By Joey Baldino
By Adam Erace
Formats and Prices
- Hardcover $35.00 $44.00 CAD
- ebook $16.99 $21.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 29, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
- Fennel and Orange Salad
- Arancini with Ragu and Peas
- Spaghetti with Crabs
- Hazelnut Torrone
Come on in, and join the club.
Explore book giveaways, sneak peeks, deals, and more.
I was standing on the landing of Palizzi Social Club on a humid, early fall evening. After nearly two decades of living in Philadelphia, there is a fluency in the way in which we posture on stoops. I was leaning on the front of the building, my right elbow against the door, and my left hand in my pocket, gazing up and down 12th Street waiting for some friends.
I imagined the waves of immigrants arriving from the green mountains and open sea of Abruzzo to the stark, concrete setting of South Philadelphia. Their new life promised backbreaking work, a new language, and uneasy integration. Farmers, teachers, and musicians became bricklayers, factory workers, and tailors. Neighborhoods with their different dialects were established and the foundation of the American Dream was spread over the streets of South Philly. For these newcomers, bowls of pasta and gravy and platters of sausage became as iconic and important as church.
South Philadelphia got rough. Grandparents passed away. Parents moved to suburbs in South Jersey for better schools and a better quality of life. Some stayed, like the Baldino family, and held close to their hearts traditions of suppers, serenades, and sausage sandwiches while the neighborhood changed around them.
Joey Baldino and I first met in the kitchen at Vetri in 2003. What first impressed me about this young cook was his work ethic and his drive. He didn’t stop. Not in a screaming, frantic way but a no-nonsense “I have a job to do and won’t stop until it is done” way. I’ve learned, over time, that many of us grasp at success by stepping on those around us. From day one in the tiny but electric Vetri kitchen, I watched Joey accomplish goal after goal, elevate, grow, and inspire, while boosting everyone around him. He has always been the first to comfort, crack a joke, flash his famous grin, and tell you with words or action that he is your family and will have your back.
I clearly remember Joey saving my life one morning at Vetri, by throwing himself in front of my body as I came crashing down the basement steps while carrying cases of produce into the walk-in. I came to, flat on my back, covered with boxes and bags of heirloom lettuce, with Baldino’s arms wrapped around me like he was cradling a baby. (I was at least 30 pounds heavier than him.) The image, I realize, is hilarious but sums up exactly who Joey is, where he comes from, and how he cares for his family.
Many years later, in the neighborhood in which Joey was born and raised, Palizzi Social Club is filled with aunts and uncles and punks like me and my obnoxious hipster friends who come for spaghetti and crabs, perfect stromboli, and hot espresso. Some come to experience the place that served their ancestors. I, however, come to give Joey bear hugs and try to get him to flash a smile. And, while my face is covered with gravy, I can’t help but to think how fortunate I am to be part of Joey’s family.
—Michael Solomonov, chef and co-owner of Zahav
The official name of the row house at 1408 South 12th Street in South Philadelphia is Filippo Palizzi Societa di Mutuo Soccorso di Vasto, but we always just called it the Club.
Filippo Palizzi was a famous painter from Vasto, a seaside village in Abruzzo on Italy’s Adriatic coast. When Dominico DiCicco and other immigrants from the town resettled in South Philly and founded the Club in 1918, they chose the artist as its namesake. These newcomers to America didn’t have much money or speak the language, so this smoky, wood-paneled, row home hangout became a way for them to preserve their traditions and take care of one another. In the early years, membership dues would pay for health care, funerals, and benefits for member families in need. Over the decades, the assembly grew to two hundred members, relaxing the charter rules to first allow Italians from outside Abruzzo, then women. Italian American entertainers would drop by when they were in town—boxers, comedians, even Frank Sinatra, whose signed headshot hangs on the wall.
