by Chrysa Smith

Earlier this fall, I went to market in NYC–Chelsea Market. A bit disappointed with the unusually small number of offerings for NY, I headed south last week—south to Philly. MaryFran came along for a day of urban therapy—leaving behind the homogeneous solitude of the burbs for the tastes, sounds and textures of Old World, Italian, South Philly. (Hey, what’s it to you?)

Imagine Philadelphia–the colonial city, almost a century ago. The Italian immigrant population, with pushcarts and cuisine of the culture set up on the streets in a central marketplace. This is the Italian Market.

If you can get there, do it. It’s off Washington and 9th Streets—very close to I95. It’s a great, condense few blocks of incredible foodie finds that follow—-get this—FREE parking. Well, truth be told, we parked in the free lot of a vacant store—nobody with a truck to threaten a potential towing. You can’t argue with no tolls (well from Bucks County) and no parking charges. It was a great start to an even better day.

We began with the tools of the trade at Fante’s—-every possible kitchen aid and in-house coffee shop, in a charming old world atmosphere. Prices? Pretty darn good. We walked out with a strainer, espresso, chocolate espresso beans and some sort of wavy baking tray that I’m using in the bottom of my fridge to hold my open wine bottles—my fridge door never looked so good and empty!

Next, onto DiBruno Brothers—famous for its cheese and now, some Philly bank commercial, they’ve got it all. They’ll cut it fresh off the big, Italian block and with a variety of accompaniments to go with it—-olives, candied fennel, cinnamon bacon? Come on now—where on earth in the burbs can you find this?

On to the spice shop—even though it looks like a bulk larder, a little word of warning–DON’T DARE help yourself. I didn’t see the half-dozen signs located throughout the tiny shop and actually had my little spice bag (that I was filling with Cilantro) taken away from me. The clerk began again—don’t know where she put the original flakes—-but I left with what I needed, though a bit sheepish.

The butcher (and there are a few), Cannulli Brothers, has some of the best veal you can get in the region—plus a show. The long-term, old-time butchers like to kid with the ladies—wink, wink. You’ll wink-wink when you see the advertising on their clothing line (let’s just say their English teachers would be appalled with their use of the word pork as a verb rather than a noun).

Through a few produce stores with very reasonable pricing and cross Washington Street to a whole different neighborhood; one where MaryFran introduced me (and will you) to a favorite Italian bakery and it’s sister cafe—Mr. Joe’s, where comp Chianti and dessert makes it a day to treasure—and do all over again.

Italian hospitality and the urge to mangia, mangia (eat, eat) is in the air, in the windows and on your mind. If you’re looking for something different to do for the holidays—and catch a bit of tradition in the city, plan a trip. And plan to read a bit more detail from Mary Fran in upcoming blog posts.