November 6, 2017

Classic Holiday Eats, One Philadelphia Mom-And-Pop Shop At A Time

Lines Out The Door Are Part Of The Fun Among These Festive Food Makers

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Shane Confectionery, a meticulously maintained 100-plus-year-old candy maker where the sweets are hand crafted on the premises. Photo by G. Widman for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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Cannoli from Termini Bros. are a South Philadelphia Christmas tradition. Photo by J. Varney for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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Stock's Bakery in Port Richmond's famous pound cake. Photo by J. Varney for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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Philadelphia does festive food and drink right. The proof: Wintertime lines out the doors of the city’s beloved mom-and-pop purveyors. For decades, Philadelphia’s proudly diverse population has represented a variety of home-cooked holiday food traditions holidays: classic latkes, old-world confections, Italian pastry, Polish kielbasa and handmade tamales. Here’s a field guide to eating through the holiday season the authentic way:

Thanksgiving Turkey & Pies:

  • Cacia’s Bakery – Since the 1950s, this venerable deep South Philly bread maker has played a special role in local holiday dinners. Each Thanksgiving, the Cacia family offers their services—their massive, brick-lined bread oven, really—to anyone looking to have their birds roasted by the pros. Customers start lining up around 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning and pay $24 each to have their turkeys expertly tended. (They can do ham, pork and lamb too, and have five more locations in New Jersey.) 1526 W. Ritner Street, (215) 334-1340,
  • Linvilla Orchards – The charming, family-run Delaware County orchard, farm, market and play zone churns out thousands of Dutch apple crumb and apple caramel walnut pies. 137 Knowlton Road, Media, (610) 876-7116,
  • Magpie – This petite, rustic, year-round pie shop typically sells more than 500 of their signature creations every Thanksgiving. Popular picks include caramel apple, lemon gingersnap and classic pumpkin. 1622 South Street, (267) 519-2904,
  • Pie in the Sky – This annual fundraiser of the food-based non-profit MANNA sells 8,500-plus pies annually. Customers order in advance. Volunteers deliver the apple, pumpkin, pecan and sweet potato goods to spots all around town. (215) 496-2662,


  • Federal Donuts – James Beard Award winners Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook and team have perfected the art of the sufaniyot, the official miniature jelly doughnut of Hanukkah. Beginning December 4, their fried specialty will be available to order in boxes of 20. Pick-up begins at 9 a.m. during the eight-night holiday at two Federal Donuts locations. 1632 Sansom Street, (215) 665-1101; 701 N. 7th Street, (267) 928-3893,
  • Latkepalooza – The Gershman Y, home to yearlong celebrations of diverse contemporary Jewish arts and culture, puts on Philly’s best-ever potato party to honor Hanukkah. This winter marks the Y’s 15th annual Latkepalooza on December 10. The 300-person bash features creative variations on the humble potato pancake from restaurants Aldine, Estia, Jones, Kanella, Mission Taqueria, Sabrina’s, Six Points, Tria Taproom, Whetstone Tavern and more. 401 S. Broad Street, (215) 545-4400,
  • Latkes To Go – With eight nights to celebrate, the Festival of Lights can leave little time for potato-pancake making. That’s why so many celebrants head to Queen Village mainstay Famous Fourth Street Delicatessen (700 S. 4th Street, (215) 922-3274, and neighboring Main Line institutions Murray’s Delicatessen (285 Montgomery Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, (610) 664-6995) and Hymie’s Merion Delicatessen (342 Montgomery Avenue, Merion Station, (610) 668-3354,
  • Moo Shu Jew Show – On Christmas Eve, diners (with reservations) head to vast dim sum hall Ocean Harbor in Chinatown for The Gershman Y’s ninth annual, one-of-a-kind combination of Asian cuisine and Jewish-themed comedy to honor the tradition of eating Chinese for Christmas. This year’s show will feature comics Moody McCarthy, Marla Schultz and Brad Zimmerman. December 24. 1023 Race Street, (215) 545-4400,

South Philly Italian Christmas:

