FOOD & DRINK

Delicious dish

Restaurants may come and go, but a good meal, fine atmosphere and welcoming service can transcend decades.

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 14 | Posted Oct. 13, 2005

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I tend to wax nostalgic whenever I think of restaurants long gone. They were the places of my childhood, places where I learned about good manners and tasted many different foods for the first time.

Palumbo's is the most famous shuttered restaurant in South Philadelphia. It was more than a restaurant. It was a showplace for Italian food, movie stars and entertainers. Owner Frank Palumbo presented the finest entertainers in the country, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin.

It was the place my husband, Edward, sipped his first martini at age 21. The food was pure Italian American and Palumbo's heyday was before the Italian food revolution. So, let's talk pasta. Of course, it wasn't called pasta then. It was spaghetti or macaroni.

Palumbo's spaghetti and meatballs were famous -- so famous there's a classic photo that ran in newspapers throughout the country -- and is even on this page -- of the two Franks, Palumbo and Sinatra, tucking into a bowl. You could order ravioli or lasagna, all covered in homemade gravy. Mussels arrived in homemade gravy, as well. Veal parm, chicken parm or a thick steak rounded out dinners.

I recall two other Italian restaurants that have disappeared: Tarello's on the 1600 block of Chestnut Street and DaVinci's on Walnut Street, which is now the home of the Irish Pub.

My family or friends and I would often enjoy dinner at Tarello's after catching a movie at the now torn down Fox Theater. Tarello's had a colorful mosaic of a bull and matador at the entrance. I could never understand this salute to Spain because the food was pure Italian. Tarello's was slightly dark inside; I guess the owners thought it made for a romantic atmosphere. Like Palumbo's, Tarello's served Italian-American food.

DaVinci's was more kitschy. The entrance and interior had

knock-offs of Da Vinci and Michelangelo artworks. The tables were covered in red- and-white checked cloths that, during the '50s and '60s, meant you were dining in a "real" Italian restaurant. It was at DaVinci's that I tasted my first lasagna.

Sometimes memory plays funny tricks on us. I can't remember whether Philadelphia had a Schraft's restaurant, but I do remember Stouffer's. Today, Stouffer's is known for its Lean Cuisine, spinach soufflé and macaroni and cheese. But when I was a girl, Stouffer's was a genteel place where ladies wearing suits, gloves and hats lunched on dainty fare. There were two locations -- one on Chestnut Street and one near the now-shuttered ice-skating rink at Penn Center. (Oh, do I miss that skating rink!)

Stouffer's offered American food, like chicken a la king, Waldorf salad, tea sandwiches, creamy homemade soups, chicken pot pies and, for dessert, hot fudge sundaes.

The Pub was just steps away from Stouffer's on Chestnut. The location now houses a clothing store, but the tiled "welcome mat" at the door still says "The Pub." At lunchtime, my friends and I loved their burgers and hot brisket sandwiches on rye topped with gravy.

Then there was the Pub Tiki. Talk about kitsch. The place was on the corner of 18th and Walnut streets at the entrance to Rittenhouse Square. It was a Polynesian nightmare inside with over-the-top atmosphere, as if a person wanted to recreate "Mutiny on the Bounty" indoors. Drinks were served in carved ceramic tiki glasses complete with small colorful paper umbrellas. We shared the infamous pu pu platter, a large round plate with a sterno in the center in which you "cooked" already cooked food, such as miniature egg rolls, spareribs, chicken and pineapple on wooden skewers and chicken livers wrapped in bacon. Although the food was sort of Chinese, the addition of cherries and pineapples made it "Polynesian." Fruit was tossed into any stir fry from chicken to shrimp.

Whenever I think of burgers, The Harvey House immediately springs to mind. It was on South Broad Street, near the then-Shubert Theatre, now the Merriam. The Harvey House was open for lunch, dinner and late-night supper. I can still see the wooden booths lining the wall in the backroom. I can still taste the famous Harvey burger, topped with grilled bacon and cheddar cheese. The ice cream sodas and milkshakes were second to none.

