Movable Feast: Penne

For months now, portions of the Inn at Penn have been sheathed, Christo like, in billowing white tarp as construction crews continue to renovate the façade. The stores beneath the scaffolding have been at pains to assure the Penn community they’re still open for business. To show our support for campus commerce, we at the Current recently strolled over to Penne, eager to find out what kind of mid-day dining the Inn had to offer.

The prevailing theme of the hotel’s décor is a sort of overblown Arts and Crafts, with massive Tiffany-esque chandeliers, oak paneling and leather couches. Penne comes as a surprise, with its oddly garish faux marble walls and modern open kitchen. The ornate tin ceiling adds a nice touch, though.

Seated in banquettes so low we felt like freshmen eating out with our parents, we browsed our way through a lunch menu with a decidedly Italian slant. Burgers and hoagies became “panini,” soup was “zuppa” and half a dozen “handmade” pastas tempted the palate.

To start things off we opted for mushroom soup and a couple of salads. The soup ($6) arrived with a stunning lack of garnish—just a thin beige broth in a bowl—but proved full of flavor and just spicy enough to make things interesting.

Hearts of Romaine with Creamy Parmigiano Dressing and Croutons ($6) turned out to be a Caesar salad with Gorgonzola. The latter was in abundance, infusing the generous mound of crispy lettuce with its distinctive aroma and pungent flavor. Gromit would have been in heaven.

A seasonal salad of mixed greens with goat cheese and strawberries felt overpriced at $8 but satisfied our sudden warm weather whim for fragrant berries and tangy chevre.

Penne prides itself on its pasta. And with good reason. Ravioli with Fresh Green Peas and Ricotta ($13) offered an inspired springtime take on the more usual ravioli with pumpkin or squash. The tender pockets of pasta encased a fresh, sweet pea green filling lightened with ricotta.

We found the Capellini with Yellow Tomato Sauce, Mussels, Shrimp and Olive Oil Seared Tomatoes ($15) more predictable and even a little bland, though the super ripe flavor burst of the cherry tomatoes made up for what the sauce lacked.

Lunch at Penne will put a decent sized dent in your budget and though the service is reasonably attentive, you’re unlikely to be in and out in an hour. Still, when you do return to your office, well fed and sleepy, the sense of having being pampered and taken out of the workaday world will likely linger until quitting time. And that’s worth a lot.

Penne is in the Inn at Penn, at 3600 Sansom Street. 215-823-6222.

Originally published on June 8, 2006