Philadelphia may have a lot of Italian restaurants, but where can you go for a truly authentic meal? Gran Caffe L’Aquila has a legendary story to share. Stefano Biasini, Gelato Master, and Michele Morelli, international renowned coffee roaster, lost their original Gran Caffe L’Aquila restaurant in the 2009 earthquake which destroyed L’Aquila in the Abbruzo region of Italy (90 miles northeast of Rome). Later in 2014, they reopened the restaurant in Philadelphia with the help of Italian restaurateur, Riccardo Longo, who was raised in the United States and has many other successful restaurants including the Italian bistro Toscano in Cherry Hill, NJ and Trevose, PA.
The team literally brought the entire restaurant to Philadelphia piece by piece with equipment and accessories to set up the most authentic and energetic service oriented Italian cafe and dining experience in the heart of center city. Today they still have the same head chef since they first opened in 2001. The Gran Caffe serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a formal dining room upstairs and casual European cafe on the ground floor. Almost everything on their menu is made from scratch including a special weekly regional menu with dishes from a specific area of Italy. They offer a hand selected Italian wine list and the option of a chef’s tasting-wine pairing dinner.
We stopped by to try the Chef’s Tasting menu with wine pairing and were very impressed. The first course was a tasting of Roasted Red Pepper Caponata Bruschetta paired with a light sparkling Italian wine which is fermented twice like champagne, but has more fruit flavor. The carbonation of the drink is meant to activate the tastebuds of the diner.
Next paired with a chilled white wine was a Cold Antipasti course complete with Buffalo Mozzarella and Burrata imported from Italy of course. Fresh fruit, tomato, and basil complimented the creamy cheeses. The plate also included two Involtini of Mortadella and Proscuitto wrapped around Risotto rice with a balsamic reduction and apricot marmalade.
The Hot Antipasti course followed with a glass of Italian Malbec alongside Grilled Octopus from Puglio, Lamb Arostini, and a cheesy meat-stuffed ball of Arancini from Sicily over marinara. The side of Calabrian chili sauce also added a nice kick of heat to the hearty flavor of the grilled lamb.
Then we made it to the pasta course. Not only does Gran Caffe L’Aquila offer fresh homemade pastas, they also offer gastronomic gelato flavors which are creative and savory to compliment the hot pasta dishes. The most popular being the Carbonara with Pancetta Gelato. This traditional plate originated in Rome and has a decadently rich sauce made with fresh egg yolk, Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and diced guanciale or pancetta (very similar to bacon). It took us no time to devour this dish. The other pasta was Agnoletti Al Tartufo which are petite ravioli stuffed with veal, pork, onion, and herbs in a butter-sage sauce with black and white truffle to top it off. If you’re skeptical of cold gelato on your hot plate, believe us you will absolutely love it! They even offer gluten-free pasta for guests.
What could not be possibly overlooked is the sheer excellence of the gelato served here, as well as the coffee. Both are made in house using machinery shipped right from Italy. They don’t even have instructions or labeling in English. The four styles of coffee are roasted here including those found in the North and South regions. Beans are sourced from India, Africa, and South America. While each year re-evaluated for the flavors of that specific harvest. The beans are blended in Torino and roasted daily inside a Petrocini machine here in Philadelphia. The coffee is also available wholesale from the cafe.
The undeniable claim to fame at Gran Caffe L’Aquila is the gelato. We tried a Gelato Flight with 5 different flavors, each shocking our tastebuds in the most amazing way. Chocolate Hazelnut, Pistachio, Salted Caramel, Black Cherry with Vanilla, and Mango. It was nearly impossible to pick a favorite, we loved them all with their creamy texture and bold flavors you don’t find in American ice cream. Lucky for you, if you can’t make it into the restaurant for gelato- they offer delivery via Caviar and Grubhub for $12/pint.
In 2018, Stefano Biasini will be competing in Coppa del Mondo Di Gelateria (the World Cup of Gelato) He is a partner in the restaurant and also a former winner of the “International Press Prize” and “Best Gastronomic Gelato” of the World Cup of Gelato. Founded in 2006, this is an international culinary competition allows masters from a dozen European, Asian, North and South American countries to display their Gelato, Pastry and Ice Carving expertise.
Since coming to America, Stefano has qualified for a US permanent residency and will be compete in the 2018 World Cup of Gelato held in Rimini, Italy on the American team! This is the first time that an Italian Gelato Champion has switched teams. Stefano’s winning gelato wowed judges recently at an US Gelato competition with Coppa Gelato featuring Langhe Hazelnut Gelato, Raspberry sorbetto accented with a vaniglia-lemon crema, Italian milk chocolate crisps topped with a Torino Fondente semi-sphere.
At the previous World Cup of Gelato in 2014, Stefano won the International Press Prize for best Gelato, Best Gastronomic Gelato prize, and his team won a silver medal for overall team performance. Now that Stefano is competing on the home team, the rest of the US competitors will be using Gran CaffeL’Aquila as the East Coast headquarters for training and practice leading up to the competition. The other Gran Caffe L’Aquila owners Riccardo Longo and Michele Morelli are thrilled to have the “Training Camp” at their Chestnut Street location.
“This just reinforces the status of Gran Caffe L’Aquila as a gateway to authentic Italian culture,” says Riccardo. “We believe we are going to have a great result at the World Cup of Gelato”
The US World Cup of Gelato team also includes: Lyn Wells and Darrell Folck as Pastry Chefs and award winning Ice Sculpture master Chris Foltz. The team manager is Randy Torres.