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Sep 1, 2009 12:29 PM

First-time visitor looking for lots of guidance!

Hi, all!
I'll be in Philly for a few days in late November to run the half-marathon. I know this is well in advance, but I'm guessing I'll need to book tables. I've never been to Philly before, but I expect we'll stay right in Center City - no car, so whatever you rec has to be accessible by public transit or foot (of course). Here's what I'm hoping to find:

1. A local coffee roasterie that uses really good beans. (I'm an addict, so first things first.)
2. A French-style pastry shop, preferably one that has macarons, OR a really, really great bakery, OR someplace that serves gelato, the real deal, i.e. if there are mashed-up Snickers bars anywhere, no thanks.
3. A good place for a celebratory meal, with preference for one that uses locally- and sustainably-grown foods, especially meats and poultry.
4. The BEST place for a really excellent, amazing breakfast/brunch. What's the Philly equivalent of Hell's Kitchen or Toast? I know the trend for these places is to not take reservations (because if there's a line around the block, it must be good, right?), but really, I'm looking for a place where I can make a reservation. Great cocktails are a big bonus.
5. If there's a particular regional food or specialty you really think an out-of-towner should try, please let me know! I have a pretty adventurous palate. :)

Thanks, hounds!

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  1. 1. La Columbe
    2. Miele Patisserie, Metropolitan Bakery, and, most of all, Capogiro gelato
    3. A little more detail would be helpful here, there are many, many options. Some of Philly's best food restaurants are BYOB (search the board to learn why and learn about the good places). What kind of atmosphere do you want? Upscale? Hip? Fun and lively?
    4. ?
    5. Reading Terminal Market

    7 Replies
      1. re: Buckethead

        Thanks for the rec. The menu looks lovely, but I'm a little concerned about the "stations" (when did "buffets" become "food stations," and is it really an improvement to call them so?). I'm having horrible flashbacks of brunch at the country club, an all-you-can-eat (before they became "all-you-care-to-eat"!) affair that was more about ramming appalling quantities of food down your gullet than enjoying a well-prepared meal . There is no delicate way to ask, so I'll just ask: Lacroix brunch = pigs at the trough? Just in case I can't work through the bad memories, can you rec someplace where one orders from the menu (no trough to speak of)?

        1. re: AliceBarbaraMarion

          Lacroix has one of, if not *the* finest brunches in town. A search on the photo site, for "lacroix brunch" will show you example dishes. Cold dishes are served in the dining room and are typically small, one or two bite combinations, think amuse bouche. Hot foods are served at stations throughout the kitchen.

          Last time I was there it was about $55/person.

          It's really a culinary destination. buckethead isn't sending you to a hotel chain buffet.

          1. re: urbanfabric

            I'm sure it's fabulous, elegant, and all things wonderful. It just looks too much like someplace I'd take my in-laws after church on Easter Sunday or something. I'm intrigued by the description of Philly as an "unsung brunch town" (per nwinkler, below)! I'll keep poking around the boards and ask for really specific feedback in a bit... Thanks for your input!

      2. re: Hungryin theBurbs

        1. old city coffee, i don't know if it's just me but their old "old city blend" uses india a plantation beans that are just so very delicious and cannot be found north of the border so easily apparently. you'd have to request the old blend that uses the india a beans but it's well worth it.

        2. miele's macarons were stale and flavourless when i had them.... if you want the real deal for gelato, then do not bother at all. it doesn't seem like anyone understands what real gelato is... even the italian restaurants. the texture and richness is closer to soft serve. the flavours are capogiro are quite nice though and more natural.
        5. i would do a roast pork sandwich tasting, a little more interesting than the cheesesteaks me thinks and mostly because the diversity of style is nice and wide ranging with paesanos take as my favourite.

        1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

          I've been browsing the boards for hours - good reading! - and I can tell there are dozens of amazing options. Let me clarify what I'm looking for, in terms of a celebratory restaurant: my top priority is to find a chef who sources his food locally or regionally, as much as possible. No Sysco trucks, please! I usually find that once I specify how I prefer ingredients to be sourced, the list of restaurant recommendations dwindles from dozens and dozens to about...three. Hope that helps, and thanks for your advice so far!

          1. re: AliceBarbaraMarion

            Here is a link to "localfoodphilly" that includes lists of restaurants, cafes, etc. I think James would be a good option, you don't say how many of you will be celebrating but they also have a small room you can reserve for 8 to 12 (?) folks at no extra charge.

        2. IMO neither La Calombe or Old City Coffee are excellent (and Old City is plain bad to me). If you want the best coffee, go to Spruce St Espresso where they serve Counter Culture beans. That is the only place I know of downtown that sources from CC. It's not local, but its better than our local roasters. And anyway, the beans are all shipped from far away no matter where they are roasted. As long as its ground and brewed locally, that is fine with me.

          That said, La Calumbe is pretty good, and can found at many (most?) coffee shops in the city, not just their own cafe.