From the very beginning, I’ve had a familial connection to the Club. Dominico’s daughter-in-law, Angela Rosa Catrambone DiCicco, and my maternal grandmother, Marianne Catrambone Mazza, were sisters, and part of the wave of immigration to South Philly from Calabria. My grandmother had five kids: Regina, my mom; my uncles Joseph and Al; my aunt Roma; and my Aunt Mary. Mary married Ernest Mezzaroba around the time the Club began granting membership to non-Abruzzese Italians. In 1975, Uncle Ernie became president.
Uncle Ernie and Aunt Mary were both great cooks. In the tiny kitchen in back, Ernie would make food for the guys when they were hanging out. I can remember, as a kid coming here in the ’80s and early ’90s, we’d have huge pans of stuffed shells and whole roasted suckling pigs at family events, such as my cousin’s Holy Communion party. I remember the tables, Formica tops with ridged chrome edges.
The Club was a huge part of my childhood growing up in South Philly, but by the time I was old enough to really appreciate it, things were on the decline. Back in the day, there were dozens of Italian social clubs in the various neighborhoods, but as those original immigrants and the following generations became more educated, affluent, and mainstreamed into American society, their significance fell off. Social clubs became more of a nostalgia thing than the vital institution they once were, and Palizzi was no exception. Uncle Ernie would open three nights a week, then dropped it to two nights a week, then eventually would just open Sundays for the guys to hang out for a couple hours after Mass. By 2016, he was the last member left, and dying of cancer.
I had no plans to open another restaurant. I was happy with Zeppoli, my little Sicilian spot over the bridge in Jersey, seven years old and still busy. There was a lot of talk about the future of the Club, but me taking over… that wasn’t even on my radar. Then one day, Uncle Ernie and my three older cousins approached me, “Well, what about you?”
At first I said no. I wasn’t interested. Then my Cousin Al took me by the Club, and it was the first time I had been there in probably six years. It was like an older relative I had gotten too busy to visit more often, and I had forgotten what it was all about. Being there, looking through boxes of old war uniforms, mementos from Vasto, even the original gavel the members used at their meetings, I realized what a special place it was, and how important it was to these guys. There were all these old leather-bound ledgers with the most meticulous notes in flowing Catholic-school cursive. They kept minutes of all their meetings, whether they were planning a beef-and-beer for someone’s sick kid or just shooting the shit about politics and sports. I didn’t want to just let it die.
Uncle Ernie did, shortly after selling me the Club. If I hadn’t taken it over, it would have just become a row home or apartment building, and I couldn’t let that happen. I opened the “new” Palizzi Social Club in February 2017, and I wish Uncle Ernie were alive to see it. I think he’d be proud of the work we’ve done to the place: expanding the kitchen so I can serve a full dinner menu four nights a week, turning the huge old safe into a service station, bringing the rainbow of vinyl barstools back to a bowling-ball sparkle, hauling the old cigarette machine up from the basement, hanging a black-and-white picture of him and Aunt Mary on the wall across from the bar. I even fixed the hole in the floor in the kitchen, the one Uncle Ernie fell through one night (drunk) and broke his arm.
Our membership is booming under a new, inclusive charter. Now your last name doesn’t need to end in a vowel to be a member. Anyone can apply—Italian, Jewish, Irish, black, Mexican, Asian, or any of the other colors and backgrounds that make up this crazy, idiosyncratic, vibrant part of Philadelphia I call home and care so much about. Thursday through Sunday, the neon is on, and Filippo Palizzi Societa di Mutuo Soccorso di Vasto is ready to be your home away from home. Officially, we’ve shortened the name to the Palizzi Social Club—but you’re always welcome to just call it the Club.
South Philly has always been a haven for immigrants. Although the countries of origin have changed over the last 150 years—the Eastern Europeans, Irish, Italians, and Lebanese of the late 1800s and early 1900s and African Americans of the Great Migration are the Mexicans, Syrians, and Southeast Asians of today—it remains a place where someone far from home can make a new one. Our narrow streets and sturdy brick buildings adapt well to newcomers, whether they’re from Jakarta or New Jersey. The nineteenth-century synagogues around Mifflin Square have become Cambodian Buddhist temples. The old Edward W. Bok technical school, a concrete monster built in 1938 and decommissioned in 2013, is now a creative hive of photographers, jewelers, bakers, and calligraphers, with a restaurant on the roof.
