Familiar Foods, Dances, Games & Religious Shrines Celebrate South American & Italian Traditions
aJames Beard Award winner Marc Vetri’s pizzeria serves traditional, Neapolitan-style pizzas from its 8,500-pound wood-burning oven. To wash down their pies, patrons can choose from a variety of beverages on tap, including rotating beers and red and white wine, plus a selection of bottled and canned beers.
Credit: Photo by M. Edlow for PHILADELPHIA®
Being far from home can make even a pope yearn for a little bit of the old country. When Pope Francis visits Philadelphia this September, the pontiff can assuage homesick pangs with food, drinks and activities popular in his birth country (Argentina) and current home (Vatican City surrounded by Rome, Italy). The city’s tight-knit Italian-American community and growing Hispanic population has spurred an abundance of delectable treats, traditional family activities and familiar places of worship. And just for the month of September, Pizzeria Vetri will serve a special “Il Papa” pie just for the pope after hearing how much he loves pizza.
Here are a few places where visitors can do as the Romans—and Argentinians—do in Philadelphia:
Sips & Eats:
- Touted for its complex flavors and powerhouse antioxidant properties, a cup of yerba mate (infused drink) gets special treatment at Caffeination, where baristas whip up a latte concoction of the Argentinian favorite. 2100 Chestnut Street, (215) 568-8006,caffeination.wix.com
- Chima recreatesthe South American churrascaria experience and adds a sophisticated setting. Diners feast on rodízio (meats) served by costumed gauchos in this meat-lovers paradise. 1901 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, (215) 525-3233, chima.cc
- Fogo de Chao celebrates the meat-centric culinary tradition of South America. The churrascaria keeps the churrasco (grilled meat) and other victuals coming until diners are sated. While beef takes center stage, the menu offers plenty for seafood lovers too. 1337 Chestnut Street, (215) 636-9700, fogodechao.com
- The traditional desayuno Argentino (Argentinian breakfast) at Gavin’s Café is not only the most important meal of the day, but also one of the tastiest. The hearty meal features authentic medialunas, facturas or bizcocho (pastries). A pope on the run might opt for a quick snack of the signature empanadas or house-made alfajores (traditional confection). 2536 Pine Street, (267) 519-2494, gavinscafe.com
- Mixto mixes it up with its “Parillada de Carne” platter, piled with churrasco Argentino,churrasco Colombiano, pork chop, Cuban chorizo, blood sausage and chicken. For a lighter meal, a simple churrasco Argentino featuring a succulent cut of outside skirt steak, vegetables and chimichurri sauce hits the spot. 1141 Pine Street, (215) 592-0363, mixtorestaurante.com
- The Random Tea Room & Curiosity Shop serves an organic-certified, roasted Argentinian mate that delights aficionados with its full-bodied chocolate hue and hints of toffee. Available hot or iced and with or without milk and sweetener, this traditional tea-like beverage takes people on a virtual escape to Buenos Aires. 713 N. 4th Street, 639-2442, therandomtearoom.com
Hit The Dance Floor:
- Dance Philadelphia can get anybody dancing Argentina-style. Lessons cover all skill levels, and dancers show off their moves during practicas and milangas (events with tango dancing). With two locations, fans can tango seven days a week. Buttonwood Studio, · At the Philadelphia Argentine Tango School, the staff and internationally renowned guest instructors transform confused beginners into sought-after partners. And with weekly practicas, frequent milongas and special events, people of all levels can mix, mingle and dance. · Both a professional looking to polish technique and a beginner with two left feet can master the intricacies of the dance during lessons at Sarah Chung Tango. Or they can showcase their skills during the regular practicas and milongas.
Sips & Eats:
- Creamy house-made cheeses, exotic meats, fresh produce and handmade pastas have kept shoppers returning to the open-air Italian Market for generations. One of the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor markets is more vibrant than ever thanks to new merchants selling Mexican, Vietnamese and other international cuisines.
- Pope Francis recently said that he misses grabbing a slice of pizza when the craving hits. Naturally, Pizzeria Vetri created a pie just for him—“Il Papa,” with fresh fig, mozzarella, lardo and pecorino—which will be available at both locations for the whole month of September.Although it might have originated in Italy, pizza is a culinary favorite in Philadelphia. Traditionalists and innovators have made the “What’s your favorite pizza shop?” question one that inspires heated debates. Best crust could be old-school Taconelli’s, a casual BYOB with a hint of neighborhood attitude, or Pizzeria Beddia, just named the country’s best pie by Bon Appétit. Tastiest toppings? Maybe Pizza Brain, which doubles as a pizza memorabilia museum,or Bufad, a corner BYOB
- While South Philadelphia is the home of traditional red-gravy Italian restaurants such as diners craving a taste of old-world cooking can easily find lush antipasti and fresh-made pasta all over the city. The upscale cuisine at Vetri, the grandma’s-kitchen atmosphere at and the opera performances that accompany dinner at the Victor Cafe have earned loyal followings. Dante & Luigi’s, 762 S. 10th Street, (215) 922-9501, danteandluigis.com; Ralph’s, 760 S. 9th Street, (215) 627-6011, ralphsrestaurant.com;
- Family-owned bakeries have been satisfying Philadelphians’ cravings for authentic Italian breads and pastries for generations. To add the finishing touches to family dinners, many locals arrive early for small-batch crusty breads from Sarcone’s Bakery; crispy, ricotta-filled cannoli from Isgro’s; pignoli pastries from Termini Bros.; or the signature cannoli-donut hybrid “franolli” at
Play (Bocce) Ball:
- Bocce is serious business at Bardascino Park when league teams compete for bragging rights, but both newcomers and casual players find an enthusiastic welcome. 10th & Carpenter Streets, bardascinopark.org
- After feasting on pizza or pasta at Café Michelangelo, guests burn off a few calories with a lively game of bocce ball in the outdoor court. 11901 Bustleton Avenue, (215) 698-2233, cafemichelangelo.com
- Beer gardeners delight in alfresco craft brews, beautiful landscaping and lawn games, including bocce, shuffleboard and oversized jenga, at Independence Beer Garden. The best part? It’s all on Independence Mall, across the street from the Liberty Bell. 100 S.Independence Mall West, (215) 922-7100, phlbeergarden.com
- South Philadelphia’s Marconi Plaza draws longtime residents and new players who want to hone their skills in a fun atmosphere—with a few friendly rivalries. Broad Street & Oregon Avenue
- The bocce courts at Spruce Street Harbor Park on the Delaware River waterfront are just one reason The Huffington Post named it one of the top urban beaches in the world. Spruce Street at Columbus Boulevard, (215) 922-2386, delawareriverwaterfront.com
- For more than a century, the Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia has been a spiritual, educational, social and cultural center for the Italian immigrants who settled in South Philadelphia at the turn of the century and the diverse community of the faithful who followed later. Managed by the friars of the Order of Saint Augustine, the shrine offers an active schedule of religious services and other activities to nurture individuals and families. 1166 S. Broad Street, (215) 546-8333, saintritashrine.org
- Every Sunday, the priests at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church conduct an early morning mass in Italian, a nod to the community’s rich Italian heritage. 1700 S. 9th Street, (215) 463-1326,stnicksphila.com
- Modeled after the Lombard Church of St. Charles in Rome, theItalianRenaissance-style Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul serves as the mother church for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Much of the interior was decorated by Constantino Brumidi, who painted the Capitol dome in Washington, DC. 18th Street & Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 561-1313, cathedralphila.org
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