As the Italian Market celebrates 100 years, the Ninth Street corridor’s identity remains steeped in—what else?—food.
A tour of Italy, through the Italian Market: Items from the four-course Turista menu at pocket-sized Sicilian BYOB Monsu.
On a sunny October day in 2007, the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission unveiled one of its gold-lettered blue signposts at the corner of Ninth and Christian Streets, marking the crossroads of the “South Ninth Street Curb Market.” The verbiage was not without controversy—when has anyone ever called the Italian Market a curb market?—but it did reflect the strip’s evolving DNA in a more all-inclusive way.
Everyone still calls the Italian Market the Italian Market, but anyone who has taken a walk down the drag in recent years knows it is a multiethnic, multigenerational wonderland. In the Market, you can satisfy cravings for tomato-braised tripe sandwiches at George’s Sandwich Shop (215-592-8363) and refried bean tlacoyos from Tortilleria San Roman, freshly made tangles of tagliatelle at Talluto’s Authentic Italian Food, and hot chocolate volcanoes from French coffee maven Rim Café. Such diversity is the main reason why the Italian Market endures as a touchstone of Philadelphia culture, one that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
“For the last 100 years, when people think of Ninth Street, they think of food,” says Michele Gambino, business manager at the United Merchants of South Ninth Street Business Association. “Food is a social thing, a family thing, and what we share as a community here.”
“This has been a business district filled with immigrants since the market opened, and it hasn’t changed,” she adds. “In the last few years, an influx of Mexican businesses have really put our Mexican restaurant scene on the map.”
Charcuterie and cheese at Di Bruno Bros.
“Since we started way back in 1939, a lot has changed in the Market,” says Emilio Mignucci, whose grandfather and uncle started what may be the Market’s most recognizable purveyor, cheese and cured meats specialists Di Bruno Bros. “But the diversity and convenience are what make it so great.” On any given day at Di Bruno Bros., you’ll find Center City dinos who swear by the mozzarella, stay-at-home graphic-designer dads navigating strollers through the narrow aisles, out-of-towners with cheesesteaks on the brain, even roving groups on grazing tours.
One such tour is Jacquie Peccina-Kelly’s Taste 4 Travel; the trained chef has been running them for the past five years, and Di Bruno’s is a frequent stop. “I can eat my weight in samples,” she laughs. “Since I started my business, I have noticed a resurgence in the Italian Market. Outdoor seating is encouraging shoppers to stick around after shopping to enjoy a cup of coffee or a snack, and the nightlife is booming, with great restaurants like Monsu and Nina’s banging out fantastic, memorable meals.”
Behind Monsu (215-440-0495), a Sicilian BYOB, as well as Paesano’s Sandwich Shop, is chef Peter McAndrews. He compares the Market to “a grand old lady: Sometimes she is exquisite and all-giving, but she also has a mean streak.” Challenges for the businesses include parking, dependency on weather, and a “lack of cooperation among us vendors, [which] impedes and inhibits the Market’s growth and stability.”
McAndrews’s honesty is a refreshing counterpoint to the romanticized view of the Market, but it hasn’t stopped a crush of new entrepreneurs from snapping up vacancies and birthing the likes of swanky olive oil and vinegar taproom Cardenas and gluten-free bakery Taffets. Blue Corn (215-925-1010), a colorful Mexican cantina with wicked margaritas, opened last year next to Talluto’s. Chef Joncarl Lachman, who owns the popular Dutch BYOB Noord, is on deck to open Restaurant Neuf, a North African–inspired restaurant across from red-gravy stalwart Villa di Roma (215-592-1295). The list goes on. Whether you call it the Italian Market, the Curb Market, or simply Ninth Street, this centenarian remains, if nothing else, a fantastic place to eat.