Mario De Lorenzo, along with many other members of Drexel’s Italian Pride Student Organization and fellow Drexel students, attended “A Taste of Roma” at Gran Caffe L’Aquila in Rittenhouse Square March 8. Marketed as a way to “Come discover Rome through history and cuisine,” students were to there not only to eat, but also to learn.
The sophomore is the head of Drexel’s IPSO and the Italian native was getting as close to home as he could get in Philadelphia, if only for a few hours. What began being planned in the fall term was finally coming to fruition, and it was a lot of hard work being paid off.
With a visual-heavy powerpoint presentation of a “virtual walking tour” through Rome, those who attended could not only see what Rome looked like at its various monuments and plazas, but also hear about the history behind each one. The kicker? The owner of Gran Caffe L’Aquila, Riccardo Longo, helped deliver the presentation.
The Roman native and Philadelphia transplant was actually the one to establish contact about the event. The Drexel MBA grad wanted to give back to the Italian community of his former university, and he wanted to personally make sure that “A Taste of Roma” was authentic as it could get. So much so that the event started a few minutes after its scheduled 1 p.m. start time due to Longo finalizing the presentation and dishes.
Along with the food and the history of Rome, Gran Caffe L’Aquila itself is about as authentic as it can get.
The original Gran Caffe was an exceptional cafe in the city of L’Aquila, the capital city of the Abruzzo region of Italy, winning cafe of the year for all of Italy in 2007. On April 6, 2009, an earthquake crippled the city of L’Aquila, badly damaging the restaurant. Original owners Stefano Basiani, gelato champion of Italy, and Michele Moreli, award-winning Italian coffee roaster, opened up an outpost on the outskirts of L’Aquila, continuing to produce their mastered crafts.
During one of Longo’s visits to Abruzzo, he came upon Basiani and Moreli’s outpost. He tried their coffee and gelato, and decided to invite the two to Philadelphia.
A majority of the restaurant itself was constructed in Italy and sent over to Philadelphia, where the pieces were put together for their Christmas Eve opening in 2014.
But of course, this was “A Taste of Roma” after all. Gran Caffe L’Aquila did not hold back, providing four authentic dishes — much to the delight and awe of the Drexel students attending.
De Lorenzo especially enjoyed them, and after one of the courses was finished, he turned to me and said, “It’s like I’m eating at home.”
There to serve each course was Longo himself, seeing each dish made it to the table. The four courses were as follows:
The first course was Suppli con Bruschetta e tomate, followed by the Spaghetti alla carbonara con guanciale. The third course was the Bucatini all’Amatriciana — the crowning pasta jewel of Rome — before finishing up with a spoon Gran Caffe’s gelato flavor called “Desire.”
Each course was brought out with an accompanying explanation of its history and cultural connections to Rome. The suppli and bruschetta are common street foods in Rome, and are typically seen as a light snack. The spaghetti alla carbonara is a popular dish in America, but the Westernized version is far from authentic.
“The carbonara here in America … it’s nothing like the actual dish. There isn’t any cream or milk or butter, so don’t expect that,” Longo explained. For reference, Longo expounded on what makes up the authentic carbonara. “The [traditional] ingredients in this dish are the pasta, eggs, guanciale, black pepper and pecorino romano.”
The third course, being the most traditional pasta dish of Rome, held the most cultural importance to the event. It was the truest taste of Roma that Gran Caffe could offer.
The lunch was finished off with some of their gelato from Basiani’s world-class makings. “Desire” incorporates both milk from Lancaster Farms in Pennsylvania with sour amarena cherries from Italy, and the creation is symbolic of the unity between Philadelphia and Abruzzo at Gran Caffe L’Aquila.
“This will be the first event of many here at Gran Caffe,” De Lorenzo explained. “Today is about Roma, and I initially wanted to focus on Sicily, but Gran Caffe had already offered ‘A Taste of Roma’ and I couldn’t say no. We will get to Sicily in the future.”
He was excited to begin to plan more, and is looking towards next term to expand Drexel IPSO’s reach and event schedule, especially with Gran Caffe.
“The restaurant seems to be really interested in educating people about the culture of Italy,” De Lorenzo said. There is the potential to not only eat Italian food, but to be immersed in a place full of Italian culture and to further the learning outside of the classroom.
You can contact Drexel Italian Pride on DragonLink, and sign up for updates from the organization about future events.