On the East Coast of the US, about halfway between Washington DC and New York City, this delightful city boasts a multitude of local urban flair mixed with an abundance of history. A day in Philly can bring about your adventurous side as well as the desire to immerse one’s self in the historical elements of the past.
The desire that ignited my passion to delve into this city full of history actually began with my passion for food and the desire to experience the most iconic foods of major cities around the US. I was off to Philly in search of the best Philly Cheesesteak.
My day in Philly began with doing a little researching on various foodie websites for what has been determined to be the best cheesesteak in Philly. At the top of nearly every list as well as recommended by some of my favorite foodies from the Travel Channel, Andrew Zimmern and Adam Richman, was John’s Roast Pork. I set out with cheesesteak on the mind and a hunger in my belly.
John’s is located near Penn’s Landing and the ports of Philadelphia in a bit of an industrial area. The shack may not look like much from the outside but as I read and can now attest to myself, have no fear, the food is out of this world good…
Upon entering it took me a moment to take it all in, whenever I enter an establishment that any of the foodie greats have been to I get hit with a bit of euphoria and overwhelming excitement. When I was finally ready to order I just sort of stared at the menu, wasn’t quite sure how to order my sandwich as there were so many choices so I just said one word, “cheesesteak!?” I think the chef could sense I was new to this and told me the most popular style was with onions and hot peppers, I said, “Sounds fantastic.” And that was it, I was finally about to taste my first Philly cheesesteak!!
Everything at John’s is cooked to order, as I was awaiting my sandwich I took a moment to walk around the shack admiring all of the prestigious awards this establishment has been given. Among the many newspaper and magazine articles, ‘best of’ awards, and stellar ratings by foodies galore, was also a James Beard Award for culinary excellence. This award, which in the foodie community is referred to as “The Oscars of Food” is considered to be one of the most honorable awards a chef or restaurant can receive. My inner foodie was shouting with joy, I could not wait to taste this food!!
As the chef handed me my sandwich I proclaimed to him excitedly that this was going to be my first cheesesteak sandwich in Philly, he smiled and with a nod of satisfaction replied, “Enjoy”. I then took my sandwich out to the picnic benches outside and prepared myself for the long awaited first bite of this iconic sandwich. It was a cold and rainy day and as soon as I opened the paper the steam from the cheesesteak began billowing out, I dived right in.
From the first bite I knew I had made the right choice. Every bite was packed full of flavor. The tender meat and melted provolone cheese was perfectly seasoned and mixed with chopped onions and pickled hot peppers, adding a bit of a tangy heat to the sandwich, all on a soft and crunchy sesame seed hoagie roll. I ate my sandwich in nothing flat, no sauce necessary. I had opted for this location vs. what is said to be the original founding fathers of the cheesesteak at Pat’s and Geno’s because I didn’t want just a cheesesteak, I wanted the best! And I do believe that is what I found at John’s, maybe on my next trip I will do a cheesesteak hunt around Philly (when I have more than just a day) to see how they all differ and what my personal recommendations for cheesesteak are, but for now I must say that a visit to John’s will not leave you unsatisfied!
When I had finished my cheesesteak it was time for a little walk back through time and some lessons in history! I drove back to downtown Philly and spent some time wandering around Independence Park. As this was my first time here and a somewhat unexpected trip at that I wasn’t even quite sure what I would find! I started with the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall…
Then it was off to the Reading Terminal Market, opened in 1892 it is one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the US! With over 100 food vendors it is a bit of a foodie’s paradise. Tommy Dinic’s is located in the market which is also known as one of the best sandwich shops in Philly but is more popular for their roast pork sandwiches. I wasn’t in search of more food quite yet though, I was after some wine and cheese! There is an abundance of food vendors with local cheeses, but for the wine there is only really one winery located within the market, Blue Mountain Wines.
They don’t really have wine tasting here but you can sit down with a glass and that’s just what I did! As I sipped my wine I decided to study yelp a bit for what to do next. And this is where I ended up next…
McGillin’s Old Ale House est. 1860 it is the oldest continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia, as well as one of the best Irish pubs!
And for a healthy late night snack or evening meal…
Charlie Was A Sinner. This bar has an interesting story, opened in May 2014 their slogan is, “Small plates, Strong drinks.” Following a bad break up and inspired by John Steinbeck’s East of Eden the owner came up with the concept for this bar. For 25 years prior to the opening of Charlie Was a Sinner, the building was used as a strip club and brothel. The building itself and the restaurant have their own unique histories but the style of food and drinks served is also a little out of the ordinary. Everything on the menu here is 100% plant based. When you come to Charlie Was A Sinner, you’ll find prohibition style drinks with fresh pressed juices and hand crafted ice along with a large selection of entirely vegan entrees. It’s not only an upscale hole-in-the-wall bar, they also have some fascinating entertainment, using a projector black and white classics and shorts by Van Black in Berlin are played on the wall behind the dining tables. This spot is definitely a hip city vegan bar/restaurant and I highly suggest it if you are vegan or just looking for something a little different. They also have a great happy hour menu with rotating bartender specials! I got the beet salad and crab cakes, the crab cakes are made with zucchini and at first bite you wouldn’t even notice! They melt in your mouth with no sauce required!
Before leaving town I stopped once again for breakfast at Reading Market. There are so many options but my recommendation is to indulge yourself in some of the best donuts around at the Dutch bakery, Beiler’s. They make their donuts fresh daily and they are the best donuts I’ve ever had. Light, fluffy, flaky, and just the right amount of sweet! And don’t be afraid to eat more than one, you will definitely want to!