Scoogi's Perfect Recipe
This Flourtown trattoria celebrates the comforts of classic Italian food, family and culture
by Bill Donahue

It’s a Wednesday morning in October, and Robert A. Rosato is in the main dining room of his restaurant, Scoogi’s Classic Italian, talking about the distinctive touches that make Scoogi’s so memorable. He mentions a few core ingredients, which together create an inspired recipe that has been turning customers into regulars for two decades.

“When I think about where we’ve come from, a lot of what makes this place special is consistency, in the food and in the service,” says Rosato, owner and executive chef of Scoogi’s in Flourtown. “It’s the total experience. When you come in here, I want you to feel at home—comfortable. Most of our staff has been here for a long time, so you know exactly what you’re going to get.”

Rosato studied foodservice at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. After graduation, he honed his craft under the incomparable Friedman Paul Erhardt (more commonly known as Chef Tell) while working in the Cayman Islands, and also “learned a few things” while working alongside family chefs during his time spent in Abruzzo, Italy.

He opened Scoogi’s in 1990, at the age of 24, and it is nothing short of remarkable that he has been running Scoogi’s as one of Montgomery County’s most beloved trattorias for 20 years. Such longevity is a testament to the restaurant’s winning formula of fine food, impeccable service and a casual yet elegant atmosphere in which he tries to recreate “a connection of the old world meeting the new.”

“I’ve wanted my own restaurant since I was 15 or 16 years old, just from being around my family and going out to dinner with them,” says Rosato, whose father is from Italy while his mother is from South Philadelphia. “When I was in Italy, it opened my eyes—from the way they roast the meats to how they always use only the freshest ingredients from a local market. Whatever they [bought at the market] that day is what they served.”

He applied this lesson to the way he runs Scoogi’s. From the very beginning, he has partnered with reliable local suppliers, thereby assuring freshness and consistency. For example, he buys imported meats, cheeses and homemade fresh mozzarella from Claudio Specialty Foods in South Philadelphia, and fresh-baked bread from Sam’s Italian Market in Willow Grove.

“I try to do local whenever I can,” he says. “I’ll go down to Claudio’s on Ninth Street and see a new cheese or a new olive oil I can use in the kitchen that will surprise the customer. With Sam’s, their bread is tremendously consistent, and it’s a wonderful product.”

Such passion and attention to detail are apparent on Scoogi’s wide-ranging menu, which includes everything from home-style entrées to hand-tossed pizzas to specialty sandwiches. Signature touches include homemade Italian chicken soup—“You wouldn’t believe how much of it we go through,” Rosato says—and fire-roasted peppers, both of which are crafted daily on site. Rosato’s personal favorite: rigatoni rosa, a pasta dish tossed in a light blush cream sauce with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella cheese. The owner’s favorites aside, it’s tough to imagine anything on the Scoogi’s menu—from the pepper-encrusted Ahi tuna appetizer to the veal Parmigiana to the lobster-and-ricotta ravioli—would be less than stellar.

New at Scoogi’s
Rosato recently redecorated the restaurant’s main dining room, with new flooring and carpets, though he’s not done with the lavish renovations just yet. He plans to adorn the walls of the central dining area with elaborate chestnut woodwork, and also install accent lighting to add ambiance to the already-stylish space, which seats 80.

He is also making preparations for what will surely be another busy holiday season. Scoogi's, which has a separate bar area, offers 19 beers on tap and a selection of 25 wines by the glass, but the restaurant will soon feature a revamped wine list, from the most accessible whites to the most sophisticated reds. Another attraction new to Scoogi’s this year: a “murder-mystery dinner theater”—dinner, drinks and a show for one set price—for two dates in January and February.

The main dining room is supplemented by an 80-seat sun porch, which is open for seating on weekends and for private events. Naturally and rather beautifully lit during the daytime, the sun porch is an ideal space for hosting bridal or baby showers, meetings, anniversaries, funerals, theme parties and other special events. The room features stone-cut tile floors, a mural of the Italian countryside, an arched ceiling and other distinguishing features that make the space both elegant and comfortable; additional outdoor seating is available in nicer weather.

“We recently held a combined baby and wedding shower [in the sun porch] for 12 people, and it was wonderful,” says Claire Hoban, a frequent Scoogi’s patron who also owns Avant Aprés Salon in nearby Erdenheim. “If you said to [Rosato], ‘Listen, I’m having an event for five people or 55 people,’ he would have his best food—and you would remember it.”

Hoban was at Scoogi’s on a recent Thursday night, joined by her niece and two sisters. Stopping at the restaurant for a casual meal in the main dining room or bar area, or in the sun porch for a more formal event, is a common occurrence for not only her family but for much of the neighborhood—all seeking the comforts of friendly faces, relaxed ambiance and some of the region’s finest Italian food. 

“I’ve been here at Scoogi’s for 20 years,” says Rosato. “I’ve seen babies born, then hosted their confirmation parties and then hosted their rehearsal dinners [for graduations and weddings]. I’ve watched a lot of my customers grow up and get married. If you come in any night, there will be at least a handful of regulars.

“I truly enjoy what I do here,” he adds. “I get to host a party every night.” 

Scoogi’s Classic Italian
738 Bethlehem Pike, Flourtown