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Tre Scalini to close after 25 years on East Passyunk Avenue

"It’s time for a break," says Franca DiRenzo, who's been on the Avenue for a quarter-century.

Francesca DiRenzo-Kauffman and her mother, chef Franca DiRenzo, at Tre Scalini in South Philadelphia on October 18, 2019.
Francesca DiRenzo-Kauffman and her mother, chef Franca DiRenzo, at Tre Scalini in South Philadelphia on October 18, 2019.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

Fans of chef Franca DiRenzo’s black pappardelle, cod, and other straight-ahead Italian dishes have about two more months to enjoy them.

New Year’s Eve will be the finale at Tre Scalini, the quaint Italian BYOB that was an early player in the East Passyunk dining scene. It opened in 1994 on South 11th Street across from Passyunk Square and in 2007 moved to its current East Passyunk Avenue spot, about four blocks south.

The original location had three steps, the translation of the name.

It’s time for a break, says DiRenzo, 68, who runs the restaurant with her daughter, Francesca DiRenzo-Kauffman, 45. After the closing, “we’re taking a break and will work on more personal things,” DiRenzo-Kauffman said.

Among them will be private dinners. The chef and her husband, Alberto, a retired machinist, have overcome what her daughter called “life-changing health issues.” They had been discussing a closing for about two years when a lease extension was offered.

During a chat last week in the dining room before dinner, DiRenzo grew misty at the thought of leaving. “I love what I do," she said. “I don’t know if I’m going to like it. So many years."

Tre Scalini appears on the list of top Italian BYOBs by Inquirer critic Craig LaBan, who in his 2007 review praised DiRenzo’s “straightforward trattoria menu ... neither trendy, seasonal, updated, nor frequently changing.”

Rather, he wrote, “it is an authentic repertoire of worthy family recipes passed down as is, and prepared each day with a ritual simplicity that helps fine ingredients shine, be it an Esposito veal chop, or Talluto’s fresh pastas.”

DiRenzo also helped pave the way for other female chefs on East Passyunk Avenue.

She grew up in Monteroduni, in south-central Italy’s Molise province, immigrating to the United States in 1967 at age 15. She began cooking at a relative’s restaurant while working in a hair salon, but became allergic to the chemicals.

She made a clean start in her first restaurant, at 11th and Tasker.

“The first night, I had a full house,” DiRenzo said. “All my customers.”