Adventures: Eating in the City of Brotherly Love

So I’ll admit it. I love the US East Coast.

In contrast with Australia, there’s a palpable sense of history, cultural evolution, fascinating architecture and galleries and museums that never fail to blow my mind. The density of population can sustain specialist retail ventures in a way that Australia just can’t do. Year round Christmas shops may not be the pinnacle of human achievement but they illustrate my point.

Boston and New York are great cities, but Philadelphia is pretty special too, and I’m lucky enough that it’s the annual destination for a business conference I participate in. Perhaps by design, it coincided with Philly Beer Week, where Philly’s many craft beer venues turn their massive beer love up to 11. After flying from Brisbane to LA, then from LA to New York, then driving up the New Jersey Turnpike and onto Philly, I still got excited to see our hotel’s bar was in on the craft beer action. After a Walt Wit, a Yuengling Amber Lager and a Flying Fish Belgian Abbey Dubbel, we were relaxed and settled in for the week ahead.

Staying on the Delaware River on the edge of Old City, we’d been curious about an imposing Greek Revival building with red velvet curtains in the windows set amongst restaurants and bars. National Mechanics turns out to be one of the best places to sample craft beers and features a style of cuisine we’d probably call Dude Food. To complement the architecture, the interiors take Victorian and Steampunk elements to create at atmosphere where its 1am 24/7. You can also visit their webpage and queue up tunes to play while you choose your next beer. It’s easy to get comfortable – we started our session at around 3pm and stayed until the end of open mic night. Everyone is more talented, more attractive and more amusing after a dozen craft beers.

Keen to avoid the hotel buffet, we headed out the next morning and discovered Fork Etc., a more casual version of Fork, its fine dining sister venue right next door. Selected more for its prominent espresso machine than much else, Fork features local produce, quality ingredients and artisan bread. While breakfast menus in the US continue to confound me, the food was good enough that we immediately planned a visit to its big sister Fork. The conversation of PR people, wine distributors and restaurateurs at the next able was an unexpected bonus.

Thanks to a tip off from Brisbane art gallery manager Chris Hassall, we ditched a visit to the Italian Markets in favour of a tour of Philadelphia Art Museum. This is an incredible gallery and a testament to the wealth and generosity of some of Philly’s founding families. There’s an impressive collection of classics, modern art and sculpture – but what really amazed me was the extensive collection of armory and gallery after gallery of complete, reconstructed rooms displaying the finest examples of European interior architecture over a span of the last 250 years. I’m keen to return next year and spend more time viewing these amazing collections. A little footsore, we slipped into the overstuffed upholstery of the Art Museum’s elegant Granite Hill restaurant. Beautiful food and some very East Coast flavours, with a chef’s table appetiser comprising seafood, smoked trout, roast meats, cheeses and salads. With such excellent food on offer, we also ordered a main each. My simple rag pasta with pesto and heirloom tomatoes was generous in size and flavours, and provided sufficient ballast to tour a few more galleries.

On our last free day before our conference started, we returned to Fork for lunch. For me, the highlight of East Coast dining is the abundance of crab, lobster and oysters available on even the most humble of menus. The crab cake sandwich was an easy choice, and Fork’s version was perfection. Wholegrain bread, sweet succulent crab meat, tangy whole egg mayo and hand cut french fries. The preceding charcuterie plate also deserves a mention, representing a cross section of cured meats of different cultures, in keeping with Philly’s heritage. And in a smart move approved by the young sommelier we chose a Mas Martinet 2007 Priorat Menut to have with our lunch. My tip for Aussie diners is to stick to European wine while in the US. More satisfying and the prices are good too.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Philly without a cheesesteak, and while I’m unsure the ones on offer at the conference were authentic, they were good enough that I went back for seconds.

And it wouldn’t be a blog post about Philly without some original gansta rap from Schoolly D.

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