Quelcadelphia In The Times of Irene

August 2011

This is the perfect window, in a splendidly tall row home, with wooden floors, a behemoth butcher block and kitchen tiles with blue flowers.  This perfect window makes me want to sit on its sill, drink tea whose vapors hit my face with the breeze, read and daydream, daydream and read.  Fortunately for me, this is the perfect window in the home inhabited by several outstanding fellas (and an adorable ladyfriend as well!).  These fellas are my friends, some new, some old, but I dare say, we are not fair-weather friends (being as we sort of survived a hurricane together…well, hurricane hype, that is).  Thanks for everything Philly Fellas!  I am still plotting how to be the seventh roommate!

Without further ado, I present… Quelcadelphia in the Times of Irene!

The Spring Gardens

Just beyond enviable row homes, people-watching stoops and a stone church, emerged this beautiful garden!  Glancing across the street yielded quite the urban view.  Yet another reason to love the Fairmount neighborhood!  There were iron tables and chairs where I could have very easily passed a sunny afternoon (had there been sun, and had I had access past the garden gate gazing).

Cafe L’Aube
1631 Wallace St.
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Neighborhood:  Fairmount

In Brian’s biking, he spotted a “Quelcy type of place,” so I went walking past impressive door details, antique accents, flora and perhaps even fauna, in search of the art nouveau facade of Cafe L’Aube.  I had the place to myself, which gave me a chance to practice French with the French-African owner, concentrate on the various French magazines and most importantly, to savor my buckwheat crepe with ham, goat cheese, fig jam and a sprinkling of herbs!  The interior had a very crisp, calming aesthetic, offering quiet respite from a rainy afternoon.  Some sunny day, I’ll have to sit at those outdoor tables.  I love a good corner locale for people watching.

Bookhaven
2202 Fairmount Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Neighborhood:  Fairmount

I was going to ask one of the fellas where I could find tattered pages and that particular smell of many, many old books crammed, in every which way, onto old shelves.  As the wandering would have it, I stumbled upon this place on my own.  The store provided me with my stoop read for the weekend:  Siddhartha.

The Fairmount Farmers Market
22nd & Fairmount Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19130

I was even more pleasantly surprised when I wandered right into a farmer’s market.  Look at that palette of carrot colors!  I bought mango donut peaches and blackberries and quickly concluded, I would love to have more mango donut peaches in my life!  The taste is not that of biting into a mango, but the hint of the namesake is there.

Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat
800 N 4th St
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Neighborhood: Northern Liberties

Unfortunately for my sister’s vacation, Hurricane Irene caused an evacuation of Ocean City. Fortunately for me, it meant I was able to spend the afternoon with my sister and her family as they followed the evacuation trail through the city.  A friend recommended Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat, and upon eating, I quickly sent a thank-you text for the tip!  Oddly enough, Honey’s fusion is somehow your Jewish grandmother meets your sassy Southern BBQ slinger (ie:  “Bubby’s bbq brisket” and fried pickles made their way to our table spread) and they somehow unite for good?!?

The corner restaurant boasts quite an herb adn vegetable garden on its trellised wall and an assortment of locally sourced menu options.  I enjoyed feeling as though I had walked into the cafe from Fried Green Tomatoes, and I really enjoyed my Croque Madame (locally sourced ham & cheese on Challah French toast, topped with a sunny side egg, with maple syrup in the sandwich layers)!  On a side note, It is becoming evident and will become evident if you continue to scroll through this post, that I have a weakness for Challah based brunch items.  I admit it, but at least sharing tends to add a slight variety to my brunching and lunching.

After seeing this article in the NY Times, I bookmarked this website, so when my sister asked if there was anything else I could think to do while we were all together, I already had a response:  Old Timey Ice cream and Sodas!

The Franklin Fountain
116 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Neighborhood:  Old City

We knew we had arrived at the correct spot when we saw the line from the door of the turn-of-the-century corner building, the wood and iron tables under the trees and the vintage soda pop uniforms darting to and fro.  The line, though long, may not have been long enough because the multiple menu options and combinations made forming a decision quite difficult.

Upon reading the history behind The Franklin Fountain, the impressive collection of antiques and attention to historical detail made a lot more sense.  The founding brothers come from a line of antique collectors, and the eclectic decor brimming from every nook and cranny really enhances the feeling of stepping into the front door and stepping back in time.

