Monday, January 20, 2014

Philadelphia Weekend, Part Two

Where were we? Oh yes, great meals in Philadelphia!

The Cook's Tour is not in the business of slamming sub-par restaurants so I will not go down that road. Just suffice it to say that our other two dinners in Philly were kind of mediocre so I certainly won't be going back to those restaurants on my next trip down there.

However, lunch at DiNic's was outstanding! Set in the Reading Terminal Market, DiNic's occupies a cozy spot in the middle of the market. We got there about 1pm on Saturday when the entire market was jumping. There is no real organization as to how you order or get a seat, but somehow it works. Basically, you get on the end of the line and inch your way up to the ordering spot. If, by some lucky streak, you happen to be standing behind a seated patron who gets up, bingo, you get a seat!  Well, the food gods must have been with us that day because after only about 10 minutes on line, the people sitting in front of us got up. And we slithered right in.  DiNic's is staffed by some very efficient waitresses who take your order and constantly monitor the action at the counter. The cooking and sandwich building is manned (literally, I didn't see any female cooks) by four or five cooks bustling around a not very large space.

Hubby and I shared the famous "best sandwich in America" (so named by Adam Richman), aka, roast pork with escarole and sharp provolone, on wonderful Italian semolina bread. The sandwich is definitely big enough for two. It's also messy, but in a delicious way. Sublime pork juices drip down your hands; tender, bitter "'scarole" florets escape from the bread, and shards of biting provolone are melting all over! I hate this term, but it really does fit here: it's a beautiful hot mess. I couldn't get enough of this sandwich. I secretly wished my husband wouldn't finish his half so I could scarf it up! Shhhhh!

DiNic's isn't a place you hang around. Once you're done, you move on. Also, counter vultures are circling for your seat!  But that was ok because I had one more stop to make in the market.

True, I was stuffed to the gills after my roast pork, but I wasn't leaving Philadelphia without a cinnamon ice cream cone from Bassetts.  This cinnamon ice cream is the gold standard. Sure, other ice cream purveyors offer this spiced confection, but they are usually too cinnamon-y. I have no idea how Bassetts formulates their recipe, but it is perfection. Now I could leave Philadelphia completely satisfied!

Lest you think all we did was eat, we also took advantage of some of the great art and history in Philly. We spent a good part of one day at The Barnes Foundation. This is an educational art and horticulture foundation established by Dr Albert Barnes in 1922. His vision was to "promote the advancement of education and the appreciation the fine arts and horticulture." He collected some of the greatest works in the world, including the masters of impressionism, post-impressionism, and early modern art. He was also very adept at collecting Pennsylvania German arts, and unique metal arts. We took a tour of the foundation with one of the docents, and it was truly enlightening. I highly recommend visiting the Barnes if you travel to Philly.

Our next stop was the new National Constitution Center. As stated so eloquently on their site, this is "the first and only non-profit, non-partisan institution devoted to the most powerful vision of freedom ever expressed: the US Constitution." The center offers many rare artifacts and films, and cool interactive exhibits (I enjoyed pretending I was a Supreme Court Justice and offering my "opinion" on famous cases the Justices have heard). One of the most moving parts of the center is a 360-degree theatrical production called "Freedom Rising." Combining film with live actors, this takes you through the story of the US Constitution. The other part of the center that I loved was Signers Hall, with 42 life size bronze statutes of the founding fathers. Here we are chatting up George!

Of course, we couldn't leave without paying our respects to the Liberty Bell. We had seen it many years ago, but now it is housed in a brand new visitors center. What amazed me about this new house, is that the bell is protected by nothing more than a rope; no glass, no walls, separating you from it. It's out there in all its rough glory unprotected; close enough to touch (not recommended though, as the Park Ranger standing close by would be quick to remind you).

I have always felt that Washington, DC should be mandatory for every US citizen; now I'm adding Philadelphia to that mandate.

As I mentioned in part one of this piece, Philly hit all the right marks on our weekend getaway criteria. Can't wait to go back.

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