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Philly Dining Picks for Toronto Tourists

Hello all --

I'll be in Philly at the end of the month (February) and have been compiling my food picks. Would love to get some thoughts on my current picks and also some additional ideas.

I'm going with my mom who is pretty open to different foods (although she won't do Chinese) so various types of cuisine are up for consumption but she's more into simple foods (I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum, will try it all). We generally want to avoid very expensive meals and plan on spending about $25 ish per entree at dinnertime.

We won't have a car and will depend on public transit. We're staying near Penn's Landing.

I think I have a decent list of restaurant thus far (culled from Chowhound, friends, NY Times etc) but am finding that I don't have any "snack" places to try. Any good bakeries, chocolate shops, coffee shops with good treats, ice cream etc on the Philly scene?

Thanks in advance for your help. Here's what the list is looking like thus far...

SATURDAY
Dinner (we get in at 9pm and will want something quick)
Jim's Steaks

SUNDAY
Brunch
Deciding between ... Distrito, Garces Trading Co, Cafe Estelle and Green Eggs

Dinner
Supper

MONDAY
Breakfast
Dutch Eating Place (Reading Terminal)

Lunch
Deciding between... Sahara Grill or El Rey or JG Domestic

Dinner
Barbuzzo

Also considering Chifa but not too sure...

WON
http://whatsonmyplate.net

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  1. Nice picks overall. Dutch Eating Place is only open Wed though Saturday so you won't be able to make it. Of your Sunday brunch picks, Garces and Green Eggs are open Monday, so you could check out one of those. Garces may have a different menu on Mondays, though.

    For your Monday lunch, of your three options, JG Domestic is the clear winner. It's easy to get to via Market-Frankford Line (30th Street Station)--when you emerge from the subway, enter the big train station and follow signs for the Cera Center.

    For ice cream, Franklin Fountain in Old City and Capogiro (gelato) are worth visits, as is Bassetts in Reading Terminal. You can get some nice chocolates at Marcy Blaine on 13th St, they are setup in the back of a home goods store called Verde. There's also a Tuescher in the Bellevue building (Broad & Walnut). I also recommend getting a soft pretzel from a street vendor, don't forget the mustard.

    1 Reply
    1. re: barryg

      Thanks for weighing in! I didn't think to look into specific opening times for DEP, I just assumed it was open when the market is open (my bad).

      Thanks for the treat suggestions!

    2. Well this list seems very well researched though perhaps a little Garces heavy.

      The only one I disagree with is Jims Steaks on Sat night. South Street is nuts on Saturday night. I don't think I would take my mom there. Consider Zahav or Amada for small plates.

      4 Replies
      1. re: rocknroll52

        I'm not a fan of Jim's steaks either and think Amada or Zahav would be great given where you are staying. I would also add a stop at Tartes, a small bakery across the street from the Besy Ross House between 2nd and 3rd on Arch St. for great molasses cookies, coocnut tarts, and whatever else they are doing that day.

        1. re: bluehensfan

          Thanks for the Amada and Zahav recommendations.

          Tartes sounds right up my alley!

          WON

          1. re: wontonfm

            Looks like Tartes is closed Sunday and Monday (which is when I'll be in town) :( Any other great bakery/pastry shop recommendations?

            WON

            1. re: wontonfm

              Termini's in Reading Terminal has great cannoli, torrone, and other Italian pastries.

              Nothing else in Old City comes to mind at all as far as bakeries, though.

              Brown Betty has great cupcakes that are worth trying (especially the chocolate and red velvet ones).

              I know it's cold out but you may want to consider the gelato at Capogiro which is excellent or the Aztec hot chocolate at Naked Chocolate Cafe (which is very good albeit really viscous like motor oil).

      2. I can't recall, but if Estelle is open, I would go there for brunch. That's my favorite for Northern Liberties. Another good choice only if you have a car is Cafe Lift. But then, that's when you want something intense like cannoli french toast :)

        I personally wouldn't recommend the Dutch Eating place, but I know many others really like it. Just not my thing perhaps.

