The restaurants found in Boston's North End could spoil any lover of Italian food. Oftimes small, usually crowded, and always specializing in dishes that tantalize the tongue, these establishments are true jewels that dazzle the palate. How surprised I was to find Pane e Vino, a restaurant that brings a small touch of the North End to the Lehigh Valley.
Pane e Vino sports an atmosphere that embraces boistrousness, intimacy, and a plain, down-to-earth love of good food. A homey feeling pervades the air, aided not only by the good cheer that circulates around the dining area, but also by the many framed magazine articles in the entrance way praising the establishment and the welcome message written by the proprietors of Pane e Vino which sits to the upper left of the cashier.
The night of this review was filled with bad weather, and driving the roads was an adventure unto itself. The restaurant, however, was quite crowded, as it always is. During our ten minute wait for a table, our party helped itself to small pieces of a large cheese pizza that was regularly replaced by the kitchen as those in the waiting area finished each one off. We were then escorted to a comfortable booth, where we selected two pizzas - one loaded with garlic, the other with bacon and mozzarella. In the twenty minute period between ordering and receiving our food, 2 baskets heaped with hot hunks of bread, each of which was literally dripping with garlic and butter, were whisked onto our table. The bread was indeed almost a meal in itself! We somehow managed to save room for the pizzas, which were large and absolutely loaded with the toppings we ordered. The garlic pizza was the richest of the two, and while good, it seemed to overload the taste buds after a time. The bacon and mozzarella pizza, on the other hand, was a perfect combination of cheese and spices, and the ratio of bacon to pizza was on the spot. The crust of both pizzas had a creamy, buttery taste to it, and the slices we took home with us still had crunch crusts the next day at lunch.
After the screamingly good main course, our party was shown the dessert tray. The presentation of the desserts was somewhat half-hearted, as was the actual effect on the palate after we finished the desserts we selected, which ranged from an amaretto/chocolate cake to a blueberry/cheese tart of some kind. Each was competently prepared, and none tasted badly, but nonetheless, the desserts we selected did not pack the punch the pizzas did.
Once our visit to Pane e Vino was over, the complete bill rang up to about $30, with each pizza being $8 and each dessert $3. $7.50 per person (our party was four) is a pretty good deal, especially for the quality of the food! However, Pane' e Vino is not a place to go for dessert, as the cost to quality ratio is just too low. Also, our party noticed that not once did our waitress mention coffee with dessert, nor did we see any coffee makers or espresso machines in the place; this seems odd, given that most Italian restaurants I have visited have boasted about their great coffee.
Despite its few shortcomings, if you are in the mood for some great atmosphere, wonderful food, and free garlic bread, make sure you put Pane e Vino on your must-visit list. It will definitely be worth your while.
Pane e Vino, 1267 Schoenersville Rd., Bethlehem, PA.
Phone (610) 691-7126
(Pizzas: $3.50 - $8)