There are probably a few specific reasons why you’d leave Philadelphia to go to South Jersey. Maybe your in-laws live in Haddonfield, or you have a house down the Shore in Margate. Or maybe you love beating your friend who insists they have a handicap of 2 at Top Golf. Whatever your reasons, going out to dinner probably isn’t one of them.
That is unless you’re going to Zeppoli - a Sicilian BYOB in Collingswood that’s worth leaving the city for.
Your first thought might be to ask why - why would you leave Philly for pasta when there’s more great Italian food here than there are real estate ads from former Eagles player Brent Celek? And that’s certainly a valid question. We have everything from old-school, red-sauce places with plates of chicken parm bigger than a small toddler to fancy, tasting menu-only spots where a single piece of gnocchi constitutes an entire course.
But Zeppoli isn’t like every other Italian spot in the city. It lives in its own world over in Collingswood, and while it looks like your typical small, family-owned Italian restaurant with dim lighting and friendly service, it’s not. It feels special - like the kind of place that you’d take someone who you want to spend serious time with and bond over really f*cking good food. You’ll start to realize what makes this place different the moment the lemony, light, seafood-centric dishes begin to arrive. For the tagliatelli al limone topped with bottarga, even though the sole ingredient in the sauce is lemon, and it looks like something you could have made on a single burner in your college dorm room, it’s complex - with more distinct flavors than a master somm could find in an expensive bottle of wine.
There are other surprises on the menu, too - like big balls of spinach and ricotta gnocchi that start melting as soon as your fork touches them and an antipasto board that makes any other charcuterie plate look like a grocery store spread. But possibly our favorite thing here comes after all the excellent mains. It’s the zeppole - big, fluffy donuts covered in a fried, cinnamon-sugar shell sitting on a pile of molten dark chocolate. Regardless of whether or not you’re a dessert person, these should be on your table.
If you want a good plate of pasta, it might not be your first thought to drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge. And on an average Tuesday night, that makes sense. However, if you’re looking for a plate of pasta that might convince you to move across state lines, then you’re going to want to plug Zeppoli’s address into your GPS.
These shrimp come whole as if they’ve just been plucked from the sea and dropped directly onto your plate. But not to worry - they’ve been sauteed first, with some garlic, parsley, lemon, and chili, and then set on top of cannellini beans dressed with more lemon and olive oil. They’re slightly messy, but this is a great way to start a meal here.
The spinach and ricotta gnocchi are roughly the size of a golf ball, the texture of a down pillow, and topped with shaved Sicilian caciocavallo cheese. If you still write lists to Santa Claus, you should ask him for more stomachs just so you can eat more of this.
The homemade rigatoni is perfectly al dente and served in a super light tomato and olive oil sauce that will ruin all other red sauces for you. On top, you’ll find charred eggplant, shaved ricotta cheese, and basil-breadcrumbs that give this dish a little bit of a crunch.
The word “stew” probably conjures up images of a thick, heavy soup that will fill you up by the third bite. This version, however, is light while still being seriously flavorful. The broth is seasoned with saffron, there are some pearls of Tunisian couscous, and in the middle of the bowl there’s a pile of fresh seafood - like clams, mussels, octopus, and different kinds of fish.
The place is called Zeppoli, so it’s kind of a given that zeppole - Italian doughnuts - are on the menu. They’re big balls of sweet dough with a thin layer of fried crust covered in cinnamon-sugar on the outside. When you cut into them, the light, fluffy insides almost melt.