Presenting: Best of the River Wards 2012!

Star is proud to in­tro­duce the win­ners of the Best of the River Wards 2012 read­ers’ choice con­test.

Dear Read­er,

Well, you did it.

You chose the best people, places and busi­nesses in your com­munity by cast­ing your votes dur­ing these past few weeks.

Each vote was a token of sup­port for the hard work of loc­al res­taur­ants, shops, bars, gal­ler­ies, salons and more. All those busi­nesses and in­di­vidu­als and in­di­vidu­als have kept truck­ing alone, each and every day, in an eco­nom­ic cli­mate that isn’t easy for any­one.

That hard work has paid off in ways Star is proud to re­cog­nize.

In­side, you’ll read words from the win­ners—words that of­fer a unique look in­to the in­ner work­ings of the places and people you might see every day.

Maybe you’ll even learn of your new fa­vor­ite place.

There is one over­whelm­ing com­mon­al­ity in those words, though: every win­ner was grate­ful, most of all, to the com­munity,.

That’s what makes this con­test just so great. It’s proof that com­munit­ies are strong and vi­brant places in which people sup­port one an­oth­er.

What could be more im­port­ant these days?

Star is thrilled to present The Best of the River Wards 2012.

Con­grat­u­la­tions to the win­ners!

Best Break­fast or Brunch: Win­ner: (Tie) Mer­cer Caf&ea­cute; at 2619 E. West­mo­re­land St. and M&M Res­taur­ant at 2736 E. Al­legheny Ave.

 Mer­cer Cafe

Om­elets stuffed with crab, as­paragus and moz­zarella or pan­cetta, to­mato and onion. Mas­car­pone French toast. Salty, but­tery creamed chipped beef.

Stom­ach grumbling yet?

These are but a few of the break­fast and brunch op­tions Mer­cer Caf&ea­cute; serves up, and ac­cord­ing to own­er Tom Woltjen, every single menu item is pre­pared fresh daily.

Open since May 2000, Mer­cer Caf&ea­cute; is a true fam­ily busi­ness. Woltjen’s wife, daugh­ter and broth­er are all a part of the op­er­a­tion, and the fam­ily grew up in the neigh­bor­hood.

“There’s a lot of ‘Mer­cer ba­bies’ we’ve watched grow up,” Woltjen said. “We’re al­ways chat­ting with every­one. Every­one’s part of the fam­ily.”

The caf&ea­cute; of­fers sea­son­al as well as daily spe­cials, and Woltjen said it’s al­ways packed on the week­ends, when brunch runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sat­urdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.

With di­verse break­fast, brunch and lunch of­fer­ings, it’s un­likely any­one who stopped in to Mer­cer Caf&ea­cute; would go hungry. Plus, the staff mem­bers clearly love what they do.

“It feels good to serve the neigh­bor­hood,” Woltjen said.

Call Mer­cer Caf&ea­cute; at (215) 426-2153.

M&M Cafe

Though not named for the can­dies with the chocol­ate shell, the of­fer­ings at this diner seem to be con­sidered just as de­li­cious.

M&M stands for Mari­an and Mag­gie Cud­nik, the hus­band-and-wife team who have owned the Port Rich­mond caf&ea­cute; for 19 years.

What’s so good on their menu that read­ers voted M&M the best place to go for break­fast or brunch?

“Everything is good, no choice,” said Mari­an Cud­nik. “But people really like the chipped beef and the om­elets.”

With its very simple yet clas­sic diner style, com­plete with counter seat­ing and vinyl booths, M&M is just what you’d ex­pect from a small town joint.

The menu is packed with break­fast and brunch staples like eggs any style, break­fast sand­wiches and ba­con, as well as Pol­ish fa­vor­ites like potato pan­cakes and piero­gis.

“All my neigh­bors, I know every­one that comes here. Many people come even from the North­east,” said Mag­gie Cud­nik. “The neigh­bor­hood is really nice.”

