Tucked away in an uptown Harrisburg neighborhood near the Governor’s Residence is a tiny Italian bakery that turns into a tiny restaurant serving amazing homemade meals at amazingly
reasonable prices two nights each week.
Alvaro’s is the real deal — owned and operated by Sal and Lena Alvaro, both from Calabria in southern Italy — and a Mediterranean gift to Harrisburg.
Their place is located on the corner of Green and Peffer streets in what was an old general store, later a laundry mat, that they restored themselves. Their efforts earned an excellence in Historic Preservation award from the Historic Harrisburg Association in 2005. The bakery business has thrived for years.
More recently, Alvaro’s began offering a limited dinner menu on Fridays and Saturdays and filled the smallish walk-in area of the bakery with sometimes wobbly tables and chairs. In warmer weather, there also is seating outside.
It is BYOB. Ice buckets for white wine often are hard to come by. Sometimes the glasses are different sizes. But the quirky informality is far from annoying; it’s much more like visiting an Italian relative’s house for an authentic Italian meal. The “dining room” is cramped, usually crowded, sometimes too bright and often noisy and right beside the bakery and gelato cases. But the service is friendly, the food is great, especially the sauces, and the prices are just right. A couple can share a good-sized salad served with wonderful homemade bread and olive oil, have entrées including homemade pasta and sometimes homemade sausage, add a dessert of homemade gelato, then have espresso and end up with a bill of about $40.
For appetizers, Alvaro’s offers antipasto di terre, a lovely platter of imported meats and cheese served with hot peppers and three different kinds of olives (all of which goes great with the bread) or a caprese salad of tomato and fresh mozzarella with basil and an herb dressing. Each is $8 and easily shared by two people. There also are smaller salads for only $4.50.
A group of three, four or more might want to share a pizza as an appetizer. There are 12-inch pies offered five ways: red sauce, mozzarella and basil; four-cheese; mild sausage, red sauce and mozzarella; hot pepperoni, red sauce and cheese; or with veggies, red sauce and cheese. All pies are $8.
Featured soups usually include an Italian wedding soup and pasta fagioli and sometimes minestrone or a special. Soups, too, are only $4.50 and are hearty and delicious.
Entrées tend to change. Often there is fresh pasta. It can be angel hair or fettuccine or, if you’re lucky, homemade gnocchi. Standard entrées include rigatoni with meat sauce and meatballs; spaghetti and pizzaoila steak (crispy fried flank steak marinated for hours in homemade marinara sauce); penne carbonara with shrimp; chicken cordon bleu; Three Cheese Lasagna with Stuffed Braciolo (marinated flank steak stuffed with meatballs); and the rare but popular “stuffed meatballs,” meatballs stuffed with ham, hard-boiled eggs and cheese with sweet peppers. All entrées are either $10 or $11.
Alvaro’s also is flexible and open to mixing and matching pastas, meats and sauces. Whatever is in the kitchen is available, and your server can help you pick a dish made to order. And usually, there are off-menu offerings to die for. On one visit, I was lucky enough to be treated to fresh, stuffed calamari.
Desserts, in addition to gelato, include cannoli, tiramisu, Italian rum cake, éclairs and Napoleon cake and range from a modest $2 all the way up to a modest $4. If you don’t bring wine, there is soda, coffee, tea and, of course, espresso and cappuccino.
Alvaro’s also is open for lunch and offers pizza, paninis, subs on fresh-baked rolls and lots of entrées including chicken legs, pasta and Italian meatloaf. There’s take-out and catering, too. And those who go for dinner often find it hard to leave without at least something from the bakery case which, as mentioned, is temptingly close to dining tables. It can be difficult to walk away
from pine nut amaretto cookies, or cream puffs or espresso biscotti or classic baklava.
Parking can be problematic because Alvaro’s is in a city neighborhood, but on several visits I’ve found street spaces within a half-block of the restaurant.
Alvaro’s is a gem in a city with too few gems. Its hard-working owners and their products are authentic. If you’ve never been, you’re missing out.
THE PHANTOM DINER HAS BEEN A LONGTIME RESTAURANT REVIEWER FOR CENTRAL PA MAGAZINE
ALVARO’S BREAD AND PASTRY SHOPPE
236 Peffer St., Harrisburg, 717.238.1999; alvarobread.com,
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday.
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