          If you are a real coffee snob, you need to take the subway down to Ultimo Coffee in South Philly. Also a CC shop and far and away the best espresso I have had in Philly.

          6 Replies
          1. re: barryg

            the only old city coffee i've had (note we're NOT talking espresso here) is the old city blend with the india a beans. it has a mild and pleasant bitterness and yards of nice rich chocolatey ness. i'm not a fan of ethiopian-esque ones... more acidic and big on fruit so this is really wonderful stuff to me. not sure about the rest of their beans or blends.

            1. re: pinstripeprincess

              Hi pinstripe...did I miss pt 4 of your Philly trip report? I was eagerly awaiting your take on Le Bec Fin, though you intimated that all did not go well for you there.

              I was up in your neck of the woods and thank you & your Toronto chowhounds for the advice you gave me...we had a really nice meal at Omi...tx again

              1. re: rocknroll52

                glad you enjoyed omi! you should write up a report ;)

                i've been sitting on pt 4 partly to see how lbf would respond but it turns out they don't seem to care an ounce. it's really not as exciting as i'm likely making it sound but i was really quite disappointed.

                i will also have some thoughts up about amada, tinto, osteria and morimoto happy hour soon.... i think i gained several lbs over two days as a result!

            2. re: barryg

              Ultimo will be one of our destinations! I like drip (pour-over when I'm out, although we make French press at home) in the morning. Sometimes a good latte if it's a late morning or I need a pick-me-up. Espresso after dinner or before heading home. I never set out to be a coffee snob (my parents drank Folgers, yikes!), but here I am.

              Thanks for the rec. I'm looking forward to Ultimo.

              1. re: AliceBarbaraMarion

                You will not be disappointed with Ultimo.

                It is not in the most tourist friendly neighborhood, but it is near the East Passyunk strip (E. Passyunk Avenue between Juniper and Dickinson) which is a very nice walk, and not something that most tourists would get to see. If you have time, I recommend walking "The Avenue" on the way to or back from Ultimo, which can also segue into a stroll through the Italian Market (S. 9th St between Washington and Christian) if you don't mind walking a couple miles.

              2. re: barryg

                Old City coffee is horrible. The last cafe latte I got from them, I had to throw out. Beans roasted until they are burned. Perfumey like fake flavored beans.

                I enjoy La Columbe. I usually get my fix at Lore's in the morning before work, but it is fun to go to their cafe near Rittenhouse square. It has an authentic French vibe.

              3. 1. Are you an espresso drinker, or drip? I second barryg's recommendation of Spruce St. for espresso; they are pretty serious about it. And I double second his recommendation to hop on the Broad St. subway and take it to (I think) the Tasker Morris stop to visit Ultimo. This is your place whether it's espresso or drip that you drink. La Colombe does a fine cappuccino, and a good cup of coffee.

                2. I think Metropolitain's baked goods are great; I love their croissants, but I can't vouch for their macarons. And Capogiro is about as close to the real deal as I've had in this country.

                3. The most overtly locavore upscale place we have is Noble American Cookery, though the reviews have been decidedly mixed. The Inquirer's restaurant critic really hated it, but it's gotten lots of love elsewhere. Other less contentious places where you can be assured no Sysco are James, Fork, and Bibou, all of them on the celebratory side, or at least capable of delivering "WOW!" dishes.

                4. Definitely Lacroix, but it is a splurge. The truth is that most every gastropub and restaurant in the city does a brunch, and many are good. I think Philly is an unsung brunch town--it's a real tradition here. Consider Standard Tap, a classic gastropub in Northern Liberties, Pub & Kitchen for updated English food, Meme for something more inventive, and maybe even Parc for an of-the-moment Philly experience. One of my favorites is Cafe Estelle, but they don't have a liquor license.

                5. Hoagies or roast pork sandwiches from the Reading Terminal and/or the Italian Market.

                2 Replies
                1. re: nwinkler

                  Ultimo is closer to the Snyder stop. Their drip is done by pour-over only, ground and made per-cup from your choice of bean.

                  If you are down by Broad & Snyder for Ultimo, a unique local treat is the "Philly Combo"--a split, grilled hot dog served with a fish cake on a soft roll. Texas Weiners on Snyder near there is one of the few places in the city still serving this.

                  I will add Pumpkin on South St to the local food list. The previously mentioned Capogiro also sources most of their ingredients locally, including all of their milk. Not all the flavors are made with local-only ingredients (obviously banana, citrus and cocoa are hard to source in Southeastern PA) but many are and they are clearly marked.

                  I was hoping someone else would chime in about restaurants that source local food. The truth is that all the good restaurants, from small chef run places to the big, fancy places, source many of their ingredients, including meats, locally and keep their menus mostly seasonal. It is harder to find places that will source everything locally as most chefs will tell you that quality overrides locality. Sometimes the menu will list the name of the farm that a piece of meat came from, but sometimes you have to ask. Anywhere good will be using local produce right now. My recommendation on this front is to take a recommendation from this board and then call if you are really concerned about the local thing. You almost definitely will find something on the menu that is primarily local.

