Discreet Diner | Toscana Pizzeria & Grill

Posted: September 16, 2007

Much is happening around Mullica Hill. If you haven't been there in a few years, you might be surprised to see shopping centers and McMansions on former fields of green.

For some reason, new development does not always bring with it new restaurants. I have driven miles through developing municipalities in search of something to eat.

I was pleased to find Toscana Pizzeria & Grill in a shopping area on Bridgeton Pike, not too far from a new Eagles enclave. It's been there three years, but it was new to me.

The decor places you in the Italian countryside. The tables are wood, the floors are tile. And the aroma of garlic and tomato greet you.

The menu here is extensive and may set your mouth to watering. As luck would have it, we were served warm yeast rolls, great for dipping in the seasoned oil on the table, while we made our selections.

My dining companion and I started with the sausage broccoli rabe appetizer ($7.50). It was sweet sausage with the sauteed bitter green served over polenta in a gravy touched by brandy. The sweet sausage complemented the pungency of the rapini, and the gravy brought it all home.

My entree came with a house salad, the Tuscan wedge. It was a wedge of iceberg lettuce with crumbled bacon and tomatoes. I used the oil on the table as dressing, but bleu cheese and creamy Italian are available.

My companion ordered the country lasagna ($11.49), a plate full of al dente pasta layered with a tomato gravy that had crushed tomato, ground meat and a hint of red wine; mozzarella and ricotta cheeses; and grated mozzarella. The flavors blended well and the offering was quite satisfying. Real Italian comfort food.

I tried something new - one of those items that had my mouth watering when I read about it. Fettucine and crab asti ($17.99) is the kind of entree I will order again and again. It was the pasta tossed with lumps of crabmeat, snow peas and roasted tomato in a champagne cream sauce. The crab was great quality - sweet fresh meat in dollops the size of a dime - and there was lots of it. The cream sauce was light and clung to the noodles, and the snow peas added good crunch. A definite keeper.

The portions here are sizable, and we did not have room on an afternoon visit for dessert. But, ever the reviewer, we went back another day.

The second time around, we shared an appetizer, the sampler ($11.99), which had bruschetta, mozzarella sticks, fried calamari and a crab cake. I thoroughly enjoyed the crab cake, made with same succulent meat from the fettucine and crab asti. The calamari coating had nice flavor and the squid was tender, but the pieces were too big for my taste.

The desserts here are all homemade, and there were six offerings on the evening of our visit. We settled on the Italian rum cake ($4.99) and the creme brulee ($4.99). The cake was moist and not overly sweet. The creme brulee, the Discreet Diner's favorite dessert, was good, but the whipped cream on top detracted from it. Creme brulee, when done properly, is smooth and creamy with a burnt-sugar crunch on top. Alas, the additional cream diluted the sensations.

Will I be back? Of course! I'll just tell them to hold the whipped cream next time.

Discreet Diner | Toscana Pizzeria & Grill

141 Bridgeton Pike, Mullica Hill

Phone: 856-478-2288

Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday noon to 11 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 10 p.m.

Reservations: Yes

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Parking: Lot

Children's menu: Yes

Cocktails: BYOB and local wines served

On the Web: www.toscanamullicahill.com

The Discreet Diner is a member

of The Inquirer staff and welcomes your comments. E-mail discreetdiner@phillynews.com.

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