March 17, 2011

Road Trip - Philadelphia!

Johnny and I decided to take a spontaneous mini-vacay-shon to Philly this last weekend. We just needed to get outta town for a little bit and see some new sights. One of my favorite things about the east coast is that things are much closer together and you can catch a train to so many places! Train travel is so laid back and there is an old school vibe about it that I love.

We took the Amtrak from Penn Station to Philly's 30th Street Station on Saturday afternoon. It's only 90 minutes away which went by really fast. We then took a cab The Hotel Palomar in the Rittenhouse Square area which was absolutely beautiful! It's a relatively new hotel and is really gorgeous. The service was great and every member of the staff I encountered was so nice. The rooms... have you ever stayed at a hotel and wished you could live there? The layout, the view, the decor... every little detail seemed thought out and perfect. I took mental notes and plan to recreate the bathroom in my future dream home someday. What Johnny does in his mental future dream home  is his business.

Sweet, sweet hotel room...
The Rittenhouse Square district is very cool, lots of shops and restaurants to keep you entertained. I was surprised at how narrow the streets are in Philly and how small the blocks are. Since we didn't have a car, we walked a LOT, and nothing was ever more than 20 minutes away. And coming from the bustling metropolis of Manhattan, it was nice to find that even downtown Philly stays relatively quiet! There were times we walked around and barely encountered a soul... we both commented on how it reminded us of Tucson... but with a few more things to do. :-)

Anyhow, the first night there we went to the South Street area and ate at Horizons, an upscale vegan restaurant. I was a bad blogger and didn't take any pictures because the place is very dim and romantic. I guess I have to get used to being that obnoxious person taking pictures of every plate! The food was really, really good. Here's the rundown:

Appetizer: Crispy Skordalia Pierogies - Yummy, but very small. For $10 you get two pierogies cut in half... that's $5 per pierogie! We were also given some homemade foccacia with herbed oil which was quite delightful.

Hally's Main: Grilled Seitan - I was a bit gun-shy about ordering this as I had just had a bad seitan experience, but I was SO happy I made this choice! The seitan was sliced very thin and grilled and I swear it tasted just like skirt steak! Even Johnny was shocked at how much it tasted like meat and he was sad he hadn't ordered the same thing. It was served over yukon mash with a creamy horseradish sauce. Again, the portion wasn't huge, but it was a very well-composed dish that I would definitely order again.

Johnny's Main: Steak Spiced Seared Tofu - A little disappointing because, based on the name, Johnny expected this to taste meaty like my dish did. It was more of an Asian stir-fry presentation, but the flavors were very, very good. It had creamy brussel sprouts on top that Johnny liked even though he usually detests brussel sprouts, and smoked walnut farro underneath that was wonderful. He also got a side of truffle fries which were outstanding.

Dessert: Chocolate-Stuffed Beignets - Not very good. There were three donut holes and each had melted dark chocolate inside. Sadly, the chocolate was very thick and chalky and not pleasurable to eat. I think they should thin the chocolate out and make it more like a sauce or cream. The dish also had a small mug of hot chocolate on the side which was confusing - we didn't know if we were supposed to dunk the dessert in it or drink it. We didn't finish the three donuts and for me to leave anything fried and chocolate-y on a plate speaks volumes.

Overall: I was impressed with what Horizons has done with vegan cuisine and I would definitely recommend you stop by if you're in the area.

We then walked around South Street for a bit, stopping at a comic book store and having a few drinks at an Irish pub. They had $5 Irish Gingers (Jameson's and Ginger Ale) that were served in gigantic glasses - I had two and was feeling very Irish! We then made our way back to Rittenhouse Square and went to Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. This is a "modern speakeasy" similar to PDT and Milk & Honey here in NYC. While you don't need a reservation to get in, you do need patience because they adhere to a "no standing" policy - they only let in as many people as there are tables available. And boy are they serious - one of the Philadelphia Flyers showed up while we were waiting and the doorman nicely told him that he would have to wait in line with everyone else. We only had to wait 20 minutes or so and it was well worth it. The decor is sleek and simple with leather seating, marble tables, and low candle light throughout. The waiters are all dressed like old timey barkeeps with vests, suspenders, and bowties. They make an effort to find out what you like and point you in the right direction on their extensive drink list. I ended up with the Fizzy Izzy which was made with whiskey, pineapple juice and some other ingredients that I can't quite recall. Johnny didn't know what to pick, so he told the waiter what he likes to drink (scotch) and he was presented with a Manhattan-type drink. He was very happy and it was a lovely spot for a nightcap.

