Food Pilgrimage: 12 Hrs in Philly
It may come as no surprise that Kait and I are willing to travel anywhere for great food. When my conversations inevitably turn to eating or drinking, I wait for that magical moment when someone gets a far off look in their eye, recalling an amazing pastry or burger or cup of coffee they “once had." “Where’d you say that was again? Any landmarks? What’d the sign look like?" I’d travel anywhere within my means to pay respect to a dish that can cast a spell, knowing that even if I cant experience it for myself I’m likely to find something wonderful along the way.
It is with this theory in mind that I’ve begun to visit cities where I know no one, with no agenda other than to find something wonderful to eat or drink. Philadelphia presented itself on the form of an awesome deal for a cool Rittenhouse Square boutique hotel (I am also a big, huge design nerd). I’d be home (in Woodstock, NY) anyway, and Philly is only a three hour drive…Luckily my husband came along, so I could sample twice as much. Like any major coastal city hotels can be expensive, so I opt for the off season both for the great rates at places I couldn’t normally afford and for the refreshing lack of tourists.
Philly may seem like Boston’s gritty cousin, but it’s no foodie underdog. First, there are tons of exotic options, many of which are more casual/accessible than you can usually find in Boston (more reminiscent of New York). For example, the Philadelphia Chutney Company , just around the corner from our hotel, curbed my road trip starvation with South Indian favorites like dosa, idli, and sambar- except modernized (think like Chipotle, but South Indian). My husband declared it “Good, but not as good as my mom’s", which is actually huge praise. If that’s not your thing (and how could it not be?) there were some very promising smelling Korean taco take-outs nearby.
Philly has similarly much to offer us coffee nerdists. In need of some caffeine therapy (tempers ran high in New Jersey traffic), we just went with the closest and walked a few blocks to Elixr Coffee- a tiny, modern, stylish coffee bar serving up quality espresso (hello cortado, my darling) and Chemex. Surrounded by marble and reclaimed wood it was a little hard to imagine how such an artisanal gem could be part owned by a Philadelphia Eagle…
Not exactly ready for dinner, our baristas recommended we head just down the street to Good Dog, a bar where we could actually partake in the wonderful tradition of happy hour (which Boston so cruelly deprives us of). Somewhere between a gastro pub and a dive, it was a chill place to pass the time over a few local drafts (Yards were particularly good) while checking out their massive collection of dog portraits. There were specials for basically every night of the week and a colorful crowd of regulars. Food looked (and smelled) great too.
Speaking of dogs, I have the uncanny ability to sense a Belgian bar within a five mile radius, so neither the Husband or I was surprised when the street I happened to be drawn to turned out to have only one eating/drinking establishment: Monk’s Cafe. Queue the far away look, because this was my kinda place. Cozy, dark wood interior, casual yet knowledgeable staff, a beer list large and curated enough to (rightly) be deemed “The Beer Bible" (how did they get so much good in the same place?!? beergasm!), and a menu to match (a whole mini menu of mussels? another for burgers? duck confit? mac and cheese? FROG LEGS? holy shitballs). I nearly fainted with pleasure at the mere sight of our waitress carrying a steel tub of their Red Light mussels (Hoegaarden, fumee, toasted spicy chile de arbol peppers, chervil, and garlic), a mound of steak frites alongside and fresh wheat rolls for sopping the juices. We could have stayed there all night, but as the high alcohol content of my multiple Chimay Triples kicked in the waitress casually mentioned an old school ice cream shop across town in Olde City, open late, and didn’t that just sound magical?