The night my friend and I dined at Little Nonna’s, the newest creation of 13th Street entrepreneurs Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran, an elderly man had a seizure in the restaurant, and it wasn’t because of the food, I assure you. Why I even bother to bring this up is what happened after; Chef Turney emerged from the busy open kitchen and comforted the gentleman until the paramedics arrived. The restaurant staff worked like a well-oiled machine to ensure that the diners in the extremely small, cozy space weren’t interrupted. This felt like family, and, I’d suggest that’s exactly the type of experience that Turney and Safran aimed to achieve at this amazingly comfortable, tasty eatery.
As mentioned above, the restaurant, located in the heart of the Gayborhood between 12th and 13th and Locust (next to the space previously known as Bump), is tiny in size—adorned with an eclectic mix of antique mirrors, pictures, and stringed lights, the sleek red leather upholstered seats and the mix-matched black chairs add to the slightly off-kilter feel of the space. The kitchen is fully integrated into the dining room and there is no formal “bar,” so to speak. In fact, the cocktails are served in individual old-school soda bottles. I tried two: the Amaro Y Dulce, a fruity blend of citrus vodka, Campari, and Aperol, with a bitter twist of grapefruit, lemon, and basil, followed by the Don Pompelo, a smooth blend of rum, grapefruit cello, Luxardo maraschino liquor, and lime.
It was Center City Restaurant Week, and we opted to indulge in the prix fixe menu. To start, we were treated to a heaping plateful of homemade garlic bread (complete with a full clove of roasted garlic on the side) and a bowl of smashed cannellini beans with olives. The first course was complete heaven: the almost orgasmic Arancini were the best I’ve ever tasted, and the pulled fresh mozzarella was flavorful and almost sweet.
For the main course, I quite enjoyed the stuffed shells, a plentiful portion that was coated in an amazing San Marzano marinara. My friend enjoyed his grilled swordfish Oreganata. Of course, sharing is encouraged at the establishment (even more like family!), and the mismatched antique porcelain plates in a wide spectrum of patterns add to the ethos of the restaurant.
For dessert, we treated ourselves to two items: the house-made tiramisu, served in a tea-cup, that was topped with the most delectable pizzelle crumble, and the pistachio cannoli, an earthy, dense treat.
I’ve always admired and adored the work of Turney and Safran, primarily because the women have had an uncanny ability to create environments, food, and experiences that are unique to not only the Gayborhood but to Philadelphia as a whole. Their restaurants and stores remind me of just how eclectic the city is: walk a block North of Little Nonna’s and you’re at Voyeur. Walk a block West and you’re at the Academy of Music. But while you’re in Little Nonna’s, you feel like you are in good hands, as was evident during my dining experience.