Boston Restaurant Blog -- November, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Earlier this month, several of us went to Philadelphia for a few days. I've only driven through Philly on my way to (or from) other places, so I was really looking forward to seeing a "new" city and trying some of the restaurants there. Well, Philadelphia turned out to be a great place to visit, and based on what we ate while there, a terrific "foodie" city to boot.
On our way to the city on Thurday, we stopped for lunch at the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, NJ, which I had heard a lot about over the years, and which Guy Fieri of "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" featured on his show. The site of the diner is classic, as it is on one of those ancient New Jersey divided highways that has stores, driveways, and exit/entrance ramps that result in a real white-knuckle ride. The diner itself is huge, with a traditional-feeling diner area by the front entrance and a spacious family-style dining room toward the back. The menu at this old diner is full of classic American dishes and comfort food items, and we had trouble choosing, but decided upon matzo ball soup (excellent broth, huge matzo balls), regular chicken soup (also delicious), an open-faced monte cristo sandwich (decadent, with cheese smothering the top), and a char-grilled cheeseburger (very good, though probably not their strong suit). Our server was a bit brusque but very efficient, and the prices were reasonable. If only we had a diner like the Tick Tock in Boston, I'd be very happy.
We arrived in Philadelphia late on Thursday afternoon and headed over toward Society Hill and the rather funky South Street, where we had dinner at a German restaurant called Brauhaus Schmitz. I had been expecting a sprawling beer hall, much like that of a place we went to in Chicago a couple of years back called Chicago Brauhaus, but this was a much smaller spot (though still fairly spacious, with two floors of dining). We were seated in a booth along the wall opposite the bar and started with some flights of beer (including some rather strong ones) as well as a round of outstanding pretzels dipped in hot mustard. For our meals, we tried the wienerschnitzel (outstanding, with tender veal and a nice breading), rotisserie chicken (decent, though not the best dish of the night), rouladen (perfectly tender slow-cooked beef served with bacon and mustard), and house-made bratwurst (lots of flavor; perhaps the best I've tried anywhere). For dessert, I had a black forest cake that definitely rivaled the ones I've had at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT. Service was friendly and efficient, and prices, while perhaps a little on the high side, were acceptable considering the quality of everything we had.
On Friday, we headed back to Society Hill, and also back to South Street, where we stopped at Jim's Steaks for lunch. More than a few people seem to put Jim's Steaks in the same class as the landmark cheesesteak places such as Tony Luke's, Pat's, and Geno's, though it doesn't seem to be nearly as well-known as those spots. When we arrived toward the end of the lunch hour, there was a line just out the door, though it only took about 10-15 minutes to get to the ordering area. Two of us ordered cheesesteaks "whiz" and "without" (Cheez Whiz, no onions), while the others asked for American cheese instead, and once the sandwiches were handed to us, we went upstairs to a little room with a few tables and counter areas. This turned out to be the best cheesesteak I have ever had, though to be fair, Boston isn't really a cheesesteak town (and Philly is THE place to go for them). The meat was lean--but not too lean--and of high quality, the bread was perfectly toasted, and the gooey cheese blended in perfectly with the steak. Service was not as rough as I thought it might be, though one of us was yelled at for not hearing what the person behind the counter asked, and prices were maybe a dollar more than I'm used to for a cheesesteak. Jim's was a tremendous overall experience, and a great alternative to the more touristy cheesesteak places that are nearby.
After spending the rest of the afternoon on South Street, five of us headed west toward the Schuylkill River area to an Italian restaurant tucked away in a relatively quiet section of the city. And as good as our meals had been up to this point, our dinner at Salento may have been the highlight, food-wise, as the dishes that we had there were about as good as you will find in any Italian dining spot. Salento's front room was bustling when we arrived, and had a sleek, almost trendy feel to it, but the back room, where we were seated, was much quieter and had more of an old-school red-sauce joint feel to it. We started out with a fantastic antipasto filled with prosciutto, vinegar peppers, and buffalo mozzarella cheese, and a not-so-fantastic plate of grilled calamari that seemed limp and slightly undercooked (that was the only dud of the night, however). Our dinners consisted of a rich-tasting spaghetti bolognese, ear pasta (orecchietta) with a good helping of hearty shredded duck mixed in, and a plate of penne in a sublime eggplant and tomato sauce. Our server had a heavy Italian accent and was downright funny, telling jokes and laughing throughout the evening. And for the quality of the food we had at Salento, the total price really wasn't that bad, with entrees tending to be under $20. It was another incredibly impressive meal in Philly, and one that would be tough to match over the course of the trip.
