Yesterday was a perfect spring day and a gift to be enjoyed, so I set out determined to find Philadelphia’s Italian Market where I had never been before.
This area always sounded interesting, but I was never clear on how to get there by public transportation. The SEPTA people suggested I take the 47 bus going south on 8th Street, just a short walk from the Market Street East train station. This would put me close to anywhere I wanted in the Italian Market that stretches along 9th Street. On weekdays, the 47 bus runs about every ten minutes, and, like all public transportation within Philadelphia, is free for seniors.
A crowd was waiting at the bus stop because unusual traffic had backed up the schedule. The arriving bus had standing room only, but I only had a short ride of a few blocks past South Street. Many of the other passengers were black Bok Technical High School students, lively and friendly in the good weather.
The Italian Market is a unique, different world. I understand it gets crowded later in the day, especially on weekends, so arriving at lunchtime on a weekday was a lucky choice. The stores were all open and at least some of the street tables were filled with often unusual produce. Pig signs over store fronts were common, just as in Tony Soprano’s meeting place in New Jersey. Wall murals of Frank Rizzo and South Philly music stars of the past remind you where you are.
The two definitive sellers of Philly cheesesteaks, Geno’s and Pat’s, are at the far end of the Italian Market at the intersection of Passyunk Avenue. The one I got at Pat’s was alone worth the trip and will be the standard by which I will judge all others. There are two lines, one for just cheesesteaks (with instructions for ordering, see attached photo) and another for sodas, fries, and anything else. I ordered a “whiz wit.” (click photo to enlarge)
I had seen photos of the Geno’s-Pat’s area, but I was surprised how small it really is. Both 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue are narrow streets. Cars parked on both sides leave only one lane for traffic, and there was not much of that while I was there. Surprisingly, the Italian Market has a growing area of Mexican stores and restaurants that adds to the variety without significantly changing the atmosphere. There is a great cheese store and even a store selling live chickens and ducks that they will kill and dress for you.
After seeing the whole length of the Italian Market, I walked one block over to 10th Street to Fred Weinstein’s address. His house is a charming row house and I knocked on the door, mainly to see if it was indeed his house and he still lived there. His slim, vivacious wife, Arlene, answered the door and quickly invited me in, even though Fred was at a horticultural meeting. I jokingly asked if she was his wife or daughter, but either would fit. She was in the process of baking delicious cinnamon cookies and we chatted a short while before I continued on.
Center city was not all that far, so I walked back up on 9th Street rather than wait for a bus. It was a great walk that went past the Pennsylvania Hospital, Wills Eye Hospital, Jefferson Hospital, Jeweler’s Row, South Street, and charming tiny streets like Latimer. I stopped in a Whole Foods Market on South Street that we hope to get in our Wilmington area someday.
It was one of those great uncertain days where everything not only worked out, but was better than expected, even without Fred.