The City That Loves You Back

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Recently, I paid a visit to the City of Brotherly Love, this time staying in a charming, tri-level rowhouse in the Fishtown nabe, not far from the gnarly, ramshackle-looking Berks El stop. The area, up & coming, was nice enough, with drinking-themed amenities such as a German beer garden, Barcade, and a gastropub featuring a continuously rotating beer draft menu and an impressive 24 taps. Also, in close proximity was the East Kensington nabe, a post-industrial area that is now the center of Philly’s surprisingly robust green construction industry. Most notably, the area is home to Onion Flats, as well as being the main recipient of PostGreen’s sustainable start-up homes, namely the 100k house, located on the corner of Amber and Susquehanna.

On this trip in particular, though, I was most impressed with the food. Previously, I had never thought of Philly as really being a food city, but this trip changed that. At Honey’s, a hybrid Jewish-Southern brunch spot in the popular Northern Liberties nabe, I ordered the giant pancakes, stuffed with bananas and walnuts, and the house-made Honey Dean sausage, a breakfast sausage made with turkey and honey. The real highlight, however, was Café Lift’s whimsical “Cannoli French Toast,” consisting of Challah bread French toast, bananas, pistachios, chocolate chunks, and a cream made from ricotta cheese. Similarly, Paesano’s gut-busting “Diavlo,” a hulking spicy chicken sandwich, made with salami, roasted tomatoes, broccoli rabe, an herb cheddar spread, as well as sharp provolone, also helped in solidifying my new impressions of food in the city. Words cannot convey how relieved I was to be in a legitimate, well-appointed and –regarded restaurant, and have nary a meal that costs over $10.

In various East Coast circles, Philly is often derided as, what a friend called, the “sick old man” of the big BosWash cities. Yes, crime is certainly more prevalent and scarier there than it is in other East Coast cities, with residents being in closer and more regular proximity to violent crime. And while the city is certainly not without (more than, actually) its fair share of crime, poverty, and general blight, I have always admired the creative, youthful energy present in the city. Though Washington is not without its young people – in fact, legions of them have been moving into the city – their presence, and influence, as a whole, skews much more corporate, mainstream, and professional, unsurprising given the overbearing role the Federal Government plays in DC. By contrast, lacking a single dominant professional industry, Philly’s youth population is characterized by an artsy, almost free spirit. Undoubtedly, the city’s cheap(er) rent plays a large role in cultivating this talent and energy, as I would assume that, with rent less of an issue, residents have more time to partake in the fun, leisurely activities that create the aforementioned vibe.

What I like most about the city, however, is the great, authentic-feeling patina the city is covered in. The result of several centuries of consecutive inhabitation, there is a particular feeling present throughout the city. The closest way to describe it is a feeling that the city has been “lived in.” Almost like a pair of old shoes. Wherever you go, historic architecture and history is in abundance, with very little of it feeling new, or worse, manufactured. It provides for a cozy, generally welcoming atmosphere that is hospitable and unpretentious in nature. Walking around the city, amid soaring, hulking skyscrapers and industrial edifices – many of them, unfortunately, disused and/or abandoned – I felt as if I was in a city that, quite literally, dominated the world, and was envious of nobody. I felt like I was in the former Workshop of the World.

Turn-of-the-century mid-rises along Chestnut Street. Center City
Latté, Ultimo/Brew. Newbold
Contemporary residence. NoLibs
The 100k house. East Kensington
Unintentionally rustic-looking architecture. East Kensington
A Frankford Ave warehouse adorned in street art. Fishtown
Hulking industrial relics, including some interesting art-deco ornamentation at the upper right half of the building.. Loft District
The recently-opened Race Street Pier.
Whimsical challah bread french toast, decked in bananas, pistachios, and chocolate chunks. Café Lift, Loft District.
Lofts. Loft District
The questionable-looking and curiously-named "BJ Lounge." Lancaster Ave, Mantua
The stunningly spectacular - and somehow abandoned - Divine Lorraine Hotel. North Philly
Another idle gem. Lancaster Ave., Powelton Village
Ornately-detailed Victorian rowhouses in South Philly. Queen Village
The epic Diavlo sandwich from Paesano's. Loaded to the brim with spicy chicken breast, salami, roasted tomatoes, broccoli rabe, herb cheddar spread & sharp provolone.
The Saturday afternoon crowd at Honey's, a popular eatery in NoLibs.
A mural symbolizing Mexican culture and traditions - curious, given how the Italian Market area is the central lotus of the city's (rapidly growing) Mexican population. Girard Avenue.

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