M&M is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day of the week. Call the caf&ea­cute; at 215-423-4990.

 Run­ner Up: Ida Mae’s Bruncher­ie at 2302 E. Nor­ris St.

 -Mi­kala Jam­is­on

Best Pizza

Win­ner: Primo Pizza, 2563 Trenton Ave.

 What makes Primo Pizza the best in the River Wards? 

Own­er Jim Duffy’s lips are sealed.

“What, you want me to give away our secrets?” he said light­heartedly. 

But even if he’s not go­ing to di­vulge his re­cipes, it’s clear that the piz­zas at Primo reign su­preme.

For over 19 years, Duffy and his crew have been mak­ing piz­zas in the small shop on Trenton Av­en­ue across the street from Pop’s Play­ground.

“We’ve seen the trans­form­a­tion of this area,” he said. “We’ve seen all the changes.” 

Asked the shop’s spe­cialty, Duffy said hungry read­ers should try the “mega pie,” a 24-inch pizza that Duffy said is great for parties. 

“Big­ger is bet­ter,” he said. 

Duffy poin­ted out that Primo Pizza wouldn’t have won if it wer­en’t for such a hard­work­ing team of em­ploy­ees.

“We are happy, thrilled really, to win” he said. 

Duffy said that with the read­ers’ votes push­ing Primo Pizza’s pies to the top, the next step is clear. 

“What else can I say? If you haven’t tried us yet, now’s the time,” Duffy said. 

Primo Pizza can be con­tac­ted at 215-426-8885.

Run­ner Up: San­tucci Pizza, 2313 E. Ven­ango St.

 -Hay­den Mit­man

Best park

Win­ner: Camp­bell Square, Bel­grade Street and Al­legheny Ave.

Walk past Camp­bell Square on any typ­ic­al sunny week­end and you might see a few things - a group of old friends, a pair of moth­ers push­ing their young chil­dren in strollers or a neigh­bor­hood res­id­ent with a green thumb tend­ing to the flower beds. 

The park has had prob­lems in the past with lit­ter, van­dal­ism and drug users, but it has stead­ily im­proved thanks to con­cerned loc­als and mem­bers of The Friends of Camp­bell Square. 

Now the group hosts events each month in the square and May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter even of­fi­ci­ated the wed­ding of Phil­adelphia Po­lice Of­ficer Samuel Tribuiani in the park in May. 

Star spoke to Friends of Camp­bell Square sec­ret­ary Susan Ongirski in June for a story about her work in the park. Here’s what she had to say:

“It’s gor­geous now. There are four or five new gar­dens [in the park] and we’ve had a his­tor­ic­al sign and benches put in,” she said. “To see the park be­ing used makes me feel so good. I am proud.” 

To learn more about The Friends of Camp­bell Square’s work in the park, vis­it www.face­­bell­square. 

 Run­ner Up: Frank Glav­in Me­mori­al Play­ground (A&W) at E. West­emo­re­land Street and Al­mond St.

 - Mi­kala Jam­is­on

Best Ho­agie

Win­ner: Primo’s Ho­agies, 1501 E. Susque­hanna Ave.

Primo’s Ho­agies’ own­er Frank Pos­pieck said he thinks that the sand­wiches at his shop might have won over so many oth­ers in the neigh­bor­hood thanks to good old-fash­ioned cus­tom­er ser­vice.

“I care that you get what you want,” he said. “I care be­cause you’re a pay­ing cus­tom­er. You de­serve to get it right.” 

With over 25 years of ex­per­i­ence mak­ing sand­wiches, Pos­pieck said that he’s proud to serve the com­munity, and he’s ex­cited that loc­als felt the ho­agies at Primo’s were the best in the area. 

“I live in Port Rich­mond and I work here in Fishtown, and I’ll nev­er leave either one,” he said. “I love these neigh­bor­hoods, and I just want to say thank you so much. This is so greatly ap­pre­ci­ated.” 

