Philadelphia is one of the places that used to be up the street for me. I lived in Baltimore for 15 years and Philadelphia was less than two hours away. So, I would go to Philly any day at any time. I also have family and friends that live there. So, it was a third home for me. For the record, the DMV is my first home (17 years) and Baltimore is my second home (15 years). I thought I had been to every nook and cranny of Philadelphia. Au contraire mon frère. I hadn't experienced it all, so I found out.
Of course, I had been to South Street and probably dined at every place on that street. I do like Copabanana on South Street. They have decent drinks. But, it was time for something new. I stayed in Old City right at the beginning/end of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Prime location. From there, I could walk to some landmarks and popular sites. But first, I have to tell you about Sampan. Sampan is a relatively flat-bottomed Chinese and Malay wooden boat and the name of one of the best restaurants I have been to in Philly. We went for happy hour so the menu is slightly different from the regular food menu. But, who cares. All the dishes were $5 and the cocktails were discounted too. I ordered the Edamame Dumplings, Crab Rangoon, Chicken Katsu Bao and the Kim Chee Fried Rice. The edamame seemed to be grounded into a paste and wrapped in dough. I would have never put edamame in a dumpling. But, it worked. I enjoyed it. My first time eating kimchi was in LA this year. So, I was ready to dive in again. It came with a soft fried egg on the top. I usually don't eat eggs. But, I wanted the whole experience. It was delicious. The rice was seasoned well and cooked to the perfect tenderness. The kimchi didn't overpower the dish. It was just the right blend of whatever you need to make a really good kimchi fried rice, spoken from a person who was afraid to eat fermented cabbage until last month. You know I have to tell you about the cocktails at Sampan. Wouldn't be right if I didn't. The Thai Punch was exceptional. It was made with Applejack, Pineapple, Papaya and Falernum. What's Falernum? I still don't know and I didn't even think to ask. I drank a Ming Mule too. But, I can get mule any day. I went back to my beloved Thai Punch. I just sipped my cocktail while people watching and having meaningful conversation with one of my close college friends. Because of the pandemic, dining was on the sidewalk. But, luckily, the street is blocked off so it had more of a Diner En Blanc feel, minus carrying every single item with you. The block had couples eating at different restaurants, people walking casually down the middle of the street and the minimal sound of traffic. The weather was perfect and the energy of the area was conducive to having a really great laid back time.
Once I really researched places that I had never visited in Philly, I figured out that I had never been to the Reading Terminal Market. Not that I can remember. It had a few places I wanted to divulge in. So we walked about 20 minutes to get there. It was quite a pleasant walk. First up was the Roast Pork Sandwich at Tommy DiNic's. Again, I'm a sucker for the Travel Channel. Adam Richman ate the sandwich on the show and HE SAID that this sandwich was one of the best sandwiches in America. I am not a pork eater. But, for this particular sandwich, I had to go for it. The sandwich had thin sliced roast pork, extra sharp provolone cheese with a splash of gravy on a roll from Carangi's and is topped with broccoli rabe. Who puts broccoli rabe on a sandwich? Sounds crazy to me. However, it was genius! I would have never imagined that the combination of pork and broccoli on a sandwich would remotely taste anywhere close to good. Someone did their homework and came up with a sandwich that will rival any sandwich out there. Granted my stomach didn't like me for about 12 hours after consuming the sandwich. But, my taste buds danced for a bit during the process. I also ate a Gyro from Olympia Gyro. That was good. Not the world's best gyro but I wasn't disappointed. I also had to try the hand rolled doughnuts and desserts from Beiler's Bakery, which has been run by the same Pennsylvania Dutch Family since 1984. I ordered every kind I wanted to try including an M&M doughnut and a homemade lemon turnover. Before the roast pork sandwich decided to do flips in my stomach, I tackled the lemon turnover. I love a good hostess lemon fruit pie from the corner store and this one was very similar. But, it gave that homemade, less processed taste. I appreciated this good homemade favorite of mine. I eventually got to the doughnuts. The doughnuts were great. Fresh baked and airy. I bought six and may have eaten three out of the six. All of them were really good. I don't think you can go wrong with any flavor. At the last minute, we decided to try Kevin Parker's Soul Food Cafe for their award-winning fried chicken. Stood in line for about 15 mins only to find out they were out of chicken. How does a chicken place run out of chicken? I have no idea.
