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What's Happening in:  East Passyunk Crossing 

Mamma Maria Ristorante Italiano to Hold Polenta Event

By Joseph Myers

Growing up in Abruzzi as the fourth of six children, Maria di Marco adored time with her family, especially when she and her kin came together to eat. Particularly fond of her father Vincenzo’s culinary creations, the doting daughter sought to emulate the patriarch’s proficiency by preparing many Italian staples, notably polenta. On Wednesday, June 20, she will honor his example and show off her admiration for the cornmeal-based delight by making it the main dish at Mamma Maria Ristorante Italiano, 1637 E. Passyunk Ave.

“I want polenta to be the star for one night,” the proprietor said from the eatery that she has helmed for 26 years. At the $35-per-person event, di Marco will recall her days coming of age in the Old Country by making a version akin to her parent’s thin polenta. The gathering, slated to begin at 6 p.m., will mark the only time she will serve polenta this season. A vegetable antipasto and a salad will bookend the meal. The BYOB restaurant is happy to serve wine and offers complementary homemade limoncello to patrons. The lemony liqueur will also be the featured ingredient in an eponymous cake.

“I feel excited to be doing this because polenta means so much to me thanks to my childhood and my father.” di Marco credits her father for inspiring her career path, “He helped me to see I belong in the kitchen, and the time I spent learning that is something that I will never forget.” She recalls her family’s meals as unifying events. “We bonded so much when we ate, the eight of us,” di Marco said, “so I want others to enjoy the polenta and feel the same kind of warmth.”

Mamma Maria di Marco at the 2018 East Passyunk Red Gravy Cook-off.

Though customers who desire to dine at the restaurant that night need not order the polenta, di Marco, whose local clout includes having recently served as a judge for the East Passyunk Crossing Red Gravy Cook-off, hopes they’ll request the option, especially if they have never tried it. Regardless of the guests’ familiarity with the oh-so-tasty creation, di Marco will find herself in a festive mood as she fraternizes with the attendees, and her father will not be far from her mind.

“He was a very good man, and I’m grateful for all that he did for me,” she said, flashing a wide smile. She dubbed her father’s polenta “the best thing in the family,” and she looks forward to sharing this treat with patrons.

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What's Happening in:  East Passyunk Crossing 

Tropical-Floral Jawn Coming to East Passyunk Avenue

New Shop Brings Dart Frogs, Exotic Plants, and Stunning Floral Design Together Under One Roof

“Floral Fauna,” a combination of two nature-centric shops, will open soon at 1724 East Passyunk Avenue, the former Avenue Cheese Shop.  The new store, which promises “exotic pets, house plants, fresh flowers and so much more,” is the brainchild of long-time friends Franco Franchina, Chris Urban, and Marianna Coppola.  The trio decided to create a shared space to host their already-established businesses: Creations by Coppola, specializing in floral and event design; and ILLExotics, featuring tropical fauna and flora.

Franco Franchina (left) and Chris Urban set up a display case at the new shop.

Chris and Franco, who are also life partners, will present some very unique fauna: exotic reptiles and amphibians not usually seen outside of zoos. As Chris stresses, “This is not your typical pet shop.”  If their website is any indication, the options will be colorful conversation pieces:  chameleons, dart frogs, scorpions, and much more.

Franco worked with exotics from a young age, but his “obsession…was always with plants and reptiles.”  He parlayed his hobby into a Biology degree with a concentration in horticulture and herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) from Stockton University in New Jersey.  

Chris studied at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and traveled the world as a performance artist.  After meeting Franco, he developed a passion for “dart frogs and tree frogs – and creating the naturalistic vivaria for each species…”  Vivaria are enclosures, like aquariums and terrariums, prepared to create semi-natural conditions for pets. The shop will feature BioActive habitats which create miniature ecosystems for the reptiles. They’ll also feature plants like orchids, succulents and cacti which will thrive in a rowhome setting.

