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Palma’s Cucina closes after 23 years in Fitler Square

Update: The deal for a new restaurant called Bucatini has fallen through.

The exterior of Palma's Cucina on Aug. 15, 2019. The restaurant opened in 1996 as Mama Palma's.
The exterior of Palma's Cucina on Aug. 15, 2019. The restaurant opened in 1996 as Mama Palma's.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

This article has been updated, as the deal for a new restaurant has fallen though.

Palma’s Cucina, one of the city’s earlier brick-oven pizzerias when it opened in 1996 as Mama Palma’s at 23rd and Spruce Streets, has closed over New Year’s.

Siblings Brunella and Renato Russo, both in their 50s, are moving on. Brunella Russo, recently remarried, has been shuttling between her home in Fitler Square and California. Renato Russo is in the early stages of planning to open a pizzeria of his own in South Philadelphia.

“We had the energy for over 20 years,” Brunella Russo said. “It was time to let someone else do it. I still have the energy and I’m going to put it toward a yoga/Pilates studio in California.”

The siblings remodeled Mama Palma’s last spring and rebranded it as Palma’s Cucina with a smaller pizza menu.

A deal, announced New Year’s Day, had a new Italian restaurant called Bucatini Caffe opening on the site as a BYOB after a light redecoration. The prospective owners, cousins Dejvi “Dave” Furxhi and Albi Furxhiu, own Burrata, Italian BYOBs with locations at 13th and Wharton Streets in South Philadelphia and 26 E. Eagle Rd. in Havertown.

But last weekend, after an unspecified dispute with the landlord, the cousins said they had walked away and would seek a new location. The landlord told me that another restaurateur is interested in the space.

Mama Palma’s broke ground when it opened under the Russo siblings, who emigrated from Campania with their family in 1971 and named the restaurant after their mother. (Here’s a history of Mama Palma’s.)

The Fitler Square/Rittenhouse area now has a surfeit of Italian restaurants — perhaps more trattorias per square mile than even South Philly.

There’s the granddaddy of them all, D’Angelo’s at 20th and Rittenhouse, plus Scarpetta at the Rittenhouse Hotel, Trattoria Carina at 22nd and Spruce, and Cotoletta Fitler Square at 23rd and Pine Streets; the BYOBs Res Ipsa at 2218 Walnut, Casta Diva at 227 S. 20th, Melograno at 2012 Sansom, Sotto at 151 S. 24th, and Ambrosia at 24th and Locust; the sandwich shop Totorice’s at 20th and Locust Streets; and assorted pizzerias.