Along with his own ex­per­i­ence in the in­dustry, Pos­pieck said that he’s backed by hard­work­ing staff mem­bers, in­clud­ing his wife and son. 

“I’m lucky, I’ve got good guys on my staff,” he said. “This is just a great neigh­bor­hood. I’m happy.” 

When asked if he had a spe­cialty sand­wich or a fa­vor­ite ho­agie, Pos­pieck said he’s eaten so many of the sand­wiches, he couldn’t pos­sibly pick a fa­vor­ite. 

Maybe that task is best left to Primo’s cus­tom­ers.

Primo’s can be con­tac­ted at 215-425-2350.

Run­ner Up: Slack’s Ho­agie Shack, 2499 Ara­mingo Ave.

 -Hay­den Mit­man

Best loc­al busi­ness own­er

 Win­ner: Faith Men­dez, own­er of Star­Light Star­Bright Play and Learn Day­care, 2424 Stu­di­os, 2424 E. York St.

Faith Men­dez in­sists that her win has less to do with her and more to do with the staff she val­ues so deeply.

“We’re not a busi­ness, we’re a fam­ily,” said Men­dez, who said most people know her as  ‘Miss Fay.’

When Men­dez star­ted Star­Light Star­Bright Play and Learn al­most two years ago, she said her mo­tiv­a­tion was simple.

“I star­ted it be­cause I love kids,” she said. “You could have all the de­grees in the world, but if you don’t love kids…”

The day­care, which is open to chil­dren six weeks to five years old, brings in chil­dren from many Phil­adelphia neigh­bor­hoods, Men­dez said.

The stu­dio space, now a bust­ling day­care open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days per week, was just a shell be­fore Men­dez took over.

Once Men­dez and her fam­ily mem­bers stepped in—her staff in­cludes four daugh­ters and four nieces, and her young grand­daugh­ter is a day­care stu­dent—she said cre­at­ing a happy en­vir­on­ment was the first or­der of busi­ness.

“You gotta make it fun,” she said of her work. “It takes good par­ents and good people.”

As 12 of the day­care’s stu­dents gradu­ate this month, Men­dez said it breaks her heart to see them go. For her, it’s like say­ing good­bye to fam­ily mem­bers.

“I don’t want it to be ‘best busi­ness own­er’ this year,” she said. “I want it to be ‘fam­ily of the year.’”

Call the day­care cen­ter at 267-455-0588 and vis­it the Face­book page by search­ing for “Star­Light Star­Bright Play and Learn.”

 Run­ner Up: Kelly Krecko Al­bano, own­er of Kid­die Garden Day­care, with three loc­a­tions. Con­tact at 215-634-2570.

- Mi­kala Jam­is­on

Best Gift Shop

Win­ner: Sweets & Treats, 3138 Rich­mond St.

Though the store’s only been open on Rich­mond Street since Decem­ber, Sweets & Treats has quickly gained a sig­ni­fic­ant fol­low­ing as a sweet spot to pick up some treats to give as a gift—or keep for your­self. 

Co-own­er Wayne Bul­lock said he be­lieves it’s the unique candy of­fer­ings and cus­tom gift bas­kets that make the store stand out. 

In fact, he said his shop is one of the few places where loc­als can get Turk­ish taffy and “fly­ing sau­cers”: candy-filled pouches made of sweetened un­leavened bread. Cus­tom­ers can also get a taste of Her­shey’s ice cream for a cool $1 per scoop.

As a new res­id­ent of the com­munity—he moved with his fam­ily to Port Rich­mond to help open the store—Bul­lock said the area has been wel­com­ing, and he hopes to re­turn neigh­bors’ kind­ness by provid­ing an open, friendly at­mo­sphere at his shop.

“When we first looked at the neigh­bor­hood, we thought, ‘It’s all fam­il­ies, but they have nowhere fun to go,’” he said. “The neigh­bor­hood has been great. Every­one has been wel­com­ing.” 

Since the shop has opened, they have ad­ded an ice cream cool­er and a counter for Ash­er’s brand chocol­ates. 