Aesthetically speaking, I have nothing but compliments!  Tastefully speaking, I have high praise.  Service wise… unfortunate.  Mind you, I am not the type of aunt to blindly think my nieces and nephews are floating on angel wings.  When I tell you my nephew was being curious and not troublesome, I mean it.  He merely stepped on an antique scale, which for all intents and purposes, looked as though it were “open” for customer use in that kitschy type of way a boardwalk shop might offer.  There was even a little sign that said something about “your weight,” which might lead one to conclude he or she could discern his or her weight by stepping on that very scale.  The moodier of the soda jerks rather abruptly told my brother-in-law, “please [the type of “please” that was formality only] don’t let him stand on that scale.  It’s over 100 years old [said with all the condescension he could muster under a white, paper hat, which was surprisingly a lot].”

Listen soda guy, I hear ya.  I know the woes of working behind a counter, but it’s an ice cream shop!  You have to expect kids to be there, no?!?  I say all this not to steep bitterness but more as a warning.  If you are bringing kids, be prepared for a possible stink eye or two.  That being said, my soda server (not the kid hater) had one of the most genuine smiles and really seemed to take pleasure in serving his customers.  Hit or miss, I suppose.

Ordering leaned on the overwhelming side.  First, we were stuck behind girls who were just loitering around the menu counter (not reading the menus mind you, just obstructing our process).  Next thing you know, we were being scolded for occupying too much counter space, but that’s where the menus were.  Then there was the pressure of choosing from the extensive menu and taking advantage of both the soda and ice cream worlds (not a huge complaint obviously).

The obvious choice probably would have been one of the many ice cream floats, but as someone reared on an intense appreciation for ice cream, I have issues with liquifying it.  I want to savor my flavor of choice in its solid (and melting) form.  Thus, I divided and conquered:  a mint chip ice cream cone and a Japanese Thirst Killer Phosphate (Orgeat {almond}, Grape juice, & Angostura Bitters with Phosphate).

Once upon a time, I only ate mint chip ice cream if it looked like Saint Patrick’s Day had been muddled into the cream.  Those tables have definitely turned, but mint chip is still ice cream perfection in my world…when it is white, that is.  The Franklin version and homemade waffle cone did not disappoint.  I shared my bright red phosphate with the family, and I beamed inside when my niece described the flavor as, “it’s like a collage of apple cider and [communion].”  What a little poet!  A collage!  With words like that describing food, I should probably plan to relinquish this blog to her any day now.

The Farmer’s Cabinet
1113 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Neighborhood: Market East

Ah my friends, they have come to know my food preferences and tastes (and I’ll be honest, “selectiveness” ha) very well.  Thus, my dear friend Heather told me about a new restaurant she thought should be on my Philly radar:  The Farmer’s Cabinet.  I was enticed immediately by the name, which stems from an old handbook devoted to agricultural information for local farmers.  The name lends itself to a decor of warm wood grains, large railroad ties or rafters (?) strung from the ceiling holding flickering candles, wooden shelves of old bottles and a menu featuring locally sourced ingredients, small batch beer and handcrafted cocktails.  Of course this place was on my Philly to do list, and accordingly, I had very little restraint when ordering.

Our friendly and helpful waiter (extra kudos because we were pushing the kitchen closing hour), assisted in our butcher block/cheese board selection.  I like brie cheese as much as the next, but in my francophile world, I see it more as a staple and less of a night-on-the-town cheese.  Let me tell you, the Moses Sleeper Brie from The Farmer’s Cabinet changed my mind!  It really rocked me from my brie stupor with its complex flavor and texture.  Try it!  Try it!  Try it!  The rest of the appetizing slate offered Birchrun Blue Cheese, smoked duck, cardamom pickled carrots in a jam jar and the quiet contentment that arises when friends are silenced by good food!

From that deliciousness, we progressed to a sharing of the seared pork tenderloin (bacon bourbon cream, mustard greens, cranberry greens) and the ground short-rib burger (aged cheddar and bacon jam).  Allow me to reiterate two very important points:  bacon bourbon cream and bacon jam!!!!!!  The words say it all, and once we had the food on the table, we were speechless!  Just one more time…bacon jam!!!  Bacons and bourbons aside, the burger passed the test of the stand alone meet quality, whereas the pork tenderloin was only as good as the contributing flavors in each forkful.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was disappointed, but I wasn’t overwhelmed.

We easily worked our way through a few rounds of cocktails as well.  First of all, there is something unique about saying, “I will have a Sacrificial Dance (Rye, strawberry & rhubarb rattafia, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and fresh lemon juice),” or “I’d like Ancestral Spirits (Bourbon, cointreau, lemon juice, blueberry preserves, dashes of ginger tincture and a mint garnish).”  I wouldn’t be hard pressed to believe in some mystical power emanating from the cocktails, especially the Ancestral Spirits!  Maybe that was just the “magical” effect of quality alcohol cleverly concocted.

