If West Broad Village in Short Pump had a baby, it would be Festival Plaza. Brick apartments are stacked atop trendy stores, bars and restaurants surround an outdoor space and strategically placed trees create an aesthetic. Tennis courts. A fountain. At the edge of all this, near a piazza (there's a piazza!), sits Sapori — straddling the line of belonging here in Chester — and belonging elsewhere.
Tiled floors, a dark, open bar and umbrella-covered outdoor seating flank a large dining area packed with tables covered in red and white tablecloths. Servers are easy to find in bright shirts. On several visits, the place bustles charmingly. One recent Saturday night, a cheesy but pleasant male vocalist sings requests to tunes from a tiny but powerful recorder. The owner's wife, all delicate smiles, leads guests to tables with a hit of Italian-accented small talk.
Sapori's menu reads, feels and eats just like the setting: Interspersed are small but noticeable allusions to the owners' Sicilian family history. Baseball-size arancini ($11), rice balls fried till golden, live up to their name — arancina means little orange in Italian. Magically crispy on the outer edges, tender and sticky inside, this beautifully presented appetizer is served with a pea- and carrot-studded Bolognese sauce that's memorably good. Bruschetta ($6) is fresh with extra virgin olive oil and saturated with pesto. Robust chicken wings ($7) are out of the ordinary with a slight outdoor-ish char to Sapori's own barbecue.
Traditional margarita pizza ($9) is plenty satisfying but pales decisively compared with the two more authentic offerings. Sfincione ($13), a thick Sicilian pizza, is dressed with bread crumbs, pecorino Romano, asiago, large tomato pieces and onion. The result is alternately crunchy and soft. Anchovies are allowed and condoned. Better as an eat-in option, its crusty edges lose a little in transport. Schiacciata ($15), a double-sided pizza — think flat and crispy — has similar ingredients but with the addition of mushrooms, making it a casual combination of a round panino and an Italian mushroom sandwich.
Layers of homemade pasta sheets surround a lighter version of meat sauce peppered with peas and carrots in Sapori's slightly deconstructed lasagna ($13). A little besciamella, white cream sauce, pops up sporadically in the dish, adding an occasional oomph of richness. The bone-in veal Milanese ($23) is a quality cut of meat that's sadly lost in the expected but too-heavy breading. A sprinkling of chilled basil, balsamic and mozzarella salad adds a needed acidic component. Side dishes are thoughtful. Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, peas and bacon or pasta cacio e pepe, which means cheese and pepper, are examples executed meaningfully — the prosciutto salty, the pasta al dente and biting with whole peppercorns.
Desserts, intended to be light and airy, are successful. Sheer layers of puff pastry encompass a just-sweet-enough Italian vanilla cream in Sapori's rendition of a napoleon ($7). Others are coppa stracciatella, a chocolate gelato sundae; and fruit madedonia with panna cotta.
One Saturday afternoon just before happy hour, the restaurant begins to gear up for dinner service. A few bar patrons enjoy the scene that is a staff meal. An intoxicating smell wafts from the tomato and potato casserole being served family style. Another dish, a frittata, flirts with the air as well. Described as work dishes, these aren't on the menu. But you can taste their influences in the thick raguot served with pasta ($13) or in the house dressing, a spicy held-close-to-the-vest secret.
And just like the handshake you receive from the owner when you leave the restaurant, those influences leave an impression. S
Sapori Ristorante Italiano
3513 Festival Park Plaza
Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.