Taste: In Search Of: Marinara

Whether you call it gravy or marinara, finding a takeout sauce that compares to Nonna’s isn’t as easy as we thought

Villa di Roma
936 South 9th Street;
A deep red, thick sauce speckled with lots of oregano, basil and garlic flecks, this restaurant’s marinara elicited smiles all around the table. A wonderful, well-balanced flavor that must take several hours to develop. This bold, robust sauce would work well with steak pizzaiola, chicken parm or meatballs.

The Saloon
Available next door at Fitzwater Cafe,
728 South 7th Street;
We opened the lid on the Saloon’s marinara, and the beautiful smell of garden-fresh tomatoes filled the air—the only sauce in the tasting to have this effect. Slightly chunky, with lots of roughly chopped garlic pieces and basil slivers, yet somehow these additions didn’t obscure the profound tomato flavor.

Di Bruno Bros.
1730 Chestnut Street;
Di Bruno’s is the place to buy the cheese to grate over your big, steaming bowl of pasta, as well as imported San Marzano canned tomatoes for when you get around to making your own sauce. But Di Bruno’s marinara—available only at the new Center City location—was only decent, with an under-developed flavor. Some tasters found it too sweet.

Superior Pasta Company
905 Christian Street;
The ravioli and other freshly made pastas here are indeed superior, but this bland sauce looked, smelled and tasted like something between ketchup and tomato paste. An underlying bitterness and overly acidic flavor didn’t help.

760 South 9th Street;
Theodore Roosevelt, Heather Locklear and Sheena Easton are all said to be big fans of this tourist destination’s food. We guess they didn’t try the oily red sauce. One of the tasters remarked that it “tastes the way grease smells.”

By George
12th and Arch streets;
Adjacent to Iovine’s Produce, By George is the only Reading Terminal stand offering homemade tomato sauce year-round. Unfortunately, someone went crazy with the basil—“tastes like a shot of basil,” noted one taster. We could taste nothing else.

944 South 9th Street;
The tasters found the giant pieces of garlic in Talluto’s chunky sauce overpowering (and we love garlic) and the abundance of hard tomato seeds annoying. The half-inch of oil on top of the sauce was completely unappetizing.