Bul­lock’s fa­vor­ite part of work­ing in the River Wards? The people, he said.

“We have people come in from Fishtown. They walk all the way over here with strollers and everything,” he said. “It’s just been so much fun.” 

Sweets & Treats can be con­tac­ted at 215-425-3771.

 Run­ner Up: AFI Flowers, 3065 Rich­mond St.

-Hay­den Mit­man

Best Coach or Teach­er

 Win­ner: Of­ficer Ernie Rehr, dir­ect­or of Rizzo PAL, 2524 E. Clear­field St.

Ernie Rehr said he has a very large fam­ily.

That fam­ily isn’t just made up of his wife and two kids, he said, but of the thou­sands of Port Rich­mond kids he’s worked with coach­ing golf, wrest­ling, bowl­ing, bas­ket­ball and more.

“I’ve been to lots of wed­dings and com­mu­nions,” he said with a laugh as he thought back on all the events he’s been in­vited to by his “PAL kids.”

Now in his 22nd year of work at the PAL, Rehr dis­cussed all the activ­it­ies the cen­ter of­fers to the neigh­bor­hood, like a girls’ pos­it­ive im­age pro­gram, an after-school home­work pro­gram, karaoke nights, self-de­fense classes and com­munity ser­vice op­por­tun­it­ies.

“School, PAL, church, we all have a part in kids’ up­bring­ing,” Rehr said, adding that par­ents are an enorm­ously im­port­ant part of the PAL’s suc­cess, and thanked them for mak­ing PAL of part of their kids’ lives.

He ad­ded that his philo­sophy is that em­power­ing chil­dren leads to end­less pos­sib­il­it­ies.

Rehr would know—the re­cre­ation room at the PAL is filled with trophies and ban­ners cel­eb­rat­ing the wins of the vari­ous teams and groups to which Rehr ded­ic­ates his time.

He said the work keeps him young.

“I know in my heart I’m help­ing to de­vel­op bet­ter cit­izens for Phil­adelphia, and the coun­try,” he said.

Vis­it the Phil­adelphia Po­lice Ath­let­ic League on­line at phillyp­, and call the Rizzo PAL at 215-426-6583. 

 Run­ner Up: Pat Cain, soc­cer coach at the Fishtown Ath­let­ic Club, www.fishtown­

-Mi­kala Jam­is­on

Best Deli 

Win­ner: Nar­ducci’s Deli, 2402 E. Dauph­in St.

Though the shop might be a little hard to find if you don’t know where to look—the sign out front blew away in a storm — Star read­ers re­membered Nar­ducci’s Deli in this year’s con­test. 

The deli has been serving loc­als since 1984, and in that time, said Angie Na­ducci—daugh­ter of own­er Tony Nar­ducci—the fam­ily-owned and op­er­ated deli has been sup­por­ted by a group of reg­u­lar cus­tom­ers she said she’s proud to call friends. 

“We have a lot of reg­u­lars. Some of them we see every day,” she said. “You end up know­ing so much about each oth­er. You know their per­son­al lives, and they know yours.” 

While the deli of­fers sand­wiches and ho­agies, Nar­ducci said that the most pop­u­lar items in the shop are the pizza ba­gels and pizza pret­zels that they make fresh.

“That’s what we sell the most of,” she said. 

When the fam­ily learned they were se­lec­ted to win the award thanks to read­ers’ votes, Nar­ducci said she was flattered and thanked the com­munity. 

“Every­one here is so nice,” she said with a grin.

Nar­ducci’s Deli can be con­tac­ted at 215-634-1177, and found on Face­book by search­ing for “Nar­ducci’s/Tony’s.”

Run­ner Up: Best Deli, 2616 E. Le­high Ave.

-Hay­den Mit­man

 Best Cof­fee Shop

Win­ner: Cof­fee House Too, 2514 E. York St.

 Cof­fee House Too is all about the ex­tras.

