Italian Market Festival is a Hit

Filed under: Featured News,South Philadelphia,South Philly |

South 9th Street celebrated its rich heritage and its unique Italian flavors. Photos by Eldon Graham

By Eldon Graham

Philadelphia’s largest block party returned this weekend to celebrate another year of Italian culture. The 102nd annual S. 9th Street Italian Market Festival is the nation’s oldest outdoor market, which brings together family, fun, and activities for all.

The two-day festivities took place this past weekend. The festival was organized by Michele Gambino. Discussing what it is like to be a part of the Italian Market Festival, she said, “It’s an honor to be doing it. It is just so wonderful to be a part of a tradition that has lasted since forever.”

THE MAIN attraction at the festival was the food and the restaurants and shops did not disappoint. Termini Brothers Gold Medal Pastry tempted passers-by with gourmet baked goods.

Community merchants invited all to take part in the party taking place along 9th Street. The main attraction of the entire festival, for many attendees, was the food, food and more food. They sampled the array of authentic South Philadelphia dishes not available anywhere else, located through the length of the market.

Like the market itself, most of the buildings on the street have been around for over a century or close to it. Popular establishments such as Pat’s King of Steaks, Geno’s Steaks, Isgro Pastries, Ralph’s Italian Restaurant and many more were out serving their specialties. Gambino described it as a “plethora of everything.” Every Italian culinary delicacy possible made an appearance, such as gelato, roast pig, sausages, meatballs, pizza and tomato salad.

Jimmy Rubino, owner of Ralph’s Italian Restaurant, was out and about, enjoying the festival and getting to know his customers. “It’s fantastic,” he said. “Look at how great it is. It gives us a chance to come outside and serve our product to customers and meet them first hand in this environment and in the setting.”

Rubino’s restaurant hasn’t always taken part in the 9th Street festival but is happy to be celebrating now. “We actually stopped for several years,” Rubino said. “We’ve been back now for it’s been five years. For a little while, we were short on staff, so we were only able to work the inside. Now that we have a little more people, we were able to take our stuff out of here and be able to work the stand.”

The festival does a lot for the community, he says. “I think it’s great for morale. It’s great for people from a financial standpoint. We just opened Bar One across the street on the corner there, that’s ours. What this does is give us an opportunity to be able to promote the bar to maybe people who are coming to the festival who don’t know it’s open yet.”

The staff of Bar One were handing out takeout menus as the foot traffic passed through the intersection of Ninth and Catharine streets.

A traditional Italian grease pole was back for another year of competition. The 30-foot pole, greased with lard, was at its usual place on 9th & Montrose Piazza. Managing the competition signup was Jackie Grillo. She spoke about the success of the event the previous year: “Last year was our first year, and we only had it one day last year, so that’s about 75 people who came throughout the day.”

“The idea is to get a team together,” Grillo insisted. “To stack on top of each other, kind of build a human ladder/pyramid type of thing.”

ON GREASE PATROL this year were Brandi Towned, Anna Grillo and Jackie Grillo, waiting for signups for the Grease Pole competition at 9th & Montrose Piazza.

This year, teams competed on both festival days for prizes of meats, cheeses, gift cards and money, clinging to the top of the pole and holding on as best they could. “There’s all different things up there,” explained Grillo. “You have gift cards from all the Italian market stores, meats and cheese sticks. There’s a coupon to cut in front of the line Christmas Eve to Isgro. There are a lot of fun Italian Market-related prizes.”

At the Italian Market Festival, everyone is Italian, at least for a day – and many for a lifetime. John Gentile, a first-time attendee, commented, “It’s great and it’s wonderful.” The street had something for everyone.

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