Philadelphia is a food-lovers kind of town. Whether you want a fill of street food such as cheese steaks, roast pork, or soft pretzels, or have a hankering for a five-star meal, this town has a lot to offer.
The first stop has to be Reading Market, where you can find all of those things, and lots more, under one roof. A better name would be EatPhilly, because that’s what it’s all about. You can grab a seat for breakfast or lunch, which I did with BU alum Sean Kardon one morning to catch up; buy some food to take home to prepare; or just graze your way through.
We were there for the DNC, which meant it was a madhouse around lunchtime. Although Kardon, who works for SEPTA (public transit), says it’s a madhouse around lunch every day. It was hot and I was overwhelmed on my first visit. Advice to visitors – go early and have a plan.
After multiple consultations with YELP, Trip Advisor and more, friend David Kidd, who lives in L.A., sent me a link to the Washington Post’s guide to eating there. Top on that list, a visit to Vernick. This relatively small restaurant has a reputation for being top-notch, so much so that one of our Uber drivers, who owns his own restaurant, says it was his favorite. It was good, but it’s not in my top three, except for the dessert, which was a blueberry pie served with a buttermilk lemon ice cream and blueberry sauce. It was neck and neck with the dessert at Butcher & Singer, a lemon icebox pie. Overall, for ambiance, service, and the steak, Butcher & Singer was the fave of the week in Philadelphia. The 18-ounce steak, split between the two of us, was pricey but worth every bite. It was perfectly seasoned and cooked. I will forever be spoiled by the steak. Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was finishing his dinner there as our appetizers were served.
Urban Farmer Philadelphia, which has a Cleveland location I will try, took tops for the appetizer, which was a cold seafood plate that included shrimp, oysters, lobster and mussels served in a large colander filled with ice ($65 for a small, which is enough for 4 as an appetizer). The wagyu steak, enough for two, was equally pricey as the Butcher & Singer, but not nearly as delicious. It did have the added benefit of being searched by the Secret Service upon entering because an unnamed bigwig was staying at the associated Logan House (Secret Service means either POTUS, FLOTUS (past or present) or Joe Biden). They couldn’t say whom (or they would have to kill us – actually they would lose their job). Other than that, the environment, for what you are paying, is not particularly inviting. The space is open and modern. The lighting and seating, while comfortable, is more reminiscent of a high-end cafeteria. The service, however, was excellent.
Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, in the now-hip Fishtown, was worth the visit. With its two kitchens, one featuring a wood-fired oven, this is a fun spot where shared ordering is encouraged. It can get a bit noisy because it is filled with 20- and 30-somethings having a really good time. The chicken under a brick was perfectly seasoned, cooked and served on a cutting board, perfect for two. The desert menu was underwhelming, but I probably didn’t need it anyway.
Estia Restaurant was a find via a friend from Scranton. This Greek restaurant was across South Broad Street from our hotel in the arts district. This was a two-stop spot for lunch. Definitely try the sampler platter with tzatziki, melitzano salata (eggplant), and htipiti (roasted red pepper, cayenne and feta). Hummus comes complementary with bread, but don’t dig in to the bread until the platter comes because the warm pita is to die for. My Mediterranean salad with roasted eggplant, salad greens and calamari, was to die for, so I ordered it twice. ABC’s George Stephanopoulus reportedly was dining alone at a nearby table(I forgot my glasses).
The trip was inspiring in so many ways, but one of the first things I made when I came back was a blueberry crunch pie, with this recipe from Williams-Sonoma.
Blueberry Crunch Pie
1 9-inch pie shell, docked and baked at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until light brown
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 cups blueberries
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and blueberries.
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 ounces, 1 stick, butter, cut into 8 pieces
In a medium-size bowl, mix together flour, sugars, cinnamon and salt. Scatter the butter pieces on top. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, work the ingredients together until the mixture forms large, coarse crumbs the size of large peas. Set the topping aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
To bake: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of sugar on the bottom of the baked pie crust. Add blueberry mixture. Sprinkle topping over. Place pie on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until bubbling and brown on top.
Remove from oven and cool.
Serve with ice cream.
I will be working on the buttermilk lemon ice cream for a future column, but I loved the tang, sweet and citrus combination with the pie. I’ll also be working on the lemon ice box pie because I definitely want to try that one again.
Enjoy your weekend. Make the most of the blueberry season.