Tucked deep inside Rome’s Jewish Ghetto is a wonderful hidden gem of a restaurant. So hidden, in fact, if you didn’t know what to look for, you would not know where to find it! Off the Via del Portico d’Ottavia is the Piazza delle Cinque Scole. If you approach the Piazza from Portico d’Ottavia make a hard right at the Piazza and there is a doorway. In the summer it has red chenille streamers hanging in the doorway – the kind to keep out the flies. In the winter a plain old doorway – perhaps a chair in front, and what may have been a neon flower above the door to the left and the number 30 above the door to the right.
Wait! Let’s start again! Sora Margherita is not a restaurant. It is a cultural association. You must join the association when you arrive to have member benefits, which include eating at the ‘club’. Apparently, a number of years ago the restaurant was shut down as being too small and cramped. The solution? Become a cultural association and feed your members! Makes perfect sense to me!
The no-frills Sora Margherita started as a cheap kitchen for hungry locals, but word spread – and compared to the other restaurants in the ghetto is still a place for an inexpensive – but fantastic – meal. There can be very long lines here, but you will find hearty pasta, Roman-Jewish dishes such as the Torta di Ricotta and Carciofi alla Giudea, and a rowdy Roman atmosphere. Sora Margherita is closed weekends in summer. The reason? According to the sign ‘ tutti al mare ’ (everyone is at the beach).
The tables are nailed-together unfinished wooden tables with plain paper tablecloths. You may not expect much when you sit down, cramped quarters, plainly decorated, the menu written on a piece of brown butcher’s paper. But the carefully prepared and beautifully plated food is a surprise and culinary delight.
Our quest in eating in the Jewish Ghetto was to try Carciofi alla Giudea. Artichokes prepared in the Jewish style. We had been hoping to try both the alla Giudea and alla Romana at the same time for a comparison but Sora Margherita only had the alla Giudea when we were there. What arrives is a beautiful fired artichoke, served on a square of paper for the oil to drain. There is nothing fancy needed in this presentation, the artichoke is the star. The outer leaves are crispy like potato chips. The inside still tender and moist. Fork, watching around the room, followed suit and ate the entire thing, choke, stem and all. Spoon on the other hand, was far more demure and skipped the choke and the stem!
Next, Spoon ordered the Fettucine Cacio e Pepe e Ricotta. The Fettucine was fresh, made that morning. A giant tumble of beautiful hand made pasta. The pasta was simply dressed with pecorino romano cheese (cacio) and fresh cracked black pepper (pepe). As if this simple, but delicious, dish needed help, it was then topped with fresh ricotta. A huge portion. The flavors all melded together for an amazing pasta dish.
Fork and our lovely tour guide for the day, Antonella, had the Baccala Fritti. I don’t normally like baccala. Might have to do with the manky way Nonna prepared it for Christmas Eve dinner. Antonella said it was delicious and if I liked fish to try it. Glad I listened. The baccala (dried cod) was plump and crisply fried. The squeeze of lemon over the top gave it a fresh flavor. The down side were a few little bones, but certainly worth it. I do have to admit, though, I have never understood baccala. Catch a fresh fish, dry it out, and before cooking, reconstitute it. Huh? But this was very good.
Antonella also ordered the Aliciotti. Fresh anchovy dressed with lemon juice and olive oil with a simple salad of finochio (fennel) and olives. Fork does not like anchovies. You know, those horribly salty, hairy, brown little beasts they put on pizza? Yuck. But these were small, delicate and fresh. A very mild flavor that balanced well with the lemon, olives and finochio. Fork was pleasantly surprised by these wonderful little fish.
Dessert posed its usual problem. What to get, do we share. Those of you who follow along know the drill! Antonella, with the sweet tooth, insisted, we must have both the Torta di Ricotta e Cioccolato and the Torta di Ricotta e Ciliege and split them! One was studded with chocolate chips, the other had pieces of cherry throughout. Light, delicate, not overly sweet, the perfect ending to a perfect lunch.
Sora Margherita, Associazione Culturale ~ Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30 ~ Tel:06 6874216