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A Philadelphia trip report

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debra Apr 25, 2011 04:16 PM

Hi there, I'm an L.A. chowhound, just back from a week in Philadelphia. I did quite a bit of research here and on the web in general, thought I'd say thanks for the great tips, and give a trip report.

I'll start with Reading Terminal Market, let's just say... my home base. As suggested, Dutch Eating Place had one heck of a Apple Dumpling, not too sweet, not too mushy, perfect in my book. It's also the place I discovered possibly the most delicious thing I've ever eaten --scrapple. Thank god it's not readily available here in L.A. or I'd be in trouble. Kind of a pate of pork parts and cornmeal, I gather, crispy edges, and all the porky goodness that only pork parts can bring to the table --ya, I was a repeat visitor at the DEP. They have a sign that say's Leidy's Scrapple -- I have no idea whether that's a good brand or even well known, but man, it was just delicious.

Dienners for large, crispy but not over cooked chicken wings, with a basic, but nice seasoning.

DiNics for the Roast Pork with Provolone and Broccoli Rabe, garlicy, juicy, an excellent sandwich (I thought the sharp provolone was a little overpowering, maybe it just wasn't my thing, I removed it and dug in). Roast Pork and Broccoli Rabe, a marriage made in heaven, thanks for introducing me to this heavenly union. I must have been there early enough that the line was tolerable -- when I went back the line was crazy, and I was really sorry I didn't have the time to have it again.

Mueller's peanut butter/dark chocolate pretzels, delish, what more can be said about that.

Sang Kee sesame noodles and roast duck: the duck was really greasy, but tasty, and the sesame noodles were delish, refreshing and nice with crunch of the veggies.

Beilers Bakery, had a very memorable sticky bun (no nuts, no raisins), loved the ratio of sweet sticky to bready bun, and also that the bun wasn't doughy. It didn't have the "you can really taste the butter" in the bun, but I didn't miss that at all, it wasn't too heavy, just right in my book. This is possibly the most enticing looking bakery counter ever -- how I would have liked to be locked in after hours with a fork.

Had a pretzel at Millers Twist, fresh and good, but not the Philly Pretzel I was looking for, this was an Auntie Anne's type of pretzel.

Outside RTM.

Buddakan for the lamb, which was very good, but I really felt like this place missed the mark, everything underwhelmed me seasoning-wise. It seemed like all of the delicious asian inspired offerings were way too bland. I was particularly disappointed with the "dip sum" donuts, they were fresh and fried and sugary, but so darn heavy, and hardly tasted of the five spice power I was looking forward to.

Village Whisky, wow, 10pm, mid week with a 2+ hour wait at this tiny place. I was lucky to snag a seat at the bar after a short wait on a rainy night. I had to have that burger. (I didn't go for the faux gras). It came out looking like a hockey puck. That must be some hot griddle to produce that kind of crust and still be perfectly medium rare inside, NICE. The burger was very tasty, not sure it would be worth a several hour wait, but a damn good burger. The duck fat fries, well, this is my second foray into DFF, and I have to say, I don't get it. The fries were very good, but I didn't really get what the DF was adding. I think I'll wait until someone offers Bacon Fat Fries, and then I think we might be on to something.

Chifa, another in the Jose Garces empire. I really wanted the Thai Sausage Sandwich which I'd read about, and it was very good, a great melding of flavors, but I was kind of unclear on this restaurants concept. I know there is a large chinese influence in Peruvian cooking, but this menu seemed a little less tight than I was expecting, and more asian and latin american than chinese and peruvian -- nothing wrong with that, just not what I was expecting I guess.

Kanella was fantastic. I had the lamb sandwich. A tad skimpy on the lamb, but the lamb was tender and delicious combined with the feta on that amazing crusty, seedy roll. Also had a wonderful dessert, I can't remember the name of it, but it was a semolina custard with a bit of phylo, drizzled with an orange syrup, lip smacking good -- that custard was really luscious.

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodles. I'm a big fan of hand pulled noodles, and I'm not sure if it was an off night, or that the noodles weren't as fresh and I like... the noodles didn't have the extreme elasticity I expect from hand pulled, and they were stuck together in kind of a clump which wasn't too appealing.

Good Dog. Great Bar, great burger and fries. Serious late night grub. Who wouldn't love a good burger with cheese oozing from the middle. The combo of sweet potato and regular (maybe yukon gold) fries were really tasty too.

The Cheesesteak situation:

I wanted to try Tony Lukes or Steve's Prince of Steaks. I couldn't get to either. I wanted a really great Philadelphia Cheesesteak. Disappointed at first, but then a couple of people suggested to me (and gosh I hope this isn't offensive...) that the Philly experience isn't necessarily "the best", it could also be where the locals go, what the locals like, and what's traditional. My cousin suggested Jim's on South Street. The line was crazy, clearly a mix of locals and tourists. I got one "whiz wit". Unimpressive, I thought, what are the locals doing here, surely they must know that it's skimpy on the whiz, and onions, and the meat isn't terribly tasty, dry, not greasy enough, grease is flavor after all. (Maybe I had made a mistake, I mean when you come to L.A. and want a great burger (we're oh, so a burger town), there are places I'd be horrified that a visitor might judge our burger scene by.) I will say the Amorosa roll was fanastic -- Philly has the best bread, what's in (or not in) your water? Ok, so later in the trip, I decide to walk over to "SEE" the Pat's vs Geno's thing --no intention of eating, at first. Now this seemed really local, mid afternoon, weekday, not the tourist mob scene I was picturing. I loved the dueling advertising -- Pat's "the original", Geno's touting number one in "quality & cleanliness". So we take a look at what people are eating at Pat's, I can see the meat is chopped up, like it was at Jim's, we walk over to Geno's and I can see them frying individual slices of beef. I opt for Geno's. I was really expecting both Pat's and Geno's to be all tourist, and no flavor. I have to say Geno's was definitely a satisfying experience. It really had the perfect grease to meat to whiz to onion ratio on a really good roll. I'm sure I'm not the best judge of authentic or gourmet, or the best, but I do know what tastes good to me.

