Maria Vanni (left) and Mary Ann Brancaccio own and operate August.

An August sunshine in South Philly

Sono Motoyama
Philadelphia Daily News
Published: Friday, December 12, 2003

I AM SO HAPPY! There's a great new little BYOB just down the street from me, on a block that formerly boasted only "the best Chinese food on Thirteen Street." (And, as the workers are shielded by a clear, bulletproof panel, it's perhaps the best-protected Chinese food on "Thirteen Street" as well.)

August
1247 S. 13th St.
215-468-5926

Liquor license:
BYOB

Cash only

Reservations:
recommended weekends

Hours:
Tues. thru Sat.
5:30 to 10 p.m.

Entree prices
$12 - $23

Miscellaneous:
A $50 four-course
prix-fixe New Year's
Eve dinner is
being planned


MaryAnn Brancaccio and Maria Vanni did a fine job of fixing up their place, which was formerly an unspeakable Thai restaurant. Designed by Vanni, it's warmly lighted and beautifully remodeled in tasteful, earthy tones, with black tablecloths and silver Venetian blinds.

The duo named the restaurant August, after the month in which they met.

Though it opened in mid-October, already August has been warmly embraced by people in the South Philly neighborhood as well as out in the 'burbs.

Vanni, who has worked at Le Bec-Fin, the Restaurant at PSFS and Ave. B, handles the front of the house. Brancaccio, who has cooked at Frangelica and the Restaurant at PSFS, concocts the restaurant's "Italian fusion" cuisine in the gleaming open kitchen (though she likes to come from behind the stove occasionally to talk to customers).

Brancaccio's dad, Frank, now deceased, was also chef, at the fondly remembered Piccolo's 500 at 11th and Christian.

The menu has the simple, direct flavors of Italian cooking with the occasional surprise - the pucker of lime or spark of ginger.

On a recent Friday evening, I went over with my food-loving neighbor Terri, who was as eager to try the place as I. (I should note that Vanni knew who I was when I walked in, because I couldn't restrain myself from talking to the partners when they started renovating the space months ago.)

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I started with a savory $11 lollipop lamb chop special, with mango honey dressing - yummy (though I could have used something sharper than a butter knife to cut them with). Terri had the killer of the evening - pan-seared scallops ($9), delicately carmelized, that were perfectly offset by the bite of watercress in a ginger vinaigrette.

For an entree, I tried the penne pasta ($15), with shrimp, asparagus and white beans in a garlicky white wine sauce - not wow but nice and homey. Terri had the fish of the day, cod, served in a lime-pepper sauce with a scallion-cilantro risotto ($19). The risotto could have been creamier, but Terri found the cod "spectacular." (Personally, I'm not a fan of cod so am not a good judge.)

For dessert, Terri ordered the light-as-a-feather Aunt Lena's Cheesecake ($6), baked by Vanni's cousin Maria Bellezzi. A friend of the couple's, Darcia Medoway, makes most of the other desserts, including an excellent walnut-orange tart ($6).

Both Terri and I are looking forward to going back to our new neighborhood place. (When asked if she would go back, Terri said, "Heck yeah!")

As for Brancaccio, she says she loves working for herself. "The only thing that bothers me is I don't get to see my little doggies enough," she said