Black Owned Restaurants are a focus in any city I visit. So, Relish was high on the priority list. And it just happened to be right across the street from my close college friend's spa, Third Element Spa (go check them out). The seating at Relish was outside in the parking lot because of Covid-19. But, we were adorned with a tent and a really nice host when we arrived. I almost forgot I was eating in a former parking space. I ordered their world famous turkey wings, greens with smoked turkey and mashed potatoes. I ate a pinch of each item on my plate because the roast pork sandwich from earlier that day wouldn't let me be great. But, I will say what I tasted will make you backhand smack someone's mama. Not your own mama though. It was falling off the bone and seasoned really well. The greens and mashed potatoes held their own too. I wanted to eat it all but things happen. I ended up throwing it away but it wasn't because it didn't taste good. I had to make a choice. It was between flying back home with a turkey wing or a Philly cheesesteak from Dalessandro's Steaks. This Philly Cheesesteak won hands down. I hadn't even tasted it yet. But, from the line outside the carryout only place, I knew I had food gold wrapped up in aluminum foil. Now before you think about where I could have had a better cheesesteak, believe me, I've been to most of the cheesesteak places in Philly. You name it and most likely I have been there. I really thought all cheesesteaks in Philly were trash. And I was bewildered for years as to why it was even known for cheesesteaks. Dalessandro's and John's Roast Pork (tried John's on a different visit) have changed my mind. After calling in my order, I traveled out of my way to Dalessandro's to stand in line and wait patiently for my name to be called. I figured it had been called already. But, I wasn't sure and I didn't want to piss off the cash register lady after they had placed a million obnoxious signs about their process of ordering and picking up. It was cash only, which was fine. My name was called for the second time (see I knew I missed it the first time) and I retrieved what would be one of the best cheesesteaks I've ever had. Mind you, I didn't get a chance to eat it until two days later. And it was still one of the best. Score!
Other than eating, I did get to see some historic sites. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is where Rocky ran up the 72 steps and celebrated at the top. But, it was too hot and I wasn't for being sweaty and out of breath trying to recreate that movie scene. The President's House is the site of the nation’s first executive mansion, in which Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived during their terms and where nine enslaved people served the first president. The Belmont Mansion, located at Fairmount Park, serves as an Underground Railroad museum, highlighting Philadelphia's role in the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape to freedom. Paul Robeson's house, on Walnut Hill, where he spent the last decade of his life. And the statue of Octavious Catto, who became a martyr to racism, as he was shot and killed on election day, in Philadelphia in 1871, by ethnic Irish of the Democratic Party who opposed black suffrage and attacked black men to prevent their voting for Republican candidates. Remember, in 1871, blacks were largely Republican and whites were Democrats. Over time, races have switched party allegiance. But, that's a history lesson for another time.
I attempted to visit Philadelphia's Magic Gardens on South Street. It spans three lots and includes an indoor gallery and an outdoor labyrinth of mosaic art. It's so eclectic and cool. But, I didn't get a ticket in time. I thought I could finagle something at the door to get in since it was just me. Nope. So, I suggest to get an advance ticket. I did get to take a couple of selfies in front of the place though. No need to waste a good instagrammable location.
When I wasn't eating or taking in Philadelphia's history, I got to see all my family and friends. I gave my 21 year old niece a good in-person talking-to about the importance of family. I caught up with all my friends that I hadn't seen since the last time we were together at one of their weddings. We talked politics, relationships, business ventures, etc. We watched LoveCraft Country, laughed and socialized. We connected.
Philly is just a down home good time.