Butcher's Cafe

 

Butcher's Cafe

9th and Christian St.
Philadelphia, PA

Go back 50, 60 years on Ninth Street, and there were seven Giunta butchershops just between Christian and Carpenter – the meat of the Italian Market, so to speak.

In fact, Frank Giunta tells me, so synonymous was Giunta (pronounced JUN-tah) with good red meat that other shops run by folk’s outside the family were dubbed "Giunta’s" capitalizing the reputation.

He is 78 now, a year of health problems behind him, three years out of the butcher business he was born to in the days when block ice still cooled his father’s fresh killed lambs, pigs and calves.

But unexpectedly – I should say delightedly – he found he could go home again. His old shop untouched since he closed its doors on the corner of Ninth and Christian, re-emerged at summer’s end under a dark awning as the handsomely authentic Butcher’s Café.

It is a good omen in a tattered Italian Market that’s in perpetual identity crisis, eroding as fast as it rebuilds.

Sonny D’Angelo, the specialty game proveyor, remembers when there were 18 butcher shops; now there are seven. The survivors have carved successful niches – Orlando Muniz sells goat and spicy blood pudding; Cappuccios, a luscious, peppery coiled chevlatta, the Italian pork sausage with provolone and parsley; Espisito’s, special beef cuts; Cannuli Bros., affordable pork and ribs; Frankie’s, suckling pig and so on.

Still, "it ain’t what it use to be," as Muniz puts it. And frank Giunta’s seemed like one more shop eclipsed by changed shopping habits and a third generation’s decision to go white collar.

That is until John Cancelliere, the peripatetic restaurateur - Longano’s, Volare, Monterey Grill – leased the shop that once sold him his veal chops and sausage.

Besides moving sawdust on the floor, little has been changed. The walls are white enamel, festooned with meat hooks. The display case now holds appetizers – hearty sautéed salmon and red onions in balsam vinegar, grilled eggplant, tender squid salad. The aspect – from whirling fans to hardwood floors to steel-rimmed mirrors – is butcher shop retro.

The menu is good, uncomplicated Italian food. "It’s not Italian American," says Chef Carlo Menella who was schooled in Naples. "It’s authentic Italian kitchen."

Indeed, the spicy, fried calamari appetizer ($7) is crispy and lightly battered. My simple spaghetti with intense tomato, pecorino cheese and pancetta ($11) was a lusty, tangy, robust platter. A whole striped bass special came expertly grilled; the meat inside flaky and moist, served with marinated artichokes and sun dried tomato. This is big-flavored food, decently cooked and generously served – veal chops, chicken piccata, and osso bucco.

The most loyal customer, Frank Giunta gravitates to the same table in the same spot where his mother served roast lamb, potatoes, spinach and Horn & Hardart mince pie for Thanksgiving. In fact, pictures of Frank in what was once a butcher shop still remain on the walls of what is now a café.

Rick Nichols
Inquirer Magazine
October 1999

Butcher's Cafe
9th and Christian St.
Cancellier Family
Phone: 215-925-6200
Fax: 215-925-5594
901 Christian St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147