100 Old Gulph Road, Gulph Mills, 610-520-1200, savonarestaurant.com
Vibe: B- Upstairs / A- Downstairs
Average Entrée Price: $19 (Bar Savona only — the regular menu averages $38 an entrée).
Get: The handmade pastas deliver a lot of delicious for $16.
Wine: A diverse list with representatives from many regions at a wide range of prices. Ask questions; the staff is wine-savvy.
According to Evan Lambert, owner of Savona in Gulph Mills, restaurants are like cars; they must evolve or risk irrelevance. That’s why after 12 years of acclaim, Lambert closed Savona for five weeks this spring to administer a face-lift, add outdoor seating, and create a new bar menu with prices that are half what Savona loyalists expect. When the restaurant reopened in June, the renovation was attractive, but it was that new Bar Savona menu that brought in hordes of customers, according to the restaurateur.
It’s hard to imagine dropping the cash on the traditional international menu in the main dining room now that you can instead get a generous nest of handmade pappardelle tossed with a slow-simmered bolognese, a mere $16 on the Bar Savona menu.
Lambert says regulars have been clamoring for options at prices that could make Savona a regular stop instead of a special-occasion splurge. Chef Andrew Masciangelo says he has long wanted to cook rustic food. As a result, most of the dishes on the Bar Savona menu are flavorful and economical, if perhaps a tad straightforward: thin, crisp pizzas topped with fresh mozzarella made daily in Savona’s kitchen; a savory fricassee of mushrooms spooned over polenta; house-made pork sausage tossed with orecchiette and broccoli rabe.
For the most part, diners who seek the casual fare are seated outside, or corralled to the downstairs bar or the laid-back upstairs dining room. But overflow intrudes on the main dining room, putting families in t-shirts who are eating from the bar menu next to couples in cocktail attire. The staff seems to have trouble juggling the two sets of diners. On my visits, waits between courses were interminable in both the upstairs space and downstairs in the main dining room; twice, leftovers that I requested to take home were never returned.
This new version of Savona seems caught between eras. Its eagerness to evolve may drum up business, but as the bar overflows while the formal dining room sits half empty, the expensive menu seems doomed. Eventually, Lambert — and his customers — will have to decide which version of Savona they want to survive.
BONUS VIDEO: Inside the new Savona with owner Evan Lambert