The City of Brotherly Love,
Cheesewhiz and many stop shopping.
My best friend from college, Ben, along with his wife Jenn live in Philadelphia, where Ben (originally from Cheney and a WWU grad) practices some sort of law. Jenn is a nurse. They live in downtown Philly which is not at all what I expected.
Going into this trip, most of what I knew about Philadelphia had been gleaned from hip hop music (Philly is tough, kid!), Sports (the only fans to boo Santa Claus), TV (name this tune - “West Philadelphia, born and raised, on the playground, is where I spent most of my days…”) and the Rocky movies (if you train hard enough, you can become world champion, but your best friend will be played by Carl Weathers).
In fact, for those of you who have seen the original “Rocky” lately, remember the part where Stallone jogs through the outdoor Italian street market while training? That’s where Ben and Jenn live in a little neighborhood called “Bella Vista” which is Italian for “little Italian neighborhood in Philadelphia.”
Seriously, though, I was very impressed by the city.
First despite being the fifth most populated city in America, Philly is very walkable. In fact, I haven’t been in a car since I got picked up at the airport. After Ben showed me his place (200 year old four-story, two bedroom/one bath row house with a Dr. Seuss-ish winding staircase connecting the whole deal), he took me for a walk. A couple blocks later, and there’s the Liberty Bell (smaller in person, but definitely cracked) right across the street is Independence Hall, and few blocks further is Philly’s famed City Hall.
Second, Philly is brimming with culture and lifestyle. One thing that blew me away was the way that shopping gets done.
Everything is bought separately there’s no Haggen or Safeway in sight (there was a Whole Foods healthy eaters and Starbucks drinkers are two constants in any metropolis I’ve been to). Need steaks for grilling? Choose from one of the butcher shops with sides of beef drying in the window. Wanting for produce? Hit the aforementioned Italian market for skinny green asparagus or purple tinged artichokes. Need a half-rack of beer for tailgating a Phillies game? Head to the corner beer distributor because you won’t find beer, liquor or wine in stores. Need an eight-ball of blow? I don’t know where to get that. That’s a rude question but Philly’s version of Seattle Weekly had a feature story on the area’s top drug corners. This city boasts the best many-stop shopping ever.
The restaurant and nightlife culture is fantastic as well. Due to the city’s antiquated liquor license cap, many restaurants and cafes offer a BYOB policy. Due to the fact that most restaurants depend on liquor sales margin to make a profit, these “BYOB” eateries must make a mark with their cuisine and service or risk going under.
In celebration of Ben and Jenn’s upcoming first anniversary, we ate at a small corner BYOB called Salt and Pepper. We got there early around 5 and were the only customers in the joint. The server and the chef who comprised the entire staff were unloading the day’s produce and protein order when we came in. We were offered our pick of any of the six or so tables, and the server threw a blazer on over his jeans and tee-shirt and went into Michelin three-star service mode, detailing a stunning list of daily specials and flawlessly dividing a salad three ways while holding the plate in one hand and operating a salad fork and a knife like serving tongs in the other hand. Try it. It’s really hard to do.
Anyway, we had sashimi scallops for an appetizer, followed by entrees of roasted free-range chicken with anise, rosemary and fusilli (Jenn); seared fresh halibut with balsamic tomatoes and mustard greens (Ben) and Blue-nose Bass with crab and herb butter. Fantastic. But no matter how great the cuisine, I’d be wrong if I said it was any better than the cheesesteak I got at Sonny’s. It was the real deal sliced rib eye, grilled onion and Cheezewhiz on a hard, white hoagie roll. I know the whiz part sounds wrong, and I didn’t believe until I ate it either, but trust me it does the trick.
I’d love to tell you more about my trip, but I don’t want this to turn into one of those deals like when your friend from work comes back from vacation and shows you a 45 minute slide show of people you don’t know doing vacation stuff on a trip you were not part of. If you wanna see more from the City of Brotherly Love, Cheezewhiz sandwiches and many stop shopping, feel free to check out the Off the Record Blog.
Kevin Hulten is the former Managing Editor of the Lake Stevens Journal. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.