled chicken was an unexpected bonus—and a good decision on my part.

Pepperoncini also offers a bevy of rotating specials, including one recent eggplant-based stunner. Breaded and fried eggplant, dressed with a mound of melted mozzarella and the house-special marinara, nestled snugly in bread as a lunch-special sandwich, served with a generous portion of salty and crunchy housemade Yukon gold potato chips.

If, by any chance, a guest has room for dessert, the tiramisu will bring a winning end to a meal at Pepperoncini. (Editor’s note: There is another Pepperoncini in Phoenixville. Although the two restaurants were at one time allied, they no longer share an affiliation.) The cloud-like dessert is light yet satisfying, with a homemade touch that can come only from mom’s kitchen—the kitchen of owner/executive chef Paul DiBona’s mother, Barbara, to be exact. Barbara’s special touches include infusing a bit of sweet Marsala wine into the espresso used to soak the ladyfinger cookies featured in the dish. 

Like the tiramisu, the chocolate mousse cake was an excellent choice. A word of caution, fellow diner: This excessively chocolatey explosion may induce a food coma after the first forkful. One slice of this cake is enough to please any sweet tooth. The silky-smooth brown mousse sat atop the soft bedding of chocolate cake and, for added over-the-top sweet richness, was delicately drizzled with luscious chocolate syrup and garnished with a smattering of blueberries.  

With any meal, at any restaurant, there’s always a piece of the puzzle (maybe two) that under-delivers on expectations. During our visit, I’d say it was one of the signature cocktails. I was happy to sample a libation suggested quite proudly by our server, but it was memorable for the wrong reasons: a touch too strong and medicinal in flavor, at least to my palate. I ultimately chose to go with a fallback—a good, old-fashioned cosmo—which I would gladly order again.

Overall, the meal was a success. From the comforting appetizers to the creative entrées and the luxurious desserts, Pepperoncini provided a surfeit of delightful surprises from one course to the next. Diners should come to this hidden gem hungry, because this need will be met—and then some—by the time they head for the door.

Pepperoncini Restaurant & Bar
72 Poplar Street
Conshohocken, PA 19428

Photograph by Jody Robinson