Did you know there is an enormous, cosmopolitan city, with a rich heritage, dynamic culture, and distinctive character, two hours south of New York? That this city was actually more important than New York and the epicenter of culture in this country once upon a time? And that, as with any proud city, it has it’s own share of unique culinary wonders as well? Well I speak the truth! It’s Philadelphia folks!
I ventured down through the “Garden State” to the “City of Brotherly Love” this weekend to visit Ms. Lauren Gutierrez, who has taken residence there. I was joined by some other CIA chums as well, and we had a grand ole’ time. We saw the sights, spent some time in the woods at a swimming hole, drank copious amounts of alcohol and most importantly, ATE FOOD.
Philadelphia, like many cities, has it’s share of delights and delicacies that hold a special place in the hearts of it’s citizens. Kansas City has barbeque, Chicago has it’s hot dogs and deep dish, and Baltimore has it’s crab cakes, but this city never seemed to let up on new and exciting local fare. So let me share with you some of the more revered items.
First we will start with the Wawa. Wawa is Philadelphia’s “go to” establishment for something quick and something cheap. It is a convenience store, sandwich shop, sometimes gas station, and always a place to find things a Philadelphian would like. Wawa specializes in the “hoagie” sandwich. Some may call this a “sub” or a “grinder”, but in southeastern Pennsylvania you call it a hoagie damnit. When one orders a hoagie at a Wawa there is no need to rattle off your choice of meats, toppings, and bread to a trained “sandwich artist”. They are busy. So they have provided a computer for you to plug in the specifics for yourself. You have plenty of time and the options are there right in front of you, so you can make sure to make the right choices. Do you want a “shorti” or a “classic”? “Lotta mayo” or just “light on the mayo” Take your time.
We were fortunate to be at a Wawa during a special time of year, the great summer solstice celebration called “Hoagiefest“.
Once you have ordered your hoagie of choice, it’s time to compliment your main course. Perhaps you would like a Tastykake for dessert? Or maybe just some Peanut Chews?
Both are local and quite good. Tastykakes come in a variety of flavors and types. I bought a variety, including peach, blueberry, lemon, strawberry, and their famous Butterscoth Krimpets. When we came home drunk and dove into the cakes at 2am, people seemed to like each and every one of them. Great job Tastykake!!
As for the Peanut Chews, it’s peanuts in a chewy dark chocolate and molasses mix. They are quite good.
Need a beverage? Go with the Yuengling.
I should note that this meal would make your stomach ache, so maybe save the candy for later and just eat an apple or some chips on the side.
So, is Wawa the only place to get local Philly fare? Christ no people! There are plenty of other places!! Ever heard of the Reading Terminal Market?
This market is an enormous public market on the street level of the old Reading Terminal rail station in Center City Philadelphia. The terminal itself has quite an imposing edifice and ginormous train shed that is now part of the Philly’s convention center. But on the ground floor it is all about food! Hoagies, steaks, fish, meats, cheese, confections, produce, breads – you name it. And plenty of lunch counters and take-out shops for the downtown lunch crowd. Lauren directed me to this ice cream counter called Bassetts for a delicious cone of peach ice cream. She chose the raspberry truffle, and they were both quite good. Bassetts has been around since 1861 apparently, which gives it the distinction of being America’s OLDEST ice cream company! COOL! Philadelphia’s other famous, slighty younger ice cream mainstay is of course Breyer’s ice cream. But that shit is made by Unilever now, and they are a soap company. So fuck Breyer’s. Bassetts!!
On our way out we spotted a woman making chocolate covered strawberries and stopped to watch. We then noticed a variety of other chocolate items. Like chocolate noses and chocolate rats!
And of course, chocolate cheesesteaks!!
When we were at last all together and everyone had convened at Lauren’s home, Mr. Chris Duffy began to mix together a number of spirits and fruit juices to make a beverage befitting the history and honor of Philadelphia. He had done his research and found a recipe for a punch named Fish House Punch. I will let this equally poorly written wikipedia entry handle this one:
This most venerable of American flowing bowls is held to have been first concocted in 1732 at Philadelphia’s fishing club, the Schuylkill Fishing Company also known as the “Fish House”. The Fish House was an august gentleman’s society devoted to escaping domestic tribulation, but also to cigars, whiskey and the occasional fishing foray upon the Chesapeake or the Restigouche River in Nove Scotia. Another version states that it was created in 1848 by Shippen Willing of Philadelphia, to celebrate the momentous occasion of women being allowed into the premises of the “Fish House” for the first time in order to enliven the annual Christmas Party . It was supposed to be just something to please the ladies’ palate but get them livelier than is their usual wont.
