About Francis Cratil Cretarola

"Piu in là che Abruzzi! ("More 'out there' than the Abruzzi!")." In "The Decameron," one of Boccacio's characters says this to give a sense of how beyond experience, like a fable, a place is. Boccaccio was writing in the 14th century, but his description remains miraculously apt. Abruzzo, no matter how often we go, remains beyond our experience. I have traveled in Abruzzo for over 17 years, making extended stays in small towns and the region's larger cities. Though my roots are in Teramo Province's Castiglione Messer Raimondo, my interests are pan-Abruzzese; my wife Cathy and I lived for a time in the comune of L'Aquila, an experience that changed our lives and informed the creation of Le Virtù (www.levirtu.com). our authentic Philadelphia trattoria dedicated to the culture and cuisine of the region. We also now own and operate Brigantessa, dedicated to the rest of Italy's South. In 2004, we took a film crew to Abruzzo to produce documentaries on the region's culture and cuisine for Comcast and local PBS stations. We've supported the American tours of the Sulmona-based folk group DisCanto since 2006, organized gastronomic tours of the region affiliated with Philadelphia's KitchenAid The Book and The Cook Festival, created and guided private itineraries of the region and supported causes aiming to preserve regional pastoral traditions and rebuild the earthquake-damaged capital of L'Aquila. I participated in a 2011 documentary for Abruzzese television, "Talenti e Territori" focusing on DisCanto leader Michele Avolio, explaining his impact on the growth and preservation of Abruzzese song and his role as one of the region's preeminent cultural ambassadors. . I have consulted on articles on Abruzzo, including The New York Times' "In Abruzzi, Italy Shows a Rougher Edge," by Gisela Williams and an upcoming piece on the region in Saveur by Adam Gollner. I have a B.A. in History from Gettysburg College and an M.F.A in Creative Writing from The American University. Before dedicating myself to Abruzzo, I worked for Congressional Information Services and did freelance writing/editing.

‘Merigan: 26 Jan. 2015: Finding Abruzzo


(Marchigiana breed cattle on the Campo Imperatore w/Corno Grande in the background; view of  the Sirente range from the Gran Sasso)

(All photos by Francis Cratil Cretarola)

A little more than an hour from Rome, Abruzzo seems - is - a world away. Leaving the Grande Raccordo Annulare (GRA), the beltway that surrounds Rome’s ever-expanding sprawl, […]

By |January 27th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments

‘Merigan: 20 January 2015: Rispetto…

 (Le Virtu and Brigantessa; photos by Kateri Likoudis)
I begin this piece with a little film of one of my new favorite dining places on earth. It’s called Da Nennella and it’s located in Napoli’s Quartieri Spagnoli, one of the most intense, earthy and unpretentious neighborhoods in that or any other city. Take the […]

By |January 21st, 2015|Uncategorized|5 Comments

‘Merigan: 2 January 2022

(Photo by Kateri Likoudis)
It’s almost never enough to be talented. You also have to be lucky. Joe Cicala, chef of Le Virtù and chef/owner of our newly opened Brigantessa, had no idea how fortunate he was when, as a young student in Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Community College’s obscure but impressively progressive culinary program, […]

By |January 2nd, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments

‘Merigan: 16 December 2021

(Photo: Guido Paradisi)
What follows is a story I wrote last year for an aborted blog about a June trip I’d just taken to Abruzzo, but I think it’s worth resurrecting and reposting now. It’s about the region, what makes it so special, so “green” in the 21st-century sense, and - with our very real […]

By |December 17th, 2014|Uncategorized|0 Comments

‘Merigan: 1 December 2021

(Photos: Kateri Likoudis)

Many of you know that my wife (Cathy Lee) and I (Francis Cratil Cretarola), own and operate two Italian restaurants on East Passyunk Avenue (on the most recent of the two, Brigantessa, Chef Joe Cicala is a partner, but he’s a lot more than that in everything we do).

Where Cathy and I […]

By |December 1st, 2014|Uncategorized|0 Comments