As Marcella Hazan explains in the introduction to her “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” the varying languages, climates, geography, history and local ingredients that defi ne Italy’s diverse regions make it diffi cult to classify one single cooking style as representative of the entire country’s cuisine. Rather, “It is the cooking that spans remembered history, that has evolved during the whole course of transmitted skills and intuitions in the homes throughout the Italian peninsula and the islands, in its hamlets, on its farms, in its great cities. It is cooking from the home kitchen. … Food, whether simple or elaborate, is cooked in the style of the family.”
An Italian meal brings people together. There is bread to be broken, wine to be poured, and course after delicious course to be passed around the table. The four restaurants featured here each create their own flavor of group-dining experience, developed from a blend of family recipes, Pennsylvania’s agricultural offerings, contemporary culinary techniques and the tradition of Italian hospitality.
As is the way in the traditional osterias of Northern Italy, warmth and authenticity is incorporated into every detail at Osteria in Philadelphia’s Spring Garden neighborhood. “It’s a celebration of the area where you are, and it’s very traditional food and it’s a very traditional family-style dining experience. It’s meant to feel like home,” says Elizabeth Flamini, lead sommelier and beverage manager. “Even though we are a very big restaurant, we make it feel like home.”
Richly textured design elements like a wall paneled with a mosaic of wine crates and Chianti-stained floors add softness to the industrial setting, where natural light streams through broad windows. Executive chef Jeff Michaud earned the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for “Best Chef: MidAtlantic” for his menu at Osteria, which is influenced by the Bergamo region of Italy and his mother-in-law’s home-style cooking. Favorites include the vegetable antipasti with seasonal roasted vegetables surrounding an arugula salad; chicken liver rigatoni with Cipollini onions and sage; and the restaurant’s award-winning pizzas.
Groups can build these dishes—along with selections from an expansive wine list—into a casual reception, family-style gathering, or a multicourse dining experience in one of three private spaces. The glass-enclosed patio overlooks the chef’s garden and brings a bright elegance to functions with 40-75 guests. The Wine Room treats 20-45 guests to views into Osteria’s 100-plus label cellar. The intimate Kitchen Table is a creative space where eight to 14 diners can break bread. This area hosts team-building classes and interactive demonstrations of traditional methods of making pasta, pizza, classic Italian sweets, breads, wine, cocktails and cheeses. “It’s a great opportunity to hang out, learn how to make some great food and then eat some great food,” says Flamini.
Peppe’s Bistro; East Stroudsburg
Named for owner Thomas Farda’s father’s childhood nickname in Italy, Peppe’s Bistro follows the legacy of motels, hotels and resorts that Peppe built and operated in the Pocono Mountains after moving there from New York with his wife and young family in 1953. Hospitality is a family tradition at Peppe’s Bistro, which has been serving traditional Northern Italian and continental cuisine to diners since 1980. The restaurant was renovated in 2012 to create a more lively and open layout, followed by a remodel three years ago of the private Mediterranean Room, which seats up to 100 and features contemporary décor and an inlaid dance floor. A smaller semiprivate space behind the restaurant’s lounge seats 20 guests.
Throughout the restaurant’s history there have been updates to the atmosphere, menu and wine list to reflect modern tastes, but the quality and service have been constants. “We’re known for fresh seafood, homemade pastas, and brick oven pizza made with San Marzano tomatoes that are the best you can buy, and Caputo ‘00’ flour imported from Italy,” says Farda. “We cut all of our own meats and filet our own fish here at the restaurant. Everything is fresh and the best quality here.”
Bricco’s executive chef and general manager Bill Collier uses fresh produce, meats and cheeses sourced from around the Harrisburg area to create rich flavors of high-end cuisine that reflect the seasons through scratch-made dishes. Groups can journey to Italy together in one of two private spaces in the restaurant, which has earned a place in the Distinguished Restaurants of North America guide and a number of Wine Spectator awards for its extensive pairing options. Calabrian braised beef short ribs and homemade sage pappardelle with duck ragout are two of the most popular dishes on the menu, but Bricco’s servers can guide diners through the menu to find a meal to please their unique tastes. “We’ve been in operation for more than 10 years now, and our servers are really knowledgeable and really polished,” says Kimberly Sariano, special events and marketing coordinator. “They care about the people they’re serving.”
An inviting private dining room seats 36 for meals and accommodates 45 for receptions. It hosts family-style meals, interactive wine tastings and elegant plated affairs, and is flanked by an impressive wine wall and a marble buffet. The rustic Table at Bricco hosts tastings for groups of 10-14 guests to enjoy a menu customized with as many as six courses. With its own private entrance from the street, diners are treated to an exclusive experience that pleases all senses. Crowning the long high-top table is a custom chandelier crafted from pots, pans and other kitchen accoutrements wrapped up in copper and Edison bulbs. As guests enjoy their meals, Collier tells the stories behind each course and presents tableside demonstrations. “We love to share what we do because we’re really passionate about it,” says Sariano.
Joseph Tambellini Restaurant; Pittsburgh
Diners at Joseph Tambellini Restaurant are likely to feel right at home at the eatery, which is tucked at the end of Highland Park’s leafy Bryant Street shopping district. The threestory restaurant, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in August, was originally constructed as a home in the late 1800s. In the 1960s, it transitioned into an Italian restaurant for 20 years, and then operated as a French restaurant until Joe and Missy Tambellini took over and focused on creating an inviting space representative of the building’s roots. “We really wanted it to be warm and welcoming,” says co-owner Missy. “We always try to talk to each person and welcome them. Even though it’s fine dining, we really want to make it a warm experience.”
As in any proper Italian home, no one leaves hungry. Each entrée is served with a salad, pasta and side dish. “We don’t serve small plates or small food of any type,” says Missy. “It’s like your nonna is cooking for you. Joe’s dad is from Italy, and so he cooks in that style.” Indeed, it was his father and uncle’s restaurant, Robert Tambellini’s, where co-owner and executive chef Joe Tambellini started his culinary career. After supporting and opening several Italian restaurants in the Pittsburgh area, he’s developed an array of culinary and service specialties. Joseph Tambellini Restaurant is known for its meatballs, along with fresh fish and thick-cut steaks.
Menus can be customized for group-dining experiences in one of the three private spaces in the restaurant. As many as 24 can enjoy a meal in The Lodge on the third floor, which is crowned with a knotty pine cathedral ceiling reminiscent of a mountain resort. The space features a flat screen television and wireless internet to accommodate meetings and presentations. On the second floor is an elegant space for 38, and the main dining room on the first floor also has a semiprivate area in what would have been the home’s original dining room—complete with a fireplace—to seat 16.