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Femmina Italian Grill

by James Verde; Photo by Douglas Bovitt
Femmina Italian Grill: Bring Your Appetite
408 Stokes Road
(609) 714-8800

Our poor server. Carrying a bowl—wait, let me rephrase that: a rather large bowl—brimming with mussels marinara, I could see a sweat breaking out on her brow. The muscles in her forearms rippled. Her jaw clenched. Working at Femmina Italian Grill is a workout. No need for gym memberships for this friendly crew; the massive portions on weighty plates in which this Medford mainstay specializes create all the lifting and toning any human would need.

After working over the mussels, some sweet and plump, others scrawny and funky, I tried to heft the spent bowl and hand it off to our server while she cleared.

I made the mistake of using one hand, and it went clattering back down it was so heavy. Good thing I’d only gotten it an inch off the table; things could have gotten messy.

My brief moment of clumsiness was quickly forgotten once the entrées arrived. A special of grouper brought no less than four fillets swimming in a caper-studded Livornese sauce.

The tasty fish, not seen on enough menus around the area, would have been better served with a little less of the sharp lemony sauce, thus keeping the fish’s seared crust intact, but some may feel differently. After all, diners flock to Femmina because of the Coppola family’s reputation for homey excess that would make nonna proud. This was best evidenced by my neighbor’s veal parm?esan. It looked like there were at least six pieces of meat on that plate. Value is all well and good, but it’s also relative; when half the food goes uneaten, where’s the value in that? No one in the dining room, including me, seemed to mind as we already had tomorrow’s lunch planned.

The mozzarella en carozza could have used a little salt, but I liked this antipasto otherwise. Three pyramids of breaded and fried cheese arrived floating on a tide of marinara. Their crunchy, golden-brown outsides broke open to reveal flows of milk-white mozzarella magma, oozing into the tomato sauce. Complimentary salads were crisp and fresh, with tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion tucked between the chopped romaine and a trio of house-made dressings—the creamy roasted garlic was a showstopper—served on the side.

I swear there were two pounds of pasta in the rigatoni Bolognese, but the cooked-all-day meat sauce was so deep and soulful, with a mysterious hint of sweetness, I found it totally irresistible. Beefy crumbles clung to the ridges of the rigatoni, delivering a perfect union of pasta and meat in each bite.

Some of the pastas are made in-house, too, like the seafood ravioli that accompanied that grouper special. The pink, square-cut raviolis were a high point, cooked al dente and full of flavor with their filling of shrimp, lobster and crab.

The juicy tomato bruschetta (complimentary) was a fine way to start the night, and the moist, not-too-sweet tiramisu cake was a better way to end it. That was certainly one plate that went back very, very empty.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 10 (January, 2012).
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