South Philly Do-Or-Die.

So I’m just gonna say it. South Philly has a lot of sucky aspects. There are some people down here that are just SO stupid and/or inconsiderate. There’s trash like urban tumbleweed because the city stopped street sweeping and removed corner trash cans. There are drug dealing corner bars that go unchecked for generations. (until recently that is :-) But I’m not really wanting to focus on the negatives. (like parking during, and after a snow storm). What I want to focus on however, are the positives!

And there are some seriously nice positives.

  1. Generally, once you get to know your neighbors, they can really be very sweet and considerate.
  2. There are corner stores peppered everywhere, so if your wife is wanting to cook something and finds she’s missing an ingredient, most likely the Italian corner store on one side of the block, or the Mexican corner store on the other side of the block will have what you’re looking for. (and I say “your wife” in a non-sexist way, because in our house she really enjoys cooking, and I’m more than happy to handle the clean-up, which she HATES… so we see it as a perfect harmony situation).
  3. There are many delicious places to eat out or order in, and they’re mostly within a 10 minute walk!
  4. There are multiple forms of mass transit crisscrossing and zig-zagging through the neighborhoods.
  5. Ah, Hello? HOLIDAY LIGHTS!!!
  6. Valentine’s Day Window DECORATIONS?
  7. Pretty cool row house construction sometimes.
  8. AND… an ever increasing number of cool new residents. Just to name a few of the positives.

But I want to focus on the first two items on my positives list. This Valentine’s Day morning, my lovely wife decided that she wanted to make waffles from scratch, and at about 8am she started to gather the ingredients together. But wait a minute! We don’t have enough butter?! No problem. Let me (as the assistant to the chef) throw on a jacket and some shoes and take a walk to one of the corner stores and buy some butter for my wife and her cooking proclivities.

A picture of a tastie looking plate of South Philly Waffles, with the waffle iron slightly out of focus in the background.

So I tried the Mexican corner store first, because they usually have more regular hours of operation… but 8am on a Sunday seems to be a little too early. Ok, how about the Italian corner store? Sometimes they surprise me. Nope, not this time. Ok, lemme walk half a block east and see if the Indian corner store is open yet. They’ve come through in the past for some milk for my morning cereal. But no. They too are closed this fine slush filled Sunday morning.

So coming up with 3 strikes, you’d think this Philly is out… but then I think, “Who knows, it can’t really hurt to ask.” So on my way back from scoping out the Indian corner store, I step into Varallo Brother’s bakery. Italian bakers use a LOT of butter, right? So maybe they’ll take pity on me and sell me a stick of butter? It can’t hurt to ask, right? So I walk up to the counter and hope that it’s one of the nice ladies that know me. (I’ve been known to stop by on occasion for their award winning cannoli or other tasty treats.) But it’s not my familiar ladies… it’s 2 new faces that I’ve never seen before, but more importantly have never seen ME. And I almost chicken out, but I muster my south philly bravado and just say, “Hi, this is gonna be a strange question, but, you wouldn’t be able to sell me a stick of butter could you?” (I know, I know, it’s not exactly “bravado” but it’s all I could muster! My momma raised me to be polite to strangers.) I get a funny look from both ladies, and I clarify that “My wife is wanting to make waffles, and we don’t have butter, and all the corner stores are closed.” Their skeptical looks give way to a half smile each, and the lady that greeted me says that she’ll go ask, but doesn’t think they have just “sticks” of butter.

Not sure what that means because I’m unfamiliar with the inner workings, and purchasing patterns of an Italian bakery, I just wait patiently. I figure at the least, I can tell my wife I’ve exhausted every possibility other than walking all the way (4 blocks) to the local Ack-ah-me. But to my complete and total surprise, one of the Varallo brothers comes out from the back, and in his hand… a 4-stick BRICK of butter still wrapped in its wax paper. He tells me it would be less trouble to “just take her out for breakfast”, and I joke back with him that it would require us to actually go “out”. And we chuckle a little. He puts the brick of golden tastiness in a brown bag and simply hands it to me and waves at me to take it, and scoots back to his kitchen before I could even adequately thank him for his wonderfully generous and nice act.

One of the very nice Varallo Sisters giving top notch service to a hungry customer.

WOW?! I mean I’ve always felt that the Varallo family is genuinely nice after you get past the oh-so-thin veil of gruffness that seems to mask all the older Italian shopkeeps in the area… but wow this was something else! I felt that I couldn’t just walk out of there with my free butter brick and not give them ANY money at all. So I asked the now surprised and amused looking ladies behind the counter if I could get a couple tasty looking danish and a couple of these little chocolate topped cookie pastries things that I’d never seen before.

I mean, c’mon, like I said… I couldn’t just walk out of there without giving them ANY of my money, right? It’s the neighborly thing to do! :-)

South Philly, sometimes you truly ROCK.

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