By Lou Mancinelli
Twenty-one years ago, Cosimo’s Pizza Café part-owner Enzo Mandarano moved from Italy to America, despite his parents’ warnings and concerns. In fact, they thought he was crazy. His father told him he’d be back in three months. Mandarano, then 20, moved to the U.S. to be with a girl from Abington he had met and fallen in love with a year earlier. She had been vacationing and visiting her own parents’ family for three months in Calabria, the region in southern Italy where Mandarano was born and raised.
Now, Mandarano, 41, is married to and has three children with Antonella, the girl he followed to America, and Cosimo’s is a vibrant neighborhood family pizza café that features some of that Old World Italian charm. And if he needs the advice of an old-fashioned Italian cook, which happens just about daily, Mandarano calls his mom in his hometown of Portigliola, down in Italy’s boot, to ask her “how to make this or that.”
This spring and summer, Cosimo’s, located at 8624 Germantown Ave., across the street from the old Borders’ location, will update its menu to include paninis and more vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Other plans include renovations to the entire front of the establishment and interior design elements that will feature historical Chestnut Hill-themed photographs and emblems from local schools. A mural of Cosimo’s founder, Cosimo DiBruzzi, will be painted on the back wall.
“I moved to America for love,” said Mandarano during a mild April night where the setting sun provided a dinner scene at Cosimo’s outdoor tables along Germantown Avenue that could have served as a postcard for Chestnut Hill. “And for more opportunity.”
Though he earned a degree in elementary education in Italy, Mandarano had the idea he might enjoy working in a restaurant since he was a boy, when he realized the food he cooked was rather good.
A year after moving to America in 1990, he started to work at Cosimo’s and worked at its locations in the King of Prussia, Montgomeryville and Willow Grove Malls. By 1994, he was a manager. In 2004, he became the fourth part-owner of the now 10-year-old Chestnut Hill location, which he owns along with Nicholas DiBrizzi, Carlos Citera and Andrew Russo. Cosimo’s was founded in 1979 in upstate New York, and has a number of locations. The only ones left in the Philadelphia area are the ones in Chestnut Hill and the Willow Grove Mall.
In addition to your standard pizza shop favorites, plus desserts like cannoli and Italian-style cakes, Cosimo’s features specials Mandarano often comes up with based on recipes he learned and still learns in Portigliola, which he tries to visit every year. Pasta fagioli, made homemade according to his grandmother’s recipe was one soup of the day when we interviewed Mandarano last week.
His grandmom’s recipes are also used for the tomato pie and the Conradina, a more-than-ample plate of sausage blanketed with broccoli, sun-dried tomato, garlic and pesto, served over your choice of spaghetti or penne pasta with just-baked garlic sticks. A great deal for $11.95. Cosimo’s new pizza with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and arugula is also “a hit.” The labels featured on the bottles of their old-style Brooklyn sodas were designed by Mandarano and Citera. The two also work together on the menu.
Cosimo’s also does catering, delivers to addresses in Chestnut Hill and offers daily specials. The most popular is probably the Friday Night Feast, a huge combination of pasta, salad and garlic sticks that can feed six to eight people for $39.99.
And though, his mother and two older sisters and brothers still live in Calabria, Mandarano, an Abington resident, keeps his local family close by. His son, Francesco, 14, and his niece, Stefania Rouse, a senior at Penn State Abington, work at the shop when they are free from the responsibilities of school work. He also has a son, Giancarlo, 9, and daughter, Mikayla, 6.
Families filled up the café on Wednesday night during our interview, and Mandarano knew half a dozen customers by name. Cosimo’s even has a Kids Fun Center with toys and games and a television that plays Nickelodeon. It’s that warm family, homey atmosphere that makes the quality food at Cosimo’s taste even better and makes for a wholesome eating experience.
Cosimo’s Pizza Café is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. More information at 215-242-9900.