Despite its outsize presence in the city’s history and lore, South Philly takes up a relatively small part of Philadelphia, only about 10 percent by square miles. The Delaware River borders the area to the east, sweeping down along the old Navy Yard and sports complex to form the southern boundary as well, where it links up with the Schuylkill River on the west. Those borders are undisputed. The northern one, depends on whom you ask. Traditionally, everything below South Street is South Philly, but over the decades, the upper reaches have been absorbed into Center City. Even parts of Bella Vista, the historic heart of Italian American South Philly, feel more uptown than downtown these days.
The Club is in the neighborhood directly to the south of Bella Vista, in East Passyunk, which runs between Washington and Snyder Avenues, Broad and 8th Streets. Back in the day, Catholic parishes identified the areas within—you were from Saint Nick’s or Annunciation—but as the neighborhood’s DNA has changed, so has the church-centered cartography. Now real estate agents divide the district in two distinct adjacent areas, Passyunk Square and East Passyunk Crossing, but everyone here these days just says East Passyunk, which is also the name of the main commercial strip running diagonally through the neighborhood.
Coinciding with the decline of social clubs in the area, East Passyunk in the ’80s and ’90s had been dealing with depopulation of its core customers as white flight sent many middle-class Italian Americans over the bridge into New Jersey. (Washington Township, New Jersey, earned the nickname South Philly with Grass during this period.) Vacancies darkened Passyunk Avenue like missing teeth. Sure, people still went there for their Holy Communion outfits and Catholic school uniforms, or freshly made mozzarella balls swaddled in deli paper from Mr. Mancuso’s—but things were way off from the strip’s heyday as the vital spine of South Philly commerce.
Around the turn of the millennium Bella Vista began gaining traction as a cool and affordable neighborhood for those priced out of Center City, and as home prices there surged, buyers who never before crossed Washington Avenue started doing so and discovering East Passyunk. You know what happens next, same as it has in hundreds of other neighborhoods in hundreds of other cities across the country: galleries, cafés, a new generation of independent shops, and fantastic new restaurants to complement the been-there-forever ones like Mr. Martino’s, where I bussed and waited tables as a teenager. In the span of a decade, East Passyunk became one of the hottest neighborhoods in Philly.
Many neighborhoods caught up in a real estate gold rush lose their identity. Thus far, that hasn’t happened here. East Passyunk has been able to preserve its original spirit. There are tons of OGs still living here, sweeping their pavements and grumbling about parking and holding court on their stoops with bottles of bathtub limoncello, and the best of the old businesses are still in business, including Mancuso’s, where my mom still buys cheese. Even though my version of the Club is “new,” I feel that I’m the steward of something very old, something whose preservation is of essential importance. For my family and for the neighborhood.
1. The Club
2. Al Mazza’s: This is the restaurant my mom’s parents opened in 1964. Originally they all lived on Cross Street, but moved above the restaurant after my grandparents bought the building. For the guys in the neighborhood, a common night out was dinner at Al Mazza’s, then drinks at the Club. My mom’s brother, Uncle Al, took over in 1974 and ran it until 1998. It’s now a commissary for a food manufacturer.
3. Baldino Family Home: My childhood home, also the home my mom grew up in before they moved above Al Mazza’s
4. Mezzaroba Family Home: Aunt Mary and Uncle Ernie’s place, site of many Christmas Eve dinners and almost back to back with my family’s house
5. Aunt Roma’s Home
6. Columbus Square: My neighborhood park, where I grew up hanging out and playing baseball
7. Ippolito’s: Five generations of Sam D’Angelo’s family have run this neighborhood fish market originally opened in 1929. As big seafood eaters, my family has always shopped here. Things get crazy here around Christmas Eve, when residents descend en masse to purchase octopus, baccala, shrimp, clams, mussels, and more for the Feast of the Seven Fishes (see here).
