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May 2, 2000 05:01 PM

Falling into the trap if always comparing any city to NYC

  • s

As a recent NYC transplant (Brooklyn) to the Philadelphia area about 10 months ago, I realized that the first six months all I did was rag on Philly in comparison to what I was used to getting, growing up going to Arthur Ave, and living in Brooklyn for 12 years. What I would like to say, is that the comparisons get old and what I have ended up doing is saying to myself, you know what? You can get this that or the other thing in more places and cheaper in NYC, but you don't live there, so that does not put good food on the table or provide you with ways to deal with the raw materials you have here in Philadelphia and the outlying burbs.

I must say, with this fresh attitude, and armed with good maps and a basic knowledge of the city and its environs, I have not been too disappointed. Those who trumpet Philadelphia as an eating city with fine restaurants are missing the point if all they are doing is going to the Zagat restaurants and relying on all that.

Read the local papers, read the university student reviews, be open minded, and the chow will pour forth. There ar numerous food trucks (I used to call them roach coaches) but they offer an enormously diverse and cheap alternative to crappy dining experiences in bad restaurants. It is like an entire food truck culture here, especially near Upenn.

Try the places off the beaten path and the specialty grocery stores in far flung locations for items, like Bitar's (9th and Federal), Assouline and Ting (5tha nd Vine), The Reading Terminal Market (Arch and 12th) and the farmer's markets in different neighborhoods.

I have high standards and I am always looking for a good find, a cheap chowhound destination, and I think this message board for PA needs to start taking some reponsibility for culitvating a chowhound community the likes of which exists in NYC. Start eating and quit griping.

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  1. Tough talk from a fellow Penn person!

    I like to see that though. There really is no need to worry about NYC, but Philadelphians do it constantly. I came here over NYC area schools and have not been disappointed.

    In Chinatown I love Lee How Fook. The oyster hot pot is great. I need to get back to try the salt shrimp I hear so much about. I also like Joe's Peking Duckhouse; Joseph Poon is fun and a great place to bring the less adventurous. (IE, those afraid of culture.)

    In West Philly I love Dahlak for Ethiopian and Lemongrass for Thai. For food trucks I find myself alternating between Kim's Chinese (tofu and vegetables in black bean sauce), the crepes, veggie truck on 38th street (unreal veal) and Rami's for falafel.

    I could go on, but this is a nice start I think. We do need a more lively discussion here. I admit to being part of the problem; I often have read the pennsylvania board without posting. I need to break that habit.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Greg


      I agree about Lee How Fook, 219 North 11th St. between Race and Vine. Excellent ginger scallion Noodles, excellent pan fried noodles, all for abotu 3-4$$ and it's BYOB.

      Nan - 40th and Chestnut, also BYOB, kinda french Thai fusionish, but not pretentious and relatively inexpensive. Really good and excellent service.

      Lorenzo Pizza, 3rd and South, 2 dollar slices, surly service and no frills, but good pizza in my opinion.

      Yet to try Vegetarian Palace (?) dim sum in Chinatown or Vietnam Palace (across from Lee How Fook, but heard good things about them.

      The good thing to remember is that because of liquor laws here a lot of chowhounding can be done with your own alcoholic beverages, keeping prices down even more considering the mark up on liquor in restaurants.

      Been to Raplhs in the Italian market and was not really impressed. It's an old world kind of place but the food was nothing special. I want to try Dante and Luigi's and have read good things about Butcher's Cafe on 9th and Christian.

      For breads, if I have time I go to Sarcone's in the It. Market or Metropolitan Bakery in the Reading Terminal Market, a bit like Bread Alone before it got too big.

      For spices and Middle Eastern I go to Bitar's on 9th and Federal. Good pitas, baba ganoush, baklava, and other things you might need. Also I mentioned that I went to the new Assouline and Ting recently. The prices seemed a bit high, but considering all they had under one roof, it is a place I would go to buy a special hostess gift or some random ingredient.

      Pastries - Isgro's in the Italian Market, they remind me of Arthur Ave and parts of Brooklyn. Excellent pinolli/almond paste cookies.

      Talutto's for fresh cut pasta to your specs depending on what you want in terms of width. Thye have the cutting machine right in the window.

      Hope this is helpful and gets the ball rolling. After being in New Orleans last week, I am determined to make my culinary adventures in Philadelphia work for me. I will share what I find as I find it. Hope others do the same.

