When you see an Italian restaurant in a strip mall, it’s easy to dismiss it as just another pizza shop.
We have been conditioned to believe that sit down restaurants are found in stand-alone buildings while strip malls are nothing more than take-out counters, a place to grab dinner on the way home, not to pull up a chair and enjoy a nice meal.
But if you discount these restaurants all together, you are missing out.
When Tosco Pizza & Italian Restaurant opened up between Robesonia and Wernersville (it has a Wernersville address, but is barely outside the Robesonia borough limits), it looked to be just another pizza shop.
Prior to Tosco’s arrival in 2011, the space housed a Chinese restaurant, and before that, a sandwich shop. Both were standard, non-descript restaurants offering nothing but counter service.
Tosco took a different approach. Renting out the adjacent space, the restaurant created a connected dining room. Paintings of the Italian coast adorn the walls above the wooden booths. It’s a rustic feel throughout, except for out-of-place flat screen TV on the back wall.
In addition to pizza, the menu includes a wide range of pastas as well as wings, cheesesteaks, hot and cold sandwiches, burgers and an entire line-up of sandwiches served atop garlic bread.
While garlic bread is reserved for sandwiches, each meal is served with a basket of fresh-baked garlic knots. These little beauties are exactly what they sound like: knots of dough that are slathered in butter and minced garlic. If only they were served with a side of marinara, I could make these delicious bites into a meal.
Catching my eye on the way in was the daily special, written on a chalkboard at the entrance to the dining room.
The tri-color cheese tortellini was tossed with chicken and rapini in a creamy tomato sauce. I tried to get a little bit of everything, but there wasn’t room on the fork for much more than the little pasta pockets. Still, the tortellini were small enough that the cheese filling did not overpower the pasta. As I dug in to the seemingly endless bowl, each bite was better than the last as the tortellini soaked up the rich flavors of the sauce.
Along with the garlic knots, each meal also comes with a starter salad. With as large as the bowl of pasta was, I almost wish they would skip the salad because the last thing I needed was something to fill up on before my tortellini arrived.
But if you are craving salad for dinner, Tosco’s specialty salads are perfectly sized for a hearty meal.
In the mood for something “healthy,” Julie opted for a cheesesteak salad, one of nearly 20 salad options on the menu.
The base salad was similar to mine, a bed of lettuce topped with shredded carrots and ribbons of onions. The difference is the pile of shredded beef and melted American cheese on top, which turned this from an oversized appetizer into a legitimate main course.
With large menus comes a wide range of prices. Our meal came in around $25, but you can easily spend less if you are willing to split a large sandwich, or a little more if you are looking only at entrees.
If you were driving past Tosco, you probably wouldn’t even guess that entrees were an option. From the outside, it looks like a typical pizza and sandwich shop.
But looks can be deceiving. A strip mall is an unlikely place for a real Italian restaurant, but sometimes you find great things in unexpected places.