The City of Brotherly Love

Last weekend I ventured down to Philadelphia with my husband and one of our sons.  We wanted a quick and convenient destination for some sightseeing, as well as a foodie adventure, and Philly fit the bill. We were lucky in that we had blue skies and sunshine for our trip.  Ben Franklin was there to welcome us as we approached our hotel, The Ritz Carlton.  Let me say at the outset of this article that every person I told of my destination said I had to stay at the new Four Seasons, unfortunately, I chose not to follow their advice.

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The Ritz is in a historic bank building dating back to 1908.  Its public spaces are indeed impressive.

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Someone had the clever idea of dipping birch trunks in gold paint.  It certainly made a statement.

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The rooms, a different story.  I chose the Ritz because the rooms at the Four Seasons are located on floors 48-57, and I really don’t like being that high up.  In this case, the anxiety would have been better to endure  than the Ritz’s accommodations.

We arrived at about noon, and had booked a suite.  The front desk told me they were full, so an upgrade was not an option, but they had a room ready for us.  They gave us the keys and we headed up to the 28th floor.  Upon opening the door and being greeted by a horrible smell of cleaning products I quickly shut it and down we went.  We needed a different suite, one that did not have a chemical stink.  I told the front desk that we were happy to check in later, as long as they stored our bags.  It was at this point that we should have left.

Perhaps I was swayed to stay by the Champagne vending machine in the lobby.  How bad could it be?

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It was quickly approaching one o’clock so we headed out towards the historic Reading Terminal Market, one of America’s largest and oldest public markets.  I had not been here for many years, so was pleasantly surprised to see it thriving and packed with people.  The communal tables were quite fun, we ended up meeting some very friendly locals.

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Our First stop was Tommy DiNics whose pork sandwich  has been declared the best sandwich in America by the Travel Channel.  The crowds and long lines attest to its acclaim.  The menu is brief, and my husband and son decided to split a Roast Pork with Sharp Provolone, Roasted Peppers, and Greens.

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The paper was enticingly greasy, promising an especially satisfying sandwich.

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It was hard to capture a good view, as they were gobbling it up with terrific speed.  They both loved the sandwich- with all components deemed perfect, soft crunchy bread, greasy pork, sharp cheese, moist greens and tasty roasted pepper.

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Next on the list was a stop at  Beiler’s for Doughnuts.  The lines here wrapped around in a long circle as well.  The anticipation was half the fun.

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Watching the doughnuts bobble around in the hot oil  was strangely hypnotic, and at $1.30 a piece, they might be the best deal in town.

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As an aside, there is nothing healthy about these doughnuts.

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After some deliberation a decision was made to order an apple fritter donut.

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The crackly sugar glaze was promising…

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but alas the interior seemed a bit undercooked.  It was still devoured, but it proved to be a disappointment.

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The last stop in Reading Terminal Market was for my lunch, a dish of Bassetts Ice Cream.  Bassetts has maintained a shop in the same spot of The Reading Market since 1892.

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It was a chilly day, so the demand for ice cream wasn’t too overwhelming. I decided on a small cup with one scoop of Peanut Butter Swirl, and one scoop of Dark Chocolate.

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The scoops were pretty hefty, and the small dish was a big treat.  The Peanut Butter Swirl was outstanding, the  Dark Chocolate was slightly icy, and just fair.

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I finished my ice cream in the warm environs of RTM, and then we set off for South Philly to grab some world famous pizza at Angelo’s.  The walk helped to build up the guys’ appetites,  so we joined the crush of people who also had a craving for world class pizza.

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The small interior (which smelled amazing) had some counter space, but there were also small tables set up outside.  After we placed our order we managed to snag one of them while we waited for our pie.  Although it was late afternoon, the crowd did not subside at all.

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Pizza boxes ready to be filled.

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We had heard the Grandma Pie was the way to go (they do not sell slices here), but rather than the thin crust, we opted for thick.

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It took about 30 minutes for the pie to be cooked, and the anticipation was growing.  Of course both my husband and son burnt the tops of their mouths in a rush to take the first bite.