      1. re: susanp

        Lived there for 3 years......NEVER ate SO WELL in my life !...and for CHEAP !
        I will try your suggestion for Italian Pastry.

    2. Sometimes it is hard to understand why this city does not have some of the finer things that NY does.
      People here have money to spend and can appreciate
      the it eating out or just finding the best bread.
      Why it is that great stuff has never caught hold....or should I say caught hold beyond me.

      In my parents fancy ass neighborhood there is not a single bistro that serves GREAT food at reasonable....or even UNREASONABLE prices.
      There is one very pricey place that is REALLY good....BUT !
      That's IT !
      Even in a town like Wash. DC., where I lived until 4 months ago, you could find good food even waaay out in the burbs.
      I just don't get Philly.
      For years I would come back from wherever I was living to visit my folks and comb the neighborhood looking for the possibility of new eating places.....
      NOTHING !
      Finally after DECADES !!! Fresh Fields opened up...followed by Zagaras.
      Now at least there is a place to get fairly fresh coffee beans and an OK loaf of French bread.....and today I spotted a sheeps milk brie....and almost fell over.
      Anyway....just my 2 cents.

      If I had the money....I'd open a really cool little French cafe that opened REALLY early in the morning and served PERFECT breads and pastries in a quite
      A place where you could come and stop in for a quick cup of joe before you hit the frantic pace of work.
      That's what ALL neighborhoods need.
      I can't understand why it's not here.
      Lucky are you who do have it.

      4 Replies
      1. re: DAC

        two suggestions:

        1. ardently, rabidly search for and support anyone who opens and makes anything good near you. Because if they do really well serving good chow, it'll inspire other high-quality places to open. If only crappy places succeed, crap it'll be, for the forseeable future. So do your chowhound best to sniff out there holdouts and secret treasure places and give them all the business and word-of-mouth help you can. Use this site to broadcast info. And follow the exploits of your fellow hounds on this board. Let's rebel against the status quo and find the GOOD STUFF and band together and give them our chowhound support!

        2. When you get really frustrated with the local scene, get in your car and drive for food! We live in a magical age...anyone can go anywhere they want anytime with minimal danger and expense. It's amazing! (it's also polluting, I know, but the heavy damage to the environment is NOT being done by Pennsylvanians internally combusting over to Brooklyn every weekend for pizza, so I don't feel THAT guilty!)


        1. re: Jim Leff

          That is good advice.
          Unfortunately I just lost my job last week to downsizing and my money situitation is poor.
          So hopefully in the next few weeks I'll back on track again....spending every dime I make on a good time for my tastebuds. (kidding....almost).

          You know it's funny .... in my neighborhood...there IS no REALLY good stuff.
          I keep waiting for it to open so I CAN support it....
          but nothing ever comes.
          And like I isn't like people have no money to spend.
          This place is loaded.
          Oh well, I'm only here temporary anyway.

          1. re: DAC

            No details please, I don't want to stalk you. But, where in general do you live that has nada. Believe me I know nothing, after all I drive from Collegeville to Old City to get pizza, for gosh sake.

            1. re: Valerie

              I live in the Jenkintown area.
              Aside from Fresh Fields and Zagaras.....not much going on in this neck of the woods.
    's my folks house.
              I'm just here temporary.

      2. I think I pretty much agree. Seems to me the better food in Philly is in the most out-of-the-way neighborhoods, and as "downscale" as possible. Where it fails is in the more "mainstream" restaurants, and availability of top notch raw ingredients for cooking. It's become a joke with us that, as soon as we stumble upon an extraordinary food source, we start a pool for who comes closest to the closing date of the shop/restaurant. Happens just about every time. I don't understand it, but top quality doesn't seem to sell here, and I think in part it has to do with some resistance to paying the prices sometimes necessary to get it. There's not really a "food culture" in Philadelphia, at least not like in many other cities. Walk down any crowded street, and you see surprisingly few people eating on the stroll.

        Philadelphia is what it is, and I don't have to repect Sammy Sosa any less because he can't bunt. The trick in Philly is to ferret out the quality, and then patronize and publicize, and maybe things will improve.

