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Trip report - History, food and the perfect margarita in Philly

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Sep 23rd, 2007, 04:14 PM
  #1
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Trip report - History, food and the perfect margarita in Philly

We have just returned from a couples' weekend in Philadelphia. We had great weather, good food and so-so lodging amongst plenty of history and shopping.

DH and I joined my mother, K, and her husband, George, for the weekend. DH and I had visited once before but K and George, despite being fairly well traveled, had not.

We decided to go for cheaper B&B lodging rather than one of the many center city hotels. We liked the Antique Row area location and the price of the Trade Winds B&B but ultimately were sorry that we didn't spend a little more. The weather was warm and the third floor rooms were uncomfortably hot and noisy with the windows open to try to grab any little breeze. On the last night we found a window air conditioning unit in a closet and helped ourselves to hoist it in place. This improved the conditions for that last night.

The third floor had a double room and a twin room connected by a jack and jill bathroom. This arrangement was ok for us, even though DH and I lost the Rock, Paper, Scissors joust for the double room. It was so hot, though, this was a blessing.

The breakfast was cereal, juice and yogurt in the mini fridge. We ended up eating breakfast out 2 of our three mornings for additional sustenance.

Temperature, noise and breakfast aside - the rooms and linens appeared clean but the private areas of the building that are in view as you enter are not. The clutter is spilling out into the passageway and has a frightening, unhealthy aspect to it. I would not stay here again.

On our first night, we arrived from the airport first as we came from different cities. Our landlady recommended a restaurant on Pine Street, Mixto, while we waited for K and Geo. The weather was unseasonably warm and perfect for outdoor dining. We were seated at the last remaining outdoor table and ordered the mixed appetizer platter and mojitos. My mango mojito was very good. DH liked the crab cake off the platter but I liked best the beef empenada.

Once K and Geo arrived, K proclaimed the hot sauce deliciously spicy and was the only one of us able to take more than a little at a time.

Geo's stated his top goals were visiting Independence Hall, the Rocky Statue and Pat's Cheesesteaks - not necessarily in that order. K's were to visit Dolly Madison's home, some unique shops and keep Geo out of trouble. I was in it for the seafood, cocktails and clothes shopping (no sales tax!) and DH was kind enough to accompany us and carry bags, watch purses or heft AC units when needed.

On Friday morning we walked through Washington Square and to the Independence Hall visitor's center to try to get free tickets for a tour of the Hall. We were lucky and were able to get on the next tour. I think the tours get busier as the day goes on, so I would recommend going early. THe security lines were much smaller than they appeared later in the day.

We were only able to see part of the hall due to a medical emergency but it was cool to be able to see and photograph the parts we did see. I wasn't able to stay focused on the presentation that the park service guide gave and I'm pretty sure that Geo took a quick nap during the lecture also. A Chinese tourist group formed the majority of our tour participants, and I doubt they were getting much out of the talk either. It is very inspiring to see so many from around the world come visit sacred American sites. I found the melting pot of folks around the Liberty Bell to be especially poignant and meaningful.

You can spend a little or a lot of time at the visitor's center and Liberty Bell depending on how much you want to read on the displays. Definitely use the restroom though, as it is hard to find public restrooms in Philly without paying admission or buying a drink.

We decided to use our buy one-get one free coupons for the City Tavern for lunch. In spite of the hokey colonial uniforms, the food was delicious and the house beers were fine. You can find the coupon in the park service newsletter. I downloaded mine from a link on gophila.com.

Next - the quest for Pat's, Dolly's and the perfect margarita.
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Sep 23rd, 2007, 06:48 PM
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I'm enjoying your report so far. Can;t wait to read the rest.
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Sep 23rd, 2007, 07:15 PM
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Looking forward to the rest of the report. Especially the part about Dolly Madison's house - is that actually in Philadelphia?
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Sep 23rd, 2007, 07:55 PM
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Amy
 
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(Well, at the time, of course, she was Dorothea Payne Todd...and living at 4th and Walnut.)