 

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The pizza was proclaimed a masterpiece! The airy dough, the charred bits, the gooey cheese, even the fresh basil all added up to an incredible pie.  The pizza proved to be more than their appetites could handle, so they shared a piece with a hungry bystander and carried the uneaten portion with them throughout the rest of the day.  There are several Angelo’s in Philadelphia, but this one on South 9th Street is the one to head to.

We continued out exploration of South Philly (all the while carrying the leftover pizza) and stopped for some photos at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens , truly a sight to behold, with three city lots completely covered in a mirrored and pottery  mosaic.

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South Philly was not quite the same as I remembered, with a high proportion of head and sex shops dotting the landscape.  Unless you are heading to Jim’s for a cheese steak, you may want to skip it.  The guys contemplated Jim’s, but the line was long and we still had to check in to the hotel before dinner.

When we returned to the hotel we found a discouraging sight, an endless line of people waiting to check in.   After moving towards the front of the line at a snails pace, we learned that something had gone wrong with the laundry service and there were no sheets to turn over the rooms.  This didn’t bode well.  About 45 minutes later we were recognized by the gentleman who had checked us in earlier.  We had been assigned a room with clean sheets, and it was ready for us.

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We were sent up to our Suite 2905, which thankfully had no chemical smell.  Unfortunately it was uninspired and unimpressive.  After our lengthy wait downstairs there was no way we were going back to complain, so we settled in.

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The main bedroom was fine,   enhanced by the presence of the pizza box!

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The bathroom was more in keeping with a much lower tier Marriott property.

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The sitting room of the Suite was the saddest, reminiscent of a Dentist’s waiting room from another era.  It was dark, and brown, and unfortunate in every way.  You could also hear every single sound emanating from not just the hallway, the room next door, but also, strangely enough the street.  My son was really looking forward to sleeping on the pullout.

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There were some tempting snacks provided, but they couldn’t overcome the general bleakness of the room.  The doors and hardware seemed to have been picked up at the local Home Depot at a clearance sale.  Really really disappointing.

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Well, we had been warned, and now I will warn you!  If you are heading to Philly, please book the Four Seasons rather than the Ritz.  The one saving grace was the view, which we all enjoyed before it got dark.

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Dinner was planned at the relatively new Lebenese spot Suraya in Fishtown.  We planned this trip at the last minute, and had originally hoped to score a reservation at Zahhav, but we were unable to get in.  It was good news when Suraya came through as it had recently been named the number one new restaurant in Philly by Philadelphia Magazine.

We hopped in an Uber and traveled about 15 minutes to Fishtown.

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Suraya is not only a spacious restaurant, but it also houses a coffee bar and a market.  When we arrived at 8:15 it was really buzzing.

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There were tables set up in the front room, which also includes food and merchandise to bring home.  We hoped we would be seated towards the back, and luckily we were.

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There is a large open kitchen in the rear half of the restaurant, and our table was right alongside it, providing us with a good view of the action (including Pita making)!

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We had a friend meeting us for dinner, so the four of us were able to order a nice array of dishes to try.  Lebanese food is very similar to Israeli, but with a slight twist.  As far as Middle Eastern food is concerned, I am usually most excited about the starters, and in this case it was no different.

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Both the food menu and the drinks menu had lots of tempting choices.  We ordered drinks first, including Lebanese wine, beer and for me, a drink called Joy & Sorrow.

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The Joy & Sorrow was heavy on the Tequila, but very tasty.

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We ordered just about every starter on the menu, with some of the standouts shown below.  The Baba Ganoush was excellent, creamy, and smoky and richly flavored.

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The Hummous was also stellar, so good we got two servings.  It was a bit denser than the Israeli version, but still excellent.

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Labneh is one of my favorite things, and Suraya’s version was perfectly spiced and creamy.

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I didn’t try the Fattouch, but it was finished quickly, so I know it was good.

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The Muhammara (red pepper, walnuts and lots of spice) was excellent!