The other flora in the shop will be curated under the artistic eye of Marianna Coppola. Coppola promises fresh flowers available daily.  She’ll also provide floral design and event services.  And, if we’re lucky, she’ll distribute another “flower bomb” or two.

Marianna Coppola at work. Photo courtesy of CreationsbyCoppola.com

Coppola moved to Philadelphia from Monte de Procida on Italy’s Amalfi Coast in 2004 to work at Ristorante Positano Coast. At the restaurant she created designs with floral and citrus, “that would immerse guests in an experience that was beyond the plate.” She received a degree from the Flower School of New York and trained with some of New York’s most renowned floral artists. In 2014 she established Creations by Coppola, characterized on its website as, “rustic to refined, modern floral artistry.”

Coppola has also created public art installations featuring flowers.  The first, which she referred to as a “Flower Bomb,” appeared overnight last October on a light pole outside Barcelona Restaurant. Another installation appeared last December at 10th & Spring Garden.

Marianna Coppola with her “Flower Bomb” installation outside Barcelona Restaurant. Fall 2017. Photo courtesy of CreationsbyCoppola.com.

Coppola notes that, with the addition of her new shared shop, East Passyunk Avenue is one-stop place for brides and wedding planners: “a bride can get her gown, shoes, have her hair and makeup done, and now you can get your flowers – all within walking distance of each other!”

Besides establishing a successful business, Floral-Fauna’s owners share another common goal: educating their customers – with an emphasis on outreach to local schools and other organizations. One event is already in the works: this summer, the East Passyunk Community Center will send student campers to a reptile tutorial at the shop.

The shop also envisions evening BYOB terrarium-making and floral arranging classes for adults. These will be more intimate, one-on-one lessons, with class size limited to 10 to 12.

The shop’s grand opening will be late June, with a friends-and-family-only soft opening mid-month.

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What's Happening in:  All over South Philly 

Upcoming Events: Celebrate Odunde, Rosé, and more.

Compiled by Josephine Cardillo

If you have an event you’d like us to include on our weekly events round-up, please send us an email at events@passyunkpost.com 

Friday, 6/8/18

  • All dayAlex’s Lemonade Stand, Beneficial Bank, 1901 East Passyunk Avenue. Take a stand against childhood cancer in your community. Join thousands of supporters around the country by buying a glass of lemonade!

Saturday, 6/9/18

Olmsted Overlook at FDR Park

Sunday, 6/10/18

  • 10 am to 8 pm, Odunde Festival, 23rd and South.  Enjoy one of the largest and most longstanding African-American street festivals in the nation. The enormous festival, which began in 1975, takes over a dozen-block radius in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood, gathering hundreds of vendors from around the world.

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What's Happening in:  Passyunk Square 

Mosaic Mural Dedicated at Kirkbride School

By Tim Gibbon for the Passyunk Post

On Tuesday, June 5th students, teachers, project partners, and community members gathered at Eliza Kirkbride School, 1501 South 7th Street, for the dedication of the new mosaic mural that now adorns the front of their school. Kirkbride students worked with COSACOSA art at large, Inc. to produce the mural, titled “Philadelphia: Love & Liberty.” COSACOSA is a non-profit organization that engages people of differing backgrounds to work together toward a common goal through participatory art-making.

The new mosaic mural at Kirkbride. Photo by Ellie Seif.

The artwork celebrates both Philadelphia’s role in the founding of the nation and the hopes of its youth. Students investigated connections among the ideals expressed in our nation’s founding documents and immigrant stories from their families, their school, and their neighborhood. Kirkbride students represent more than 30 different ethnicities, and many are new immigrants. The ceremony coincided with the national celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month.

Kirkbride student artists. Photo by Tim Gibbon.

The ceremony featured remarks principal Rebecca Julien and teachers Catherine Memmolo and Peter Metcalfe. Praising the student’s work, COSACOSA Director Kimberly Niemela said, “In the mural, a rainbow bridge of understanding runs across the entire city.”

