Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The City of Culinary Love - Philly

On our way to a family vacation in Maine we took a weekend in Philadelphia. I realize Philly isn’t exactly on many people’s lists of ideal weekend getaways – it’s not Vegas or  NYC and it’s got quite the blue collar reputation – but that should change. We had a blast. The city lacks any pretensions, is easy to get around, and the eating was awesome. Here’s a quick rundown.

The night we arrived we strolled over to Monk's Cafe. This place has been on my must-visit list for 20 years due to its reputation as a beer-drinker’s mecca. It’s renowned specifically for its Belgian beer selection. It did not disappoint. It’s a simple neighborhood place, lively late into the night and serves its full menu till 1am. The beer selection is profound and represents a gigantic swath of Belgian beer, but also a nice selection of others nations’ best. This is not the sort of place that inflates its 300-beer selection with every variety of AB/Miller/Coors. I opted for a La Chouffe which came with its brewery-specific glass and tasted wonderful. Some Monk’s moulles et frites, a small salad, some baguette and an additional frites and I might as well have been in Brussels. The food was fresh, perfectly prepared and delicious. We could have eaten here every night and been thrilled.

For breakfast the next day we tried the highly-recommended Green Eggs Cafe. People start lining up here early and its stays busy all morning. Stand close to the hostess stand to wait for your name, the line moves fast and they don’t wait around for you. Once seated we were in a very busy and simple place that clearly loves fresh, local food served in large, but not overwhelming helpings. I opted for the kitchen sink – a skillet of potatoes, onions, sausage and peppers topped with three eggs, a biscuit, Gruyere, and a creamy, white gravy. Amazing! This is what a vacation breakfast should be. Granted, I needed a nap after, and a run to the Rocky steps was needed but out of the question!

On our last day we took in what many say is the best Philly cheesesteak in the city at John's Roast Pork. A line out the door greeted us. Once inside we were amazed by the energy. I don’t know how many people were at the grill, but the place was hopping and was no-nonsense. Do not be intimidated. Know what you want and step up for it…then wait patiently but when your name is called step up again. They must serve hundreds of sandwiches daily. But since this isn’t the well-known Pat’s or Geno’s you want to know how it was, right? It was perfect. The bread was just strong enough to hold on to the juicy meat for as long as it took to eat it. The beef was tender, chopped just right and the cheese (I went with American, I like the way it melts) creamy through out. Look, this place is the epitome of having no pretensions – you’re not here for dining. This is the place for a simple sandwich and they all looked amazing.

For dinner we found a gem, Mr. Martino’s Trattoria. Martino’s is opened only Friday through Sunday, is cash only and is BYOB for no corkage fee. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll never find it. Outside there’s no grand marque, no lit sign. The front window isn’t lit and curtains cover the windows. It looks perpetually closed. But open that door. Inside is a dimly lit space with seating for a couple dozen, sparsely decorated and well worn. But if you can get a reservation, do not miss this quirky, delicious, relaxed experience. Maria cooks on a 6-burner stove, servers will stop and chat, Mr. Martino will check in with you, regulars will wander in for a treat and you will eat deliciously. If I lived in Philly I would be here once a month.

Philly proved a wonderful weekend getaway. The Liberty Bell and historic Old City, 13th street and its nightlife, the 9th Street Market, Reading Terminal Market, and the museums along Ben Franklin Parkway offer enough to keep anyone busy for a long weekend and then some. I know we look forward to getting back!  
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