October 14, 2010

Chestnut Hill Dining Guide

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Romantic BYOB is beauty and a feast
After 21 years, Mt. Airy’s Umbria better then ever

Wyndmoor residents George and Sandra Boyd, seen here with owner Alisa Consorto (left), are two of the many regulars who have been coming to Umbria for years. (Photos by Len Lear)

When lifelong area residents Donna and Alisa Consorto opened their thimble-sized storefront BYOB restaurant, Umbria, at 7131 Germantown Ave. in a then-depressed commercial stretch of Mt. Airy in 1989, no one would have gotten favorable odds betting on their long-term survival. Yet the mother-and-daughter team, originally from Wyndmoor, have beaten the odds and are still thriving while many others have disappeared over the past 21 years. (Donna retired 11 years ago, and since then Alisa, 50, has run the show. “I definitely look every second of those 50 years.”)

“We looked for a suitable location for years,” said Alisa, who attended nearby Springfield Township High School, the Parkway Alternative School in Wyndmoor and Philadelphia College of Art. “We wanted something small that we could handle on our own that was cost-effective. We always liked Mt. Airy, and we were told that there were going to be major improvements along the Germantown Avenue commercial strip.” (Donna was a chef and business partner in the late, wonderful Skippack Roadhouse for 10 years, and she was a chef and supervisor at the old Marriott Hotel that is long gone from City Line Avenue.)

Books available from $1 to $10,000
Mt. Airy ‘bookie’ still gambling on ‘a dying breed’

Greg Williams (who would make a great Santa Claus) has run Walk a Crooked Mile Books in the Mt. Airy Train Station for 15 years. It is one of very few independent book stores left in the region.

People have a hard time throwing out books, according to Greg Williams, owner of Walk a Crooked Mile Books for the last 15 years. So recycling is one aspect of used bookstores. “We’re as green as you can get,” said Williams. “We accept books as donations or for trade credit when we have room. At the moment, we’re chock full but expect to take books again in November.”

Walk a Crooked Mile Books, a big part of the local community, is in the Mt. Airy Train Station, where Williams also sells coffee in the morning to the commuters, with whom he talks about life, books and anything else.

“One of the appeals (of working at a bookstore) is that I’m the kind of person who is interested in a lot of different things,” said Williams, a teacher for 30 years. “I’m constantly learning snippets of information, even though I don’t get to read whole books as much as I want to. My customers teach me a lot, too. On the other hand, one of the unfortunate things about owning a bookstore nowadays is that you have to hustle all the time.”

World premiere Sunday by West Mt. Airy composer

When the Philadelphia Singers open their season Sunday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m., their program’s principal feature will be a rare performance of Randall Thompson’s “The Peaceable Kingdom.” But for local music-lovers, every bit as much interest will be focused on the commissioned world premiere of “Metamorphoses” by David Shapiro of West Mt. Airy.

“Metamorphoses” is not only Shapiro’s first commission from music director David Hayes and the Philadelphia Singers; it will be the first piece of his the region’s only fully professional choir will have ever sung.

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