8. Lucio J. Mancuso & Son: Phil Mancuso is an East Passyunk legend. His father opened this eponymous cheese shop in 1940, and Phil took over in 1971. We buy all our mozzarella here—Phil makes it fresh throughout the day—as well as the basket cheese for our Pizzagaina (here) and pepperoni for our Stromboli (here).
9. Faragalli’s: My family didn’t bake much bread at home, and why would they with Faragalli’s as our local bakery right around the corner? This is the only bakery in South Philly with a wood-fired oven, which has been turning out the crustiest, most delicious Italian loaves since 1948.
10. Mr. Martino’s: Marc and Maria Farnese’s Mr. Martino’s BYOB on Passyunk Avenue was my first job in the restaurant industry. Even as Passyunk has boomed with new restaurants in the last decade, this one remains. It’s still cash-only, still weekends-only, and still beloved in the neighborhood.
11. Giordano and Giordano Fruit & Produce: My family has always bought our fruits and vegetables at this stand on the corner of 9th and Washington in the Italian Market. I still shop from these guys for my restaurants.
12. Cannuli’s Quality Meat & Poultry: Butchers in the Italian Market since 1927, Cannuli supplies us with most of our meats, including the star of our Whole Roasted Suckling Pig (here).
13. Claudio Specialty Foods: Like Mancuso’s, Claudio makes its mozzarella fresh in house, but I go to this circa-1950s cheese and gourmet shop for ricotta and specialty pastas like La Fabbrica della Pasta del Gragnano “’o Vesuvio” twists we use in our Timballo (here).
14. John’s Water Ice: Served in a waxed paper cup, often with a pretzel rod stuck into it like a flagpole, water ice is a summertime staple in South Philly, and John’s has been making the best since 1945. I live around the corner from the stand now, and nothing is better on a hot day than a cup of its lemon.
15. Isgro Pasticceria: My favorite cannoli comes from Isgro’s pastry shop, which has been in business on Christian Street, a block off the Italian Market in Bella Vista, since 1904.
16. Wharton Street Lofts: Before the building was converted into lofts, this was the site of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary grade school. I went to school here for kindergarten through fifth grade, right down the street from Al Mazza’s and the Club.
17. Andrew Jackson Elementary School: After getting kicked out of Annunciation—I was a mischievous kid who maybe liked to throw things at the nuns—I finished up fifth through eighth grade at Andrew Jackson, our neighborhood public school.
The recipes in the pages that follow are not fancy and, for the most part, not complicated. They come from or are inspired by our family dinners and holiday meals prepared by my mother and her sisters, a sorority of great cooks I’ve been learning from since I was old enough to hold a knife, long before I knew I wanted to cook professionally. They come from the Club and my Uncle Ernie, who I’d find in the backyard tending lamb chops on the grill (here), or hovered over the deep fryer tending a batch of Fritto Misto (here).
"Joey Baldino cooks from his heart, without pretense, and in celebration of those who ate, drank, and communed at the club before him. Dinner at the Club brings to life the richness and magic of Italian-American South Philly, and the collection of winning recipes will coax all who enter your home kitchen to 'eat a lot, drink more, and mostly: be social.'"
—Danny Meyer, restaurateur and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group
- "Palizzi Social Club is a South Philly institution and a national destination: old school, authentic, and with food any Italian grandmother would co-sign on. You also need to be member to get in, which means that most people will never see it. That's why I'm thrilled this book exists. It lets everyone, at least for a moment, bask in the glory of the place."—Questlove, musician with The Roots
- "Dinner At The Club is a peek into a true relic of Philadelphia history, the Palizzi Social Club. With beautiful stories and delicious recipes, this book preserves the memory and celebrates the heart of Italian culture in the city and transports you to a dinner at the club."—Marcus Samuelsson, Award-Winning Chef, Restaurateur, andCo-Owner of the Red Rooster Harlem
- "Old-world flavors and heartfelt presentation make for a delicious mix in this rare look inside a South Philly institution."—-Publishers Weekly starred review
- "This book is gold."—-EatYourBooks
- On Sale
- Oct 29, 2019
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Running Press