Dear Friend, 

We have just a few seats (and bar seats) available for our dinner in support of undocumented workers' rights at Le Virtù. Also, we invite you to next week's Brigantessa beer dinner featuring an amazing menu from Chef de Cuisine Ned Maddock paired with the award-winning beers from Victory Brewing of Downingtown, PA. And we invite you to early and often for us until February 21st in Philly Mag's "Best of Philly" readers' poll. 
Francis Cratil
Le Virtù / Brigantessa
Le Virtù: "Sanctuary Supper"
Brigantessa: February 21st, Beer Dinner with Victory Brewing
Le Virtu' and Brigantessa Nominated for Best Italian Restaurant
Le Virtù: Weds., March 15th  "Sanctuary Supper," in support of undocumented workers' rights - nearly sold out! 

 Villagers from Pacentro, in Piazza Garibaldi, Sulmona, Abruzzo 

We are nearly sold out for this event!  Only a few seats remaining (also bar seats)! 

Le Virtù is dedicated to the people of Abruzzo and to the diaspora from the region and the rest of southern Italy that settled our South Philadelphia neighborhood. And its existence and operation are owed to immigrants, and not just those from Italia.

My Abruzzese grandfather, Alfonso Cretarola, arrived at the port of Boston in 1909. He was 17 years old. According to federal records, he was one of 183,218 Italians to arrive in the U.S. that year. The year before 128,503 paesani had arrived. The year after brought 215,537 more. The overwhelming majority of these immigrants were from the southern regions that comprised the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which extended from Abruzzo south to Calabria and Sicilia. Like most Italian arrivals, Alfonso was escaping the endemic poverty, lack of opportunity, and deprivation of the South. After the unification of Italy in 1861, the phrase often used to describe the southern condition under their northern rulers was "brigantaggio prima, emigrazione poi" - "Brigandage (the disparaging term for armed resistance) first, and then emigration." Alfonso came to America, he told me, not only to help himself but also to help his family.

Alfonso Cretarola holding Francis Cratil Cretarola

There were three boys from the town of Castiglione Messer Raimondo, Abruzzo on the S.S. Cretic when it reached shore. They shared $17 between them, according to the ship records. In Boston, they went their separate ways. Alfonso moved to Pennsylvania's anthracite coal country, mined for a short time (he didn't like it), and then found day work doing physical labor. Attitudes about Italians at the time barred many possibilities for him. So, he changed his name to Francis Cratil. I'm named after him. Eventually he settled in the Italian quarter of Reading, PA and went to work for Firestone.

The Immigration Restriction Act of 1921 severely limited the number of southern and eastern Europeans who would be admitted to the U.S. The 1924 act doubled down on this (and outright banned the immigration of most Arabs and Asians). Italians were seen as un-American in their religious traditions, and believed by some to have a tendency toward criminality and connections to anarchist terrorism. Italian immigration fell from an average of 200,000 per year to a maximum of 3,845. By contrast, the quota for Germans was 57,000.

My mother-in-law, born May Chen, arrived in the U.S. on a student visa in 1953. In 1952, some of the prohibitions against Asian immigration had been lifted, but quotas remained low and based on race, not nationality. She took trains from the West Coast to Pennsylvania and Wilkes College (now Wilkes University), in Wilkes Barre, PA. She was one of very few Asians - she doesn't remember any others - at the college or in the town at that time. People would stop in their tracks - she believes out of sheer surprise - when they saw her on the street. Alfonso eventually found a community to support him. May was on her own. She overcame difficulties with the language, adapted to 1950s culture, and graduated from college.

May Chen, Cathy's mother

May had been sent to the U.S. after Mao toppled Chiang-Kai Shek's government. The family had been forced to relocate to Taiwan. Members of her family had played a role in the war against Japan, working with General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, and Claire Chennault, the leader of the Flying Tigers. May was a quick study and worked her way up in stock trading in New York City. She and Cathy would live in Queens before relocating to New Jersey.

