My Big, Fat Philly Food Crawl
Just how many restaurants and bars can one (very hungry) food editor hit in 27 hours?
My first day in Philadelphia starts with a sandwich — duck confit and Lancaster Swiss pressed between a seeded roll smeared with pungent fermented mustard. It’s definitely not a cheesesteak, but it’s what’s on the menu at High Street on Market, an all-day café in Center City where local ingredients and gorgeous breads (baked onsite) make for a satisfying first stop after a two-and-a-half-hour drive. It’s the first stop (of many) in a two-day quest to find out what’s good eatin’ in the City of Brotherly Love.
Fresh off its James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef, Zahav is already packed at 5:15 p.m. Chef Michael Solomonov’s Israeli restaurant — a forebear of the modern Middle Eastern cuisine that’s everywhere now — is arguably the city’s most popular. The Mesibah, a $56 tasting menu featuring a parade of small plates leading up to a fall-off-the-bone lamb shoulder that’s been brined, smoked, and braised in pomegranate until the liquid turns into a sticky glaze, was tempting. But this is a marathon, not a sprint, so I settled into a bowl of the creamiest, silkiest, most soul-satisfying hummus and the saltim, a daily selection of six salads, including shaved fennel with preserved lemon and serrano chile, crunchy pickled cabbage with ribbons of neon-pink onions, and soft Moroccan-spiced carrots.
On South Street, I met a friend at Banh Mi and Bottles, a restaurant/bottle shop doing beer and Vietnamese food, where we devoured a brisket banh mi served French-dip-style with a cup of fragrant pho broth. Since we were nearby, we dipped into Brauhaus Schmitz, an admittedly kitschy German beer hall with an excellent draft list, for a dunkel and a kolsch, before heading to Chinatown, to find the city’s most-buzzed-about bar.
PHOTO: MATTHEW WILLIAMS
The entrance to Hop Sing Laundromat is nothing more than an unmarked steel door with a red light. A doorman emerged and confirmed that we brought cash (they don’t accept credit or debit cards, and there’s no ATM inside), led us into a book-lined antechamber, where we were read the rules (no photos, or you’ll be asked to leave; no cellphones, or you’ll be asked to leave). Now initiated, we took a seat in the barroom and whiled away the night, drinking expertly crafted cocktails running the gamut from Hemingway daiquiris to unexpected elixirs, like gin and Vietnamese coffee.
On Saturday morning, a slow-moving line snaked out the door of Philly Style Bagels in Fishtown, a North Philly neighborhood with a young-hipster vibe. The everything bagel — slow-fermented, boiled in Yards IPA, baked in an old-school pizza oven, and liberally coated with a chile-flecked spice blend — was dense and chewy, with a crisp, craggy crust. From there, it’s a short walk to WM Mulherin’s Sons, serving stellar pastas in a historic building under the elevated train tracks. A plate of seasonal cappelletti were filled with smooth potato and ricotta and tossed in an irresistibly salty emulsion of butter, Parmesan, and translucent ramps.
Twelve dollars, an Uber, and a double espresso later, I was in South Philly, at the original location of Federal Donuts. The menu is simple: just fried chicken and donuts (really, what else do you need?). The cinnamon-brown-sugar donuts, ripping hot and ethereally tender, are almost painfully good (I may have had a second one for “research” purposes).
Next up, a visit to South Philly Barbacoa, which garnered a spot on Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants in America list in 2016. For each order, tender chunks of lamb are chopped and deftly piled into soft corn tortillas to be eaten at printed-plastic-covered tables. There are a variety of self-serve toppings, but, even on its own, the meat is rich and glossy with juices.
Just before 4 p.m., I managed to grab the day’s last British-style beef-and-onion pie — luscious, intensely beefy filling encased in flaky pastry — at Stargazy (they regularly sell out early on Saturdays). Then it was on to dinner, at Bing Bing Dim Sum, where somewhat-traditional miso-ramen-flavored soup dumplings and very non-traditional chicken-and-chorizo dumplings with tomatillo and queso fresco got washed down with a refreshing Sun is Shining cocktail (pisco and sake with lemongrass, ginger, and kaffir lime). Out came a riff on the Philly pork sandwich: a delightfully doughy bao bun with pork, melted provolone, and long hots. It still wasn’t a cheesesteak, but, man, was it good.
PHOTO: CRIS MOLINA
STAY: With its Center City location and buzzy pedigree, the Hotel Monaco is the ideal jumping-off point for a weekend of wining and dining. Rooms (book a Parkview to overlook Independence Hall) are stylishly appointed with Frette linens, toile-wallpapered bathrooms, mirrored end tables, and pops of red (even the bathrobe comes in a ultra-cool leopard print). Staying elsewhere? Still consider dropping by the Monaco to drink with the beautiful people — and take in the Philadelphia skyline — at the Stratus Rooftop Lounge. Rates from $259/night