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eG Foodblog: MarketStEl - My Excellent Sub/Urban Adventure

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I didn't know Tenglemann owned Super Fresh. The latter is still a hell of a lot nicer than the any of theTenglemanns in our our neighorhood though. My life is really coming around full circle here, freaky. :wacko:

Just looking at the corner of 12th and Walnut makes me feel slightly hung over.

Edited by Behemoth (log)

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Ooooh! Yes, please to be showing a lunch at this joint. I'm already liking its vibe just from the outside, and I haven't gotten a chance to enjoy any soul food--even vicariously--in ages.

You're in luck.

I got a sandwich from there today.

The price of admission, however, will be a tour of downtown Chester, a sad but potentially hopeful experience.

That, the best cup of coffee I've had in months, and more will have to wait until tonight. It's almost the end of the workday, and I'm going to be pretty busy most of this evening.

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I love the look KK is giving you!!!

I love the look this guy is giving you! :laugh:


How about an in-depth analysis of Cheese-steaks with picts!

Edited by hhlodesign (log)

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Just to say I'm really enjoying this, as a longtime Philly aficianado who hasn't spent nearly enough time there.

My fondness for your city dates back to Thanksgiving 1966, which I spent with a college classmate in Pottstown PA. We took the train into Philly one day (I'm also a train maniac) & went to the Reading Terminal Market, where I had my first taste of Brie, among other delights.

Here's one vote for a trip to the RTM this week, though I realize it's been nicely covered in other threads. Still one of my favorite places on the East Coast.

ANd if you don't get there, my thanks for wherever you take us.

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Trains, and kitties, and Erica Kane's nearest Big City! But how far to Pine Valley?

I love the shots of the arriving buses--excellent work.

Your making lunch for your partner every day is lovely. Do you cook with lunch-worthy leftovers in mind?

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and Erica Kane's nearest Big City! But how far to Pine Valley?

There's a suburb called Penn Valley about 15 minutes from downtown.

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My fondness for your city dates back to Thanksgiving 1966, which I spent with a college classmate in  Pottstown PA.  We took the train into Philly one day (I'm also a train maniac) & went to the Reading Terminal Market, where I had my first taste of Brie, among other delights.

Here's one vote for a trip to the RTM this week, though I realize it's  been nicely covered in other threads.  Still one of my favorite places on the East Coast.

ANd if you don't get there, my thanks for wherever you take us.

I first laid eyes on Philly in 1970, during my first trip to the East Coast. (Non-credit trivia question, just to see who's been paying attention: Where was I born and raised?) I came down from New York with my Dad, and we stayed with a family in Mount Holly, N.J., who Dad knew from his brief stationing at nearby Fort Dix. We drove into the city on Sunday.

The first thought I had upon seeing the city was: "This place needs a bath horribly." Everything was gray and dingy, and my impression probably wasn't helped along by the fact that it was cloudy that day.

I also went down into the Broad Street Subway while there. This was my second exposure to underground rapid transit, my first being a ride on the IRT East Side (Lexington Avenue) line in New York the week before. The station was very dim--SEPTA was just installing fluorescent lighting in the South Broad Street concourse at the time, and you could see how far they had progressed by where the passageway became suddenly brighter. I didn't get to ride on the train, though, which in retrospect I regret, as at the time, the line still had the same cars that were running on opening day, September 1, 1927.

Suffice it to say that my impression of the city has improved a great deal since then. (Repeat after me: "More on this later.")

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Late night last night, folks--I was out until 1 a.m. Lotta catchin' up to do. Stand by for a barrage of posts.

Let's start with lunch yesterday. This was the day I had planned to take you all and two of my co-workers to De' Essence of New Orleans, the Chester eatery started by the displaced Katrina victims I had mentioned to you earlier.

Unfortunately, it's that time of month, when certain people get very irritable and act stressed all the time.

Yes, I'm talkin' PMS -- Pre-Money Syndrome. Widener (and Penn and Drexel, two other local universities where I've worked) pays its exempt professional staff once a month. We get paid on the 25th. Today's the 20th. You do the math. (Compound that with the fact that both co-workers are staring major deadlines in the face, and it gets even hairier. We agreed to postpone this until after the 25th. I'll post details to the Pennsylvania board then.)

So, finding myself footloose, I decided to take a walk into downtown Chester, about a mile south of the campus on the other side of I-95.


This is the gateway to the city center--9th Street and Avenue of the States. Doesn't look too bad, does it? The streets are tree-lined and relatively clean, and Avenue of the States becomes a shaded promenade two blocks further down.


