It's What's for Diner

This South Philly institution has been serving it up right for more than 40 years.

By Lauren McCutcheon
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Aug. 25, 2004

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Shank's and Evelyn's
932 S. 10th St. 215.629.1093
Cuisine: Italian-American
Prices: $2.50-$8.50
Hours: 8am-5pm Tues-Sat (closed Saturdays until Labor Day).
Smoking: Yes
Atmosphere: Circa 1962 luncheonette.
Service: "What can I get you, hon?"
Food: Hot breakfasts, hot sandwiches, hot servers.

 

Evelyn Perri and her girls don't have to spend so much time on their roast beef. They don't have to come in at 5:30 a.m. to get it in and out of the oven by 10:30, don't have to make their own gravy, don't have to slice it by hand.

Evelyn is the Perri family's starlet-stunning 65-year-old blond matriarch. In a black top, full makeup--and absolute control--she could just stand behind her luncheonette counter, flanked by similarly pony-tailed, similarly pretty sister Marion, daughters Donna and Pam, niece Theresa and granddaughter Margaux, and easily rely on good looks alone to bring in customers.

But of course, this all-female staff wouldn't do that. Skimping in the kitchen wouldn't be right--not to their regular clientele (mostly men); not to the saints and the Mother Mary, looking down from their mass cards above the kitchen door; and not to the memory of the late Shank, Evelyn's husband of 36 years, with whom she opened the business in 1962.

The Shankettes come in five days a week (four in August) to serve breakfast and lunch. Think of them as a glamorous South Philly posse of time-to-make-the-donuts guys.

Their mini daytime diner is neat as a pin, but clearly dated. The sign outside is courtesy of Royal Crown Cola. Inside hang signed photos of The Sopranos cast members and the Coz during 'fro-ier days, yellowing thank-you notes from TV stars, a portrait of Mario Lanza, old "Best of Philly" announcements, a framed collection of Disney and Looney Tunes characters, and Shank's obit.

Everybody knows everybody here, not only because they've been coming here for decades, but also because the small space make it nearly impossible to avoid fellow diners. Groups and couples sit at one of five packed tables. But customers also sit at the counter facing an aqua-tiled wall, a flattop grill, trays of breaded chicken cutlets and Italian peppers, steaming tubs of gravy, upended logs of lunchmeat ready to be sliced to order and, of course, the coffee-sipping beauties behind the counter.

There's no menu handout. Lists of breakfast platters and sandwiches are posted high on the wall facing the counter. (Newcomers out themselves by swiveling in their stools to read the menu; regulars order from memory.) Handwritten signs posted over the grill announce seasonal specials like tomato and onion or cucumber salad (summer) or clams and macaroni (winter).

The crowd is thinner at weekday breakfast. There are workers ordering egg and cheese sandwiches on kaisers from nearby Vilotti & Pisanelli Bakery, retired guys from the neighborhood having Ellis coffee and toast and sharing a carton of half-and-half.

The morning selection isn't fancy, but it's cheap and good. There are thin three-egg omelets tucked with crispy bacon or ham and American cheese and served with garlicky skin-on sauteed potato cubes (with or without onions), and basic egg-and-meat platters. Banana, blueberry or cinnamon raisin pancakes are popular with the kids, as is French toast--three thick cinnamon-y Texas slices, each triangle topped with a misshapen pat of butter--for $2.50.

The breakfast menu also offers "the Giambotti," the morning-time equivalent of an ice cream parlor's bellybuster banana split. Meant for sharing, it comprises a six-egg omelet stuffed with broccoli rabe, spinach, zucchini, asparagus, mushrooms, sweet peppers, escarole, fresh tomatoes, provolone cheese, marinara, fennel-flecked Italian (pork) sausage and ham.

But don't be impressed yet. Lunch is the main deal. Shank's basic not-too-greasy cheesesteaks easily best those made by other South Philly joints. There are cold sandwiches too--Italian and tuna, served in green plastic baskets with a side of pickles, squint-inducing pickled green tomatoes and very hot home-roasted long-hots.

But that roast beef--slow-cooked among carrots, celery and onions, soaking in its own juices--is killer. So is the lightly breaded chicken cutlet, especially when paired with bitter broccoli rabe. Or try the pork, a mega shoulder cooked in its own stock with root veg plus bay and cherry pepper.

My favorite is the eggplant parm, just crisp from its egg wash and breading, barely fried, reheated on the grill, served with Cento tomato marinara, a dusting of oregano and sharp provolone. My only complaint: the rolls, which are too soft, not crusty. Still, you gotta give the Perris points for loyalty--they've used the same bakery since '62.

People come here for the soup too. Chicken and rice, escarole, and chicken and pastini that'll cure what ails ya.

But let's face it. They also come to look at the girls.

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1. Chris said... on Jan 14, 2010 at 11:29AM

“Can not say enough good things about this place. I have been going here for 15yrs and any time an out of town visitor, biz or personal, this is the first stop. INCREDIBLE food! New Location 120 S. 15th Street in Center City Philly, same great service and taste.”

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