Great report! I'm looking forward to the rest.
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Sep 24th, 2007, 11:09 AM
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After lunch we decided to walk over to Penn's Landing so that Geo could look at the submarine there, the Becuna, since he was once a squid.

We walked by the Irish famine monument and read the display material. The sculpture didn't have the same power as the Coffin Ship piece in Ireland, but it had plenty of information and incorporated many themes. We walked south along the steps and the plaza towards the Seaport Museum. I must say this was my least favorite part of our explorations. It was too much hardscape with no greenspace or vegetation to soften the area. I'm sure it was built to accommodate crowds but it is stark without them. Many of the fountains were not operational which lent a bit of a disused air to the place.

I would have liked to take the time to go though the seaport museum and the ships ($9 plus bathroom privileges) but Geo decided that he had seen enough of the inside of a sub and wished to get on the double decker tour bus.

We walked by the Korean Veteran's memorial on our way to the tour bus stop at Society Hill. The bus was crowded but we were able to get on the top level once the tour completed the route. If you haven't visited before, I think the tour buses are a good way to get an overview of the city. A ticket is $27 (25 for seniors) and allows one to hop on and off for 24 hours during their operating times. Definitely sit up top for the best views.

It was too late for us to hop off anywhere (last bus starts out at 5) but we enjoyed the tour through the western parts of the city and Geo and K were able to see the Rocky Statue where they expressed great disappointment that it was no longer on the top of the steps, loudly. Then they sang a few bars of the theme to the delight, I'm sure, of nearby passengers.

The bus stop on Antique Row (Pine St) was only a couple of blocks from our B & B. Once we got off, Geo headed back to the B & B to rest and we stopped into a couple shops along that section of Antique Row.

My favorite shop was called SOTA - Spirit of the Artist. All items are made in the USA and there was a large variety of pieces to choose from. I love that shop - I could find a gift for anybody there.

Upon returning to the B & B we found that on his way back, Geo had stopped at the corner beer store and obtained a "mixed six" and now no longer felt like going out for dinner. In his defense I will say that that beer store had the most incredible and irresistible selection of beer- except the variety of monastic ale that DH prefers above all others. You could pick any bottle to make a mixed 6 pack. I don't remember the name of the store but it was on the NW corner of Pine and 10th.

So K, Hubby and I set out for dinner. We decided to walk to the Historic Area and try for a seafood place. We stopped in a couple more shops along Market St including a boutique called SMAK that had cute clothes designed by the owners, one of whom helped us in the store. It was fun trying the clothes on and K and I both bought a few pieces.

We wandered along the restaurants on Chestnut and settled on the Philadelphia Fish Company (I think I am remembering the name right) because of the posted bar menu. I think it was too early for there to be a line anywhere but this place didn't seem too busy. We ordered drinks and my pomegranate margarita was among the top 5 margaritas I have ever had - and the top 2 expensive at $9. Really a great drink so worth the extra buck or two.

We ordered the hummus plate off of the bar menu and DH and I split a 1/2 dozen oysters. Both of these were good so I was disappointed when my first choice entree was no longer available off the specials menu and my second was overcooked and tough. I tried DH's crab ball and didn't care for it. K and DH liked their meals though and the staff had been very accommodating to provide K with only the cheddar grits and chorizo parts of a shrimp dish. So, my review for this restaurant is mixed. The service was great at the bar, but some of the food was only so-so. The bar menu is very reasonably priced - as long as you don't drink too many margaritas!

After eating we took a cab back to the area of the B & B to pick up a piece of pizza for Geo. The cabs are very reasonably priced (fixed from the airport) and pretty easy to come by.

Sorry, I have to split this up since lunch hour is over but next up - Dolly's , Pat's and the Italian Market.
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Sep 24th, 2007, 01:19 PM
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I have always enjoyed my meals at Philadelphia Fish Co., but have never eaten from the bar menu.
Keep up the great reporting!
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Sep 30th, 2007, 11:15 AM
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Saturday morning dawned with showers. We were hoping this would help to cool off the room but it only really seemed to add to the heat with a dose of humidity.