I was wondering where the best place to get a pretzel would be, and was told, anywhere... that sounded so wrong to me, but truth be told, it was correct. The street carts sold them fresh and cheap. They were really tasty, and way more substantial than what I've known as a "soft pretzel". Again, whatever it is, the water or maybe several hundred year old starter... the bread is amazing.

Lastly, I cannot say enough about the sandwiches at Paesanos. What a delectable sounding menu, every sandwich sounded better than the last. As I was heading home, I decided on two sandwiches to go. The Arista - Whole Roasted Suckling Pig, Italian Long Hots, Broccoli Rabe & Sharp Provolone. I got mine sans provolone. Fantastic combination, again with the pork and b.rabe. The pork was plentiful, moist, and very tasty. The other sandwich was the Gustaio - House-made Lamb sausage, Sun-dried Cherry Mustarda, Gorgonzola Spread, Roasted Fennel, & Arugula. This was an explosion of flavor. I opened both sandwiches because I couldn't wait, had a few bites of each, and then packed them up with the anticipation that I would get more very soon. Absolutely exciting combinations of flavors, I love this place, my only gripe is that the Gustaio came on a thin flatbread, and it couldn't handle how freaking juicy the sandwich was, I'd get it on a roll next time -- which brings me to my other gripe -- I can't believe I live thousands of miles from the nearest Paesano's. The Bolognese and the Paesano were both calling my name. Two good reasons to return to Philly.

I think that about does it for the culinary portion of my trip. What a tasty city you have. There is definitely more to Philly than the cheesesteak. Thanks!

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    barryg RE: debra Apr 25, 2011 04:34 PM

    Thank for you for the report. I'm glad you enjoyed your trip, it sounds like you made out really well.

    As for the cheesetak thing, if the line was short at Geno's, that is your answer. When any of these places get long lines, they cook up tons of meat at once and it just steams and grill and loses flavor. There are a couple exceptions but Jim's, Pat's and Geno's are not among them. Geno's is actually the worst; when they get lines around the block, they pre-steam the meat in the back and just throw it on the grill for show and a little grease. They do cook to order when the line is manageable. In general none of these places are known for their consistency.

    1. iL Divo RE: debra Apr 25, 2011 04:41 PM

      good for you.
      seems like you had a great experience.
      you can't go wrong with eating in Philly in my opinion.
      it may be that you have to seek things/places out, but the food there is why I keep going back, well, that, and the Amish countryside.

      1. gaffk RE: debra Apr 25, 2011 07:00 PM

        Finally, a visitor who embraces scrapple! And agreed, as a Philly lifer, the Down Home Diner has a particularly good offering.

        BTW . . . it's pronounced "wooder," but it makes some good rolls, pretzels and bagels ;)

        1 Reply
        1. re: gaffk
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          debra RE: gaffk Apr 26, 2011 04:41 PM

          Just thinking about scrapple now makes me smile (and salivate a little),

        2. Bacchus101 RE: debra Apr 26, 2011 04:34 AM

          Thanks for this interesting and detailed review. The cheesesteak thing is extremely subjective. My really good cheesesteak would not resemble the standard served at most known locations. The most detailed review is one done by some college kids and Craig LeBan. So the next time you decide to seek out a cheesesteak, perhaps google that review. Yes there is much more to the Philly food scene than cheesesteaks; thanks for seeking it out and reporting back!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bacchus101
            bluehensfan RE: Bacchus101 Apr 26, 2011 05:24 AM

            Thanks for writing back and I am glad you enjoyed your trip to Philly and in particular Reading Terminal Market! And you really hit the mark with your comments on Jim's Steaks.

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            Bob Loblaw RE: debra Apr 26, 2011 05:44 AM

            yup, in general, that's the deal with soft pretzels. philadelphians appreciate them but they're not a destination kind of thing - you can get good ones most places. since most carts are out by the afternoon you can count on fresh ones while they have them.
            i like the dutch ones, too - but it's a different kind of thing. since they significantly predate auntie annes i don't begrudge them the similarity. but it's more of a 'treat' kind of thing.

            1. coookie RE: debra Apr 26, 2011 10:30 AM

              great review. re: duck fat fries - i've had them at both of the garces places that serve them: village whiskey and jg domestic. at both restaurants, i've had them right after the restaurant opened and then several months later, and in both cases, they were absolutely sublime when the places were new, and humdrum the second time around. my conclusion is that they are either difficult to get right, in which case the quality of the DFFs declines after garces is no longer working the line, or they skimp on the amount of duck fat after a few months of being open.

              i agree about chifa. it's the least impressive and least coherent of garces' places. and i'm glad you went to kanella and not zahav.

              2 Replies
              1. re: coookie
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                bonappetite RE: coookie Apr 26, 2011 11:59 AM

                I too had the same experience at JG Domestic, wondered what i liked so much about them the first time--now i know it was not just my imagination!

                1. re: coookie
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                  debra RE: coookie Apr 26, 2011 04:27 PM

                  Very interesting coookie, I didn't consider the actual AMOUNT of duck fat could be a factor. That's probably it. Maybe if the opportunity presents itself again, I'll ask about that before I take the plunge.

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