The Food Chain

Mark Onorato of George’s Thinks Villa di Roma’s Sauteed Spinach Is Just Right

Sauteed spinach at Villa di Roma
Sauteed spinach at Villa di Roma Photo: Kirsten Henri

Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, chef-owner Gabrielle Hamilton of New York’s Prune called out the Stewed Tripe Hoagie at George’s Sandwich Shop in the Italian Market and now George’s owner Mark Onorato is passing along the love… right down 9th Street.

Who: Mark Onorato, chef-owner George’s Sandwich Shop, Philadelphia
What: Sauteed Spinach
Where: Villa di Roma, Philadelphia
When: Not sure

“I really like the sauteed spinach at Villa di Roma - they always have it there. I first tried it because a friend of mine ordered it - I didn’t order it myself - but I really liked it. I like the tenderness of the spinach, the garlic and oil balance - it was just right. Not too much oil - it wasn’t greasy-like. And garlic - you can’t go wrong with garlic! Well, you’re not going to have too many kissing dates, but there you go.”

Frank DeLuca, co-owner, chef, cook, occasional bartender at Villa di Roma, explains how the spinach is made:

“It’s not fresh spinach - it’s frozen. If you use fresh, it has a whole different flavor, the iron leaves a coating on your teeth and the public doesn’t like it. So I use about a cup and a half of cooked frozen spinach, two pinches of salt, one pinch of pepper, two pinches of granulated garlic powder and about three tablespoons of good quality olive oil. You mix it with your fingers in the saute pan, then put it on high heat. You have to stay with it. The cooking time is approximately five minutes. We’re not really a big vegetable destination - we only have three vegetables in house really: spinach, escarole and broccoli rabe. The spinach has been on the menu for over 30 years, that I know of - we’ve been in existence for 46 years. We’re in our third generation of customers here - maybe even our fourth - and customers already decide when they’re on their way here what they’re getting. They don’t stray. So would I love to put fresh garlic in the spinach? Yes! But would my customers stand for it? No way!”

Check back next week to see which dish Frank DeLuca loves.

Mark Onorato of George’s Thinks Villa di Roma’s Sauteed Spinach Is Just Right