We left and walked a couple of blocks to the Antique Row pick up of the sightseeing bus. It was the first bus so we were able to get a nice seat on top with a cooling breeze. The rain had stopped but every tree we went under threw water at us. It was great, if you weren't wearing mascara.

We got off at the Market Street stop so K and Geo could look at a store. While they were there, DH and I ducked into the Snow White diner for a quick breakfast to supplement the cereal self-served at the Trade Winds. All this walking takes REAL FOOD!

After eating we met up at the Christ Church sanctuary. Docents are there to offer interesting tidbits including who sat where. It was a worthwhile stop but the exterior is covered with plastic and scaffolding. We then walked along Arch Street to Dolly Madison's home.

We enjoyed the courtyard of Dolly's home but did not get farther than the gift shop as there was a small line to see the inside. We opted to keep going, as Geo was starting to focus on the thought of the Pat's cheesesteak.

Before heading south for lunch, we walked to the Christ Church cemetery and paid to get in. Sadly, many of the tombstones have been eroded away so that their words cannot be read. You can see Ben Franklin's grave from the outside and don't necessarily need to go in.

We hopped in a cab and headed down to Pat's. I noted several cheesesteak places in the historic area and privately wondered why we were taking the time to make a special trip south. When we got in the area, the car, bike and pedestrian traffic around Pat's and Jim's across the street was impressive. If the standard of a dining establishment is determined by the line waiting to be served, then these places oughta be good! Geo and K got in line and we were dispatched to find a table.

The system is very efficient and shortly Geo brought the goods over. The image of him ripping through that bun with cheesewhiz dripping down his face will stay with me for some time. (and I think I have a photo in case I should forget!) My only complaint is that there was no A1 sauce available, which I prefer on my steak sandwiches. Geo loved his and would undoubtedly give the highest recommendation. I would like to try to the other two, Jim's and Campo's before I can say. People were coming from all over to get some, that's for sure!

After wiping off the cheesewhiz remnants, we headed up 9th for a walk through the Italian Market. It was interesting to see the outdoor food displays and other goods. DH, who spent much of last year in Hong Kong on business, said that the street smelled a bit too much like the markets there for him to want to linger.

After reaching the B & B, Geo pronounced that it was time for a nap so the rest of us caught up on the college scoreboard and then then struck out for Rittenhouse Row for some shopping. We did a lot of browsing and trying on. The AT Loft near the square on Walnut is huge with 2 stories of offerings.

After shopping we walked down Sansom St and stopped at Fergie's Pub, where Geo caught up with us. Evidently we just missed the traditional Irish set, which plays every Saturday afternoon til 7. we decided to eat there and were glad we did. Geo's fish and chips was most excellent and I heartily recommend the wings. Brian's Wings I think they are called. They have a distinct sweet and spicy coffee flavor that is delicious! A couple of Guinness later and we were ready to head back to get ready for our morning flights home.

Philly offers activities, sights and food for all tastes and ages. It's a great place to visit for a quick getaway!

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Oct 2nd, 2007, 03:37 AM
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Love the report!!

We were in Philadelphia a week or so back and walked (from 3rd & Chestnut) down to South St for a cheeasesteak at Jim's. We selected Jim's because it was the closest of the big three.

I had read the "ordering rules" on the internet and was ready to order when my wife decided she would order and in "English". Amazingly they didn't refuse to serve her and actually understood.

Also, they have a room upstairs that's brightly lit with tables and chairs. No slopping around and dripping all over yourself.

I was quite surprised at how civil the whole process turned out to be.

And the cheesesteak was excellent as well.
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Oct 2nd, 2007, 06:48 AM
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Great trip report, thanks for posting it.

"Definitely use the restroom though, as it is hard to find public restrooms in Philly without paying admission or buying a drink."

There are public bathrooms (free to all) in the visitorís center and across the street from Independence Hall.
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