Saturday was a busy day, checking out museums in the morning (including the wonderful Philadelphia Museum of Art), walking along the Schuylkill River, and heading to the Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philly where we had a very late lunch. The indoor market was packed and a bit crazed, and we ended up splitting up to find food. Two of us went to By George! Pizza, Pasta and Cheesesteaks, ordering cheesesteaks with sharp provolone as well as a slice of pepperoni pizza (and eyeing the interesting-looking sandwiches behind the counter). The cheesesteak was underwhelming, with the meat seemingly being of a lower quality than that of Jim's Steaks (lots of gristle and less taste), though the delicious sharp provolone almost made up for the subpar steak. The pizza was pretty good, though by no means up to the level of the best pizzas in Boston or New York. If I returned to By George!, I would probably look into getting one of those sandwiches in the display window (the milano looked really nice), but I would probably avoid the cheesesteak the next time around.
After yet another trip to Society Hill, we ended up back where we were staying (near City Hall) and relaxed a bit before walking a few blocks south to another place that Guy Fieri had featured on his Food Network show, namely the Good Dog Bar and Restaurant. For those who haven't seen the episode (which first aired only a few weeks ago), the place looks like a bit of a dive, with a dark bar on the ground floor, a well-worn dining area one floor above it, and a quieter bar area with a pool table on the top floor). We arrived very late in the evening, but even though it was well past dinnertime, there was still a long wait for a table, so we went up to the third floor and shot some pool with the locals until our table was called. We put in an order of apps right away, since it was so late, and a plate of truffled cheesesteak empanadas and pulled pork sliders soon arrived. The empanadas disappeared nearly as quickly as they arrived, as the combination of thinly sliced steak, melted cheese, and aromatic truffles made for an unforgettable experience. The pulled pork sliders were nearly as good, with tender shredded marinated pork and cooked onions piled high on miniature rolls. Our dinners soon arrived, and the macaroni and cheese with cornflakes on top may have been the star of the show, with the cornflakes sopping up some of the grease and oil from the cheese, and the cheese underneath being cooked to a perfect golden brown. The meatloaf was another highlight, as it was tender and flavorful with a rich mushroom sauce. I had very little room after all this food, but I just had to try the rice krispy treat sampler, which consisted of a regular, a chocolate, and a peanut butter treat stacked on top of one another. It was sweet and tasty, but I could barely finish half of it. Our server was a bit of a character, with a pork pie hat on his head and a good sense of humor. And there were no complaints about the prices, which were about what you would expect to pay at a comfort food joint like this.
Sunday was a travel day, and we had been hoping to make it to Connecticut by lunchtime, but with traffic and a late start, we barely made it into New York by early afternoon. We stopped in the charming town of Katonah for a late lunch, dining at the Katonah Restaurant in the center of town. The place seemed like a slightly upscale version of your basic in-town greasy spoon family restaurant, with a quiet, comfortable atmosphere, a painted tin ceiling, wooden booths, a hardwood floor, and large windows facing out at the town. The food was mostly basic, with the soups (one beef barley and one chicken) being nowhere near as good as the soups we had at the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, the moussaka tasting good but not being up to the level of some of the best Greek restaurants in the Boston area, and the turkey dinner being a decent and hearty version of this classic dish. The baklava that I had for dessert was probably the highlight, so good in fact that I almost wished I had made that my entire lunch. Service was all right for the most part, and prices were a little high, which made sense because Katonah is a very wealthy town.
So our trip to Philadelphia was a fun one, and the food was really quite impressive with only a couple of blips here and there. We did go to a few other places (mostly for drinks) that I'd like to mention, including The City Tavern, which is an historic spot in a beautiful setting by Society Hill that had some great beers based on very old recipes; Mace's Crossing near City Hall, which is a friendly little pub that had so-so food but a great jukebox and a quiet atmosphere (this was our go-to place for most of the trip); the Cherry Street Tavern west of downtown, which is a dive bar with a quiet back room, where we had beers after our trip to Salento; Lickety Split on South Street, another dive bar with cheap drinks and a bartender who was about the nicest person we met on the entire trip; and the several places we visited at the 9th Street Italian Market, which was "the real McCoy," as they say, making me instantly forget the more touristy Reading Street Terminal. We went to some other places along the way, but this covers most of our trip, which I am thinking will by no means be my last trip to this truly interesting city.
As a transplanted Philly boy, it makes me happy to know you ate well in my old town. Did you take a picture of yourself in front of the "constipated clock" in front of the Tick Tock?
Posted on 11/24/10
I didn't, actually! I guess all the more reason to return to Philly soon! :-)
Posted on 11/29/10
Note: Comments have now been closed for this blog entry.