We willingly wait in line for an hour in the summer, but have never visited in the winter. However, when we saw our favorite food truck was open, we decided to brave the snow and wind. Arriving 25 minutes before opening, we were first in line and were rewarded with a cup of spicy soup (actually the sauce he uses over the rice, but works as a soup, too!). I’ve written about the Octopus food truck before (The Advantages of Wandering: A Medieval Herbal And The Best $10 Lunch In Philadelphia), but it deserves another mention. While the basic lunch is always the same (rice, sauce, grilled chicken and falafel), the seasonal fruits and veggies vary. Today, we were rewarded with blueberries, a variety of grapes, a whole mandarin orange, and cauliflower (I’m not a big cauliflower fan, but ate every bite!). Since eating outside picnic-style wasn’t an option in this weather, we ate in the food court of the Comcast Building just around the block (Picnic Spots). The leftovers (you get a giant portion for $10) made a great lunch stuffed in a pita the next day).
We spent the rest of our time exploring the (FREE – just present id at the security booth) contemporary art galleries at Moore College. Moore College was founded in 1848 as the first women’s art college in the United States. Located right in the heart of the museum district, it makes a great stop if you have some extra time and want a free activity. The exhibits rotate, so there is always something new to see (the current exhibit is dedicated to work by the Guerrilla Girls).
In the shadow of City Hall stands one of the most elaborately carved and decorated Masonic Temples in the world. Built in 1837, the interior is a dramatic example of Victorian design. The hour-long tour shows off 7 of the over-the-top rooms. In homage to the Mason’s history as stone masons, each room is decorated in a different, historically accurate style (from Egyptian to Gothic to Renaissance) – supplemented with a variety of Masonic symbols:
Conspiracy theories aside, many of the founding fathers and at least 14 presidents have been Masons, and the museum has some interesting artifacts – including a Masonic apron owned by George Washington and (supposedly) presented to him by the Marquis de Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin’s Masonic sash and a piece of George Washington’s original coffin:
Since Philly’s Chinatown is just a few blocks walk from the temple, we decided to try one of the latest restaurant trends – Mongolian Hot Pot – from Little Sheep. We ordered the $12.95 lunch special, which came with a choice of broth (we chose the traditional and the spicy) and a variety of meats and veggies to cook in the broth:
Start with the 11:00 Holiday Spectacular at Comcast – 15 minutes of Philly-themed video and music on one of the world’s largest highest-resolution LED displays – ending with an audience sing-a-long and a shower of “snow” over the audience.
The 11:00 show ends with plenty of time to walk to Macy’s for the 12:00 light show (with time to spare to look at the holiday themed window displays). Although they’ve updated with LED lights, the show is definitely low tech fun (with the voice of Julie Andrews as the narrator). The bonus of seeing the 12:00 show is that the finale is played live on the Wanamaker organ.
You can stick around for an additional 1/2 hour of live organ music, or go right up to the 3rd floor for a walk through the Dickens Village, a scene by scene animatronic recreation of “A Christmas Carol” – from Marley’s ghost to the blessing of Tiny Tim.
Finish up with the model trains and lunch at Reading Terminal Market. The perfect ending? A peppermint (or any) donut from Bieler’s.
For more information on the Wanamaker Organ and free concerts: The World’s Largest Organ, A Historic Landmark Building And Free Concerts (while you shop)
I’m a planner, so most of our adventures are planned out – after all, we usually have only 4 hours to explore, but sometimes we let fate guide us. Today was one of those days.Find #1: The Philadelphia Horticultural Society Library. Who can resist an poster for “Two Herbals: Picturing Nature from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance”? Not me (although Tobey says that she can… easily). Currently on display at the library are two of their oldest books – a Medieval Herbal (from 1517 – the oldest book in their collection) and a Renaissance Herbal (from 1542). In addition to these, they have a computer showing artwork from other herbals of the period. As Harry Potter fans, we enjoyed the images of the mandrake plant:
Find #2: The Octopus Food Truck. The long line and delicious smell led us to this unique culinary adventure. During our 45 minute wait, we had plenty of time to learn the proper protocol (leading to many comparisons on the Yelp site to the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld):
*No ordering. Gus prepares one meal and that’s what you get.
*No napkins or utensils or bag. Bring your own or stop by the Starbucks on the corner.
*One meal per person. No exceptions.
*No chit-chat. Unless Gus initiates the conversation.
*Serving starts at 12:00 and continues until mid-afternoon when the food runs out.
There is a reason people come from all over the city and use up their entire lunch hour waiting in line – the food is fantastic. All prepared (using wood charcoal) while you wait, using the freshest ingredients, each meal usually includes a few falafels and grilled chicken – after that, the menu changes daily. Our lunch included: char-grilled brussel sprouts, greens, blueberries, honey dew/mint, rice, sauce and a spicy grilled pepper. We have now been initiated into the club and will join the rest of the fans who happily spend their lunch hour waiting in line for the best $10 lunch in the city. Yum. Yum. Yum!
