Q&A with Philip Mancuso, long-time owner of South Philly Italian specialties store

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

In between tending to his loyal customers, Philip Mancuso, 77, spoke with City Paper about the Italian specialties — housemade mozzarella and ricotta — at his shop on the corner of East Passyunk and Mifflin.

Philip Mancuso, left, with his son Philip Joey Mancuso
Hillary Petrozziello

In between tending to his loyal customers, Philip Mancuso, 77, spoke with City Paper about the Italian specialties — housemade mozzarella and ricotta — at his shop on the corner of East Passyunk and Mifflin. Along with tastings of meats and cheeses, he offered this coffee-loving correspondent a shot of espresso that left him buzzing. To the regulars who've been coming to Lucio Mancuso & Son since they were little, he is Mr. Mancuso, provider of cheese and conversation, each as delicious as the other. Here is an edited and condensed version of our talk.

City Paper: So you're Philip Mancuso?
Phil Mancuso: I'm Phil Mancuso. I took over the shop in 1971 when my father died. My father opened in 1940. And we have manufactured ricotta and mozzarella here, and we still do. I will say modestly, we have a good variety of Italian goods here, especially for the holiday needs. We make water ice in the summer months; that's been going on for 74 years.

CP: So, I hear you still sing opera?
PM: Yes. Once a month, at 12th and Wolf [Johnnie's Italian Specialties Restaurant], they do a concert. A good friend of mine, he plays Saturdays at La Collina in Belmont Hills; he's been playing for 50 years or more. When we feel like singing, we go see him.
If we feel like we can sing, then we do. Once we can't, we face that. But right now, the voice is still there.

CP: There have been a lot of changes on the Avenue.
PM: The changes have been enormous. When you compare it to how the old folks used to buy and how they used to cook. Today, a lot of people don't know how to cook — not to talk them down in any way, but they all want to go to restaurants. That's what the women do, they say, "What are we going to have tonight?" and they say, "Reservations!"

Woman customer (chiming in): Not me!

PM: I know! I know! You know what I'm saying, though. Restaurants are full of people, whereas years ago there was no such thing. It was very rare that somebody — Italians especially — would go to a restaurant. They cooked at home. They knew how to cook. They brought all the recipes from their old countries.
They were women who stayed at home, made 15 kids, took care of them, without washing machines, without the [appliances] of today. So that's the change. Good change, now? Yes, I would say. But it ain't what it once was.
So, anymore questions you got?

CP: Just two more. The holidays are coming up. What do your customers get here for Christmas and Thanksgiving?
PM: All the Italian goods you can put on the table. Starting with Italian sliced meats, the sharp provolone, all kind of cheeses, and olives, dried meats, plus the soups that they make at home, and all kinds of lasagna — they want the ricotta for the lasagna — and all that. Such a big variety, it's hard for me to pinpoint each one. The customers have their likes. Just now, the lady bought the baccala [salt-cured cod] — that's something that they use, especially for the [Feast of] Seven Fishes.

CP: A lot of our readers are new to the area and like to cook. What's the one thing they should come here to get?
PM: One of the main things is our mozzarella. We make it more than daily — maybe three or four times a day. That would be the number one thing that they should try.

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