But take a closer look.



All around you are signs of advanced decay--a once-proud downtown, the shopping center of Delaware County, now largely abandoned.

There are plenty of signs of the city's former prosperity still standing.


This imposing little building on 8th Street just off Avenue of the States, for instance, is the former home of the newspaper now known as the Delaware County Daily Times. Built in 1931, it served as the Times' headquarters for 40 years. The paper moved to its current home in the central Delco suburb of Primos, one block from the R3 station, in 1971. (As the feisty tabloid--sort of like the Philadelphia Daily News writ small--is Delaware County's largest, I read it regularly and pitch it often in my current job.)

And the city has more than a little history about it. Settled in 1644 by the Swedes, who called their settlement Upland--today's Borough of Upland abuts Chester to its northwest--Chester is the oldest community in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the site of the first Quaker meetinghouse in the United States.

It is also home to the oldest public building still in use in the country.


This little structure appears on every street sign in the city. It began life in 1724 as the Chester County courthouse:


Its current occupant is a city economic development agency, which is probably the only reason it has been spared the fate of the buildings that surround it:




Notice anything else missing besides occupants for these buildings? Remember, I'm in the middle of the city at 1 p.m. on a workday. Here's the scene on the main shopping strip:


I wonder how the stores that are still open (more than you would suspect at first) remain in business. There's even a restaurant on this block:


As late as the 1960s, Chester was a hub of industry. In its heyday, auto plants, paper mills, a large shipyard and a huge Philadelphia Electric Company generating station (designed by the same architect who did Grand Central Terminal) provided jobs for tens of thousands of Chesterites.


This is the last surviving remnant of that era: the Kimberly-Clark (formerly Scott Paper) tissue plant at the foot of Welsh Street. Scott bathroom tissue is still made here.

(The power station, however, has been transformed into an office complex that is home to two companies employing about 3,000 people. The old turbine hall is now home to a bank of servers, a company cafeteria/relaxation room and the most eye-poppingly stunning event space in greater Philadelphia. I have photos of this at the office; if anyone wants me to post them, let me know and I will upload when I get there. This is one of the bright spots in the city's efforts to reinvent itself.)

A lot of the city's hopes for revival are riding on the business currently housed temporarily in this building:



The racetrack, on the site of the old Sun shipyard, is set to open this fall. The slots parlor should open sometime the following year; licensing hearings are now under way for the 15 casinos statewide that recently passed legislation authorized. There is some debate over whether the "racino" will actually produce all the spinoff benefits promised, but for now, everyone's holding their breath.

I had come into town to have lunch, though, at the place I mentioned earlier, Cheryl's Southern Style.


This place is literally a hole in the wall--there's no indoor seating to speak of (there is a table that seats six in the dining room behind the kitchen, but it's probably not used too often, for that room is dominated by a big-screen TV which was showing a gospel program when I was there):


Cheryl, the owner, is an outgoing, friendly person whose faith sustains her.


It appears that everything she needs--except the food, of course--can be found in the Bible, including a slogan--Psalm 34:8:

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

So I decided to taste and see.

As I needed to husband my funds, I asked Cheryl what $5 would buy me. Unfortunately, the fried chicken wings would take 20 minutes to prepare, and I didn't have time for that, so I settled for the baked chicken breast sandwich.


"Settle" doesn't do this sandwich justice, for it's substantial and delicious--a whole chicken breast, rib bones and skin included, seasoned with a peppery, paprika-y spice blend and smothered in broth and onions.

Every bit as good as the smothered pork chop platter I had on my first visit.

She has gotten some notice in the local press. Here's a writeup from the Daily Times:


The Philadelphia Tribune, the oldest African-American newspaper in the country, has also written about her as well. She is also a landlord, it appears:


And she caters!

Given her location, she doesn't keep long hours, but on Fridays and Saturdays, she is open until 8 p.m.

Cheryl's Southern Style

525 Welsh Street

Chester, PA 19013


Monday through Thursday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday noon-8 p.m.

Nearest SEPTA service: R2 Regional Rail line, Bus Route 37 from Snyder Avenue station on the Broad Street Line, Bus Route 113 from 69th Street Terminal or Marcus Hook, or any of the routes on this sign from the destinations indicated:


to Chester Transportation Center. She's right across the street from the train station.

All this, and I've only gotten through lunch! I need to get ready to go--I have a choral concert this morning. See you sometime this afternoon.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

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I've got a few minutes between the concert and the time I have to leave to catch the R3, so let me take care of Today's Trivia Question.