STEAKHOUSES WERE BIG when I was growing up. Frankie Bradley's on Juniper Street was famous for its rib steak with garlic served on a plank. It drew politicians for lunch and dinner who went to eat and be seen. Arthur's Steak House on Walnut Street, where Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine is now, was more upscale and formal than Frankie Bradley's. Arthur's always served voluptuous oysters.

Kelly's on Mole Street, owned and operated by Sam Mink, was famous for its raw bar and fresh fish. His son David later opened the Sansom Street Oyster House in 1976. To me, the latter still serves the finest cherrystone clams and oysters in the city.

But I really miss Horn & Hardart. It was the original fast-food emporium -- the automat. You were given a handful of nickels, you placed them in a slot, opened a glass door and pulled out sandwiches, salads, cakes and pies. Hot food was served from a steam table and contained everything from the best Salisbury steak I have ever eaten -- and today no one can make it taste like Horn & Hardart's -- to creamed spinach, macaroni and cheese, Harvard beets, whipped turnips and homemade baked beans, piping hot in their brown ceramic ramekins, topped with a slice of crisp bacon. The coconut custard pie floods me with memories as does the vanilla cupcakes topped with a rich thick chocolate frosting.

I enjoyed Chinese food at Harry Chin's in Chinatown and the Cathay Tea Garden on Chestnut Street, right near the John Wanamaker store, which is now Lord & Taylor. Harry was a friendly guy who always doted on me and my sister. He always brought us a Shirley Temple topped with a paper umbrella. These were the days when you ordered from Column A and Column B. Won-ton soup, egg rolls, chicken chow mein, shrimp in lobster sauce, chocolate

ice cream and fortune cookies were theorder of the day.

The Cathay Tea Garden opened duringthe 1920s and I believe it was once a speakeasy, but I'm not sure. My mom Berthe, who is 90, would go to lunch there with friends. My friends and I would lunch there as well, until it closed in the 1960s. The funniest thing about this place -- it was a Chinese restaurant that served a loaf of Italian bread to all its customers.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 14 of 14
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1. Stafford J. Keer said... on Jun 24, 2010 at 01:03PM

“Your article brings back my childhood memories of the Mole St. restaurants.
Mrs Kelly had the larger and more known place. My Grandmother Lena Keer had the last of several Keer restaurants at 17 S. Mole and across the street was Wagner's. When I visited my grandmother;s restaurant on Sundays I would often walk by Mrs Kelly's and many times she and I would have a chat. She was a friendly woman. My grandmother had a contract to feed the juries and prisoners in City Hall. After 50 years the Keer restaurants went out of business in 1941.”

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2. Helen said... on Oct 16, 2010 at 09:22AM

“Since this review was posted back in 2005, by Phyllis Stein Novak, I wonder if she is still living. I loved her article about so many Philadelphia Restaurants that we visited, growing up in Philadelphia 60 yrs ago, or longer, since I am 78 now. Bookbinders, Cathay Tea Gardens, Turin Grotto and Tarello's with Victor Tarello there to greet us, and yes, the Hunt Room and yes, I remember Schraft's and Stouffer's on Chestnut Street and Child's up around Broad and Chestnut Sts, then there was Whitmans Chocolates further up on Chestnut around 16th that had a lunch counter in the back where we often grabbed lunch before going to the Boyd or the Aldine Theater to see a movie..... and yes, The Harvey House too down near the Schubert Theater........... and the .Horn and Hardarts automat was
always a treat too. I haven't lived in the Philadelphia area for over 45 yrs, but still have family there. Sure are lots of changes......Thanks for all of these sentimental memories.”

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3. Joe Kullman said... on Sep 13, 2011 at 01:36PM

“I remember most of these places, but one of my favorites was the Turin Grotto On 13th St. I believe. It was plain & simple & not too expensive. I especially recall the spaghetti & meatballs, & would love to get the recipe for their sauce, which I can still remember, but unable to duplicate.”

