Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Who's the oldest?

Bragging rights are at stake.

Who's the oldest?

A couple readers e-mailed to say I got it wrong after reading my column Thursday about Ralph's Italian Restaurant, on S. 9th St. I wrote that Ralph's, founded in 1900, can now claim to be the oldest Italian restaurant in the country, because Fior d'Italia of San Francisco, which once held that honor, went belly-up this week.

Not so fast, protests a reader named Nathan.

"Another old Philadelphia Italian Restaurant" - Dante & Luigi's, on S. 10th St - "claims to have been founded in 1899, AND to being the oldest Italian Restaurant in Philadelphia."

If that's true, then Dante & Luigi's would be 113 years old - one year older than Ralph's 112.

Not so fast, says Bob Larive, owner of  newly defunct Foir d'Italia. When he bought the place over two decades ago, he was told it was the oldest Italian restaurant in America. But he didn't want to claim those bragging rights without being certain. So he hired an independent research company to trace the lineage of Fior d'Italia.

"I paid a lot of money for the research, and it took them about six or seven months to track everything down," said Larive (who accepted my condolences on the closing of his restaurant. "Thanks," he sighed. "It's been an ugly week.").

The rock-solid conclusion of the researchers, he said, was that Fior d'Italia was, for sure, the country's oldest italian restaurant. Ralph's was second oldest. Period.  

Not so fast, says Dante & Luigi's manager, Carla Esposito. She told me yeterday that her place opened in 1899.

"We stand by that," she said. "Ralph's is the oldest family-owned Italian restaurant in America, but we're older than Ralph's by one year."

Ryan Rubino, fifth-generation family member of the Ralph's clan and a current manager, offered no comment on the allegation, except for a smile.

"There's a lot of great Italian restaurants in South Philly, and enough customers for all of us," he told me. "We wish everyone well."

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
About this blog

When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.


Read more from Ronnie Polaneczky at Earth to Philly, the Daily News blog on anything and everything "Green Reach Ronnie at polaner@phillynews.com.

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
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