        For snacks, well, when you go to Barbuzzo, check out Verde (next door and owned by the chef) for the chocolates. What a great souvenier -- if they last that long. Another place is La Golosa on Passyunk (might not be good location wise for you) or if you're near the Italian Market, Rim Cafe.

        And I emphatically second bluehen's Tartes suggestion :)

        2 Replies
          1. re: padovana

            I second Cafe Estelle's on N. 4th St., but they are closed on Monday.

          2. from one TO gal to another....

            i used to really like jim's steaks but they're a bit disappointing now. the meat has more of a "steamed" effect and lacked some really great griddle flavour the last couple of times. if you can get out to one of the other highly touted spots i would suggest it.... or at least try jim's when they're less busy and more likely to be cooking small batches at a time.

            i don't love garces... i like but don't love what he does. sometimes it's just too much and i find the tabs add up really quickly. your options are pretty heavily towards him.

            unfortunately i don't get the opportunity to do breakfast/lunch downtown so i'm not terribly helpful there. what i would suggest is italian in many ways and forms. i really enjoyed vetri and osteria (haven't made it to the other one yet) and think that osteria would fit within your price point quite well. it's an easy trek by subway and i don't think a cab would be unaffordable. one of the places i keep going back to is fish. there isn't anything in TO like it and it is excellent. it may be a touch higher than your price point though. would also suggest paesano's for a sandwich to share (snack in my books) or at least getting a roast pork sandwich (different than what porchetta & co is doing) with provolone and rabe somewhere else.

            just went to barbuzzo. i like and think the pricepoint is quite good, but i don't love it. the burrata was drowned in balsamic, pan fried gnocchi was soggy... so what was the point of pan frying it?, their budino was overwhelmed by everything else around it. salty! i noticed they have an after 10 (or was it 10:30) $10 plates menu that includes an in-house ground burger, which i will try for next time.

            gelato has generally been an unmitigated disaster (under any circumstances, do not get it at a restaurant). my last visit to capogiro the texture was better but still not right. the flavours there are fantastic and unique though. it is still the best i've had in the city.

            i'm constantly dying to try the franklin fountain but never make it... please go! i always want to try the drinks more than the ice cream.

            7 Replies
            1. re: pinstripeprincess

              While you are clearly entitled to your opinion about Capogiro, the fact that it consistently gets high marks on both the local and national scene suggests that calling it "an umitigated disaster" is a tad unfair.

              1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                Sorry, l am so on her side, compared to almost anywhere, l tried it three or four times, many flavors and found it greatly lacking.

                1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                  i'm not sure if you read past my first 6 words about gelato.... as i continue on to specifically point out that restaurants are the main perpetrators and that capogiro is the best option in philadelphia - if you must eat it. as much as i love fish, their mama-made gelato is awful... stella's was closer to chewing gum... other restaurants and shops weren't as unpleasant but completely not worth the money or calories.

                  we actually have good ice cream and gelato options in TO.... i'd try capogiro because it is the local phenom but i wouldn't set my expectations to being a mind-blowing comparable to italy experience. just hop over to grom in nyc and there is a marked difference.

                  i've been half a dozen times now.... the stuff is best melted into afogato or in fruit flavours.

                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      pinstripeprincess is entitled to her opinion on Capogiro Gelato- one that I'm sure very few people in Philly share- since I haven't been to Italy nor to Grom I can't compare to those- I'll just say that when I am in the mood to treat myself to a wonderful tasty dessert Capogiro is the first place I think of. I love that you can mix and match the flavors and they will let you taste as many as you want although that doesn't always help me to decide- so many choices! I'd highly recommend Capogiro if you happen to be near one of their locations in your travels in Philly!

                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                    Garces Trading serves good food, but the the tab does add up very quickly. $20 for a (smallish) chacuterire tasting platter plus $6-10 for other small dishes add up quickly. Pastas are small for their $20-25 price range. But the pizzas are better value for the price ($12-18 for a single portion size oval). Also, not sure the age of your mom, but my mom (in her 60s) would have an uncomfortable time sitting on the high chairs (about 25% of the dining seats) or any of the other seats (they have hard wicker-weave seats - not only the hardness, but the pattern of the weave really leaves you with a sore butt!). Otherwise, overall a good experience though.

