A chop off the old block

D’Angelo’s has always offered visual delights for South Philly’s carnivorous masses, with ample sausage and game meat options available for holiday feasts.

Photos by Maria Young

Just as biting winds began to make for a frigid Friday afternoon for patrons of the 9th Street Italian Market, Angelina Cavalieri emerged from D’Angelo’s Specialty Meats, 907–09 S. Ninth St. The external discomfort matched the internal restlessness of the Queen Village resident, as the occasion likely marked her last trip to the 106-year-old site whose owner, Santo “Sonny” D’Angelo III, will end his esteemed tenure as a butcher at month’s end.

“Maybe I’ll come again once more, but it might be too emotional,” the five-year customer said near the Bella Vista establishment. “You never like to see anything so cherished leave you and never want to say goodbye to someone who’s really good at a job, but, like Frank Sinatra said, that’s life.”

For about six months, the Cavalieri had been hearing talk of the 67-year-old proprietor’s plans to retire but had hoped, both for her appetite’s sake and the Market’s legacy, that the shop would not shutter. Too respectful of his privacy to inquire, she had her suspicions confirmed earlier this month through another publication’s preliminary look into the matter. D’Angelo politely declined an interview with SPR, saying that the aforementioned report, put together through conversations similar to what Cavalieri mentioned, would serve as enough of a valediction.

“It will be a huge loss,” Alicia DeLuca, the manager of the Market’s visitor center, said. “He’s been saying he’s going to retire for at least a year now, so we’re going to have one fewer icon here.”

She added that a recent customer, upon noticing the center’s advertisement that shoppers could find “the perfect holiday gift” within, inquired “Do you have another wild game butcher who is going to take over?” The referenced article on his future also contends that D’Angelo would train a successor if the hypothetical individual would want to retain operations using his surname, but DeLuca could not say if any movement has occurred on that issue nor could she offer validity to the speculation that the family is privately selling the property.

“Whatever becomes of the location, the person in charge had better have an amazing work ethic,” Cavalieri, a perpetual admirer of D’Angelo’s venison and Cajun Andouille, said. “Nobody will be anywhere near as dedicated as Sonny, but I’m hopeful that someone with a good head on their shoulders will come here and treat the masses with respect.”

Though the overseer would not offer insights into what 2017 might yield, one can easily come to regard the man highly through analyzing his biography. Philaplace.org and NY City Lens, the latter having ventured to South Philly four years ago as D’Angelo readied Turduckens for Thanksgiving Day feasts, have addressed what has made the man such a cherished chopper. His grandfather, having opened a Downingtown butcher shop at age 16, relocated to the current address with the hope of connecting with fellow Sicilians and other Italians. The youngest D’Angelo started working when he was 13 yet yearned to be a veterinarian, with a degree in biology through time at Penn State and Villanova universities as his motivator. The latter story revealed that his inability to gain graduate school admission and plans to start a family with wife Lorraine convinced him to become a sixth-generation butcher, with Cavalieri waxing poetic about his path.

“We often find such joy in our secondary goals,” the retired teacher said when learning of D’Angelo’s journey. “I know he’s been at it for a long time, but his devotion to the customers hasn’t waned a bit.”

A visit to the location’s website will have carnivores salivating, as D’Angelo hawks 300 varieties of fresh, homemade sausage and proudly peddles game meats, too, with the former relying on “generations-old family recipes” that are “perfected for today’s discerning palate.” Allegiance to his craft is what Charlie Cannuli will miss the most about his market peer.

“It’s tough to see anyone reach that point, but he’s earned it,” the third-generation face behind Cannuli’s House of Pork, 937 S. Ninth St., said. “We started in 1927, and people think that’s admirable. Look what his family has done. He’s a good guy, and we all thank him and wish him well.”

Esteem for the soon-to-be retiree, also the author of “And Now We Call It Gravy” and “Are You Game?”, extends beyond the environs of Ninth Street and South Philly at large, with Lancaster County resident Patti Shepps-Greger enjoying each trek to his spot just as much now as she did a few years ago when a University of the Arts registrant.

“When I started cooking, it was probably my first stop,” she said of the centenarian haunt, stating that the sausage ingredient combinations proved “wonderful for the holidays” and “unbeatable for summer grilling.”

Sadly, there will be no more outdoor occasions through which to enjoy his creations, with Shepps-Greger already lamenting the loss of the seller’s prized preparatory input, and the days to indulge in any sort of selections are rapidly dwindling. While one can easily come to see someone only for what he or she does as a profession, D’Angelo defies such pigeonholing through interests in taxidermy, which any guest can attest to, painting, and raising orchids. Cavalieri hopes he will explore those with even more gusto, yet she will certainly feel a void when pondering her dietary needs and enthusiasm for watching D’Angelo at work, a sentiment that Shepps-Greger shares.

“I can’t imagine how much I’d miss this place if it were right around the corner,” she said, “but I know the universe will shift a little the next time I’m walking through the Market and there’s no D’Angelo’s.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.

D’Angelo’s has always offered visual delights for South Philly’s carnivorous masses, with ample sausage and game meat options available for holiday feasts.

Photos by Maria Young

D’Angelo’s Specialty Meats has proven an adored part of the Italian Market for 106 years.

Photo by Maria Young