Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Bright Light, Big Appetite

Acappella: Church Hill's newest restaurant satisfies the hunger inside.

Located in the Patrick Henry Inn, Acappella features a charming downstairs pub as well as the more formal upstairs dining room. The same menu is offered to patrons in both rooms and features traditional pasta dishes for around $9 or $10, and several German and Italian entrees in the $15 range. Whereas the food complements an evening in the dimly lighted bar, it is stretched beyond its capabilities when it travels upstairs to the white tablecloths.

Downstairs, we sat and chatted with the bartender over a couple of beers. The few tables in the small dining area adjacent to the bar were full, and a pleasant din of conversation made the place feel cozy. We munched on mixed green salads ($4.95) with the zesty house-made Italian vinaigrette and awaited our entrees.

We went multinational: The Wiener Schnitzel ($14.95) offered two nicely tender veal steaks breaded and sautéed. All German entrees are accompanied by a potato pancake, red cabbage and applesauce. The cabbage and applesauce were fine foils. The pancake was stiff and contributed little.

For our Italian connection we chose the Giambotta ($14.95), a hearty blend of chicken, sweet sausage, peppers, mushrooms and potatoes sautéed in garlic and oil. Nothing flashy, it's good bar grub to keep you afloat while you chew the fat. Both these entrees were affordable and appropriate in such a setting. While we were finishing up, I asked the barkeep how business was doing. He confirmed what I suspected: The bar patronage has been growing steadily since the restaurant opened a few months ago, while the dining room's dozen or so tables are rarely full.

When we had dined upstairs the week before, we had a few observations as to why this might be the case. First, it's so bright. The white tablecloths, fireplace and high ceiling could contribute to an elegant atmosphere, but with the lights pumping out about a zillion candela, it feels as if you're on the set of "My Dinner With Andre." Moreover, even with our sunglasses on, we couldn't help but notice that the food didn't fit. My Faisher Hase ($12.95), or German meatloaf, was slightly savory and accentuated by a center layer of boiled egg and bacon. The stuffed roasted pork loin ($13.95) was a bit dry but otherwise acceptable. Both were robust and filling, and both were reasonably priced, but these dishes just didn't have the bounce in either preparation or presentation to fulfill the "fine dining" atmosphere that the venerable old room and trimmed tables suggest. I'm not saying I had a bad meal. I just felt like I was having a pretty good meal in a disjointed, brightly lighted dream.

Acappella serves reasonably priced, hearty food. With plenty of chicken, veal and pasta on the menu, you don't have to spend a fortune to satisfy your appetite. Wine and spirits are affordable, and the staff is friendly. In the bar's cozy environment these points coalesced into a comfy dinner with nice folks. Whereas upstairs, in the glare of "elegance," those same attributes didn't shine as brightly. S

Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years in every job from dishwasher to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.

Acappella ($$)

2300 E. Broad St.


Dinner daily, 5 p.m. until close

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