This punch — containing rum, cognac, and peach brandy— is potent, so to bring it down it is normally diluted with cold black tea, a common mixer for this particular punch, or with seltzer water, for a bit of fizz. Some punch bowls may not be big enough to accommodate the large size ice block called for, and though the block is a classic part of this recipe, it can, of course, be simply served in a pitcher over ice cubes.
There is even a verse!
There’s a little place just out of town,
Where, if you go to lunch,
They’ll make you forget your mother-in-law
With a drink called Fish-House Punch.
The punch was quite tasty with a very tart lemon aftertaste. He put about 15 lemons in it. We all got quite drunk from it. Philadelphia! Will it ever end!?
By now it had become late, and it was time to dine out for dinner. We went to a really great place in Chinatown called “Vietnam“. Yes, like the country. They had quite an extensive food menu and a great cocktail menu as well. We all had our own exotic tropical drinks. I had the Navy Grog.
I had always seen it on the menu of a Chinese restaurant I went to as a kid and figured “what the hell”. Their Navy Grog was a blend of Rum, Campari, Crème De Cassis, Myers’s Rum, Sour Mix and Fruit Juice. Actual “Grog” has quite a history apprently, and you can read about it here! It’s not just a music venue folks!
The Navy Grog was quite good.
Some folks had Mai Tai’s and Erika had a beer which she put a cherry into for some reason, but Chris and Jocelyn shared the FLAMING VOLCANO. This restaurant billed the drink as a “Fantastic Drink for Passion Lovers.” and it contained Rum, Vodka, Gin, Brandy, Grenadine, Bacardi 151 and Fruit Juice. And live flames.
The food was very good as well. I had the crispy duck, and there were a variety of soups and rice dishes eaten. Everyone had a pleasant time.
The next morning we all had to eat again! (ACTUAL fact: In order to sustain life, one must consume food.) Lauren made some delicious scrambled eggs and potatoes. We had a “Box O’ Joe” from Dunkin Donuts, and I fried up another Philly classic: Scrapple.
Scrapple is “traditionally a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, often buckwheat flour and spices” It is fried in slices in a pan, and served with breakfast in place of sausage or bacon. It is distinctive to the southeast PA region and Maryland, and parts of Virginia. I hail from Cincinnati, and we have a local dish that is similar in composition to Scrapple called Goetta. I think Goetta is quite tasty, but I cannot say the same for Scrapple. I had some at a diner the day before with Lauren and was not really taken with it. It was too mushy, and pasty, and the flavor was lacking on many fronts. I figured, maybe they just didn’t do it right! They cooked it too little! The slice was too thick! I can improve on this! So when we stopped at the ACME grocery store I picked up a package to make myself. I made sure to cut thinner slices this time, and cook it up homemade. Ryan, Lauren and I tried it all over again, and….it still sucked! Scrapple: not that good!
We spent the day at the swimming hole in the woods jumping from high ledges into freezing cold water. Ryan and some teenage boys oversaw the construction of a dam that was meant to plug the constant jet of water flowing down the creek. The project was a mixed success.
When we got home we were all hungry again. Can you fucking believe that shit? Honestly. We needed something hot, delicious, quick, and PURE PHILADELPHIA. What oh what could we eat?
Now, cheesesteaks are famous around the world as a Philadelphia specialty. Most tourists who visit Philly in order to sample this dish head straight down past the Italian Market (which is America’s oldest outdoor market) in South Philly to either Pat’s King of Steaks or Geno’s Steaks. Here they can get a steak slathered with the infamous “whiz“. Like the ubiquitous chili parlor in Cincinnati, or hot dog joint in Chicago, so Philadelphia goes with the steak joints. The town has plenty of lesser known, but locally revered steak places where the tourists and the blazing neon are not there to distract and diminish. Lauren lived just down the street from one such place, and it is called Dalessandros. The first thing you learn in ordering is that they are just called “steaks” by Philadelphians, no need to say “cheese”. Why? Because there are plenty of ways to eat one! Maybe you don’t want cheese! In fact, the idea that the only way to eat a steak is with cheez whiz is total bullshit. It’s just sick sick propaganda from the Pat’s and Geno’s people, whose “rivalry” I liken to a mutual agreement that it’s great business for both parties. Just UNbelievable.
I had my steak with provolone because it’s actually cheese and it’s better. I had onions, mayo and steak, with hot peppers on the side. Erika had mushrooms. I think Lauren had banana peppers? And nobody had American cheese or “whiz”. They were deliciouso!
Everyone seemed to have a really nice weekend in Philadelphia, and Lauren was a wonderful host. Thanks Lauren! As for local food, there are a few other local specialties I will have to try upon visiting Philadelphia the next time. Frank’s Soda, and Water Ice are two. But fear not Philly, we will meet again.