It’s like a museum – every display is a work of art. The selection of prepared foods is amazing, the quality is great, and it’s fun to just walk around and look. Plus, it is home to some of our favorite Philly “cheap eats” restaurants (Federal Donuts, Dizengoff, Goldies). With lots of indoor seating, it’s a great place for a cheap, nutritious, rainy day lunch.
Falafel salad from Goldies – delicious crunchy green falafel with fresh herbs.
Plus, they have a small, upstairs seating area (hidden behind the bar – yes, they sell alcoholic beverages also) with great views of the Philly skyline:
For a city walk with great views and no traffic, the pedestrian path on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge is a great option. Opened in 1926 (with Art Deco architectural details), a round trip walk is almost 3 miles – with views of the Camden and Philadelphia waterfronts and Philadelphia skyline.
Since we burned off all those calories hiking the bridge – and since the bridge walk ends in Old City, we headed to one of our favorite restaurants, Capofitto, for a favorite Philly meal: arancini (fried risotto balls) and pizza with arugula and prosciutto:
Next, we are going to attempt to recreate this delicious meal at home… (Recreating a Restaurant (Capofitto) Meal At Home: Arancini & Pizza With Prosciutto)
Challenging ourselves with new foods is part of the deal. We’ve seen the ducks hanging in windows throughout Chinatown and this was our week to try. Along with a bowl of beef chow fun and BBQ pork/soy sauce chicken over noodles, we ordered a side of duck – which arrived chopped on a plate – skin, meat, bones and all. Although everything was tasty, we decided that Hong Kong-style/Cantonese was too bland and sweet for our taste – and, now we can cross duck off the list.
Ting Wong (138 N. 10t Street)
For the past 2 years, Tobey and I have been on a quest to explore the cuisines of Chinatown. Although Philadelphia’s Chinatown is just a few blocks long, this has proved never ending (but very enjoyable). In addition to the diverse cuisines and foods of China (dim sum, hand-drawn noodles, duck, Cantonese, Szechuan, Hong Kong, Fujian), many other Asian cuisines are represented – Burmese, Vietnamese (including banh-mi), Korean, Japanese – plus many trendy and traditional desserts (QQ waffles, Japanese crepes, taro buns, green tea mousse cake). Just when we start to put a dent in our list, restaurants close and new trends take over. A few years ago it was soup dumplings, bubble tea, and hand-drawn noodles. Last year was ramen and rolled ice-cream. This year, it’s hot pots, Taiwanese fried food and nitrogen-frozen desserts.
Beautiful firework pastry from A La Mousse, in celebration of the Chinese New Year!
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Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Our explorations of Chinatown seem to be never ending – so many different regional cuisines, many of which are represented in Philly. Plus, new restaurants open faster than we can try them. We were both fighting colds this week, so what better cure than spicy noodle soup? Spice C is one of the best places in Philly for hand-drawn noodles – plus, the noodles are made fresh for each order and you can watch the chef toss the noodles while you wait. Spicy Sichuan soup with wontons, roast pork & shaved noodles and spicy soy sauce, hand-drawn noodles were the perfect medicine:
In the land of $8 ice cream, we decided to try a more economical dessert. Two Chinatown bakeries fit the bill: The Mayflower Bakery (1008 Race St.) – $4 for a whole Swiss Roll (you can buy them by the slice for $1, but we were feeling greedy):
and KC’s Pastries (109 N. 10th St.) – $1.00 for a bun (we loved the butter cream – the taro bun was…. interesting).
During the walk to Chinatown, we came across this new street art by a storm drain on Race Street (you never know what you are going to see in the City – love the octopus and crabbie):
Since we homeschool, Tobey occasionally needs to finish up some schoolwork before we start our Philly adventures. We often go to the Free Library, but the weather was so beautiful, we sat in the gardens of the Barnes Foundation (better than a classroom any day!).
We explored a new part of town this week – the University of Pennsylvania campus area. U-Penn was established by Ben Franklin in 1751. The current campus dates to the Victorian era, and has a great example of Philadelphia architect, Frank Furness’s work – the Fisher Memorial Library:
In addition to the gorgeous library, the building also houses a (free) art museum, where we saw “A View of One’s Own” – photos of Rome by 3 women photographers from the 1910’s, 1950’s and 2000’s:
Walking campus, we saw the cutest little dog:
And my mom’s old dormitory – the fortress-like Hill College House, designed by Finnish-born modernist architect Eero Saarinen (who also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis):
Lunch was at Dana Mandi, one of local food critic Craig LaBan’s Best Philly Values – and an experience in itself: walk to the back of the Indian grocery store, go behind a curtain to the seating area, write your order on a scrap of paper and leave it on the counter. Like magic, delicious, cheap (the parathas were amazing) Indian food comes out on styrofoam trays, served in to-go containers.
No adventure is complete without dessert, so our final stop was the Sugar food truck (38th St. between Walnut & Sansom St.) for Tobey’s favorite – macrons: