Road Trip: Toscana 52

Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 70 miles east of Reading to Bensalem, PA.

There is no such thing as Italian cuisine.

Let me rephrase that. There is no one Italian cuisine.

The flavors of Italy are as varied as any other country. Rome, Venice, Naples and Milan all have their own foods, unique to their regions.

Most restaurants have adopted bits and pieces of each to create their menus—a little from the north, a hint of the south and a bit of the coasts thrown in—and call it Italian.

But at Toscana 52 in Bensalem, they’re taking a different approach, highlighting the cuisine of a different city each week with its 52 menu.

Bensalem, Pennsylvania is not exactly a foodie paradise. The redundantly named Street Road, the township’s main thoroughfare, is lined with chain restaurants and fast food joints.

But just a short drive north of the Turnpike is a unique eatery that doesn’t fit in with the rest.

The interior is rustic Italian, like so many other restaurants. A large family table sits in the middle of the rustic dining room, a wooden pergola offering a hint of privacy to those who put themselves on display.

But the food is what makes Toscana different. The main menu offers five unique Crudo, or raw, dishes, Italian-style sushi plates with tuna, shrimp, oysters, clams or crab meat. Favorites like spaghetti, rigatoni and gnocchi are joined with non-Italian toppings like chilled mango salsa and wasabi cream.

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Then there is the 52 menu, a weekly journey across the European continent. The menu features not only entrees, but appetizers and regional wines from the featured city. Featured cities include Chianti, Napoli (Naples) and Florence.

I don’t know how often menus repeat, but on both of my trips to Toscana (10 months apart), the weekly menu featured the food of Florence, Italy.

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My trip to Florence began with a cup of Papa al Pomodoro, a tomato soup thickened by chucks of Italian bread that are mixed in. The beautifully presented bowl, topped with diced onions and chopped basil, harkens back to old world tradition. Before the advent of packaged croutons, chunks of bread were often added to soups to add thickness and substance.

The soup itself is naturally sweet, and thin enough that the bread is not an unwelcome addition. The addition of the fresh herbs and onions adds more flavor to an already delicious dish.

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Then came the gnudi.

Gnudi is “nude ravioli,” essentially all the filling for ravioli lumped together into dumplings without the pasta casing. Ricotta, spinach and Parmigiano cheese were rolled together and topped with a butter-sage cream sauce.

The meal is very rich. Without the pasta to tone it down, all of the ingredients have a chance to come through. The sauce is thick and creamy, but the gnudi soaks it up and absorbs all that rich flavor.

It’s a truly special dish that I have yet to find on any other menu.

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And of course, no meal is complete without dessert. A simple strawberries and cream was the perfect ending to the meal. Ripe strawberries smothered in a semi-tart cream balanced perfectly for an (almost) guilt-free dessert.

You could spend thousands of dollars to take a tour of the Old World, but I got to experience a three-course tour of Italy for about $30.

In some ways, Toscana is not much different than any other Italian restaurant: serving favorites from across Italy in a rustic dining room here in America.

But Toscana is different. And if you find yourself driving east through Bucks County, just know that  a tour of Italy is closer than you think.

Toscana 52 on Urbanspoon

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