Comic book store on South Street. Johnny got a Contra t-shirt!
On Sunday, we started the morning at Marathon Grill. Apparently, this place is a bit of an institution in Philly and has quite a few locations. It was very busy, but the service was great and the food was very good. I got the Tofu Scramble, which said "dairy-free" right on the menu - gotta love that they make it easy! - with homefries and toast. It was a little greasy, but still good. Johnny got a croissant sandwich filled with decidedly non-vegan food stuff and he absolutely loved it.

Breakfast a la Marathon Grill
We then ventured to the Philadelphia Magic Gardens. This is a building on South Street that artist Isaiah Zagar turned into a massive art piece. Last year, we saw a documentary that his son made about him called "In a Dream" that I highly recommend, so we were thrilled when we figured out that the building Isaiah is working on in the film is in Philly and is open for tours! There are several large-scale mosaic murals by Mr. Zagar in the area around Magic Gardens, as if to prepare you for the intensity of the Gardens. As you approach the building, you start to see it: bottles, dishes, tiles, any and everything made of glass or ceramic, some broken and some whole, and all held together with bright white mortar. 

Entrance to The Magic Gardens
There are two parts to the Gardens: the interior of the building and the outdoor courtyard. The interior of the building functions as a museum and gallery and there is a basement and several large rooms that are absolutely covered in mosaics. There were a few childrens' programs going on that day and kids were creating mosaics and being given tours. 

I think if the Alamo had a basement it would look like this
and it would definitely house Pee Wee's bike.
Outside, there are steps and paths that lead you in, out, and all around the massive courtyard, and each inch is covered with Mr. Zagar's creations. There are bicycle tires, plastic flowers, and other odds and ends added into the mix. We overheard one of the tour guides saying that when Isaiah ran out of surfaces on which to create, Mr. Zagar starting digging and building upwards, creating the labyrinth-like courtyard that stands today.

I fully expected for David Bowie to jump out from around a corner. 
It is such an amazing and inspiring place and I'm so glad we got to visit. And later, as we walked down South Street, we saw Isaiah Zagar making his way to the Gardens, so we took the opportunity to steal a picture!

What a badass!
Later that night, we headed to Monks' Cafe for dinner. I read about this place on Yelp and knew we had to give it a try. There was a bit of a wait (it seemed to be the only place open on Sunday night) but we got a spot at the bar and sampled some of the Belgian beer in which they specialize. Once seated, I ordered the Vegan Burger with carmelized leeks and sauteed mushrooms. It was really, really good and was served with their "award-winning" Belgian fries. Johnny took advantage of the fact that we weren't at a vegan restaurant and tried the Mussels and Fries and the Chicken and Apple Sausage sandwich. I don't think I've ever seen him eat so much! We both loved it.

Monday we got a late start, so we walked to Reading Terminal Market, where I was told we could get a cheap lunch. Unfortunately, we arrived just in time for lunch hour, and the place was SWAMPED. This is a big indoor marketplace with produce vendors, butchers, and even Pennsylvania Dutch stands (sadly those are closed on Mondays). It's a bit like a giant food court with around 20 different stands offering different options and a big seating area where you take your food to eat. Johnny finally got a genuine Philly Cheesesteak and definitely enjoyed it. I was not so sure what to get. There was a stand called Basic 4 Vegetarian, but nothing stood out to me and the line was ridiculous. I started with a banana and pineapple smoothie from the smoothie stand and then wandered a bit. I finally decided on a Vegan Vegetable Wrap from one of the deli stands. It was nothing to write home about and I think I ate less than half of it. I'm sure this place would be impressive for meat-eaters, but for a vegan it's really not that great. :-(

We then walked over to the historic area and saw the Constitution Center, Independence Mall, and the Liberty Bell Center. When I say "saw" I mean we walked through and didn't even go in any of the buildings! It was such a dreary day and the commercialization of our nation's history was a bit depressing. Plus there were a bunch of horse-drawn carriages, which put me in a stinky mood. We'd have been much happier at the Museum of Art, but they close on Mondays. Bad planning on our part!

One of the many INSANE murals we saw. The public art in Philly is great!
We caught the train that afternoon and were both very happy to see Manhattan as we approached it. It's amazing how a city this big can feel like home! I hope we get to visit Philly again as there is still a lot we didn't get to do (so bummed we didn't get to try Sweet Freedom!) and it is a really awesome place.


  1. Wow, what fun!! I don't even know where to start commenting! :) Horizons sounds GREAT (minus the disappointing dessert - bummer!), and I would definitely love to visit if I'm ever in Philadelphia.

    Glad you had such a fun & delicious adventure! :)

  2. Thanks, Jess! We are spoiled here in NYC with all the great vegan restaurants, but I was very impressed with Horizons. Hope to visit again someday!

  3. Great commentary Schmee! I love how your blog ends up being about art, culture, life in general and food ties it all together. Well done!