De­r­ick War­ren, own­er of the cof­fee house that’s called the Fishtown area home for about a year and a half, said cus­tom­ers get a com­pli­ment­ary mimosa with every break­fast or­der on the week­ends, and a free glass of wine with every lunch sand­wich.

Not to men­tion that any lucky dogs that come in with their own­ers will snag a slice of ba­con.

“No mat­ter how busy it is, we treat each per­son like they are num­ber one,” War­ren said.

One of the cof­fee house’s best sellers, he said, is the “Hangover Ho­agie,” a three-egg mon­ster sand­wich sure to tackle any morn­ing blues with ched­dar, hash browns, gar­lic but­ter and choice of meat on a long roll.

The cof­fee house also makes its own potato chips as well as smooth­ies, pro­tein shakes and spe­cialty drinks in ad­di­tion to cof­fee.

Though the cof­fee shop only of­fers takeout, cus­tom­ers hang out and chow down at tables on the shop’s side­walk.

War­ren said he and his staff truly care about keep­ing Cof­fee House Too a friendly place.

“We’re all dys­func­tion­al, there’s no cliques,” he said. “We’re all real.”

Vis­it Cof­fee House Too on­line at cof­fee­ and call at (267) 324-5888.

 Run­ner Up: Rock­et Cat Caf&ea­cute;, 2001 Frank­ford Ave. 

-Mi­kala Jam­is­on

 Best Cheesesteak

Win­ner: Tony’s Pizza, 3128 Bel­grade

The three Ditri broth­ers—John, Sal and Mario—have been proudly mak­ing sand­wiches at Tony’s Pizza on Bel­grade Street for over 30 years.

In those three dec­ades, some things have nev­er changed. For one, Mario said, the shop’s pat­rons are of ut­most im­port­ance.

 “We try to take care of the cus­tom­er,” he said. “Every­body who comes in here is friendly. We get along with every­body.” 

What else has stood the test of time?

 “We al­ways used the same re­cipe,” he said of Tony’s sig­na­ture cheesesteak sand­wiches.

It would seem there’s no need for change—in­side the small corner shop, the walls are lined with awards, many for wins in pre­vi­ous read­ers’ choice con­tests sponsored by Star.

Ditri said that he’s proud that once again, Tony’s Pizza’s ver­sion of Philly’s fa­vor­ite sand­wich was se­lec­ted as the best in the River Wards. 

“We won last year, we won this year,” he said with a grin. “It’s so nice.” 

Call Tony’s Pizza at 215-427-2090.

Run­ner Up: Tom­mie’s Pizza, 465 E. Gir­ard Ave. 

-Hay­den Mit­man

Best Phar­macy

 Win­ner: Port Rich­mond Phar­macy, 2512 E. Clear­field St.

 Get­ting the staff of Port Rich­mond Phar­macy to stand still long enough to pose for a photo was no easy feat.

That might be be­cause each staff mem­ber was busy tak­ing calls, filling pre­scrip­tions and chat­ting pleas­antly with the phar­macy’s many cus­tom­ers.

Flavia Masino, dir­ect­or of mar­ket­ing and edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams at the phar­macy, said that such great cus­tom­er ser­vice is typ­ic­al.

“We go above and bey­ond for every cus­tom­er,” she said.

She also ex­plained that the phar­macy of­fers free de­liv­ery and pickup for pre­scrip­tions; staff will re­mind cus­tom­ers when pre­scrip­tions need re­filling; someone is al­ways avail­able to an­swer the phar­macy phone, and the em­ploy­ees can speak many lan­guages to cus­tom­ers.

“We have a di­verse pop­u­la­tion, and we are proud of it,” she said, and poin­ted to the flags of sev­er­al coun­tries hanging in the en­trance­way.

John and Nick Masino have owned the phar­macy since 2004, and Flavia Masino said wheth­er she’s host­ing cus­tom­er edu­ca­tion sem­inars about dia­betes or arth­rit­is, or simply ringing up med­ic­a­tions and gro­cer­ies, she sees how im­port­ant the phar­macy is to the neigh­bor­hood.

