When faced with an afternoon to kill doing touristy things in Philadelphia, I was presented with a question as old as the city itself: Do I take in the Liberty Bell and other Colonial era sights, or scope out the city for places that have been shot on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Either choice would provide a much needed blast of culture and history. After my long night of driving, and a relaxing morning sleeping in at a swanky Philadelphia hotel, I opted for lunch.
But Jeremy, you may be asking, what about your kids? Aren’t they semi-permanently glued to you, restricting your freedom and liberty? Not this particular weekend, my friends. My wife had a high powered nursing conference, and I was there with an afternoon to kill by myself before meeting up with her for dinner. The kids were back in Michigan, either fending for themselves or at their Grandparent’s house. Meh. Either way, my Declaration of Independence had been signed and my first act of freedom was to scour the streets of Philly for cheesesteaks and beer.
When placed in an unfamiliar city, my plan of action is walking. Exploring a city at ground level is great, not just for people watching but also to get a feel of the place. What are the local shops/bars/restaurants like? How attractive are the female inhabitants? What is the ratio of panhandlers per block? Philly scored well on all three counts. Not only was the Liberty Bell and other historically significant sights within walking distance of my hotel, but so were many terrific restaurants.
The first one that caught my eye will be familiar to watchers of Food Network. The restaurant was called Morimoto. Yes, that Morimoto, one of my favorite of the Iron Chefs, although he is no Hiroyuki Sakai, the unquestioned God and Master of all Iron Chefs. Checking the menu, it did look fantastic, including a dish called Angry Chicken, which I loved. Why is it angry? Do you hurl insults at it before it is cooked? Sadly, I wouldn’t know, prices at Morimoto were crazy expensive. Dinner and drinks for two were easily going to be $150. Time to keep looking…
Also, lunch was beckoning me. I was hoping for a friendly bar, something called, oh, I don’t know….Paddy’s Pub. Unfortunately no such place was to be found so I settled on a multi-story venture named Rotten Ralph’s. Located on the corner of 2nd Street and Chestnut, Rotten Ralph’s is a street level bar with indoor and outdoor seating, and it claimed it had a club of some sort upstairs. Not interested in hitting the club at two in the afternoon, I grabbed an inviting seat at the bar, ordered a pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and a Chicken Philly Cheesesteak.
After amusing myself with conversation with pessimistic Eagles fans, my sandwich arrived. Covered in melted provolone, it was a serious beast of a sandwich, peppers and onions were spilling out. I took a bite, and it was everything I hoped it would be. The peppers and onions were the star of the show, juicy and loaded with flavor. The chicken was perfect too, but without the chorus of peppers and onions it would not have been anything special. The bread also stood out, light and with a crispy bite, not overly dense or soggy. I decided that I wasn’t sure why Ralph was Rotten, but it sure as hell wasn’t due to a poor cheesesteak.
Served with shoestring French fries, which were also delicious, it was an overall amazing eating experience. I polished off my sandwich and was ready to hit the streets for further exploration when something caught my eye: Hoegaarden on tap!!!!! A second pint was a must. After savoring my beer, and sermonizing to Philly football fans that they should be happy that they have a team that competes for the playoffs every year as opposed to being stuck in professional football hell — Detroit — I headed for Independence Hall.
Sightseeing, people watching, eating a great sandwich and drinking great beer all made for a wonderful day. Dinner was set for a Cuban restaurant just around the corner from Rotten Ralph’s. So far, Philly was everything I hoped for: a vibrant city with great restaurants, amusingly pessimistic football fans, and a surprising amount of beautiful women promenading along the sidewalks.
And, as a bonus, it was sunny in Philadelphia. Life was good, time for a quick nap and a shower, followed by dinner with my wife.
In the next installment: Reviews of Cuba Libre and Dolce.