Il Fiore – Collingswood

Il Fiore (menu) has quickly become these Collingswood Foodies’ favorite local restaurant. Not only is the food consistently delicious, the atmosphere is warm and inviting. “Italian” restaurant Olive Garden boasts, “When you’re here, you’re family,” but you’re not, really. You are always aware that you’re sitting in a chain restaurant with a lovely view of the parking lot where most of the food is probably mass produced and frozen. (Don’t get me wrong, I love those breadsticks and I’m not pretentious enough to eschew the reliable old chain restaurant.) But Il Fiore offers just the right mix of intimacy and chaos (have you ever have dinner with an Italian family? There’s always a level of controlled chaos) and amazing, affordable food.

The intimacy is achieved through classic Italian restaurant décor – white tablecloths and big gold-framed paintings on the walls – and a smattering of two-top tables in addition to seating for larger parties. There are even two tables set in the large bay windows looking out over Haddon Ave – prime real estate for date night or a small family gathering. A bustling liveliness saves the restaurant from being sleepy or stuffy, however. For one, this small BYOB is always busy. Weekend evenings will find a crowd of a dozen waiting outside for a table, and there’s a steady flow of patrons any night of the week. The hostess and waitstaff respond in kind, buzzing around the floor from table to table. Three different people may serve you during your meal, making sure you always have enough water in your glass or fresh pepper on your plate.

But let’s talk about the most important stuff – the food. After at least 15 visits and sampling of most everything on the menu, we feel like the Il Fiore experts. Il Fiore straddles the line between authentic gourmet Italian fare and standard American-friendly classics. Starting with appetizers, they offer a variety of fresh salads and a soup of the day made from fresh ingredients. Antipasti choices include grilled calamari, steamed mussels, and – our absolute favorite – porcino, shiitake, and portabella mushrooms sautéed with shrimp, bread crumbs, garlic, and olive oil. Jamie does not normally eat fungus, but even he fell in love with this affordable appetizer. For entrees, they serve four chicken and veal dishes prepared in a variety of ways and served over fresh vegetables, as well as meat and fish of the day. A daily specials menu offers variety to their standard menu. But pasta is where they truly shine.

Jamie has found a favorite in the Penne con Piselli, penne cooked in a vodka sauce with peas and pancetta. The pink sauce is rich and creamy. The peas and pancetta add texture and a salty touch, respectively. I, while a big fan of the penne, have made it my goal to sample everything on the menu (except the veal). On our latest trip, I ordered the Orecchiette alla Campagna, shell pasta with chicken, sausage, and mushrooms in a white wine garlic sauce. The sauce was light and garlicky, picking up the savory flavors of the chicken and sausage. Very delicious.

What’s more, Il Fiore is quite a value. Most dinner entrées fall within the $10-14 range, with a $19 pasta and seafood special being the most expensive plate I’ve ever ordered. We also get at least two meals out of each hefty entrée, eating half at dinner and saving the other half for the next day’s lunch. With such reasonable prices, why not top off your dinner with a heavenly $5 dessert? We recommend the cannoli :)

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