"Oh, that?" Michela Boscolo lifted the dome off the cake dish, releasing a sweet, summery perfume into the air at Pennsport's Venice Café. "Strawberry tart." Crisscrossed with pro latticework, the tart's red-violet surface of strawberry preserves glistened in the morning light that flooded this cheery young coffee shop.
"We also have chocolate-ricotta," said Barbara Boscolo, Michela's sister, indicating a second confection, this one hanging out with muffins, croissants and bagels in the pastry case. "We make it fresh here. Everything here."
Soooo, one of each?
Fresh in town from Venice, the Boscolos run the café named for their home city for owner John Tripodi, a family friend and the proprietor of Pizza Pub on West Passyunk Avenue. The sisters bake the tarts, assemble the panini on Cacia's rolls, pull the shots of Counter Culture La Forza espresso and stoke this clementine-colored room's friendly aura.
At breakfast, there are featherweight crêpes folded around gooey Nutella. At lunch, what amounted to the best split-pea soup I've had, earthy and sweet and steaming in a paper cup — the kind with which you willingly burn your mouth. The tarts display high artistry; chewy like marzipan here, crumbly like cornbread there, the crusts keeping the brain engaged like a mystery novel.
Out of the array of panini, I'd order the vegetarian again — rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper and oven-roasted, soft slices of eggplant, squash and red pepper shone with natural sweetness. But I'd avoid the chicken Parm, at least until they upgrade from what appeared to be cheap breaded chicken fingers. As for the bread, while I love Cacia's, one of the bakery's more distinctive offerings could help the simple panini make a better impression. As satisfying as these rolls are dipped in olive oil, their crumb is too tight for sandwiches.
All gleaming brass rails and snow-white cups, the pour-over system stands ready by the La Marzocco espresso machine, but it hardly looks touched. With beans as strong as Counter Culture's, there's nothing stopping Venice from becoming Ultimo Coffee East.
Except maybe customers. Tripodi laments that Venice Café may not be long for this world, but as long as the shop is in business, the Boscolos will be making Pennsport sweeter, one tart at a time.
Venice Café | 2015 E. Moyamensing Ave., 215-462-1313. Open Mon.-Sat., 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Sun. Breakfast, $1.75-$3.50; sandwiches, $3-$5.75; salads, $6.50-$8.50.