South Philadelphia native Adam Erace eats out like it's his job, which it is. With a foot on each side of the Delaware, Erace also reviews restaurants for City Paper.
Villari's escarole soup might just be the best thing I ever ate. And it was free. The soup comes complimentary with entrees, and with a few slices of warm, crusty bread, it was my first bite (or rather, slurp) of Villari's. The surface of the soup shimmered with golden droplets of chicken fat -- the good stuff -- and below, my spoon found flotsam of bitter greens and a single meatball, soft and tender as filet Mignon, adrift in a stocky, well-developed chicken broth I'd want in a thermos if I were hiking the Alps.
At our server's recommendation, we tried the crab cake ($14), one broiler-burnished puck sitting on a tuffet of greens on a plate streaked with balsamic and a smoky roasted red pepper puree. It was one of the better versions of the classic I've had, with big hunks (but also plenty of thready flakes) of sweet crustacean bound with a minimal amount of filler. More crab came in cocktail form, mounded into a martini glass with chilled shrimp cliffhanging off the rim ($14).
Continuing Villari's good looks was a plate featuring a threesome of gnocchi ($10). The trio of sauces on the dumplings (house-made and al dente) affected the Italian flag: green (sunny, anise-sweet pesto), white (creamy Alfredo) and red (traditional marinara, bright, chunky and all-day deep). Picking a favorite would be like picking a favorite Phillie; they're all that good.