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4. Linda said... on Sep 23, 2011 at 05:43PM

“This wonderful piece written by Ms. Stein Novak was such a pleasure for a former Philadelphian. I remember Schraft's as a child with my grandmother, who would take me after the movies for a dish of ice cream served in paper liners fitted in stainless holders. I remember Stouffer's for lunch when I worked my first job for Bell Telephone of PA, located on the Parkway a block or so away from Penn Center. When I was a 13 year old girl, after a slumber party we young teens would take the train into the city and eventually wind up at the Pub Tiki at 2 on a Saturday and sit in the back of the bar, ordering a PuPu platter for all of us! How in the world did they tolerate that! As an older teen, we drove in from the suburbs late on a Saturday night to The Harvey House, where I enjoyed my first 'Reuben' sandwich. This piece brought back such wonderful memories. Thank you.”

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5. Dan said... on Oct 9, 2011 at 04:13PM

“The Turin Grotto at 13 N 13th St. was owned by my grandparents, Biagio and Stamura Amadio. The recipe for the sauce was my grandmother's. Great food and affordable. Still have a menu from the 60's framed in our home. My grandmother was the heart and soul of the place. She passed on and my grandfather gave it a go for a number of years, but the Market St. East area was starting to decay. He finally sold and enjoyed retirement after working so hard for 40 years in the same location.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Oct 25, 2011 at 09:17PM

“My parents met at the Cathay Tea Garden at a dance in 1938.”

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7. Agnes said... on Mar 16, 2012 at 02:09PM

“Loved reading about favorite childhood restaurants and would love the Horn and Hardart's chow mien recipe. Anyone have it?”

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8. howard said... on Mar 27, 2012 at 11:36AM

“Dan,
Can you look at your framed menu and check the street location? I have a sense that Turin Grotto was located on the north side of Chestnut Street, maybe between 12th and 13th. It was in the basement, I recall, and the Cathay Garden occupied the second floor. I can't remember the retail store that occupied street level, though.”

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9. Dan said... on May 27, 2012 at 08:08PM

“There were two Turin Grotto's . My grandfather and his partner Cesar Guala owned both and then they split the ownership/management. My grandfather kept the one located a 13 N 13th ST. near City Hall etc. Cesar had the other one which was right on Chestnut St. Both were great places to eat authentic and reasonably-priced Italian food.”

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10. Jo-Ann Miller said... on Sep 20, 2012 at 11:16PM

“I worked as a cashier at 1221 for my Grandpop, Carlo Merletti.
Guido & Francis Maggi were owners at that time. I am now retired and would love to have photos or even info about the upstairs (Cathey Tea Gardens) and my beloved Turin Grotto. Thanks.”

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11. Francis said... on Mar 21, 2013 at 11:33PM

“Getting back to Palumbo's, I had the privelege of seein the Mills Brother's there. There were three living at the time. One of them came out to the bar and my father had a beer with him. Silvy was the bartender who arranged it. It made my father's day.”

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12. Agnes said... on Dec 16, 2013 at 09:11PM

“Does anyone have the recipe for the Chow Mein at Horn and Hardart or Lit Brothers in Philadelphia? Really miss it. Closest is Chen's in Westerly Rhode Island. Anyone have that recipe? Getting to far for me to go there anymore but I could make it. Thanks for any help you can give me.”

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13. herb hantman said... on Jan 29, 2014 at 01:11PM

“I remember all the restaurant you mentioned But how can you leave out Linton's where your food came to you on a conveyor belt. And please let me add Shoyers on Arch Street, Ralph's on 9th Street. Maurices on Quence Street where us intellectual teens used to eat hamburgers and listen to classical music. Actually there is no end to the list of great gone forever restaurants in Philly so I must stop myself from going on...Herb Hantman”

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14. phil said... on Mar 28, 2014 at 03:55PM

“Turin Grotto wow what memories and it is funny now because they actually gave out little blotters, I found one in my desk and that is what made me search their name. Superb food Thanks for the memories of all those great food places. I also remember the Hanscum (?) bakery stores. Their birthday cakes were #1.”

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