By Tony Leodora
Anyone of Italian descent in the Greater Philadelphia area knows the stories about Ninth Street.
Or “Nove Strada,” as those from a previous generation or two used to say.
For the greater part of the 20th century it was a bubbling caldron of activity, capitalism, entrepreneurship, animated bargaining and socialization for the Italian-American community.
Today, it still has some of the shops, some of the restaurants, some of the street-side produce hucksters and some of the charm … but it has changed greatly. Many of the vendors are now of Asian descent. Gone are many of the high-volume price negotiations — in a combination of broken-English and Italian language — that preceded each sale.
But it still has enough charm to encourage people from the suburbs to make a pilgrimage once or twice a year, particularly right before Christmas or Easter.
Also gone is a tiny window-front eatery named Willie’s that was a must-stop for many shoppers during a trip to Ninth Street. Traditional sandwiches such as roast pork, sausage and tripe were a staple. Willie’s closed a number of years ago but its memory lives on as one customer has kept a favorite recipe alive.
As a young boy, Frank Arcade used to accompany his mother on trips to Ninth Street from Lansdale, via train. If he behaved on the trip — a 50-50 proposition — he would be treated to a chopped veal sandwich from Willie’s.
“That was my favorite sandwich and, when I heard he was closing the shop, I had to get that recipe,” explained Arcade. “I’ve been making it ever since and it has become a staple of our Christmas night open house.”
Now, Arcade is passing it along to the members of the Americans of Italian Heritage Council at their 13th annual Columbus Cup event at Bellewood Country Club near Pottstown.
Each year, as a way of preserving Italian heritage, the Columbus Cup presents a featured dish as part of the daylong food, music, wine, golf and bocce tribute to Columbus Day. The Bellewood chef is given a traditional “old world” recipe and asked to replicate it for the feast.
In other years, some of the featured dishes have included: greens and beans (minestra), bracciole, cavatelli, Calabrese baked rice, polenta, eggplant parmigiana, chicken cacciatore and many more.
This year, Willie’s Chopped Veal will take center stage. Patrons can sample it on a plate, or put it in a crusty roll. Either way the combination of tender meat and natural juices is sure to be a welcome addition to the evening meal that tops off this all-day feast.
The sights, sounds and smells of Ninth Street — in the old days — may be missing … but the memories remain.