philly: the 24 hour guide
A few years back, the man and I took a little trip to Philly in the summertime. From the (at the time) newly-opened Dizengoff to High Street on Market (twice! back for breakfast after a lovely dinner) to lemon ices and a million La Colombes and fried chicken & donuts at Federal, and finally a pilgrimmage to Zahav... it was an epic 36 hours, memorable even beyond the stomach ache I had all the way home on AmTrak.
Fast forward years later, to the dead of January brooklyn, and an excellent Oaxacan dinner with friends (looking at you, Claro). In the ever present discussion of winter survival, the idea of a weekend trip was borne. Upon discovery that Pittsburgh is indeed really far away, we suddenly remembered the delights of Philly - so delicious, yet so close - and the plan was hatched.
This trip, we knew we wanted to avoid anywhere that has since opened in new york, despite their glory (...Dizengoff, High Street), we realized Zahav was booked months out, and we wanted to build in time for a combination of classics and new spots.
The first stop was the most critical. To our total embarrassment, the only thing we had missed out on round one was a classic Philadelphia sandwich. The roast pork at John's Roast Pork was rumored to be The Most Incredible, beyond the cheesesteak, and conveniently on our route into town. And so we pulled over for a little pork pre-brunch (breakfast?). Despite breaking all the etiquette possible (wrong doors, requests for broccoli rabe, not barking our requests), we found ourselves with two impossibly perfect sandwiches, soft bread, thin juicy pork, and just enough spinach to add flavor. All descriptions are stupid because they were beautiful and they were sandwiches.
From there, we swung by Walnut Street Cafe on the west bank of the river for a brunch no one could eat. Walnut seems to be the darling of the moment -- open all day, very Romans & Williamsy decor, surprisingly good pastries. The non-sweets food, from what we managed, was simply fine though. Next time I'd swap it to a glass of wine and shrimp cocktail pre-dinner, provided they could throw a scone our way.
After two meals in an hour, we decided it was time to walk it off with a visit to the Rodin Museum. It's a tiny place with all the classics... you've got your Thinker as you walk in, the Gates of Hell before you enter, entwined couples in the center of the floor etc., but then you've also got a few juicier things like an enormously round naked Balzac, which I highly recommend.
Juice next door is the Barnes Foundation, for which you must buy tickets in advance and they are totally worth it, truly worth a visit to Philly just for that and The Sandwich (see above.)
It's one of my favorite museum experiences: pharmaceutical mogul who fancied himself an art educator builds ridiculous collection heavy on Impressionism, along with random artifacts from around the world. He is extremely specific about how it's all curated and when he dies, he leaves a complicated will that causes much controversy to this day.
In its current home, you start through a a beautiful building, incredibly Japanese modern, all clean lines and lots of wood and tall ceilings... and then you enter the collection, which is exactly as he left it. Walls are crammed with Renoirs and Van Goughs, but also a hilarious number of keyhole metal things and turquoise jewelery, all jumbled together, no glass coverings. We also learned that ten or so of the paintings have been proven to be forgeries, but given will restrictions, the names haven't been changed, leading to a fun game of Guess the Fakes!
From there, it we were overdue for La Colombe and popped into their enormous restaurant/hang/cafe space in Fishtown (a strange corporate vibe, truth be told the new york versions are much nicer with their crazy lighting and flower plates.)
And at long last, we settled into our home for the night at Wm. Mulherin's Sons, an unpronounceable converted distillery with a beautiful groundfloor restaurant by the same name. Rooms were made for lounging, with built in bars, enormous couches, and many a cacti. We broke out pastries from Cake Life down the block, begged the bar downstairs for a cheese plate to go, and settled in for a homemade cocktail hour.
After several hours and negronis later, we rolled ourselves downstairs for dinner. The lighting was perfectly dark, the cocktails were really fantastic, and the energy was great. If you go, don't miss the brussels sprouts with stracciatella or the coffee pot de creme for dessert. (**Only small note: one of the rooms overlooked the train tracks which as it turns out run all night--kudos Philly MTA equivalent--but are very loud. Book carefully.)
Brunch the next morning was at Suraya, a new Lebanese spot with combination restaurant / cafe / shop. This was one of my favorite stops by far. The pastries were delicious (that cruller with pistachios!), the man'oushe flatbread with za'atar and egg incredible, and the mezzes as fresh as you could ask. Ottolenghi came to mind, but I think that's mostly because there's a sad shortage of this time of food in the US, and honestly we should demand more.
After bumming around Fishtown and popping into ReAnimator for more caffeine, we convinced ourselves we could handle one last meal, because to go to Philly and not go to Federal Donuts would not be a trip to Philly, and also who would we be then?
While we would have detoured wherever needed, the South Second St. outpost happened to be on our route out of town. There, we devoured an order of za'atar and an order of the buttermilk ranch, totally redolent of doritoes. They were out of most of their iced donuts, which left us in the happy position of having an excuse to order all varieties of the fresh hot sugary ones, cinnamon, cookies & cream, and strawberry lavender all. The eight or so minutes we spent destroying it all were some of the happiest of my life.
And on that note, we returned to yet another gray day in new york, relieved to know that an emergency trip (and pork sandwich) are only an hour or two away, should we need them again.
ps - if visiting for the first time, be sure to go to the incredibly strange Magic Gardens, Reading Terminal Market (cannolis!), bum around Rittenhouse, and visit some of the oldest parts of town.