By:  Mary Fran Bontempo

I’d almost forgotten.

At a time of year when it’s all about the food (witness the seven pound average packed on by most folks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day), I found it all too easy to simply rush into the supermarket, pack my cart with pre-wrapped, mass produced and packaged goods, lug everything home and grumble while putting it all away.

Sadly, that’s the relationship most of us Americans have with food.  We eat way too much, a lot of it is junk, and as for the aesthetic side of preparing and enjoying a meal?  Well, what’s that?

Fortunately, a trip to Philadelphia’s famed Italian Market (Rocky’s famous run, anyone?), followed by a visit to a storied bakery plus lunch at a fabulous South Philly treasure, all with fellow blogger Chrysa Smith, reminded me just how delicious, beautiful and yes, sensous, the experience of selecting, preparing and eating food can be.  (Not to mention the place is just plain fun to visit, especially during the holidays!)


A stop at Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop (1006 S. 9th Street), brought me face to face with my childhood in the form of rows of both pasta and pizzelle makers.  In no time at all, I was back in my Nanny’s kitchen at 21st and Jackson Streets, enthralled as I watched her mix flour, eggs, water and salt and somehow magically turn those simple ingredients into fresh, homemade pasta–sometimes spaghetti, sometimes ravioli, sometimes gnocchi–all delicious.  For dessert, delicate, snowflake-shaped, anise flavored pizzelles, a classic Italian cookie. 

The best part–aside from the eating, of course?  I was allowed to help.  I was part of creating our meal, as they say, “from scratch.”  Throw in a family of loud, crazy Italians and the experience cemented my idea of food as an almost primal, family experience.  I don’t think I’ve since felt the same connection, given my distinctly American way of cooking, but Fante’s brought it all back in a moment. 

Mr. Joe’s Cafe

A cup of freshly brewed tea, a Fante’s bargain at a dollar, enouraged more leisurly browsing through market cheese shops, spice stores and produce stands.  Soon enough, with growling stomachs, we decided to head a few blocks south to a delightful stop for lunch, Mr. Joe’s Cafe, at 1514 S. 8th Street.  Tucked away on a tiny corner, Mr. Joe’s plays host to locals and visitors alike, with around a dozen tables, one waitress and a menu of delectable pasta dishes with daily specials.

Upon entering, we noticed every table was fully occupied, so we informed Anna Maria, the cafe’s singular waitress, that we’d take a detour to the bakery across the street and be back shortly.  Luckily for us, Mr. Joe’s is owned and run by Vincent Termini, also of the aforementioned bakery, Termini Brothers.  Anna Maria nodded her assent and a few short steps later, we strolled through the door of a place that surely had its origins in heaven.  The smell from the street alone had us swooning.

Termini’s Bakery

Termini’s lets its customers get up close and personal with its wares, with goodies stacked along a huge center aisle counter as well as side display cases.  White jacketed sales clerks pleasantly explain the differences between pignoli, amaretti, taralli, sfogliatelle and almost countless other delicacies.  After taking it all in, and remembering a waiting table, we ordered our treats, asking the staff to hold our purchases for pick up after lunch, which they graciously did.

Back at Mr. Joe’s, we found ourselves treated to a complimentary glass of chianti while we feasted on crusty Italian bread, fresh salad and huge plates of homemade pasta.  Dessert, also included and from Termini’s, was a riccotta cheese cannoli.  Mouth watering and a bargain at around $14 a piece.

Florence, Denise. Vincent
Termini and Karen at
Mr. Joe’s Cafe

 Completing the homey and comfort-filled experience were our dining companions, South Philly natives Florence, Denise and Karen, a mother and two daughters, who shared stories about their lives, their home turf, and their devotion to all of the things Mr. Joe’s stands for–love of good food, love of family and the knowledge that the two really do go hand in hand.

During this holiday season, treat yourself to a visit to Philadelphia’s Italian Market or a similar place in your home town.  Check out a well-stocked cooking store for a trip down memory lane to Grandma’s kitchen.  Visit Terminis for fabulous holiday sweet trays.  (You can also place orders at  Stop for lunch at Mr. Joe’s or a neighborhood favorite of your own and strike up a conversation with fellow diners. 

At a time of year when we spend so much time eating, remember that food can be an experience that encompasses all five of your senses.  Get close to the food again, and remember that meals, properly prepared and enjoyed, nourish the soul as well as the body.  Happy Holiday Wandering and Eating!