Once again, great Googling on your part. Fifteen of you sent in the correct answer: the Erivan K. Haub School of Business at St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia's Jesuit university. One of you -- Jake--offered another example of the Haubs' generosity, the Erivan K. Haub Program in Business and Sustainability at York University in Ontario.

The other correct respondents: Darcie B, Mano, misgabi, ghostrider, Pontormo, mizducky, little ms foodie, suzilightning, annarborfoodie, *Deborah*, mamabear, swisskaese, Chufi and nina c., who currently leads the pack. Philadelphian Diann also sent in the right answer.

Today's Trivia Question will be a little tougher to answer, as I don't think it's easily searchable.

This blog is unfortunately one week too early to chronicle Dining Out for Life, the annual AIDS benefit at more than 230 of Philly's better restaurants.

This event is now a North American phenomenon, with fundraisers in more than 30 U.S. and Canadian cities. It originated right here in Philly, in 1991, when a volunteer for ActionAIDS, the city's largest AIDS service agency, came up with the idea.

However, in its first few years, ActionAIDS was not the only agency that organized Dining Out for Life. Another local AIDS service agency split the proceeds with ActionAIDS, but dropped out when disagreements over expanding the event beyond Philadelphia arose.

Can you name the other original organizer of Dining Out for Life?

This time, I will give you a hint: The event was a good fit for this organization, given its mission.

Go to town, folks. See you later this afternoon.

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"Its current occupant is a city economic development agency, which is probably the only reason it has been spared the fate of the buildings that surround it"

What a sad irony that statement illustrates.

Chester has sufferred the same fate of many former northeast and midwest industrial towns. As industry boomed in the 50s and 60s, local jurisdictions kept raising local taxes on business. For the double whammy, union labor kept demanding higher and higher wage and benefit packages. At the same time, the advent of wide spread air conditioning and a better educated non union labor force in the south attracted many businesses away from their old homes.

Usually a renaissance happens small piece by piece when the local jurisdiction offers tax incentives to entrepreneurs to locate businesses in blighted areas. The successful areas end up with a mix of residential and business properties that attract shopping and restaurants, etc.

Hopefully this will happen in Chester.

Enjoying the blog, thanks. looking forward to Italian market stuff. Very familiar with that place, but always fun to see it from another's (and the camera's) perspective.

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Chester has sufferred the same fate of many former northeast and midwest industrial towns.  As industry boomed in the 50s and 60s, local jurisdictions kept raising local taxes on business.  For the double whammy, union labor kept demanding higher and higher wage and benefit packages.  At the same time, the advent of wide spread air conditioning and a better educated non union labor force in the south attracted many businesses away from their old homes.

Chester's property taxes are among the highest in the state--punishingly high, in fact. The way the bill legalizing slots is written, revenues from taxes on slots parlors--the state will take a very stiff 55% of the cut--are to be used for property tax relief in 66 of the Commonwealth's 67 counties. This could make a big difference for Chester.

In the 67th--Philadelphia--it is to be used to accelerate ongoing wage tax reductions. Philly will get two slots parlors under the state law.

Usually a renaissance happens small piece by piece when the local jurisdiction offers tax incentives to entrepreneurs to locate businesses in blighted areas.  The successful areas end up with a mix of residential and business properties that attract shopping and restaurants, etc.

Hopefully this will happen in Chester.

Actually, that sort of describes what happened with that former PECO generating station. And since Chris Holst would like to see what became of the place, I'll use this as an excuse to post pix from a car tour of the city I took with Widener's vice president for government relations, a down-to-earth guy named Marcus Lingenfelter.

Actually, PECO had wanted to demolish Chester Generating Station after the company shut it down in the 1970s. City officials fought PECO tooth and nail over this, and while the wrangling took place, the plant rotted gracefully.

A local real estate developer managed to get inside the place in the middle of all this and saw real potential. He managed to negotiate with PECO and the city to obtain the property at a bargain price. Then he removed the turbines from the turbine hall, gutted most of the rest of the structure (but leaving pieces of the machinery and controls in place, as you will see) and converted it into office space.

This is what Chester Station looks like today. In the background on the right is the Commodore Barry Bridge, which links Chester with New Jersey:


One of the tenants is a major bank, another is an IT company, and a third is a business-services firm that also manages the building. They have the portion that includes the old turbine hall.

