Epiphany “Pip” De Luca was 19 years old in 1963 when his father Dominic “Kaiser” De Luca, threw him into the original Hello Dolly Bar as a beer loader and pot washer. Later on his duties increased to opening up on Mondays at 7 a.m. to host the hucksters that arrived for their day off early morning knock backs of hot coffee and anisette. Talking about all the deals and hot items, the men could, smoke, drink and kick back in peace.
“You see, Monday was the day Ninth Street Market was closed.” Pip lets me know, “By 12 noon the place cleared out. The guys all went to the track.” Thus began the foundation of what is now a South Philly restaurant icon, the Villa Di Roma.
I order the Chicken Sicilian and my waitress, Jean Righi, a slim bundle of South Philly energy, informs me that “Rachel Ray loved the dish!” I understand why. The recipe, handed down from the late renowned chef, Vince “Cous” Pilla, was a bountiful plate, full of fresh chicken chunks, capers, olives, mushrooms and cherry peppers coated in a sublime sauce to which even picky Inquirer Food Critic Craig Laban gave high marks.
On another night I ordered Gnocchi with 2 Meatballs. I must say that there is something so authentic about hand rolled meatballs. Coming in early every morning at the crack of dawn, Uncle Sammy makes the gravy and meatballs. “Nothing mechanical!” Pip exclaims. Sotto voce, they might get a helper for him one day. Here is a secret; you can actually buy Meatballs and Gravy as take out, $4.00 for pint of sauce and $3.00 each for the meaty lumps. Less work for Mother on Sunday!
A family affair, Pip’s brother and sisters help keep the place running as smooth as the ricotta filling in the Isgro’s cannoli served there for desert. In addition to Uncle Sammy, brother Frank does the cooking Monday through Friday, sisters Mariann and Anna, jump in as bartender or waitress during the week. Not owning a computer, the restaurant is still run as a Mom and Pop operation with hand written slips and ledger books. Did I mention, the fresh ingredients come right from the Market?
Open seven days a week, “except for family holidays and The Super Bowl”, you can find customers from every walk of life, from Mafiosi to Medicine Men, and from not only the neighborhood but globally as well.
A nice thing about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. And what better way to do this than to stop and clean our plates at the Villa Di Roma?
Villa Di Roma
936 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours Open 7 days a week.