Ohh brother…ly love! Philly is a bit of a second home to us. It’s been that way ever since DJ RubyRube took up residence in the late 90’s and started summoning us down for his epic parties and subsequent eating adventures. This is back in the day when Steven Starr had only two restaurants, Buddakan and the Continental. Looking back, that was the beginning of his empire and a food revolution in Philly that would make the cheesesteak shake in its bun. Through the decade we’ve taken the 100 mile drive south to party, escape the NYC madness, celebrate couples, visit babies, visit grandparents and execute projects. With every trip we’ve left Philly with a full stomach and happy tastebuds. Philly over-delivers on tasty and history. Breakout your patriotic, stretchy sweater for a multi century, time-warp through gastronomy and historical moments.
The Dandelion: This Gastropub occupies an entire row house. From the moment you walk in to the last bite you feel like you could be in a time warp stuck between 2012 and 1814. They left the rooms mostly intact and kept the large central staircase. The bathrooms are off the hall as if the are in the original location. The menu highlights old school English classics done with fresh and local ingredients. Brunch is our favorite but dinner is excellent as well. We recommend the bangers and mash, lamb shepard’s pie or the warm roast beef sandwich. If you are smart you’re visiting on Sunday or a bank holiday where you can indulge in the Traditional Roast. This mega wooden board filled with piping hot meat, three sides and smothered with brown sauce does wonders for your tastebuds and your Saturday night hangover. One last tip. For the love of Pete save some room for an English pudding. It will transport you straight to that amazing pub in Knotting Hill. What? You haven’t been there yet either? See London.
Brown Betty: This cupcake spot up in Spring Garden is all about the owners mom and her historical recipes. With names like Hattie Don’t Play (Ganache with Chocolate Fudge Cake and Chocolate Buttercream) and Sing Little Alice (Chocolate and Vanilla Cake Swirled and Chocolate and Vanilla Buttercream Swirled) choosing your cake is almost as fun as eating it.
Alla Spina: Mark Vestri is slowly taking over Philly. With this gastropub he mixes Italian roots with seemingly random ingredients that make surprising, perfect mashups. The pheasant ragu poutine is particularly interesting. Belly up to the bar for the best experience. Graze on snacks as you sample from the amazing beer selection on tap.
Alma De Cuba: I’ve followed chef Douglas Rodriguez all over the country from Miami to New York to Philly. He had me in the 90’s with Patria. These days Philly is my fix with his sexy, cuban mainstay on Walnut Street. I’ve been here more times than I care to disclose. Whatever meal, day or occasion your visiting for, start with one of his signature ceviches. His combination of ingredients, sometimes seemingly strange, always pair up to be a flavor delight.
Talula’s Garden: My current favorite spot to eat in Philly. Bon Appetit agrees naming in the top ten new restaurants of 2011. Breakfast or dinner here is outstanding. The ambiance, garden or not, is fantastic. The farmhouse feel accents the food perfectly. From the pastry basket at brunch to the grilled chicken at dinner to the cardamom nibs served with your dessert coffee, everything feels picked fresh off the farm and out of the garden.
Whipped Bakeshop: Up in the Fishtown neighborhood you’ll find this award winning bakery. They make a more delicate cake than Brown Betty and stick to doing the classics very, very well. Try a vanilla buttermilk, a red velvet or a carrot cake. Ohh, and grab a cookie for the road. Their selection of unique shapes are heavily decorated and as fun to display as to eat.
Sonny’s Steaks: The debate I am about to reignite will last as long as Philly itself. I am not claiming Sonny’s is the best. I have done my research at Geno’s, Pat’s, Ishkabibble’s, Tony Luke’s, Jim’s…on and on. For my money, Sonny’s is the spot for your cheesesteak for three reasons. One, small line. Two, speak how you want. Wit wiz. Onions and cheese. It’s all the same here. Three, and most important, the steak is abundant and the roll is very fresh. There is nothing worse than a bready, greasy roll with a few slivers of meat on it. Bonus, and maybe my bias, your in the heart of Old City, my first port of call back when Philly became a regular haunt on my weekend roundups.
Franklin Fountain: After your steak at Sonny’s walk down the block to this ice cream shop where you’ll be transported back in time once again to the way things were done in the 1950’s. Go for the banana split for the full experience. Yes, it’s enormous but plan ahead and bring a friend or even better, a date. I promise you’ll get a second. Date and ice cream that is.
The Italian Market: You can’t not go here for many reasons but the number one reason is the unchanged infrastructure dating back to the 1890’s. Walk down 9th street popping into the different vendors of salumi, cheese, meat and specialty items. Sample, buy and return home with some edible souvenirs. Don’t miss De Bruno Brothers one of the oldest and best shops on the street. With a second location off Rittenhouse Square these guys have built an empire on Italian favorites.
Rittenhouse 1715: There are a lot of places in Philly to sleep that exude cute, quaint, birth of America type emotions but don’t be duped for a nicely sewn Betsy Ross replica flag and steps to the Liberty Bell. Almost any place you sleep in central Philly will possess a few “birth of the nation” artifacts. Instead, try this boutique hotel composed of 3 different row houses connecting the 23 guest rooms. The quiet street it’s located on will provide temporary reprieve from the city allowing a moment to ponder back to 1701. Once in your room your find the amenities, decor and staff to continue the time shifted experience. Once you’re done settling in your a two block walk to Rittenhouse Square. A better place than any to start your Philly adventure.
Four Seasons Hotel: If you’ve read much of this blog you know we have a particular penchant for high end hotel service. Listen, there are other perks than 1000 thread count linens like access to the concierges personal food relationships, house cars and uber attentiveness while being addressed on a first name basis. The Four Seasons is a no brainer for the latter. Poke around. Deals on the Philly property comes up often and you can sang a $500 room for $300. Well worth it. Head straight for the concierge and have him/her make some reservations to the hard to get Steven Starr restaurants immediately.
Suit Corner: This shop was out of place the first time I saw it in 1999 and remains out of place today. Of course back in ’99 this stretch of market street was lined with these types of shops. Pop into the last hold own and get yourself a zoot suit. Ok. Fine. Just try one on. Purple pinstripes. canary yellow with matching fedora. There are some gems. The more outrageous you think the shocked you’ll be when you realize they have a suit that matches.
Milkboy: Bar turned cocktail lounge turned live music venue turned gastropub. I think that says it all. Hopefully enough to intrigue. Buy a ticket for a later dhow, order some mac and cheese on roasted rellano peppers and a signature cocktail. Sit back in your comfortably padded bar stool and enjoy a 5 out of 5 senses moment.
Franklin Fountain’s banana split
Brown Betty’s delicious baked goods.
Blintz with fresh peaches at Talula’s Garden
Sonny’s Steaks. Wiz wit.
Banger at The Dandelion