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The only main we got was the Prawns, which were tasty.  There was a lesson in sucking the fatty juices from the head, which was useful.

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The Sumac Fries were addictive- hot, fluffy, and spicy.

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One dish I wasn’t able to get a good photo of was the Fatteh- a warm starter of chick peas, eggplant, nuts and butter that was probably the highlight of the dinner for me.  Please give it a try if you go.  Our server was exceptionally friendly and helpful, and was excited for us to try a diverse array of dishes.  He was hopeful when he brought over the tempting dessert menu, but we were all too stuffed.

We left Suraya satisfied and full.  I would l most certainly recommend it, but hope to get to Zahav one day soon for a comparison.

We retired for the evening in our sad suite at the Ritz, lulled to sleep with the sound of the traffic 29 floors below us.

We stopped in the Lobby for breakfast the following morning and were served by a very personable waiter named Zack.  His sparkling personality couldn’t make up for the mediocre breakfast though.  Luckily the guys had a full schedule of meals planned for the day.

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Before any more eating was to take place we took a walk to The Barnes Foundation.  The Barnes used to be located out in the Suburbs, but moved into the City about 5 years ago.  The collection is outstanding, one of the best I have seen.  If you have not been, go!

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Although the museum is relatively new, it looks like it has been here forever.

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The collection of Impressionist and Post Impressionist works is massive, and it is all the more stunning to know they were all owned by Albert Barnes, an extraordinary lover of art.  Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh, Degas, it is a thrill to see so many masterpieces in one lovely place.

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You can barely take it all in, but I think we did a good job.  We headed back to pick up our car and check out of the Ritz in order to complete two very important taste tests- Tomato Pie and Cheese Steak.

For the first challenge we pitted New York Bakery‘s Tomato Pie against Cacia‘s.  Tomato Pie is uniquely Philadelphian.  Homemade crust and tomato sauce sold by the square.  It is a simple and inexpensive treat.  We stopped at two of the most famous and my husband and son did a comparison.

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New York Bakery was the winner of our informal challenge.  First off, it was the only product offered, so they were fully focused on producing a great pie.  Cacia’s had a large assortment of pies, as well as baked goods, so their attention may have strayed a bit.  My guys loved the crust and the sauce, it was a perfect balance of flavors and chew.  Philadelphia Magazine has an informative article on all the places you can go to enjoy a red pie, you can read about them here.

The red pie challenge only whetted their appetites, it was time for the Cheese Steaks.

Tony Luke’s was the first stop, there are several locations around the city (and beyond), we visited the original on Oregon Avenue.  The “restaurant” is very casual, and has a slight sheen of grease covering every surface.  It is busy all the time.

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The order here was the traditional Cheese Steak (the meat here is sliced rather than chopped) along with onions and provolone.

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They split a very large sandwich, and especially loved the flavor and texture of the meat.  Thumbs up for Tony Luke’s!

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Finally it was time for Dalessandro’s  which is located about 20 minutes outside the city, and has a very enthusiastic following.  Many say their cheese steaks are the very best, so we had to see for ourselves.

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We arrived at about three o’clock and the small restaurant was mobbed.  There is an intricate system for ordering, and waiting, with two separate lines in constant motion.  All the locals seemed to know what to do, but we figured out a trick.  If you snag a seat at the small counter you are waited on and served almost immediately! The people waiting for takeout were still on line while we were finishing up our meals.  The very busy waitress did an amazing job keeping all the orders straight.

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It smelled so tempting in Dalessandro’s that my guys ordered two full sandwiches, one with Cheez Sauce, and one with Provolone (both with onions).  The meat here is chopped, and the rolls are the perfect consistency.

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They proclaimed the sandwich with the Cheez sauce the King of all the sandwiches (with DiNic’s pork sandwich coming in second).

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They ended up slathering both with hot pepper relish… which seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Needless to say they were both passed out cold, and very thirsty on the long ride home; their bodies had a lot to process!

We had a great two days in Philly, and hopefully some of these tips can help you plan your trip there.

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