But Alfio's couldn't survive with just the shtick. In the end you get a Caesar salad ($5.50, minimum order of two) that is fresh, tart, crisp and delicious.
The menu seems to suggest that Alfio invented the Caesar salad, but this is simply some good old-fashioned American marketing. Which is to say, it isn't true. The salad was created at the Hotel Caesar in Tijuana, Mexico, in the 1930s with pretty much the same ingredients used today except for lemon replacing the lime used in the original.
Caesar salad is one of those things common to most restaurant menus that is almost never made properly. Alfio makes it properly.
That means the garlic is crushed, then rubbed into the wooden bowl and discarded. That the anchovies are pounded into a paste that, when mixed with the raw egg and other ingredients, becomes invisible in the finished product. (If you are ever served a Caesar salad with the anchovies visible, send it back and tell the waiter you are insulted.) That the lemon juice is fresh-squeezed. That the red-wine vinegar/olive oil dressing has a touch of mustard powder in it to add an edge. That the romaine leaves are icy-crisp and crunchy.
Alfio substitutes fresh-grated Romano for the Parmesan more commonly used (and part of the original recipe), but this is an improvement. So maybe we give him credit for inventing a better Caesar salad.
But more than the Caesar is good here. We found all of the food carefully prepared and delicious.
I began with the escargot ($6.95), which prompted Beeka the Destroyer, our 7-year-old, to put a napkin over his head like Curt Schilling turning over a lead to Mitch Williams.
``Dad, you're crazy,'' said Nick, our 10-year-old, before I could explain that these snails were a cut above those found in our yard.
The snails were tender and married well with the garlicky butter sauce.
My lovely assistant ordered the veal fiorentino ($16.95), egg-and-flour-coated veal sauteed in a lemon and wine sauce and served with a bed of spinach on top. Her verdict: Tender and delicious.
I had the Chilean black bass with black bean sauce ($16.95). I expected the Chinese black bean sauce, but got instead a black bean relish with corn and sweet red pepper. The fish was perfectly prepared, not overcooked.
The entrees come with choice of vegetables or pasta and salads.
Beeka ordered a plate of spaghetti and meatballs ($8.75), which was to his liking, but Nick's spaghetti and hot sausage ($8.75) was a bit of a surprise. One normally expects the sausage to be cooked in the same style sauce as the meatballs, but in this case the sauce was heavily laden with red pepper flakes. Nick ate it, but the extra spice was unnecessary.
Alfio's tux and the white linen tablecloths give the place an Old World feel, but the decor is more early American than Italian. The wine list is reasonably priced and includes wine by the glass.
Alfio Gaglianese was a maitre d' of some renown at the now-defunct Da Vinci's at 20th and Walnut streets for 20 years before opening this place 14 years ago. If he can't make you feel comfortable, no one can. But, more important, he hasn't let his standards slip.
It seems like every three or four years another reviewer gives Alfio's the once-over. He's yet to get a bad review. He won't get one from us, either.
15 Limekiln Pike, Edge Hill
Stars: * * * *
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday; 4-11 p.m. Saturday, 4-9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Entree prices: $8.25 to $21.
Accessibility: Steps up to entrance.
Credit cards: All major.