“Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simply or luxurious. Then you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.” ― Julia Child
My mother has a unique litmus test for ascertaining her like, her tolerance or, in some instances, her absolute love of a place by their commitment to finely baked breads and pastries. It’s not uncommon for her to decide, for example, she would like to travel to Montreal if for no other reason than she wants some croissants or tarte aux fruits–as if the logistics involved were as simple as walking outside and crossing the street. Her fondness of Philadelphia is based on myriad factors, ranging from the cultural institutions to the sheer breadth and variety of places to eat. Her love for the city, however, rests entirely on the shoulders of DiBruno Brothers, an Italian market that is less about being a great place for coffee, sandwiches and pastries and is instead a religious institution where the almond croissant occupies the enviable position of being front and center.
Our arrival in the City of Brotherly Love recently involved dropping our luggage off at the Westin Philadelphia (kudos to the staff there for having our room ready so early in the morning) and then briskly walking to DiBruno. The fog and rain were not deterrents to her and my heart went out to the Christmas shoppers, casually strolling along with their gifts and bags in hand, who made the fatal mistake of obstructing her from the sugar plums dancing in her head. Upon entering the store she proceeded directly to the cafe where the breakfast pastries sat gorgeously in their display cases. Like children who glow on Christmas morning when they see presents sitting under a decorated tree, my mother’s face was illuminated as she turned to me and whispered, “Look…we made it in time. They still have some left.”
Sitting on a pedestal were two beautiful, picture-perfect almond croissants. The young lady behind the counter asked, “May we offer you something?” This is how the morning then unfolded :
― “I would love those 2 croissants. In separate bags if possible.”
― “Certainly.” The young lady took a pair of tongs and reached gently for the first pastry, carefully slipping it into a bag as a few granules of confectioners sugar fell onto the marble counter. With the precision and skill of a surgeon, she folded the top part of the bag down and then repeated the process for the second one. I glanced over at my mother who was hanging on to every gesture, ensuring her beloved pastries were not being damaged.
―”May we get you something else to go with them ? Perhaps a cappuccino, or espresso ?”
― “I would love an espresso. Thank you.”
The young lady turned to make the beverage and I leaned in to whisper, “Thanks, mom, but I think I might have a bagel instead.” Without missing a beat, she replied, “You do know the second croissant was for me, too ?”
― “Oh. You mean, you’re actually going to eat two of them ?”
― And without a hint of irony, she said, “Of course not. The second one is a back-up croissant for later. To ensure the first one really is as delicious as I know it will be, I’ll need to bite into a second one.”
― “Mom, you do realize we can return tomorrow morning and they’ll have more croissants. Right ?
― “Of course they will. Don’t be ridiculous. But those will be Thursday morning croissants and right now I have to focus on the Wednesday ones.”