Pray First To St. Padre Pio—Then Eat After At Cucina di Francesco
With Holy Week fast approaching, many of us are (trying to be) in a more prayerful state of mind. At the lovely St. Padre Pio Chapel, hidden beside bustling Eastwood City, you can visit any time to ask for blessings from this beloved friar and mystic. But if your stomach happens to grumble after the prayers and meditation, thankfully there’s a charming, three-story café right beside the church where devotees can partake of a menu packed with Italian dishes in honor of this Italian saint.
One of those devotees is noted baker and photographer Mary Rose Peña who, together with her husband Roy, was invited by Ramon Rodriguez, director of The Philippine Centre for St. Pio of Pietrelcina, to open a restaurant beside the church, especially for devotees. The couple took on the challenge, and with lots of prayers and guidance from St. Padre Pio, Cucina di Francesco opened in August 2016. (St. Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione.)
The café is cheerfully decorated in wood, glass, and metal, complementing the chapel façade, which is itself a replica of the Padre Pio Sanctuary in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy. Inside the café, most striking is the brightly painted mural depicting the Italian countryside done by UP Diliman Fine Arts students that adorns the walls of the central stairwell. On the first floor, there’s a display counter filled with freshly baked breads and pastries to take home. Meanwhile, the third floor, with its high ceilings and large windows, is perfect to book for special functions.
Meatball and Bacon Pizza
The menu is filled with homestyle Italian dishes reminiscent of the original Amici when it was still being run by the Don Bosco priests. Bestselling starters include the filling Bacon Gnocchi, Focaccia with Garlic Confit, plus salads like the Caesar and Roasted Veggie. Aside from classic brick oven pizzas, the café offers Stromboli, which is similar to a calzone except it’s rolled with different fillings inside, like Spicy Pepperoni and Ham, or Spinach and Mushroom. There’s a good choice of pastas, too, most notably the Lasagna Al Forno and Shrimp Diablo, using fresh squid ink tagliatelle. Main courses include Italian classics like Chicken Saltimbocca or bacon and cheese-rolled chicken fillets coated in bread crumbs, and served with pesto and marinara sauce. Osso Buco is beef shanks braised for 72 hours in a rich tomato stew. There’s also a 14-hour slow roasted Porchetta or pork belly with garlic confit, olive-fig tapenade, balsamic vinaigrette, and au jus gravy. Desserts include favorites like Pannacotta, Tiramisu, Chocolate Mousse, and Crème Brulee Ricotta Cheesecake. The café also serves all-day breakfast dishes, and for drinks—flavored granité (similar to slushies or Italian ice), hot or iced espresso concoctions, and wines, too.
Cucina di Francesco happens to hire differently-abled teens and adults to work at the café, in collaboration with Chef Waya Wijangco of Open Hand School for Applied Arts and Gourmet Gypsy Art Café. (Chef Waya also helped develop the menu.) This initiative is clearly in line with one of the café’s visions which is to engage guests and employees in relevant projects with and for the neighborhood. At this café with a mission, you get to eat, pray, and feed the soul as well.
RER (St. Pio Chapel) Compound, 188 E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue, Libis, Quezon City, (02) 534-9935, FB: @cucinadifrancesc