        1. r
          Rebecca hodgson

          Hey there is definitely yummy food - yummy affordable food - to be had in Philly! I was just there this past Friday and Saturday and ate well for little. I live in NY but spend occasional days/weekends there with friends and always experience happy eating! My two favorites - Bitar's (the best rubbed-spiced-herbed pita bread in the universe! and yes I am including NYC in the universe)where I had lunch on Saturday. The simple yet perfectly prepared and flavored tapas-esque dishes, every one of them, at Pamplona (11th and Pine? 12th and Spruce? I can't rememeber despite having eaten there about 10 times!) and the fabulous Greek restaurant which spawned Pamplona (same owner) Dmitri's on 3d street. But I do hate the wait at Dmitri's. This weekend I learned Dmitri opened a new reaturant and that is my next Philly jaunt although I haven't been to the two others in a while as well! I hope he is not spreading himself too thin to maintain the quality I had at the other two. ALSO - one should
          never underestimate living in the only city (okay being from Wilmington DE I have to say "region" not city) in the world which makes a proper "Philly" cheesesteak as well as truly the best hoagies and soft pretzels - all foods i do not eat in NY as I can only be disappointed.
          Even a hoagie from WAWA is decent in Philly and better than just about any in NY. Point being made here - I like Philly grub!

          3 Replies
          1. re: Rebecca hodgson

            This is the second reference to Pamplona I've read recently so I must respond. They changed it to a Dimitri's! I liked Pamplona at first, but it just didn't do much to keep me coming. I guess I wasn't alone. I have not been to either of the new Dimitri's - the one at 12th and the one near Fitler Square (which replaced another so-so place, I believe run by the Dimitri's people). I did read a review of the two new Dimitri's and it said that they just didn't compare to the original. The main benefit of them being similar, inexpensive, and not the tremendous wait. But, the quality not there. But that was one person's opinion so I would definitely give them a try.

            1. re: Valerie
              rebecca hodgson

              Wow - Pamplona is gone? please tell me its not true. I hear that you didn't feel the same but I loved that place. Everything was so fresh and perfectly seasoned and simple. And are you saying that Dmitri's is also gone? The 3rd street one? So nothing is left for me? How long ago did this happen - it had to be in the last year right? This stinks.

              1. re: rebecca hodgson

                No, No, the original Dimitri's - I guess it is on 3rd is still there. The teeny tiny place where you go across the street to a bar to wait for your table. Plus there are 2 more which you should probably try.

          2. r
            Rebecca hodgson

            I had a new find (through a friend) of a month old restaurant in Northern Liberties "Aden". (2nd street about two or three blocks up from the main street running off the Benjamin Franklin Bridge whose name escapes me) It is BYOB Mediterranean (heavy on the italian part of that ocean!) run by an israeli who used to co-own an Italian restaurant nearby.

            It was good or great depending on the dish. Some of the food was not outstanding because sauces were too heavily laid on and drowned the food - too much creamy pesto on a seafood crepe and too much red sauce on a stuffed pepper - despite the fact that the underlying ingredients - for what i could tell were fresh and fine and had nothing to hide! Some of the food was excellent. Roasted red beets with onions, a lemon salad with garlic (read mesclun with lemon wedges and garlic) and the piece de resistance, nicely spiced grilled tuna with big fat capered red sauce on orrechiete which was really delicious. there was actually more to that recipe but our BYO bottle was empty at that point so I'm having a hard time recollecting! But please don't think my recollection on the dish is fuzzy - it was excellent. We had already ordered and eaten four very well-portioned appetizers and yet my friend and I were carefully and competitively eying each others bites of the shared tuna dish!

            The scene is very alternative and casual - due to the area - which I happen to like and the interior is quite cozy and charming - they spent a lot of time fixing up a rundown space with brick walls with insets of tiled mirrored mosaics with candles and colorful paintings by a local italian artist who paints a lot of the building sides in the neighborhood. The chefs cook at an open area in the middle of the front room and cared enough about the appearance of one of our dishes to call the server back because he had not finished decorating it appropriately. Check out the rules on the back of the menu - I thought it was funny to get rules for my meal and then after a second it rubbed me a bit the wrong way. What can I say - I feel constrained by authority - especially when I am paying for it. But the service was so friendly and casual that I quickly lost the irritation for THE LAW. They became irrelevant.

            The price for our four appetizer, one bottle of Lurisia (water) and single entree meal - tax included - was 30.00 dollars! Come on! What a deal! And they didn't rush us even when we were the last people in the place. So -check it out - enjoy - just order your lemon salad along with entrees and appetizers so you can use the lemon to cut the deluge if you get oversauced on anything.