                  2. A place rarely mentioned is Percy St BBQ. On South St, has excellent brisket and a pecan pie that stands alone. Their mac/cheese is great as well. l think you would be better here than Jim's or any other cheesesteak as well.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      Just want to emphasize that the brisket is the thing to get at Percy St, the other meats are ok but not worth going unless you get the brisket. Texas BBQ style done right.

                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                        Percy Street is great. I was just there this past weekend and walked twelve blocks (in the pouring rain at that) because the place I was going to eat at decided not to open on time on Saturday for lunch (not mentioning any names...yet!) I love Percy Street's brisket (get the juicy versus the lean) and their new-and-improved banana pudding.

                        As an aside I do agree that some of the gelato at Capogiro is fabulous while a lot of it is not my cup of tea. While I think their bacio is wonderful, other flavors I have tried have not been mind-blowing experiences. What I suggest is to sample what sounds interesting and only get what you really like.

                        And finally, I am glad to hear that someone else was not enthralled with Barbuzzo. I liked their antipasto but the pizza at Barbuzzo is just like Stella with the rubbery crust. I still think Zavino is tops for pizza in town...

                        1. re: bluehensfan

                          I do enjoy brisket. I'll have to add that to my "To Consider" list.

                          WON

                      2. Thanks everyone for your feedback! I just posted the details about my trip but here's a summary:

                        Jim's - no flavour. i was sad that my only cheesesteak experience was bland. at least it was close to my hotel.

                        Cafe Estelle - A nice brunch spot. I liked the variety on their menu and their methodology. I had an omelet with bacon and brussel sprouts which was a great combo. My mom had the sausage gravy stuffed French toast which was neat. The homemade sausage were salty.

                        Supper - I really enjoyed Supper. My mom had the burger and it was REALLY good. I had the duck and waffles and it was enjoyable. The portion was tiny though. Had the smoked wing appetizer and it was just OK. The housemade bread was great as was the dessert.

                        Barbuzzo - I wasn't too hungry so I didn't sample as much as I would've liked but I had a great meal. Lardo pizza was really good and not too heavy. Lardo was housemade. I had the best Brussels sprouts with pancetta on the side. They won my heart with the Budino dessert.

                        I really want to head back to Philly and eat more!

                        WON
                        http://whatsonmyplate.net

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: wontonfm

                          Most cheesesteaks are not seasoned, which is why whiz is a good pairing--it adds saltiness. Also why people add pickled peppers, maybe ketchup etc. The mild provolone used at places like Jim's will definitely make for a bland steak. American is a little better. Better shops will use more flavorful provolone or offer sharp provolone which is good, too. But in general cheesesteaks are a bland food, with only a couple notable exceptions. Jim's also uses a softer bread than many, which doesn't help.

                          1. re: barryg

                            jim's does offer whiz though, in fact i double up on it. i find when they have a dry grill and i get all the moisture and salt from the whiz, it works for me.

                            1. re: pinstripeprincess

                              I know but on Won's blog they wrote that they got it with prov. This is a pretty common rookie mistake--provolone sounds like the better choice when compared against whiz and American, but unless you are at a premier shop, it almost always means a dry, bland sandwich.

                              1. re: barryg

                                good to know but i can't stomach the whiz or american. i may have to suck it up next time!

                                WON

                                1. re: wontonfm

                                  Then just order a plain steak with onions (no cheese). That's how my father does it...talk about old school!!!!!

                                  1. re: wontonfm

                                    You will be surprised. I don't care for cheese whiz especially but at a Jim's/Pat's/Geno's style shop, it is a good pairing.

                                    1. re: barryg

                                      it's the only time i eat whiz, it is in a huge way... a case of the whole is better than the sum of the parts.

                                  2. re: barryg

                                    Personally I would rather add a bit of salt and pepper to my steak with provolone than wonder what the glowing orange in my sandwich is ....

                                    1. re: cwdonald

                                      but it's also the tangy flavour of the whiz that works, which is why a sharper prov or american can work.