To most outsiders, the city of Philadelphia is mediated through a small handful of stereotypes that aren’t, shall we say, fresh.
Think: Phillies fans hovering somewhere in the ambiguous territory between rabies and psychosis, Rocky’s iconic (and frequently recreated) scaling of the Art Museum’s steps, and of course, the omnipresent Philadelphia cheesesteak, about which no one can agree except that, for all of the goodness that happens when beef and cheese whiz come together as one, it’s an artery-clogging monster of a sandwich.
For the person who’s spent some time there, though, hiding beneath the admitted patina of grit and grease are corners of a city both muscular and strangely elegant, a city that has mastered junk food (it’s no accident that Tastykake is a Philadelphia invention) while at once striving for (and frequently attaining) sublime gastro-heights that make it one of the East Coast’s top destinations for food lovers.
Dessert: Philadelphia surely has a range of perfectly adequate breakfast and brunch joints, but really, brunch is New York’s game. Skip the pancakes and scrapple and head to Capogiro Gelateria for a sweet start to the day. The several downtown locations of the local purveyor offer gelato that easily spurs tasters into flights of rapture. Whether it’s Thai coconut milk gelato, grapefruit Campari sorbetto, or the perfect purity of sea salt gelato (really), it’s not really possible to pick a bad flavor here. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/scaredy_kat)
Lunch: If the cheesesteak is calling your name, I’d direct you to South Philly to hold an impromptu back-to-back Geno’s and Pat’s tasting. For something sit-down, though, the tucked-away Café Lutecia offers simple staples that come with a heady dose of Gallic wistfulness. The tiny corner spot, owned and run by an amiable French couple, is especially noteworthy for its soups. Locals argue over which is best, but the tomato bisque is an incontestably restorative option for a foot-sore traveler.
Dinner: Vetri and Zahav are two jewels of the Philadelphia restaurant scene, but getting reservations can take weeks. For something a bit more accessible but equally noteworthy, Mitch Prensky’s Supper offers hearty but refined comfort food classics featuring plenty of locally sourced ingredients. In an upscale rustic setting that’s all copper and dark wood, diners can indulge in special dishes like crispy duck leg confit on a homemade pecan sage waffle served with a bourbon maple jus.
Drinks: Whether wine or beer is your indulgence of choice, Tria shines as a beacon in a city still hampered by puritanical liquor laws. It also houses its famed Fermentation School, which hosts classes for amateur imbibers looking to expand their fluency in all things varietal and terroir. If you’re not able to score a seat in the classroom, though, the carefully curated wine and beer menus offer plenty of stunners, matched well by the menu’s selection of delicately crafted, seasonal small plates like bruschetta topped with Brie de Nangis and Allagash-macerated cherries (pictured). (Photo courtesy of Flickr/cuttlefish)
Wild Card: Stereotypes aside, one of Philadelphia’s more recent claims to fame is as a capital of the American craft brewing movement. The metropolitan area is home to upwards of 10 breweries alone, among them big names like Triumph Brewing Company, Philadelphia Brewing Company, and Yards Brewing. For arguably the top tasting experience, though, it’s worth decamping to the suburbs for a tipple at Victory Brewing’s tasting room. Known nationally for its Prima Pils, Victory’s brewpub spotlights smaller-batch or harder to find options like their robust Storm King Stout and yeasty Helios saison. It’s a must for craft beer lovers.