Sabrya Ross, an 8th grade student at Kirkbride who worked on the mural, noted that “Love and freedom are very important because there’s a lot of separation and hate in the world. We should all try to come together to make it better.” Fellow 8th-grader Guosheng Chen added, “When we are united together as one community, we can achieve any goal.”

Sabrya Ross, an 8th grade student at Kirkbride gives her remarks. Photo by Ellie Seif.

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Rock the Block Street Festival Returns to Stogie Joe’s Tavern

The Rock the Block Street Festival will return to South Philadelphia on Sunday, June 10th from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m.

The street festival, held in front of Stogie Joe’s Tavern, 1801 East Passyunk Avenue,(Passyunk & Moore Streets), will feature Italian food including favorites like hot sausage, sandwiches and homemade meatballs. There’s also live music by The Business, cold beer, cocktails, raffles, a silent auction featuring products and experiences donated by local families and businesses, and activities for the entire family.

New this year: a $40 all-inclusive wristband allows guests to enjoy Stogie Joe’s Tavern’s offerings all day. This year the event will also include $5 pay-as-you-go beers, with a limited number of discounted 4-beer ticket packs available in advance for $16.

All proceeds from Rock the Block benefit The Cancer Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, on behalf of the Coach Wags Memorial Foundation.

The first Rock the Block Street Festival was held in 2012 to benefit the Coach Wags Memorial Foundation (CWMF), which was established in the name of Coach John “Wags” Wagner, the freshman football coach at St. Joe’s Prep for 13 years. Coach Wagner passed away in 2008, two years after being diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Wagner’s family, friends, and former players founded CWMF in 2010 to benefit cancer research, and improve the daily lives of children in Philadelphia who are battling this disease.

Tickets and more information are available at: www.thecoachwagsmemorialfoundation.org

Local band The Business perform at a past Rock the Block fundraiser.

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What's Happening in:  East Passyunk Crossing 

New Courtyard from Old Materials for Southwark School

Southwark School at 9th and Mifflin Streets is gearing up for an exciting redesign of the 9th Street courtyard into a true community space. Since February, Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Restored Spaces Initiative, in collaboration with the Spanish trash-focused artist collective Basurama – which translates to “Trash-o-rama” – has worked with community members, Southwark School students, faculty, and staff, to design and produce furniture for the currently empty space.

Southwark School – 9th Street project area. Credit: Google Maps.

At the beginning of the school year, Mural Arts installed the mural “Weaving Culture” on the north side of the 9th Street courtyard. This vibrant mural was designed in collaboration with Southwark students, parents, faculty and staff.

“Weaving Culture” mural by James Dunn in collaboration with Southwark School student artists. Photo credit: Steve Weinik.

Earlier this year, Southwark parents and neighbors had an opportunity to design the new benches and planters that will be placed in the courtyard in front of the mural. The distinctive feature of the design, and a specialty of artist collective Basurama, is that all of the fixtures will be built from recycled materials, including, very appropriately, old school desks.

The design process has been a real community effort. The meetings, during which several translators were present, have been well attended by a true cross-section of the community found in and around Southwark School.

The final design was presented on April 23rd at a meeting where the community had the opportunity to discuss and vote on the design and the placement of benches and planters within the space. After some discussion and careful deliberation the final arrangement and orientation of the fixtures were agreed upon unanimously.

East side of 9th Street, looking northeast. Credit: Google Maps.

The first phase of the courtyard construction is taking place this week, June 4th to June 8th. While some highly-skilled work will be done by professionals, community members (and others) are welcome and encouraged to participate in the collaborative build. Just stop by the site between 10 a.m. and noon or 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to lend a hand. A second construction phase will occur this fall.

After this week’s build-out is completed, a representative of artist collective Basurama will address the community at Bok on June 11th at 6 pm. Basurama will be joined by Ron Whyte (activist and blogger, Deep Green Philly), Nic Esposito (Director, City of Philadelphia Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet), and Raquel de Anda (artist; Director of Public Engagement, No Longer Empty). Register or find more information about the event here.

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