From the moment we sat at our table, we eyed the dessert menu and made a note to save room for some sweeter samplings.  Amongst the table, we shared the Whoopie Pies, Phyllo ice cream sandwich and the Bavarian Pretzul Redux.  I’ve had my share of fancier whoopie pies (that’s “gobs” to you, Pittsburgh), but this whoopie pie wiped all previous pies from memory.  Each flavor asserted itself, and we were all “politely” eying the last bite of dessert, poised to savor the last lavender bits.

When I picture pretzels in dessert, my default image is a suburban jello salad with a pretzel crust, but this farmer’s version was such a far cry from cul-de-sac potlucks (as one would expect).  The pretzel redux was beautifully plated and so richly chocolaty, I forgot part of its salt versus sweet complexity came from the snack classic.  The banana ice cream sandwich was the middle ground in my book, which was a very, very delicious dessert book.

Great friends!  Great food!  Great ambiance!  How did we ever leave that table?

Well, the real answer is we left with an alcohol and food induced merriment and loud pop hits on the stereo!

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Sabrina’s Cafe
1804 Callowhill Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Neighborhood:  Fairmount/(Art Museum)

I usually seek out new dining options, but memories of brunch at Sabrina’s lingered in my head and hungry stomach.  The cravings coupled with proximity to Phil’s new Fairmount location and the impending Irene rains all pointed to Sabrina’s Cafe.

I have a theory about the plate planners at Sabrina’s.  I envision a brainstorm board in their kitchen, with magnets featuring various meals offered on typical menus (ie:  omelettes or steak with crème fraiche).  When deciding the daily specials, the head chef, in a wild, frenzied movement, rearranges various meal cards into groups, and these overwhelming compilations become the specials.  This is to say, Sabrina’s menu boasts very extensive descriptions.

Par Example: 

The Breakfast Club Special
Cornbread & green onion foccacia topped with scrambled eggs with a BBQ basil-cilantro pesto, cheddar cheese, fresh spinach, topped with grilled honey balsamic, flank steak, a corn, tomato, red bean and pepper succotash and roasted jalapeno-avocado crema….just try to say that in one breath!

Duckies “Friend Zone” French Toast
(Not quite a verbal mouthful but definitely a mouthful of towering French toast!)
Filled with a sweet blend of cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, blueberry, sweet almond and oat clusters and vanilla shortbread, topped with a peach-honey syrup.  Yummmmmy!

Bonus:  Love the Leftovers!
If only I carried an army figurine with me because I really should have included some type of scale figure with these French Toast photos.  Point being, this plate leads to leftovers, and when I wanted dessert later in my visit, I paired a slice of this French Toast with French vanilla ice cream and my own cherry compote, and it was deeeelicious!

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Cafe Lift
428 North 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Neighborhood:  Spring Garden, Callowhill, Avenue of the Arts North

Sundays are not days for big decisions or early action.  This was especially true on the post Hurricane Hype Sunday.  Each of the Fairmount brownstone residents slowly emerged from slumber to enter the brunch brainstorm slowly occurring in the breezy living room, where bubbles were blowing out the perfect window.  There were attempts to find a new place, but when the gents told me one of their brunch staples, Cafe Lift, used to house an industrial elevator, hence the name, I was enticed.  When I saw the menu, I had my shoes on and umbrella ready.  Then I fell down the slick stairs, but that’s a different story.

The dear friend Heather mentioned above was able to join our brunching endeavor as well.  I loved her company and her willingness to split two entrees, thus striking the perfect brunch balance of sweet, savory and even a tad experimental:

French Toast
Challah dredged in a cinnamon vanilla custard then finished with fresh fruit and homemade whipped topping. [I really appreciate the use of the term “dredge” here]

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Hudson Rose’s Savory Pancake
Savory buttermilk pancakes cooked with chopped bacon, sauteed spinach, scrambled eggs and fontina cheese layered between and served with pure maple syrup.

Bacon in the pancake!  I’d been toying with sausage in the pancake, but bacon?!?  Daaang!  You may be skeptical about the maple syrup dousing all of the listed components, but trust me (and possibly ignore my grand affinity for maple syrup ever so slightly), the combinations were harmonious!  The gents had the idea of a post-brunch nap for their afternoon, but in the interest of quality time with Heather, I energized enough to do some Anthropologie lusting, so let’s just pretend this fur is part of my permanent collection.

As the daylight faded into bay window silhouettes, I found myself on the stoop drinking hot tea, the vapors hitting my face with the breeze, reading and daydreaming, daydreaming and reading.

Thanks again, Philly and friends and family.  It was a wonderful adventure in the time of Irene.

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