I returned to Philadelphia this weekend for my college soccer team's alumni game. Ninety minutes and many a pulled muscle later, the only thing I could focus on was food. What would it be? A hoagie from the array of food trucks? A gyro from the Greek Lady? I was too dirty for sushi at Pod and too poor for the calamari salad at Buddakhan. It wouldn't make sense to eat the tomato slice at Allegro's or a sandwich from Koch's - who goes from NY to Philly to eat pizza or a Jewish deli?!
After a frantic walk around Penn's campus, and one too many coffees from Hubbub coffee truck, I finally decided on a tried and true Penn favorite: White Dog Cafe. Located in three Victorian townhouses on a cobblestone street, White Dog serves American fare with local flare and a focus on environmental care. (Anyone hiring a culinary Dr Seuss? I'm desperate.) I saddled up to their more casual bar and replenished myself with Amish grown food and a few local brews, which allowed me to refocus my efforts on dinner.
Contrary to popular cheesesteak lore, what Philadelphia does best is Italian. The 9th street Itlian market is home to some of the best italian produce, meats, cheeses and restaurants I have ever come across. There is nothing quite like eating your way through an afternoon, sampling fresh mozzarella, home made cannollis and the occasional Italian hoagie. However, my favorite South Philly experience can be found at Dante and Luigi's, an old school, perfectly gawdy Italian restaurant. It's claim to fame may be a botched murder attempt on Nicky Scarfo Jr, but their bread and butter is their gravy - the distinctly Southern Italian noun for red sauce. "It's like blood's mingled with the marinara". Yum. While most order the light-as-air gnocchi marinara, I always order their clams marinara over spaghetti. It was the very first dish I ordered at Dante and Luigi's, my freshman year on Parents Weekend. After three months of the college cafeteria food and Cup O' Noodles, it was the Best Thing I Ever Ate.
I found the recipe in an archive on the website phillymafiahistory.com - and I feel pretty badass making it. Overall, it is a simple enough recipe, except for one thing: the marinara! Dante and Luigi's does not disclose their secret sauce, so I found something in the same family - from cousin Angelo if you will. Kitchen Consigliere: Angelo Marinara. Perhaps one of the most entertaining recipe videos to date, mobster Angelo Lutz gives up his family's recipe for penne marinara. He claims he made this dish every Sunday night in 'college'. And by college, he means jail for nine years. "Cooking it not a crime even though the cook was once a crook". So cool. His secret is to add a dash of Parmesan to the sauce while simmering. His other secret is that he got all his ingredients from his "procurement agent". You be the judge.
Dante and Luigi's Clams and Spaghetti (serves 2 big goombas, or 4 regular people)
- 1lb spaghetti, cooked al dente according to package instructions and set aside
- 48 little neck clams
- 1.5 T garlic, thinly sliced (Good Fella's thin. See it stat if you're missing the reference.)
- 2oz. fresh bazil
- 3T. olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1.5 T chopped minced
- "touch" red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup of white wine
- 1 cup fish stock (homemade is best)
- 1qt. marinara sauce
- In a deep sauce pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, garlic and onion, stirring for two minutes.
- Season with hot pepper flakes.
- Add clams and stir for about 3 more minutes.
- Pour in wine and cook until reduced in half.
- Add fish stock and simmer for 3 more minutes.
- Pour in marinara and season with basil, salt and pepper to taste.
- Cook for 3-6 more minutes until clams open.
- Pour clams and sauce over spaghetti and serve.