Le Virtù was inspired by Alfonso, who lived in my home when I was a child. May was our only other investor, and we owe her Le Virtù's existence and survival, particularly through the rough times of the 2008 economic crash. When we are down, she picks us back up. So, our restaurant was inspired by one immigrant and made possible by another.

In 1914, Chef Joe Cicala's paternal great-grandfather Domenico emigrated to Silver Spring, MD from Fiumedinisi in Sicilia. Domenico was a cobbler and opened a shoe-repair shop that would become Washington DC's longest continuously running business. He met his bride, also from Fiumedinisi, in DC. He and his bride would return to Sicilia for a time, but then re-emigrate when Joe's grandfather Vincenzo was born. They got back in while mass immigration was still possible. His home would serve as a de facto boarding house for fellow Fiumedinissiani who Domenico would employ at the shop or a close relative's barbershop. And the child, Joe's grandfather born in Sicilia, would have a distinguished and decorated career serving in the US Air Force through several conflicts and decades. 

Chef Cicala with kitchen and front-of-house staff from Puebla, Mexico

Like many US restaurants, Le Virtù operates on a daily basis thanks to the dedication and hard work of immigrants. Most of these are from Puebla, Mexico. Chef Cicala's entire kitchen staff is comprised of amazing cooks from Puebla, which has a tradition for producing them. When Joe is not in the kitchen, Poli Sanchez, who arrived in the US in his teens, helms the staff and seamlessly creates the specialties of my grandfather's region. Poli has been with us since 2010. We played a small role in helping him earn his green card. Our front- and back-of-house crew has included immigrants from Mexico, Nicaragua, Canada, and Italy. Many have been with us for the better part of a decade. They have treated Le Virtù with care and love, and have become family.

If Alfonso was to arrive in the US today, he would be denied entry. Period. This is true for the overwhelming majority of Italian-Americans who came during the period of mass immigration. When we talk of their and other nationalities' "legal" immigration, we are talking about a period before stringent restrictions existed, before 1924. If they wanted to get here today, they'd have to come illegally. And, facing the same deprivation and lack of opportunity, we all know they would.

And in fact, many did, finding their way in from Cuba, Canada, and Mexico. European undocumented immigrants benefited from amnesties. The Registry Act allowed 200,000 of them to legalize their status between 1925-1965.

Let's talk about the elephants in the kitchen and dining room. Over 20% of cooks working in the US are undocumented immigrants. A large portion of front-of-house staffs are in the same situation (overall, they comprise about 10% all restaurant employees). Many of them have been working and living in the US, raising children born here, and have no way forward to become legal. They pay taxes, often work several jobs, and do everything asked of them. This industry (and several others) wouldn't survive without them. But we're not supposed to talk about it.

Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller, the owners and operators of the acclaimed South Philly Barbacoa (#6 on Bon Appetit's " America's Best New Restaurants 2016"), do talk about it, and we believe courageously. Cristina is, herself, an undocumented immigrant. In 2009, she made the harrowing journey from Mexico across the desert to the US. She crossed over to provide for her family, especially her daughter who is attending nursing school in Mexico. Since her arrival, she has never stopped working. She and Ben met while working in the kitchen of a prominent Philadelphia restaurateur. They married shortly after. They began their enterprise, making the delicious street food of Cristina's home, in their apartment. That progressed to a food cart, located near their S. 8th Street home, and then to their current S. 11th Street bricks-and-mortar location. Because Cristina was caught trying to cross in 2006, she is ineligible for a green card despite her marriage to Miller, who is originally from Easton, PA. To qualify for a green card, she'd have to return to Mexico and wait ten years. Many like her are in similar situations, contributing to our economy, not only working and starting businesses, but also trapped in a limbo.