  • Di Bruno Bros. – This longtime cheese shop has five hopping locations throughout Philly and its suburbs, but Di Bruno’s most immersive holiday experience can be found at its original, narrow 9th Street Italian Market flagship. Beginning right after Thanksgiving and culminating in the days preceding Christmas Eve (when people begin lining up before sunrise), customers wait patiently to stock up on specialty products to precede, enhance or conclude a special meal—think olives, antipasti and cured meats, plus some of the nearly 400 international cheeses the venerable store offers. 930 S. 9th Street, (215) 922-2876,
  • Termini Bros. – This elegant, old-school bakery opens as early at 6 a.m. on the days close to Christmas to feed fans its famous sweets—cakes, cookies (the pignoli is a Sicilian holiday favorite), biscotti and, of course, cannoli. 1523 S. 8th Street, (215) 334-1816,
  • Isgro Pasticceria – Unbelievable but true: The week of Christmas, neighbors will actually voluntarily move their cars to make room for Gus Isgro’s devoted clientele. Opening at 6:30 a.m. each morning, the staff turns the queue into a party—employees, often dressed as elves, weave through the crowd, handing out cordials, pastries, coffee and hot chocolate as customers wait patiently for their torrone, ricotta cookies and more. 1009 Christian Street, (215) 923-3092,

Polish Christmas In Port Richmond:

  • Czerw’s Kielbasy – The northern River Wards have always featured a healthy population of Polish immigrants, concentrated mostly in the Port Richmond neighborhood. Here, several long-running businesses brace for huge hits around the holiday season. Smoking meat the old-world way since 1938, Czerw’s supplies families multiple variations on its classic kielbasa, plus hearty mainstays of the Polish table, like pierogi and golabki (stuffed cabbage)—the latter is made by the owner’s 87-year-old mother. 3370 Tilton Street, (215) 423-1707,
  • Swiacki Meats – The deal is similar at Swiacki, which is also renowned for its kielbasa and kabanosy (think a Polish Slim Jim). The Swiacki family also peddles Christmastime staples like chrusciki (“angel wings”), slivers of sweet dough fried to a crisp and doused in powdered sugar. 3623 Salmon Street, (215) 634-0820,
  • Stock’s Bakery – And for dessert? Stock’s absolutely unbeatable pound cake (or, get this: butter cake). Regulars know to expect serious lines at this Port Richmond institution. The good news is, they move fast. 2614 E. Lehigh Avenue, (215) 634-7344,

Mexican Christmas (Tamales):

  • Mole Poblano – Masa lovingly wrapped in cornhusks or banana leaves, tamales are a year-round favorite throughout Mexico, Central America and South America, but they tend to be bought and sold with increased fervor during the holiday season. In the 9th Street Italian Market, bright Mole Poblano does an incredible variation on tamales soaked in their titular sauce. 1144 S. 9th Street, (215) 465-1616,
  • Pura Vida – This Northern Liberties spot specializes in Guatemalan tamales de chipilín, made with the indigenous edible leaf that’s so important to Latin American cooking. 527 Fairmount Avenue, (215) 922-6433
  • Tamalex – For Honduran-style tamales, fatter and heartier than their Mexican counterparts, Tamalex is worth the trip. 1163 S. 7th Street, (215) 465-1665,

German Christmas Candies:

  • Shane Confectionery – Candy makers Eric and Ryan Berley take painstaking care to transport guests from modern-day Old City to a turn-of-the-century candy store, creating the effect via original interior details and the staff’s period dress. But it’s the oh-so-sweet output of the shop—the oldest continuous business of its kind in the country—that really gets people revved up around the holidays. The Berleys’ most popular wintertime specialties include festive bon-bons, sugarplum truffles, ornate German springerle and gingerbread cookies, chocolate cornucopia and “clear toys,” gorgeous works of gem-hued translucent sugar shaped like various animals. They’re made using the original molds of the late, great Philly confectioner Harry Young, which the Berleys acquired and preserved to carry on this dying art. Oh, and there’s a hot chocolate cafe too. 110 Market Street, (215) 922-1048,

Russian Christmas:

  • In Northeast Philadelphia, home to a large population of Russian, Ukrainian and other Eastern European immigrants, families fill their holiday tables with a number of special dishes, from blinchiki (crepes) and pirozhki (meat or vegetable pies) to cold salad spreads and sweets like pyraniki, a wintry-spiced Christmas cookie. The region’s native-run groceries and stores accommodate pre-orders and special requests for these dishes and more during the holiday season, including Bell’s Market, 8330 Bustleton Avenue, (215) 342-6016,; Maxi Gastronome, 842 Red Lion Road, (215) 698-5828; and the multi-location NetCost Market, 2417 Welsh Road, (215) 795-3773, 11701 Bustleton Avenue, (267) 672-2500,

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