It’s hardly a city planner’s recipe for a restaurant revival: Take a street known for on-the-edge produce, garbage-drum fires and nth-generation butcher shops; add a strict convention of five-o’clock closure that turns all that retail into a ghost town just as the dinner hour approaches; then wait for chefs to open new restaurants. Genius, right?
Yet it’s been an unexpectedly good year for the Italian Market. Peter McAndrews picked it as the place to branch out from his Girard Avenue headquarters, leveraging the city’s love for Modo Mio to take a stab at Sicilian cuisine at 943, giving us a persuasive taste of why grilled short rib is an Argentine standby. Even an attorney (aren’t those guys supposed to be smart?) took a chance here—Nicholas Nastasi, with Nina’s Trattoria—and he hasn’t gone broke yet.
Meanwhile, Santucci’s has brought its square pies to the neighborhood; Adan Saavedra relocated here from Castor Avenue to give his French-Mexican cuisine a second run at Paloma; and even though the family that owns 12 Steps Down is disintegrating (they trade more subpoenas than Christmas cards these days), the food is still good, largely thanks to a menu assist from Beard-winning chef Michael Solomonov a few years back.
The future of Italian Market restaurants: There’s still a ways to go. In particular, the stakeholders of 9th Street could do way more to improve the transition from daytime to evening. But you know what? Those fires in 50-gallon drums would make for an unforgettable Night Market. So, your New Year’s resolution: Tell the Food Trust to get on that stat.