The latest wrinkle - uncertainty about the sale of his shop - had done little to soften D'Angelo's signature scowl. These are not the happiest of times for the dark prince of the Italian Market.
Recently, his two brothers and mother tentatively decided to sell the building (909 and 907 S. Ninth); it's owned jointly by the four family members.
As the odd man out, he said, and with palpable reluctance and conflicted emotions, he'd bowed to the majority, though at age 64 he was unsure how - or where, or whether - he'd soldier on.
It looked like the game was over - and with it a century of D'Angelo Bros. meats in the market, and tiled walls hung with cleavers and elk antlers and ram skulls.
He began telling customers, more in angst than in sadness. And word spread up and down Ninth Street, and across Center City and the Main Line, where regulars counted on his astonishing sausages to wow out-of-town guests, his "kangaroo chili" to celebrate the winter solstice, his stuffed rabbit roasts, and python filets ("They taste like frog legs"), his venison, buffalo, and ground antelope ("Which do you want? The African or Indian?").
On a block that once boasted dozens of butcher shops catering to regional Italian tastes - and where a handful of traditionalists survive - his scholarly focus on the benefits of rare game and original (and ancient) preparations gave D'Angelo a special niche, and years of glowing publicity.
So he leaned across the counter. What should he do, he asked? Try mail order? Sell to an existing purveyor? Offer to train a new hand, and share his lifetime of secrets?
More than one lifetime, actually. Sonny D'Angelo's butchering bloodline stretches over three generations in America. And three more in Sicily, from where his grandfather Santo D'Angelo emigrated in 1905. (Sonny's birth name is Santo III.)
How old was the swaybacked butcher block he was using to break down the veal? D'Angelo shrugged. "I don't know. My grandfather got it in 1910. But he never bought anything new."
The exploits of that strong-willed grandfather, an avid hunter and game aficionado, are recounted in D'Angelo's two memoir-cookbooks tracing the city's Italian American experience, And Now We Call It Gravy and Are You Game?.
Over the years he has hosted game dinners on occasion, featuring buffalo roulade with spinach and wasabi, and medallions of boar (boar noisettes) scented with rosemary and fanned around mustard-seed pappardelle, broccoli rabe, and braised fennel.
He has an uncommonly extensive line of handmade sausages and specialties, even a fresh-ground organic-chicken dog food (including pulverized bone) that he says has been prescribed for pets with food allergies.
He can be generous to regulars, picking figs off his backyard tree to accompany orders of his duck prosciutto. More often he is far darker - a gruff, almost glowering presence, short with novice customers, and sour in contacts with other merchants: "I wave to him," one confided last week, "from across the street."
Some worried that the stress over the pending sale was taking a toll on his health.
On Thursday, and again on Friday, he talked at length about his roots (he started at age 13, cutting cubes of fat for his father), and about his future (none of his kin want to carry on the trade), dashing to the kitchen at one point in the quarters where his mother, Theresa, still resides: A pot of blood sausages was about to hit high boil - and explode.
He caught them just in time.
Then over the weekend, it appeared another last-minute reprieve was in the offing. D'Angelo reported that a new family vote had tipped the scales, for now at least, against an immediate sale of the building.
The 100-year saga of D'Angelo Bros. would have another chapter after all.
Contact Rick Nichols at firstname.lastname@example.org.