125-Year-Old South Philly Butcher Shop Gets New Life as Pasta Bar
Inspired by Marc Vetri's wildly popular pasta pop-ups, Fiorella opens in January. And it sounds like heaven.
In 1892, Fiorella’s first opened its doors near Philadelphia’s Italian Market, where it would sell handmade pork sausages for the next 125 years. Early in 2018, the landmark mom-and-pop shop closed its doors, but this January, it gets new life. Chef Marc Vetri is opening a casual, 12-seat restaurant featuring his world-class handmade pastas.
When Vetri opened his first, eponymous Center City restaurant two decades ago, he forever altered the city’s dining scene, serving refined Italian cuisine that was totally unlike the red gravy joints that defined the landscape back then. The chef followed with a string of popular restaurants and pizzerias, before selling all but his flagship in an unprecedented deal to Urban Outfitters. Since the sale, Vetri has focused on Vetri Cucina, plus a Las Vegas outpost on the 56th floor of the Palms Casino Resort, opened in December 2018, and his new role as the culinary advisor at Philadelphia’s members-only Fitler Club.
The inspiration for his new concept, which will open in the second or third week of January, came about two and a half years ago, after Vetri held a pop-up pasta bar in the restaurant’s second floor demo space. The chef announced the dinner—which would feature some of his handmade pastas, plus a salad and dessert—on his Instagram and Twitter accounts. The casual (and more accessible, compared to the restaurant’s $165 tasting menu) meal had diners lining up hours before the doors opened.
“By 5 p.m., there were 50 people in line,” recalls Vetri. “So we opened at 5:15 p.m., and I didn’t stop cooking until 11:30 p.m. We did 12 turns and 140 covers.” Which is to say, they fed a lot of people that night, and the idea was born.
Vetri doesn’t call Fiorella a fast-casual restaurant, though it promises to be much faster and more casual than Cucina. The chef estimates dinner should take about 30 minutes from start to finish. “You walk in, order a salad and pasta, and leave. That’s it,” he says. “For dessert we had one thing, so after you had your pasta, here’s your dessert, here’s your check.”
The $17 plates of pastas are made by hand, with fresh-milled grain and seasonal ingredients. The menu will have four varieties each night, with two rotating, depending on what’s in season, and what Vetri feels like cooking that day (like fettuccine with mushrooms, or agnolotti stuffed with brandade.) The other two pastas are staples: tender ricotta gnocchi, and rigatoni with sausage ragu. The sausage recipe comes from Dan Fiorella, the fourth-generation butcher who sold him the building, and was passed down from his great-grandfather, Luigi, who opened the business soon after he arrived from Italy.
Salad and sweets are also on the menu—each night there will be one rotating dessert, plus an ice cream. The restaurant won’t take reservations, but diners can put their names on the list, and they’ll get a call when their table is ready.
Vetri says he’s making very few changes to the snug space, keeping the antique fixtures and narrow bar, where guests will sit. The shop’s original 200-pound brass cash register was stolen during the construction process, but was returned after Vetri posted a plea on his social media. It’s currently safe at his house, and will be used as the money drawer when Fiorella opens.
The chef initially had other names in mind for his new pasta restaurant, but after meeting the Fiorella family, he asked them if he could keep theirs. Between that, plus honoring the original and sausage recipe, Vetri is ensuring the history and charm of the iconic business is threaded into his new restaurant.
“Fiorella has to live on,” says the chef.
Fiorella, 817 Christian St, Philadelphia, PA 19147