insightful in-depth reviews

2, Jul 2017

The meaning of La Famiglia

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

Two of my favorite indulgences are history and food. Imagine my pleasure on being able to combine them this summer!

The Old City Philadelphia restaurant La Famiglia (which means “the family’) was founded in the bicentennial year of 1976. Owner Giuseppe Sena is celebrating his family establishment’s 41st anniversary by rolling back prices to what they were then. For example, veal sautéed with mushrooms in a garlic and brandy cream sauce (Vitelio Bianco) for only $12.95.

This, mind you, is sophisticated downtown dining at historic prices. The Sena family culinary tradition dates back to 1947 when Carlo “Papa” Sena began to cook in Naples. The family carried this experience across the Atlantic and opened La Famiglia in 1976 at 8 S. Front Street. Since their father retired from the kitchen in the early nineties, Carlo’s two sons, Giuseppe and Gino, and grandson Carlo have maintained the first-class image of La Famiglia.

The occasion causes me to reminisce about what I was doing back in ‘76, and what was going on around me during that Bicentennial celebration.

The Apple Computer Company was established by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in April of 1976. A rare disease affected thousands of delegates at an American Legion convention at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in July. I vividly remember that because I had to go to a center city hospital that day for a small problem, and waited an inordinate amount of time because the staff was overwhelmed.

My family’s business, Sigismund Opticians, was at 1835 Chestnut Street. Our largest competitor, Limeburner Opticians, had ten stores in the Delaware Valley. (Their slogan was “Look to Limeburners.”) Now Sigismund is long gone; my father sold the building in the 1980s, and Limeburner’s last location closed in 2016.

I produced and announced radio programs at WHYY, which was in the old WFIL building at 46th and Market Streets. I produced some of my shows in the same studio where Dick Clark had hosted Bandstand. One of my young colleagues was Ed Cunningham, who retired just this year.

The movie Rocky was released in December 1976, and NASA unveiled the first space shuttle, the Enterprise, during September 1976. On the 4th of July my family and I lay on a blanket on Walnut Street in front of Independence Hall and sang “God Bless America” and other patriotic songs in unison with thousands of others.

Interesting trivia includes these facts: A gallon of gas cost 59 cents. A first class postage stamp was ten cents. Zenith 25″ color TVs were advertised for $599 and Plymouth automobiles for $3175.

Getting back to the present, La Famiglia’s Nostalgia menu is available through August 31, 2017, Monday through Thursday nights and Tuesday through Friday lunches. For more information, call 215-922-2803 or visit
La Famiglia’s wine cellar: