Let’s face it we all have a comfort zone. Places we go to over and over again because we know them and our familiar with them. And yes there may be other places to do the same thing but we go back to our familiar places because they are in our zone.
Growing up in Philadelphia I’ve developed my own comfort zone within the Italian Market. I frequent the same stores, purchase the same products and deal with the same people time after time. Well this past trip to Philadelphia I was ready to break free of my comfort zone; experience some new things and try some food I'd never tried before. What better way to do that than on a 4 hour culinary tour of the area with Chef Jacquie Peccina-Kelly, owner of Taste 4 Travel.
Like myself Chef Jacquie grew up in South Philadelphia and has been going to the Italian Market since she was a little girl. Coming from different neighborhoods we have varied views of the Market and what stores we frequent. So I knew for certain that taking Jacqui's tour would bring me out of my comfort zone and allow me to try some new things.
Let's begin. Our tour started at Anthony’s Coffee House, a quaint little shop serving all things coffee. We got to sample their morning espresso while we had a chance to get to know Jackie and acquaint ourselves with the other tour takers. During this time Chef Jackie provided each member of the group with shopping bags, bottled water and lots of information.
With Jacquie leading the way we headed to DiBruno Brothers. My first real test. There are two notable cheese shops on 9th st. DiBruno’s and Claudio’s and I have always been a Claudio’s girl. I know what I like there and don’t mind waiting in the long lines to get it. So I took a deep breath and encountered my first real visit to DiBruno's.
We were introduced to Zeke who immediately led us to a small tasting station in the back of the tiny store. While slicing us some Parmesan he shared some of the history behind DiBruno’s and the differences between them and Claudios. Summing it up in my own words: I see Claudio's as more "old school" and DiBruno's as more "new".
Back to Zeke. He knew his products and was happy to let us try some olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I enjoyed my visit to DiBruno’s and was happy to break out of my comfort zone. They know their cheese and have a wonderful selection of products. But there's something about Claudio's "old world" charm that will keep me going back there.
Next we headed slightly west of the market to Isgro’s Bakery. Isgro’s has been baking pastries at this location since 1904. Walking into the bakery you can't gaze is immediately drawn to the large assortment of pastries on display. The women behind the counter were eager to tell us stories about how it all began while they hand filled some cannoli's for us to taste.
Off to our next stop; Talluto's, where we were given a demonstration of how pasta is cut fresh for each customer. I had never been to Talluto's before but plan to add it to my list of places to stop along the Italian Market. Their pasta is one of the best fresh pastas I've ever had.
Jacquie led us through the small streets of the city to our next culinary destination: Ricci Hoagies. Once there we took a welcomed break and shared some authentic Italian hoagies. Made the traditional way with oil no mayo and lots of sliced Italian meats and cheeses these hoagies were delicious.
Bitar’s was our next stop. Not Italian but an icon none the less in this neighborhood. Bitar’s has long been one of the only places serving middle Eastern food in the area. We were given some fresh baked pita and hummus to nibble on while we chatted about what we had learned so far.
Directly across the street from Bitar’s is Slice Pizza. A newcomer to the neighborhood Slice serves thin crust pizza. This is very different from the traditional Philadelphia pizza I'm used too but good none the less. The pizzas are made with all fresh ingredients and you can get some pretty interesting toppings.
The last stop on our tour was the infamous Pat’s Steaks. This was going to be the true “test” of my comfort zone. In case you don’t know there’s a cheese steak war going on between Pat’s and their rival, directly across the street, Geno’s. I can’t remember ever having a cheese steak from Pat’s, although my husband swears I have. Oh and Chez Whiz…definitely not. Well that was what Jacquie had planned for our final tasting of the day. I’ll admit I was curious and even a little eager to see what all the hype was. Although tasty I knew right away that I was not going to be converted; especially to cheese whiz.
Jacquie, does a great tour of the Italian Market and her bubbly personality makes it even more enjoyable. This is a wonderful way for people to experience 9th st. for the first time. Or if you’re like me, it’s a great opportunity to get a fresh look at all the Market has to offer. I would highly recommend this tour, so if you're in the area or just passing through think about it...it's worth it.