                  If you are into the local thing you should check out the Headhouse Square farmer's market if you're around on a Sunday. If not, Reading Terminal Market has a lot of locally grown produce every day (and especially when the Amish are there) and everything is made here.

                  1. re: nwinkler

                    Excellent suggestions, thanks! It's good to know there are options to Ultimo, since I'm not sure how much public transit I can take before my first coffee in the morning. I am eager to sample Metropolitain. It's been awhile since I had a good croissant, so even if the macarons are terrible (which I pray they won't be, as I have a huge hole in my life that needs to be FILLED with colorful, chewy, ganache- or jam-filled sweet little clouds of magnificence), sign me up.

                    I'll look more closely at Noble, James, Fork, and Bibou. Thank you so much for all your thoughtful recommendations!

                  2. 1. Depending on where you are staying it may be a little out of the way, but Ray's Cafe & Tea House Inc, 141 N Ninth St, is worth a visit. It looks like a divey Chinese restaurant, but has truly excellent siphon-brewed coffee

                    2. I don't think French-style pastry shops are as big here as Italian style. Try Isgro's or Termini in South Philadelphia. Capo Giro is as good as any gelato I had in Italy with more inventive flavors.

                    3. As has been mentioned there fair number of choices, another one to consider is Farmacia--
                    Personally, I like Fork better but the food's good at Farmacia -- they also have brunch if you want to have a celebratory dinner somewhere else.

                    4. There are really too many choices here. The one at Lacroix is probably the most mind blowing but most places that do good food and do a brunch, the brunch will be good.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: feklar42

                      Thank you so much for the tip about Italian pastry. I'll take your recs into consideration and troll through the boards to see what others have to say... Grazie!

                      1. re: AliceBarbaraMarion

                        If you are going to ultimo, then you should definitely check out the South Philly Termini location. I love the old-fashioned look. They also say they have macaroons, though I've never tried them. It is not a sitdown place, so you might want to go there first then ultimo.

                        1523 South 8th Street
                        Philadelphia, PA 19147

                        1. re: feklar42

                          If you are in South Philly area check out Artisan Boulanger Pattiserie at 12th and Mifflin (and Passyunk). They are Asian and make the best Croissant, pastries and breads! I'm not sure about macaroons, I know they sometimes have madelines. There is also a Capogiro a block away from there and East Passyunk is a great stroll - old Italian mixed with new young folks for a perfect combo - go into Mancuso and son's cheese shop and get some homemade ricotta and/or mozzarella (and other Italian goodies) to eat with your bread!

                    2. 1. I like La Colombe.
                      2. Metropolitan is good, maybe try some places in Reading Terminal Market.
                      3. Farmicia is all about the local angle, unfortunately their food is very simple and some would say boring. I like it, but a lot of chowhounders disagree. Haven't been to Noble but have heard some good stuff.
                      4. no idea. I'd say sabrina's but there are no cocktails and no reservations, although you can call ahead and get your name on the list.
                      5. ROAST PORK SANDWICH. I'll plug Paesanos but it is a bit of a schlep. DiNics is fine too and is in the Reading Terminal Market.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: hollyd

                        I'm curious about Reading Terminal Market! We'll have to check it out. I think we're going to be doing a LOT of eating in the three days or so we'll be there! :) Thanks for your ideas.

                        1. re: AliceBarbaraMarion

                          Reading Terminal Market is great. A truly uniquely Phillyplace to go. A great place for breakfast is the Dutch Eating Place, an Amish counter serving great pancakes, scrapple, bacon, and apple dumplings. They are open from Wednesdays to Saturdays only. There's nothing fancy about the place but it's just good homestyle cooked food that's hard to duplicate. For lunch, the best bet is the roast (not pulled) pork sandwich with provolone and rabe from DiNic's. It will make you forget about eating a cheesesteak. For a snack, try a soft pretzel at Miller's Twist, a cannoli from Termini's, ice cream from Bassett's (sit at the 100+ year old counter if there's room), peanut butter chocolate pretzels from Mueller's, or a double chocolate cookie from Fourth St. Cookie Co.

                          I was looking at some of what you are looking for, and to be honest with you, some of your requests are not the best things to try in Philly (like the macaroons). There's a great bakery in NYC that has macaroons but I would not waste time or calories on them in Philly just like anyone would not spend time looking for a good cheesesteak in San Francisco or Chicago when there are much better things in town to try.

                          Do get the bacio gelato at Capogiro (or at least try it). That one is worth it! They use spades and it's great...even in November. Since you will be in town that time of year, Termini's (at Reading Terminal) has great nirvana, almond sousse pastries, and torrone, and you may want to consider a cup of Aztec hot chocolate (very intense with cinnamon and cloves) at the Naked Chocolate Cafe (there are a few in town).