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Hearts afire: Love tales from the restaurants

Love and restaurants are a time-honored pair. Valentine's Day is one of the busiest days of the year. As such, stories abound - some sweet and touching, others painful and cringe-inducing.

Love and restaurants are a time-honored pair.

Valentine's Day is one of the busiest days of the year.

As such, stories abound - some sweet and touching, others painful and cringe-inducing.

Joe Cicala, chef at

Le Virtu

in South Philadelphia, worked at another restaurant with a server who would have a breakup in his section every year. "We used to make bets if it would happen again, but five years running it always happened in his section, every Valentine’s Day weekend," he said.

When he owned Daddy Mims in Phoenixville, John Mims of Carmine's Creole Cuisine Act II in Narberth remembers how a man proposed to a woman on Valentine's Day. She accepted the ring and the dining room applauded. She excused herself to powder her nose, and never came back. We felt so bad for him. "Needless to say, dinner was on us," Mims said. "Hope he found some else."

Sometimes, the shoe is on the other foot. Bill White, general manager of Sullivan's in Wilmington, recalls the guy wearing a Looney Tunes necktie who wanted to propose. "Very colorful," White said. "I delivered the ring with the dessert and she said yes! Sounds great right? Right after he proposed, the groom-to-be left the dining room. I figured maybe he stepped out to make a phone call, but after 15 minutes it occurred to me that he may not be coming back. I'm not sure what happened with the couple after that, but by the look of the lonely bride in the crowded dining room, it didn't look good.

OK, OK. Those are harsh. How about happier?

Paul DiBona, chef-owner of Pepperoncini in Conshohocken, remembers the couple on a first date on Valentine's Day - which can be auspicious or disastrous.

"The woman got drunk rather quickly and was slurring her speech," DiBona says. "The man was a little embarrassed but the meal went on. All of a sudden, the woman's false tooth fell out in the middle of dinner and onto the floor. The woman took to her hands and knees to look on the ground and even got the waiter involved in the search for her tooth. The man was now extremely embarrassed but I think he got over it because they are now married."

Even happier?

Take Jason and Marlo Dilks, who own the SLiCE pizzerias. Back when she was Marlo Fioravanti, she told Jason over drinks that she didn't like pizza very much. As she put it, it was greasy, cheesy and fast food. Jason took her to their first dinner date to DeLorenzo in Trenton to prove her wrong and show her what great pie can be.

"She hadn't tried the right pizza," he says.

Four years later, they opened the first SliCE location at 10th and Federal Streets on the day after Valentine's Day 2007.

Why the day after? Marlo says, "One last night out before their love of pizza consumed us!" The first few years, Jason and Marlo spent every Valentine's Day together at that SliCE location until the kids came along.

Let me wrap with a Valentine's story that's not about love and loss but about pressure.

David Ansill, now chef at Bar Ferdinand in Northern Liberties, was working at Michael Caine's South Beach Brasserie. The chef made a six-course Valentine's Day menu and asked Ansill to prep it for him. After prepping for four days, Valentine's Day arrived, and the first order came in for a party of six. The check for the order was about 4 feet long with each customer's course itemized. It was very confusing.

Ansill relates that after about eight hours of similar chaos, a waiter came back to the kitchen for the fifth time with the same veal chop with morel cream - not sure which table it was supposed to go to.

"As he was leaving the kitchen," Ansill said, "I grabbed another veal chop with morel cream and flung it in his direction, just grazing his arm. After a screaming bout with the sommelier, manager, owner and chef, I bellowed out an f- bomb and walked out."

Ansill took a short drive to his usual spot to cool off.

"I thought I saw headlights coming in my direction," he said.

"But, in fact it was police lights. Long story short, I was arrested for having rolling papers in my car. Not the happiest Valentine's Day."