May 24, 2016

A Taste of History and Culture: Day Tripping Around Philadelphia

Emmanuel Fremiet's equestrian statue of Jeanne d'Arc, Philadelphia, PA
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
Our Philly day trip began with a memorable lunch at Brigantessa, a terrific little forneria that dishes up traditional southern Italian comfort food in a warm, inviting atmosphere (See: Visiting South Philly’s Brigantessa for all the details). Stuffed to the gills, and blessed with some nice weather, we decided to walk off our meal and do a little exploring.
Not realizing we were just a stone’s throw away from bustling South 9th Street, we unexpectedly happened upon the historic Italian Market and found ourselves caught between the long partisan lines of hungry customers outside Pat’s and Geno’s famous cheesesteak restaurants. Just like my last visit—but for very different reasons—I was unable to try their celebrated hoagies and finally decide for myself which one I like better. Walking all the way to the iconic Frank Rizzo Mural on Melrose, we did a little window shopping before making our way back to the car.
The Mayor Frank Rizzo Mural in Philadelphia's Italian Market
With the Feast of St. Rita coming up (May 22nd), how could we not visit the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia at 1166 South Broad Street? Offering us a brief respite from the bustling crowds, we lit a few candles and said our prayers inside the monumental church. 
Inside the National Shrine of St. Rita
Feeling refreshed, we continued on to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.) to admire its world-renowned collection. Perusing the European Art galleries, we saw so many wonderful treasures, including the works of Auguste Rodin, Antonio Mancini, Luca Giordano and Giuseppe De Nittis. Luckily, this time around I was able to get a clear photo of De Nittis’ Return from the Races.
Moving on, my friend wanted to bring his wife home some quality tea so we stopped by the Melange Tea and Spice Shop at 1042 Pine Street. While he was deciding what kind of tea to buy her, I took the opportunity to pick up some aromatic Spanish saffron for my upcoming attempt at making pasta allo zafferano. We were interested in seeing more of this quaint area, but unfortunately the heavens abruptly opened up and the rain came pouring down.
Unsure of what the traffic would be like, we decided to head back to Brigantessa. I know there are plenty of other terrific restaurants to try (and one day I hope to do so), but we enjoyed our lunch at Brigantessa so much we made reservations for dinner. They have valet parking, but as luck would have it we arrived sooner than expected and found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant.
Return from the Races, oil on canvas (1875), Giuseppe De Nittis (1846-1884), Philadelphia Museum of Art
Seeing that we were early, and the rain had subsided somewhat, we decided to check out the neighborhood a little bit more in the opposite direction. I’m glad we did because we discovered so many things to see. 
The Singing Fountain
Strolling down E. Passyunk Avenue we quickly stumbled upon the “Singing Fountain” at the intersection of Tasker and 11th Streets. If the weather had been nicer and we didn’t already have other plans for dinner, I’m certain this mini oasis—complete with benches, greenery and a chess board—would have been an ideal place to relax and listen to the fountain’s music while enjoying a slice of pizza from nearby Gennaro’s Tomato Pie. 
Since everything in my mind is somehow distantly connected to Naples and southern Italy, I naturally assume the mermaid figure at the top of the babbling fount is suppose to be the legendary “maiden-voiced” siren Parthenope, who famously killed herself after failing to entice the Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin), King of Ithaca. According to legend, her body washed ashore at the isle of Megaride in the Bay of Naples and was the name of the original Greek settlement there.
Some exhibits inside the History of Italian Immigration Museum
Continuing our walk, we noticed there was no shortage of Italian eateries. Passing Marra’s, Birra and Stogie Joe’s Tavern, we eventually came across the History of Italian Immigration Museum (1834 E. Passyunk Ave.). Happy to discover it was still open, we decided to take the tour. Though small, the museum is packed with Italian American material culture. The eclectic collection includes artifacts from the earliest Italian immigrants to contemporary arrivals. Among the many items on display are parts of Sam Rosati’s old barbershop, including a vintage child’s swivel chair complete with rocking horse head.
The Joey Giardello Statue by Carl LeVotch
While everyone is familiar with the famous “Rocky” statue located outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, across the street from the History of Italian Immigration Museum is the lesser known Giardello Statue. Unveiled in 2011, the bronze and granite sculpture was the work of artist Carl LeVotch in honor of local boxing legend Carmine Orlando Tilelli, better known as Joey Giardello. Born in Brooklyn, Giardello lived most of his life in East Passyunk and was the middleweight champion of the world from 1963 to 1965. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
Mural celebrating the culture of the Abruzzo outside Le Virtù Restaurant
Still up for more exploring, and having a little more time to kill before our reservation, we continued our passeggiata and spotted a large mural celebrating the culture of the Abruzzo region of southern Italy. The painting faces the patio dining area of Le Virtù (1927 E. Passyunk Ave.), a restaurant specializing in Abruzzese cuisine. As it turns out, the owners of Le Virtù also own Brigantessa. We took a peek inside and checked out the mouthwatering menu and, of course, loved what we saw. It seems I added another thing-to-do to my burgeoning Philly bucket list.
Details of the mural show the Serpari, or snake handlers, of Cocullo, L'Aquila, putting snakes on their patron San Domenico di Sora; a lady from Orsogna, Chieti, with la conca (copper pots) on her head; and the endangered Marsican, or Apennine brown bear, indigenous to the forest of the Abruzzo National Park
It was time for dinner, and we worked up a hearty appetite, so my friend and I headed back to Brigantessa for another phenomenal meal. Satiated and content, we said goodbye to Philly and made our trek home to NYC, rehashing the events of an all around great day. 
Also see:
Visiting South Philly’s Brigantessa
Revisiting Philadelphia’s Italian Market
Visiting “The Sixth Borough”