At Center City favorite Davio’s, classic meets modern Italian cuisine in the tagliatelle Bolognese with braised veal, beef, pork, and tomato sauce.
Steve DiFillippo flips open a copy of It’s All About the Guest, his best-selling book, published in 2013, and scrawls “Live with Passion” on the inside cover. Over the past two years DiFillippo, the founder, president, and CEO of Davio’s for the last three decades, has likely inked this exact phrase thousands of times on the pages of his inspirational guide to running a successful business and a happy household. But he makes sure his guest never knows, capping his pen with a flourish and handing the signed copy back to its owner with a word of thanks.
With city light streaming into the circa-1927 Provident Building’s grand second-story dining room, through the lofty space’s 13 sweeping arches, and across a suit-filled dinnertime crowd, the setting is a perfect one for DiFillippo’s classic-meets-modern approach to Italian cuisine. The restaurateur is in Philly to celebrate the 16th anniversary of this city’s Davio’s. Since 1999 it’s been a highly successful Center City dining landmark, known just as much for its prime cuts as its pillowy homemade pastas. DiFillippo is proud of this Mid-Atlantic brother to the original Davio’s in Boston. Other eateries have followed, including outposts in Manhattan, Atlanta, and, soon, expansion projects in LA. Philly, though, remains DiFillippo’s handsome host to some of our most memorable lunches and dinners, and, more recently, Sunday brunch.
With an impromptu book signing behind him, the restaurateur turns his attention back to Director of Operations Ettore Ceraso. Together, they’re finalizing Davio’s late-fall menu of Executive Chef Chris Tavares’s seasonal specialties, while fine-tuning the restaurant’s stable of classic dishes. “Chef Chris lives for autumn days,” Ceraso says of Tavares, a Philadelphia native. “He understands Steve’s recipes and puts his own hometown spin on them.”
“Steve’s takes on his grandmother’s dishes are masterful, some needing hours to prepare and certain layers of complexity,” says Tavares. “Whenever possible, I re-create most from locally sourced ingredients. Steve’s recipes bring continuity across the Davio’s board.”
Area-farmed butternut squash becomes an ultraindulgent, brandy-splashed pool around a silken island of Maine lobster claw; housemade pappardelle is creamed softly with Gorgonzola and then kissed by a braised veal cheek. The perfectly grilled Prime bone-in rib eye may be larger than a ukulele; its 30 ounces of succulence are quite possibly this city’s ultimate splurge for meat lovers.
Davio’s stays true to its time-honored signature dishes: DiFillippo’s cheesesteak spring rolls are the ultimate high-end bar snacks, and his six-hour-braised veal, pork, and beef Bolognese evokes an elemental sense of famiglia. Sunday brunch is a popular new dining option as well, with à la carte offerings such as create-your-own frittatas, breakfast pizzas, an indulgent lobster omelet, hearty steak and eggs, and the perennial Davio’s favorite: woodsmoked chicken and penne. “Our Bloody Mary cart is very popular,” says Ceraso. “Garnishes include prosciutto-stuffed hot cherry pepper poppers and applewood-smoked bacon strips. Not only do they taste good, it’s a lot of fun.”
The experience continues with sommelier Kevin McCann, who guides customers to the perfect wine, whether it’s a $50 bottle of Nero d’Avola from Sicily or a $150 powerhouse Barolo. The cocktail program stays creative, with offerings like this season’s Phall Flip, a coppery blend of Yards Pale Ale, chai tea, Aperol, and Lillet on the rocks.
Even as DiFillippo readies to open the LA outpost of Davio’s, he has his eye on another project here in town. “I’m looking to concentrate on another Philadelphia-area restaurant,” he says. “I hope to announce its location within the next few months. We’re striving to remain very active in the region.” 111 S. 17th St., 215-563-4810