“We have cus­tom­ers that come in to just say ‘hi,’” she said. “We know every­one’s name…we really fo­cus on tak­ing care of cus­tom­ers.”

Call the Port Rich­mond Phar­macy at 215-426-5099.

 Run­ner Up: York Street Phramacy, 2334 York St. 

-Mi­kala Jam­is­on

Best Beer Dis­trib­ut­or

Win­ner: Phil­adelphia Beer Com­pany, 2525 York St.

Throughout the River Wards, beer dis­trib­ut­ors seem to come a dime a dozen. There’s one on al­most every block.

That means Phil­adelphia Beer Com­pany had to over­come a lot of com­pet­i­tion to be named “Best Beer Dis­trib­ut­or.” What led to its win?

Own­er Jim Lee said that he be­lieves the win­ning qual­it­ies are the friendly staff, fo­cus on cus­tom­er ser­vice and, of course, a wide se­lec­tion of beers—from loc­al fa­vor­ites to beers brewed in Europe and Hawaii.

“There are so many dif­fer­ent beers across the coun­try… we are al­ways try­ing to bring in something dif­fer­ent and I think our cus­tom­ers ap­pre­ci­ate that,” he said.

Lee ad­ded that he is thank­ful for the sup­port from the loc­al com­munity.

“This is a great neigh­bor­hood. I couldn’t do this without such great neigh­bors,” he said.

In the nine years the beer dis­trib­ut­or has been in place on York Street, Lee said he’s tried to provide a wide vari­ety of beers, while sup­port­ing loc­al brew­er­ies like Phil­adelphia Brew­ing Com­pany and Yards Brew­ing Com­pany.

“Loc­al beers are something we do really well,” he said. “This really is one of the best neigh­bor­hoods I know.”

Call the store at 215-426-8113.

Run­ner Up: Cam­iel’s, 2619 Ara­mingo Ave.

-Hay­den Mit­man

Best Res­taur­ant

Win­ner: Vil­la­gio Pizza Caf&ea­cute;, 2533 E. Clear­field St.

Vil­la­gio own­er George Va­sili­ou said the Port Rich­mond res­taur­ant is much more than just a meal tick­et.

After the deaths of both his wife and his broth­er, Va­sili­ou, who said he’s been in the res­taur­ant busi­ness for 35 years, took own­er­ship of Vil­la­gio with two oth­ers in Oc­to­ber last year.

“It keeps my mind away from bad memor­ies,” he said of his work. “I can move on. I don’t like to stay home. I’m al­ways here.”

As Va­sili­ou shared de­tails about Vil­la­gio, he pulled piz­zas out of the brick oven, dashed back and forth for in­gredi­ents and said kind words about his staff mem­bers. He called his res­taur­ant co-own­ers his “broth­ers.”

He said not only does own­ing the pop­u­lar res­taur­ant help him per­son­ally, but it af­fords him the chance to give back to the com­munity he calls “beau­ti­ful.”

“They sup­port us, we sup­port them,” he said of neigh­bor­hood res­id­ents.

Vil­la­gio’s menu boasts dozens of unique piz­zas, plat­ters, Itali­an and Greek en­trees and an abund­ance of salads, sand­wiches and side dishes. Cus­tom­ers can or­der pickup or de­liv­ery or eat in the res­taur­ant’s full-ser­vice din­ing room.

Va­sili­ou said that thanks to its ca­ter­ing and event ser­vices, Vil­la­gio also sees its fair share of gradu­ation and birth­day parties, and has even played host to a  wed­ding re­cep­tion.

“People like to cel­eb­rate here,” he said with a smile.

Call Vil­la­gio Pizza Caf&ea­cute; at (215) 291-9499. 

Run­ner Up: Ara­mingo Diner, 3356 Ara­mingo Ave.

-Mi­kala Jam­is­on

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