Victor’s Italian Restaurant, located in an old working-class East York neighborhood not far off Interstate 83, bills itself as “York’s little corner of South Philly.”
I can tell you from personal experience, it is not that.
For one thing, the restaurant’s neighborhood looks nothing like South Philly. For another, the restaurant is in an old church, not the kind of restaurant setting you’d find in South Philly. And, finally, the restaurant’s food, while not bad, aspires to South Philly quality more than effectively emulates it.
And, look, I like the venue. The church has a neat atmosphere created by great stained-glass windows, some wall tapestries, hardwood floors, pendant and wall-sconce lighting and candlelight that (while the poster art seems to clash with the overall décor) is very pleasant, even comforting.
There’s also a nicely drawn, if unintended, contrast between the sedate dining- room side of the church, arrived at through thick-hanging curtains, and (at least during my visit) the more crowded, noisy, fun-seeming bar side of the church.
But then this is a place with lots going on, from live jazz to comedy and open mike nights. For our purposes, I went to focus on food and so made sure to show up on a night when live entertainment wasn’t starting until later. Some nights, for example, live acts don’t begin until 9 or 10pm.
And even though there is a clear separation — not of church and state but of church dining room and bar — I didn’t want to risk having to shout dinner orders over the sound of, for example, Soul Revolution.
As it turned out, I got to listen to some nice and easy piped-in Sinatra, which always goes well in any Italian restaurant. And the noise level, lighting level and overall ambiance were relaxed and welcoming.
To the food.
Appetizers are limited and ordinary. There’s the ubiquitous “flash-fried” calamari, served with marinara sauce ($8); sautéed mushrooms with grated cheese ($8); “Tuscany” bruschetta with provolone cheese ($8); steamed clams ($9); and (I thought a little oddly) grilled lamb chops over fresh greens ($14).
Not that I’ve got anything against lamb chops. I love ’em. It’s just that I continue searching throughout Central PA for the Italian restaurant offering more Mediterranean-inspired choices — I’m thinking grilled white sardines, grilled baby octopus, tortellini en brodo, prosciutto purses, olive breadsticks, vegetable polenta — rather than catering to Central PA tastes.
(I know, I know, you serve what people want. I can still hold out hope.)
Salads at Victor’s include a house salad for $4, antipasti to share for $13, a Caesar for $8, a Caesar with chicken for $14 and a caprese salad for $8.
I had the Caesar with its boast of “anchovy fillets.” Alas, not a single anchovy made it to my bowl. After I asked, a few of the canned-in-oil variety arrived on a small, separate plate (sigh).
I will say that the salad was fresh, very tasty and not (as is often the case) overdressed. Bread, too, was very good, maybe even better than very good.
Seafood entrees run from $20 for shrimp and clams over linguini either with white or with red sauce, to $26 for shrimp and veal piccata (though I’m not fond of dishes that interfere with the taste of veal).
There’s also shrimp Diablo with bell peppers and onions over pasta of your choice for $21; “seafood pesto” (lump crab, shrimp and scallops in a basil sauce with red peppers and pine nuts over linguini) for $24; and pesto-encrusted salmon served with risotto and veggies for $25.
Pasta “specialties” include traditional polpette (hand-rolled meatballs) with pasta and marinara sauce ($14); pasta carbonara with pancetta in a cream sauce over fettuccine ($17); house-made lobster ravioli with a vodka cream sauce ($24); and “Victor’s Sauté,” roasted peppers, fresh spinach, black olives, artichokes and tomatoes, all tossed with pasta in garlic and oil ($17).
I had the latter and liked it a lot, a nice, light pasta dish. I tasted the house-made ravioli, a rarity these days, and also found them to be very worthwhile, plump and flavorful, not overpowered by the cream sauce.
Victor’s offers other classic Italian dishes, most priced in the high teens and low $20s: chicken, eggplant and veal Parmesan, chicken Marsala, veal saltimbocca, pasta with hot sausage (from D’Angelo Brothers in South Philly’s Italian market) and chicken scaloppini.
There are nightly specials and a weekly “chef’s table” offering, and all entrees come with a house salad.
Desserts include tiramisu, rum cake, cheesecake, tartufo, espresso chocolate cake and cannoli, all reasonably priced in the $5 range. I took the cannoli (without leaving a gun). It was excellent: crisp shell, creamy, sweet filling.
I should mention there’s an extensive (but not overly expensive) wine list featuring many good Italian wines, and a great beer selection including (when available) Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and, on tap, Espresso Stout Oak Aged Yeti (from Denver) and Sly Fox Pikeland Pilsner (from Phoenixville).
Victor’s service was OK, and I think the pricing is fair. It’s a fun, active place. It’s not the best Italian I’ve ever eaten. But then it’s not South Philly either.
VICTOR’S ITALIAN RESTAURANT
554 S. Ogontz St., York
Open for lunch & dinner every day/evening except Sun; full bar; takes major cards; parking lot; reservations suggested.
Published in Phantom Dinerback to top