10 Things I Miss about You, Philadelphia, Part I

photo courtesy of Dan Farah (c) 2009, edited by Elizabeth Hart


Capogiro

Oh Capogiro, how I miss you, so! If you live in the Philadelphia area and have yet to experience the delight of this gelato heaven, please do not insult me by reading further. Close the laptop, put down your sandwich and sprint there; do not run, do not walk, do not take public transit (this is after all, Philadelphia we are talking about, people). This is the best gelato I have ever tasted. And I think you’ll agree.

I had the good fortune of living close to two of their locations (there are four in total). Although in the case of Philadelphia, “close” is a relative term. I suppose they were all close. I digress. The point is, for a while, there, I bellied up to the gelato bar about once a week. In fact, for a desperate month or so before I moved to NYC, I think, rather, I know I went even more often than that. I am not ashamed: not of going there twice a week to see the same faces behind the counter, not of requesting samples of at least five flavors every time or taking ten minutes to ready my order. After all, this is a big decision, friends. I had to choose between old favorites like Turkish coffee, sea salt and cioccolato scuro (rich, deep dark chocolate), seasonal goodies like heirloom apples with mascarpone cheese and blueberry with thyme and innovative anomalies such as rosemary honey goat’s milk and cucumber with grey goose vodka. The gelato itself is pillowy and smooth, never too sweet, always fresh and intensely flavorful. The flavors of the day are listed on their website (a torturous thing for me, now) and they even have a fun little blog, where they chronicle important store events like the arrival of their seasonal produce and better-than-organic milk.

I’m even a little bit in love with the owners: for the fact that they traveled to Italy to become true artisans of gelato, for their dedication to using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. I’d love to gush some more but in fear of this post becoming a novel before I even reach #2, I’ll just let you read for yourself. Viva Capogiro!

El Vez

First of all, to all you “cool” kids out there who hate on Stephen Starr restaurants: Lay off, the man knows what he’s doing, sometimes. And yes I know that the food at Lolita (the Mexican byo-tequila catercorner from El Vez) is infinitely yummier and more exciting, but I still have a penchant for El Vez guacamole and margaritas. They used to prepare the guacamole table-side in a cute little push cart housing all the fresh ingredients: halved limes, chopped tomatoes, diced red onions, cilantro, salt, pepper and of course, avocados. They would mix it up in a molcajete lined with banana leaves and bring it right to your table with fresh-out-of-the-fryer tortillas. More recently, they created an entire menu with fancier albeit unnecessary varieties of guacamole (adding cactus, crab, corn, etc.) and to my dismay they stopped making it table-side. That little cart however, still stands, vacant and lonely, in the middle of the dining room and I’ve often fantasized about hijacking it to make my own.

Even though I can no longer watch the mashing and mixing first-hand, it still seems to be made-to-order: I haven’t noticed a difference…yet. And I hope it stays that way. Otherwise, it will be Bye-Bye El Vez! And I will only have eyes for Lolita. Until then, I will revel in your kitschy Mex-American/ Day of the Dead decor devouring your house-made tortilla chips and guac, washing it down with pitchers of tangy blood orange margaritas, whenever I’m in town.

Soft Pretzels

I’m sorry, New York. You are fun and exciting; I love your energy and diversity. You produce some of the best food in the world and I am thrilled to be a part of your bustling existence, these days. But it has to be said: Your soft pretzels stink.

Somewhat of a soft pretzel connoisseur, my mom bought us one from Central Park when she came to visit, recently. Oh, the horror. That pretzel very well may have been used as a wedge to keep the food cart from rolling into the pond it sat next to. It was hard almost to the center and was floury and flavorless. To be fair, I have tasted a NYC pretzel that could not double as a meat mallet, but it still plays second fiddle to a Philadelphia soft pretzel, in my opinion.

Philly’s pretzels are chewy and soft in a delectable sort of way. There is no crispy or leathery crust and they look nothing like the ones you pull out of the freezer section of a grocery store. Even the slim, compact shape is better, both for ease of mustard dispersion and eating on the go! They are straightforward: salty and yeasty and delicious. It also doesn’t hurt that you can purchase three for $1.00. Beat that, NY!

Good Dog

There are many little nook-and-cranny pubs that I miss in Philly but I could only pick one for this posting and this one is Top Dog (please don’t slap me for that one) in my book. My little work crew in Philly took each other out for birthday lunches with the guest of honor choosing the locale. Nine times out of ten we’d be heading to Good Dog. We couldn’t escape the calling of their truffled cheesteak empanadas, cornflake crusted mac-n-cheese with blueberry cornbread and signature blue cheese burger with sweet potato fries. It was a great place for happy hours (of which I had many) and middle-of-the-week nights out. It possessed what every great bar should: great food, local brews on draught and familiar, somewhat cranky faces behind the bar. Someday I shall return for a burger and a beer with a winning bullie for their wall of fame.

The Falafel Nazi

The great thing about grabbing lunch from a food truck is that it is quick and easy. This truck in particular at 20th and Market is neither of those things, but I would still go back again and again. This is not just any old falafel sandwich. Dare I say it? It is the best falafel sandwich. And if you ask the proprietor, he will tell you they are the best on the PLANET.

The first time I stood in line for his famed falafel, I endured a 35 minute wait time in the bitter cold surrounded by billowing clouds of charcoal smoke and garlic vapor. I kept thinking to myself, There is no way this sandwich is worth this. My friend Lisa assured me, otherwise. As we neared the cart window, which is always bedazzled in ropes of garlic, hanging plants and whatever “Gus” feels like showing off that day, I started getting nervous. He was yelling and ranting and the only bits I could discern, I pieced together to indicate that his falafel was the best in the world and we were lucky he was willing to serve it to us peasants. At the window, Lisa bravely ordered a “sandwich, no hot peppers” the only other option being, “a platter” with all the sauces and sides he has chosen to make that day. Don’t ask what’s in it or try to order more than one or you will be turned away, no lie. When it was my turn, I managed to squeak out, “same,” and point to Lisa although if he served me anything else, I’m sure I would have handed over my $10 without saying a word. Suddenly, ladelfuls of mysterious sauces and spoonfuls of indiscernible veggies and legumes began flying about onto my pita while the falafel hissed and sizzled in the fryer and Christos carried on about something I could not understand.

When it was all wrapped up and handed over, I felt like I was carrying a football. It was ridiculous and worth every penny. Everything about that sandwich was perfection. The chicken was smoky and charred, yet tender and the falafel was crispy, flavorful and oddly light, if that is possible. Whatever else was thrown in there was fresh and wonderful and the whole sandwich was permeated with a strong but pleasant garlic flavor. After a thorough dissection of the sandwich, we concluded that on that particular day, there was some kind of pink sauce with chopped plums and pears, another sauce with lentils and carrots, some other random veggies, and one long, red spicy pepper that only appeared on Lisa’s sandwich.

A word of advice: If you are brave enough to stand in line, stick to one-word ordering, smile and nod at everything he says and make sure to have plenty of breath-mints on hand.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “10 Things I Miss about You, Philadelphia, Part I

  1. Bridget

    HAHAHA I loved reading this. I have got to try one of those next time I’m in town 🙂

  2. Lisa

    As the “Lisa” mentioned in the falafel nazi post, I can attest to the fantastic deliciousness of the falafels. I miss working near there and miss eating lunch with my friend Theresa even more!!! Philly misses you 🙂

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