Cristina and Ben started the drumbeat to create a path forward for immigrants in this situation. They have helped create PAUWR (Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers' Rights). The organization advocates for legislation to establish legal status for these workers and attempts to educate the public about the unsustainability of the current situation. We've been asked to help them raise funds for a national push for this change. Reform of this type is supported by organizations as diverse as Sanctuary Restaurants, of which we are members, and the National Restaurant Association. If you've dined out in almost any American city or town, there's a very good chance that, somewhere along the line, an undocumented immigrant played a role in your meal. It's time we talk about that.

On Wednesday, March 15th, we are holding a fundraiser called  "Sanctuary Supper," in support of PAUWR, which will highlight the diversity of our own kitchen. Chef Joe Cicala and Sous Chef Poli Sanchez will create a menu of Southern Italian and Mexican specialties. Each of the four courses will include an Italian and an Mexican component, one by Joe and one by Poli. The menu of four courses with wine pairings will cost $120 per person (excluding taxes and gratuity), with all profits going to PAUWR. Information about PAUWR will be made available, and hopefully a constructive conversation can begin.

Menu TBD
Date: Wednesday, March 15
Time: 6:30 pm
$120/person (excluding tax and gratuity) 
Please call 215.271.5626 for reservations.

Le Virtu
1927 E. Passyunk Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19148
Brigantessa: February 21st Beer Dinner with Victory Brewing, i ntroducing Chef de Cuisine Ned Maddock  

Our Tuesday, February 21st Beer Dinner with Victory Brewing of Downingtown, PA closes out our program of monthly events and officially welcomes Ned Maddock as our Chef de Cuisine. Ned has truly taken charge of our kitchen and, with Executive Chef/Owner Joe Cicala's knowledge of southern Italian cuisine, allowed us to broaden and deepen our commitment to la cucina del Sud. Victory, one of the region's finest craft breweries, is the product of the passions of Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, friends from early adolescence. Their beer story begins with home brewing kits, moves to apprenticeships at Baltimore Brewing Company to studying in Munich, to the opening of their own Downingtown facility, a restaurant (now with 300 seats) and full-scale brewery, in 1996. We are proud to serve their beers.   

Ned's 4-course, 4-beer pairing menu (including Pastry Chef Angela Ranalli-Cicala's dessert) is one of the best we've offered at Brigantessa, and is perfectly paired with 4 of Victory's flavorful beers, ranging from the down-to-earth to the Schwarz Pils to ethereal Jubilee (brewed with sparkling wine yeast): 

Stuzzichini (snacks) with Prima Pils German-style Pilsener

Oven-roasted oysters with broccoli rabe pesto
Grilled quail with beef barley and kumquat agrodolce
Pairing: Schwarz Pils Dark Pilsener

1732 Meats Bresaola e rucola pizza
Orecchiette with cardoncelli mushrooms
Pairing: Headwaters Pale Ale American Pale Ale

Whole, wood-oven roasted fish with fennel, olives, citrus
Grilled beer-brined lamb, potatoes, chili, mint
Pairing: 21st Birthday IPA Brewed with Chinook, Mosaic, Centennial hops (all 2016 harvested)

"Cassata Siciliana," Pan di Spagna, pistachio cream, ricotta di bufala, candied fruit
Pairing: Jubilee Biere Brut brewed with sparkling wine yeast

Date: Tuesday, February 21st
Time: 6:30  
$85 per person (excluding tax and gratuity). 
 Limited seating: please call 267-318-7341 for reservations.

1520 E. Passyunk Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Brigantessa and Le Virtu': Philadelphia Magazine's Reader's Poll for "Favorite Italian Restaurant"  

Both Le Virtu' and Brigantessa are in Philly Mag's reader poll for Best Italian Restaurant. It's certainly august company to keep in perhaps the city's most competitive dining cate gory.   Philly Mag's poll allows you to vote once a day until Tuesday, February 21st. So when we ask you to vote daily, it's not anything underhanded. But if you can figure out a way to vote not only daily but several times a day, we'll make you an offer you can't refuse. 

Here's the link: