So now that I've explained how to research for a Regular Joe's Guide Italian restaurant, I'll demonstrate right away with a place that did not work.
It seemed so perfect:
Old Italian neighborhood: Check
Vintage restaurant: Check
Red Sauce Italian: Check
Classic signage: Check it out: http://www.phillyitalianmarket.com/market/villa_de_roma/index.html
I was truly excited about this place. Mrs. RJG and I had driven there straight from the airport, and it looked so good (and loved the edgy neighborhood it resides in). Since there isn't convenient parking anywhere, we decided to head to our hotel a couple of miles further into downtown, and we'd cab it back. As we left the cab and wandered into the front door we were greeted by two entirely different Philly personalities: The gregarious bartender and the jerk "host". Naturally Mrs. RJG quickly got her nose out of joint with Mr. Rude, but I calmly explained that's part of the scene, and it's actually kind of endearing, if you're in the right frame of mind. Once we sat down, and viewed over the menu, I started to feel uncomfortable, and it had nothing to do with food.
Mr. RJG apparently didn't do all his research, and I have to take some blame here. First off, I didn't realize Rachel Ray had shilled for the place recently. Personally, I like the perky and cute Ms. Ray, and she does go to places we've been to in the past, and have also enjoyed. But not always. And when it comes to hole in the wall Italian joints, I would be very skeptical of where she goes. A visit like that can ruin the very essence of a classic RJG Italian spot.
Second, they don't take credit cards. This one just MAKES ME MAD. There's absolutely no excuse for this, unless they pass the card's service charge savings back to you. And I assure you, they do not. Mr. RJG doesn't like to take wads of cash with him, especially when in a major inner city like Philadelphia. We barely had enough money for 2 pasta plates, 2 chintzy glasses of wine and the cab fare to the hotel. Our meal cost $55 with tip and all we had were two simple pasta dishes and two tiny glasses of wine. We would've had more of course, had we extra cash. What an embarrassment to not take cards in 2008.
As for the food, well... it was OKAY I guess. If I lived in the neighborhood, and was looking for a quick bowl of pasta, and didn't want to take the 15 minutes I'd need to prepare my own, it would be a good substitute. That's really all I can say. It's very plain, non unique, nothing special red sauce Italian. Big deal.
Huge disappointment. I had one shot at a classic Italian joint in Philly and I messed it up. My research failed me.
Positive review here: http://www.foodaphilia.com/2007/04/villa-di-roma.html
Mixed reviews here: http://www.yelp.com/biz/villa-di-roma-philadelphia (Ms. Ray's visit has a lot to do with the quantity of reviews here I think)