2 Days to Dine in Philadelphia

Our contributor gives her best tips on what to eat and see during a quick visit to Philadelphia
Di Bruno Bros. shop at the Ninth Street Italian Market.

Compared to other cities in the country Philadelphia is relatively small, so despite its important role in American history, it often gets overlooked. Until recently, I had only been there once when I was 12 on a school trip to see the Liberty Bell. So, when I was invited by a friend to visit Philly for a weekend, I felt like I needed to go and see what Philly’s up to these days.

We decided to stay at the Hotel Palomar (a Kimpton hotel) near Rittenhouse Square. It was perfect for us; a nice, clean boutique hotel in a great neighborhood, walking distance to lots of shopping and the Rittenhouse Square park. Also nearby is the Rittenhouse Hotel, a little more expensive than the Hotel Palomar and slightly more traditional. If you’re looking to stay very close to the Liberty Bell and other historical sites, check out Hotel Monaco, another trendy Kimpton Hotel.

As my friend and I discussed our culinary schedule for the weekend trip, I assumed it would largely consist of items commonly known as the cuisine of Philadelphia: cheesesteaks, hoagies and soft pretzels. I’ve never been so pleased to be proven wrong. Here are some of our favorites from the weekend.

Eat

Sbraga: Sbraga is a beautiful, airy restaurant located on Broad Street, otherwise known as the Avenue of the Arts. The restaurant is located right near the Kimmel Center, the Academy of Music, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. We sat at the bar, which offers the full dinner menu and was actually a really nice experience. There’s also a chef’s counter with seating, as well as the main dining room with regular tables. You can’t go wrong with anything at Sbraga, and the menu changes constantly due to seasonality, but the most memorable dishes we had were the foie gras soup, the roast pork with provolone bread pudding and long hots, and the "Key lime pie" dessert.

Zahav: Zahav is an Israeli restaurant located in Society Hill. There are some familiar Mediterranean dishes on the menu, but also some unfamiliar, surprising flavors that are very different than anything else I’ve tasted before. Definitely start with the Turkish hummus and laffa bread. The hummus is served warm with melted butter and grilled garlic, and the bread is completely addictive. Next, move onto the grilled duck hearts. Don’t let the hearts scare you; when we were there, these delicious, flavorful pieces of meat were served with fried onions and a hint of sweetness. We also had the excellent house-smoked sable, served on challah bread with a fried egg and poppy seeds. For the main dishes, there’s a mix of poultry, red meat, and fish offerings; we loved all of the main dishes we tried, so you really can’t go wrong, but our favorite was the branzino, served with a walnut pilaf, green beans, and tzatziki.

Serpico: OK, I’ll admit, I am cheating on this one. We didn’t actually eat here because it wasn’t open yet. But, this place looks fantastic. The chef is James Beard Award-winning Peter Serpico, originally the opening chef de cuisine at Momofuku Ko and director of culinary operations for the entire Momofuku empire. The menu at Serpico is focused on fresh ingredients with simple preparations, and I’d like to eat everything on it. The raw fluke (tonburi, charred jalapeño, celery, and soy) and the duck liver mousse (pomegranate and grilled bread) both caught my eye immediately, along with the corn ravioli (chorizo, white cheese, pickled and roasted onions, sour cream, and lime). If this restaurant is as good as it sounds, it will be amazing. In fact, I think I’ll be paying another visit to Philly very soon to decide for myself.

Experience

Reading Terminal Market: This market has everything — bakeries, cheese, restaurants, butchers, seafood, Pennsylvania Dutch products, wine, and more. First thing’s first; head straight to DiNic’s, grab a seat at the counter, and order the roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone. It was named "The Best Sandwich in America" by Adam Richman on his Travel Channel show of the same name, and it might well be true. The pork is sliced at a perfect thickness, and covered in its own jus. With the slight bitterness of the broccoli rabe and the sharp cheese, it’s perfect. This is the grown-up version of a cheesesteak. After finishing your sandwich, walk around and check out the rest of the market, especially the wide range of candy and bakery selections.

Ninth Street Italian Market: More than 100 years old, the largely original Italian market is like a step back in time. The shops and restaurants lining the streets include butchers, seafood, pasta, cheese, spices, produce, florists, pastries, and sandwiches. Be sure to stop in the Di Bruno Bros. shop and check out the variety of cheeses and cured meats, along with a wide selection of gourmet grocery items including chocolates, olive oils, and sauces. Also visit Paesano’s, an Italian sandwich shop with a menu of insanely decadent, really unique sandwiches like the Liveracce (crispy chicken livers with salami, sautéed onions, lettuce, roasted tomatoes, garlic mayo, orange marmalade, gorgonzola spread, and hot sauce) and the Bolognese (fried lasagna with meat sauce, smoked mozzarella, red sauce, sharp provolone, and a fried egg). If you’d rather have a sit-down dining experience or you’re looking for good brunch food, head to Sabrina’s Café just off Ninth Street on Christian Street. Sabrina’s serves an interesting mix of quasi-health food and ridiculously gluttonous food, like vegetarian options alongside cream cheese-stuffed French toast.

The Franklin Fountain: For delicious homemade ice cream, floats, sundaes, milkshakes, egg creams, and sodas, head to The Franklin Fountain on Market Street. Everything looks like it’s straight out of the 1920s, including an antique wall phone with an earpiece and a mouthpiece, an antique cash register, and the staff outfits. All of that is fun, but when it comes down to it, the ice cream is really, really good. They have a menu of more than 10 sundaes and splits, and I couldn’t help myself; I ordered the Mount Vesuvius sundae. Mt. Vesuvius consists of homemade dark chocolate brownie pieces, chocolate or vanilla ice cream, homemade hot fudge, malt powder, and whipped cream. Obviously, it was amazing. They also have a choice of 25 homemade soda flavors including unique ones like rose, absinthe, and lavender.

When I got home, I felt compelled to recreate DiNic’s roast pork sandwich. So if you can’t make it to Philly, you can still taste "The Best Sandwich in America."

Allison Stone is a trained pastry chef, caterer, and writer. Follow her at @bakingstoneny, and check out her Facebook page.

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