Ralph's has been serving up hearty old world Italian food from this location since before recorded history. William Penn settled here in order to eat at Ralph's. The name is actually an old Leni Lenape word for "Red Gravy." In fact, the Academy of natural Sciences has a fossilized gnocchi from the late Pleistocene era that has been attributed to Ralph's.
OK, it's not THAT old.... but it really does feel like it's been here forever, even if forever is only since 1900 or so. And I'll bet not much has changed in the last century, the decor is classic, the waiters are decidedly old-school, and it serves up good reliable homey Italian food.
I've had a range of things here, and always find myself gravitating to the simple, solid basics: ravioli, gnocchi, even plain-old spaghetti with their wonderful red gravy (that's tomato sauce to you out-of-towners) maybe with a meatball or chunk of sausage, Mussels are good, I like them "red" with a bit of that sauce in with the garlicky juices. Linguini with clams, spaghetti with garlic and oil, lasagna, you get the drift....
On a recent visit, VDP said the Fettucini Alfredo was as good as he remembered from 25 years ago, nice and creamy, not gummy with cheese. My serving of Lasagna looked as if it put up a good fight in the kitchen, flopping around a bit making it from the pan to the plate, but I didn't care, it was delicious, with ground meat and sausage among the tender noodles and ricotta. They'll probably offer you some fresh sauce mid way through, which is a nice touch. Even so it was too big for me to finish, and they were nice enough to box it up with a new splash of sauce and a generous chunk of their good bread.
DDP actually finished a bowl of gnocchi with a meatball, which was pretty impressive. These excellent, but dense, potatoey sinkers always fill me up well before I can see the bottom of the bowl.
There's always a good soup with pastina and greens, we recently had a nice tomatoey broth with pasta and checci.
There's a wide array of chicken and veal dishes too, but I have a hard time veering away from the pastas. I tried a special of veal with roasted peppers and artichokes once, and it was good, but the accompaniments tasted curiously jarred. I can't imagine it's hard to find good fresh roasted peppers or artichokes a block from the Italian Market, but maybe that's just they way they prefer it... However a recent order of Veal Stew brought the perfect winter dish - hearty, tender, delicious.
A recent crew of out-of-town visitors confirmed my suspicions, raving about the simple pastas, but not thrilled with the more elaborate veal and chicken dishes. One note: large parties get a 20% gratuity tacked-on to the bill, which is probably what I would give anyway, but still seemed a bit presumptuous (especially considering that this time, the waiter failed to bring my meatballs despite being reminded three times...)
As you look around, you'll discover lots of families, many of them clearly coming here for generations, and some may go for the more fancy offerings, but more often you'll see big platters of pasta, some antipasto, good bread, a carafe of house red. Perhaps it's my own romantic imagination of an ideal home-cooked South Philly Sunday meal, but I've found those reliable basics to be the most satisfying.
It's a great value, very reasonable prices for good portions of quality food. They're not breaking any new ground here, but why would you when the ground is so hallowed?
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