Usually when I’m on Chestnut Street near Liberty Place, I’m either rushing to work or grabbing lunch to eat at my desk. Now I have another reason to be in this part of town: to be transported to Italy through the food and ambiance of Gran Caffe L’Aquila.
I wandered in recently and started chatting with Ricardo Longo, its culinary and wine director. He told me how this cafe is a rebirth of the original cafe, which was located in the Piazza Duomo of L'Aquila, capital of Italy’s Abruzzo region, but was destroyed by an earthquake in 2009.
“The entire restaurant was actually built in Italy and shipped over here on about 18 containers,” he says. “The idea is that you're walking into a living, breathing Italy.”
The Italian part of me felt right at home and now it was time to eat. Longo recommended the Carbonara, which isn’t your typical Carbonara. Their version is topped with a savory bacon gelato.
I was intrigued by the concept but would it be any good?
The homemade spaghetti was tossed with egg, cracked black pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese — a sheep’s milk that’s imported from Rome. In addition, there was a healthy amount of Guanciale in the dish — a type of bacon that comes from the cheek of the pig.
“It’s the most beloved bacon of Rome,” Longo says.
Sitting on top of the lovely pile of spaghetti was a dollop of savory bacon gelato.
“People eat it in different ways. Some people will take a little bit of it, mix it into the pasta and eat it. Some people will let it melt in so it becomes like a sauce. It all depends on your preference,” he added.
I decided to eat my Carbonara in all the ways and my favorite was letting the gelato mix in with the rest of the pasta.
Final verdict? While the concept of the dish seems complicated, the end result is quite simple — creamy, savory and peppery. Pair it with a glass of Frascati and you are good to go.