Feeding Hungry, Hungry Tourists in Philadelphia

GUEST POST:  A little dirty. A bit brash. Philly’s all that and more. I started spending time there when my son enrolled at Drexel University and it was love at first bite. Seriously. The city has so many good restaurants, it can be daunting to choose one. I thought it would be helpful to engage the assistance of an expert. Sarah Ricks is a travel junkie and confirmed Phila-phile. We share a mutual friend who’s a travel editor. He encouraged us to hook up, so I guess this is technically our “first date”. I asked Sarah to share some of her favorite eateries located near Philly’s top tourist spots. I know I can’t wait to hop on the Turnpike and give these a try.

The Barnes

After visiting the Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings at The Barnes Foundation (where art is displayed alongside Pennsylvania Dutch crafts, per orders of the eccentric Dr. Albert Barnes), you can pick up a convenient picnic lunch a block away at Whole Foods Market. Eat outside the Barnes or nearby at the Swann Fountain. If your visit is timed to avoid weekend brunch lines, the upscale diner Sabrina’s Cafe is a good choice for salads, sandwiches, frittatas, challah French toast, and ever-changing eclectic mash-ups like “cranberry-basil cornbread topped with crispy applewood bacon, arugula, caramelized red onions, broccoli, and over easy eggs.”

A few blocks north, at the Blue Cat, you’ll pay more but will enjoy outstanding Latin-inspired dishes like spinach mushroom empanadas, arroz con pollo with sweet fried plantains, crispy roast duck in a peanut mole sauce, or the most popular entrée, fish tacos.

Fragrant marinated Cornish game hen with sweet plantains at Blue Cat

Fragrant marinated Cornish game hen with sweet plantains at Blue Cat. Photo: Sarah Ricks.

The crust for the strawberry/pear/rhubarb pie was so flaky and delicious, I personally thanked the pastry chef, Luli Canuso, co-owner with her husband, Chef Guy Shapiro. (Cash only, BYO from the wine store next door.)

Perfect crust, wildly delicious fruit pie at Blue Cat

Perfect crust, wildly delicious fruit pie at Blue Cat. Photo: Sarah Ricks.

Independence Hall

If visiting Independence Hall has you hankering for chocolate, a block away is Lore’s Chocolates, where the bestseller is chocolate-covered pretzels, a Philly tradition. Or walk a few blocks to Shane Candy, which has been producing and selling candy since 1911. Its gorgeous, newly refurbished interior will transport you back in time.

Philadelphia candy Independence Hall

The enticing interior of Shane Candy. Photo: Sarah Ricks

A memorable meal close to Independence Hall is at Zahav, a James Beard award-winning Israeli and Mediterranean restaurant that is vegetarian-friendly and worth the splurge.

For an inexpensive but just as memorable experience, walk a half-mile from Independence Hall to the Reading Terminal Market. The Market opened in 1892 and currently is home to a jumbled maze of 100 independent local merchants offering all things edible, often locally sourced: roast pork sandwiches, burritos, sushi, artisanal cheese, Amish bakeries, along with butchers, fishmongers, and local farm stands. The Reading Terminal Market is a must-see destination in itself.

If you prefer a comfy booth to eating at a crowded table at the Market’s center, walk to the southwest corner to the excellent Down Home Diner, featuring cornmeal pancakes, sausage, home fries, and other organic diner staples.

University of Pennsylvania Museums

While visiting either the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology or the Institute for Contemporary Art, try The White Dog for organic American dishes. The White Dog is one of the original farm-to-table restaurants and, like most places, is more affordable for lunch. My favorite: flavorful mushroom soup made from local Kennett Square produce.

donuts Philadelphia

Federal Donuts. Photo: Sarah Ricks

For a quirky meal of fried chicken and donuts – really, that’s all they have – try the third location of Federal Donuts, on the same block as White Dog, and mysteriously labeled with only a red chicken. These donuts actually earned a review in The New York Times. Get a donut cooked to order and eat it hot – or a fancy donut, like one frosted with chocolate and sea salt.

Goodbye, Hilton. Hello, Couch?

During my semester abroad I was shocked when the doorbell rang. It was early afternoon and the flat was quiet. The only visitors we had received were the neighbors complaining when there was a noisy, late-night party. I opened the door tentatively and was surprised to find one of my roommate’s fraternity brothers standing in the hallway.  He explained that he was awarded a Watson fellowship to study the dinosaur exhibits in European natural history museums. To extend his meager budget, he asked if he could crash with us and save his hostel money. Nuestra casa es su casa; I ushered him in. We enjoyed his company and he enjoyed our sofa and shower for a couple of weeks.

Would you consider staying on a friend’s couch while vacationing?

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The Sublime and the Ridiculous

Where can you tour a superb boutique museum in the morning and ascend a strawberry throne in the afternoon? Only in the Sunshine State, my friends.

In St. Pete last weekend I finally visited the Dali Museum. I’ve had it on my to-do list for years. The current museum opened in 2011 and is spectacular and weather-secure. According to our docent, in the old building when storms threatened, the staff would scurry about, relocating the art to dry ground. The museum is wildly popular and unfortunately we got a late start on the day. We hopped on a tour and heard interesting analyses of 4 pieces in the collection, including Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko). We considered picking up free headphones to continue touring the gallery, but the crowds closed in and I began to figuratively melt like one of the surrealist’s famous pocket watches, so we hightailed it out of there with a vow to return. Don’t miss it, if you’re in the area.

I always feel so virtuous after indulging in some “culcha”. The feeling didn’t last long.

Dali Museum

© 2014 – Salvador Dalí Museum, Inc., St. Petersburg, FL

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Surf’s Up

I routinely sidestep taxis, crosstown buses and delivery bicyclists in New York. But on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, you must learn to dodge wetsuit-clad men racing down the street with longboards. When word of five-foot swells starts to circulate in town, surfers materialize, shed their street clothes and hurtle the fences surrounding the cliffs at Steamer Lane.

two men surfboards santacruz beach

If you were directing a buddy movie about two over the hill surfers starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, you would film in Santa Cruz, California. It’s a quintessential West Coast beach town with breath-stopping Pacific vistas, an historic boardwalk, and enough Norcal funk to make you want to quit your day job and join the skateboarders.

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Guest Post: Budgeting Your Days…and Dollars

One of the biggest aspects of a vacation is planning an appropriate budget – both for time and money. A driving excursion is no exception. Fortunately, there are many new tools available which help you figure out your finances and strategically plan your stops. You also need to take actions which ensure a smooth trip. When you want to make the most of your day and dollars out on the road follow some or all of these tips.

A vacation is the perfect time to make memories with your family. Any time of year is the ideal time to go as long as each person in the family has time off from pressing chores or jobs. Then you want to make the most of every day on the road. In order to do that, you can implement some of these ideas to make it simple. Technology has advanced to such a degree that it makes every day travel easy and convenient. A general economical vacation is a good way to approach your time off. For instance, renting an RV motorhome can avoid the expense of motels and hotels, as well as give you the chance to cook simple-to-fix meals for yourself and your family rather than eating out all the time.

If you get an RV from a rental company, you will have 24/7 support and you won’t have to worry about breakdowns as the company will have your back. If taking your own car, you will want to ensure the vehicle is mechanically safe and all the fluids are at the correct levels. Take your car in and have them look it over at the shop just to be sure. It’s a small price to pay for safety.

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