On the bottom floor of the hall, they inserted a café, a relaxation/meditation room and a computer room that houses a bank of servers. This is the view from the roof of those two rooms:


On the right are two huge video screens. Behind them is space that houses a bar and a small lounge area. The space can be rented out for functions. I half-joked to friends that I should call this place to the attention of the Sapphire Fund, which produces the Blue Ball, Philadelphia's big "circuit party," which has been held at the National Constitution Center for the past two years and will be again this May. However, I doubt I will because (a) even with shuttle buses from the gayborhood, it would be a tough sell to get a bunch of party queens from all over the country to trek to the Chester riverfront to dance the night away and (b) the circuit-party crowd has this regrettable habit of occasionally trashing the venues, and I wouldn't want to ruin that carpet.

The architectural details in this room are grand, elegant and -- yes -- reminiscent of Grand Central in some ways. Here is the old plant control room as viewed from the function-space floor:


And here is detail of one of the brass wall torches for lighting:


The old skylights no longer let in daylight, but they have otherwise been beautifully restored:


And the old control room is now a conference room. The old meters and gauges were left intact, making the room feel a little bit like the bridge of the starship Enterprise:


The city now uses this building in a promotional DVD touting its economic development efforts. I have a copy of this--it was one of the first things I got after arriving at Widener.

Enjoying the blog, thanks.  looking forward to Italian market stuff.  Very familiar with that place, but always fun to see it from another's (and the camera's) perspective.

Having spent plenty of time on Chester, it's time to move on to Philly. I'll begin the tour in the next post.

BTW: No lunch photo today, folks. Since I got in the office at 1 today, I just ate the lunch I had packed the day before but did not eat so that I could share Cheryl's with you all. It was a liverwurst and Muenster cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread and a tossed salad.

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Good morning Sandy,

Our rural server here at Treetops has only allowed for intermittent glimpses of your storied life this week, sometimes sans photos, but what we’ve seen so far has been great.

Eva and I love your city as if it were our own, and perhaps that’s what makes it so attractive—culinarily, historically, architecturally—that it is so accepting and accessible to outsiders. Our recent experiences (our business partners are officed there) have provided wonderful contrast to life in Vancouver, one of the newest cities in the world.

We’ll be fairly close to you next week, but not close enough. Not incidentally, I think we’ve now eaten in Philly enough to say that it is very much a culinary destination, cast in a colourful and storied context.

We’re very much looking forward to what comes next.

Good to see you could join me virtually, if intermittently.

Plenty of history still to come.

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Now let me tell you about that dynamite cup of coffee I had yesterday afternoon:


I had it while talking to this gentleman:


about civic engagement projects in the School of Hospitality Management and a new study-abroad program that will allow SHM students to spend a semester at Les Roches, the Swiss Hotel Association's hospitality management institute in Bluche, Switzerland.

This fellow is Nicholas Hadgis, dean of the School of Hospitality Management, and after talking to him, I think I may be working in the wrong office here.

He is a big believer in networking for career advancement. Forget what I said Tuesday about the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic--Widener grads can be found running hotels and restaurants all around the globe. The dean had just returned from a trip to Costa Rica, where he stayed at the Marriott in San José, whose general manager is an SHM grad. He encourages students to join student chapters of professional associations and travel to professional conferences.

Which brings us to the coffee, which was smooth and mellow with strong flavors of cocoa and berries. Some students in our campus chapter of the Professional Convention Managers Association went to attend a PCMA conference in Hawaii and brought this back with them:


If you ask me, this is an even better perk than the fitness center.

Our School of Hospitality Management is small--only about 35 students graduate each year--but very highly regarded: a recent survey of hospitality management programs put it in the top 20 nationwide, ahead of well-known schools like Johnson & Wales and in the same league as the huge programs at the big state universities.

If you know someone who's interested in attending such a program, you might want to pass this info along to them.

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Kona coffee and choral concerts: two of my favorite topics any time, ever. May I ask what you sang, and for whom?

I am loving this blog.


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I love that coffee. happy sigh.

Its fun, sight seeing with you. Good grub too. Thanks for blogging.

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Before I continue the tour, let me touch on rjling's question from Monday about why Philadelphia doesn't get better press as a food destination.

I'm going to do this by the roundabout route. Bear with me.

A phrase that I find irritating is "the sixth borough." And finding out that it was a freelance writer for Philadelphia Weekly, one of the city's two alternative weeklies, who put it into play in an article she wrote for The New York Times on how growing numbers of New Yorkers are decamping for the City of Brotherly Love makes it no less grating.

But it does point to a sad truth: Ever since the completion of the Erie Canal, this first city of the United States has lived in the shadow of New York to its detriment.

Anxiety about our bigger neighbor 90 miles up the road has a long pedigree. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania had--and I suspect the Atwater Kent Museum now has--a poster in its collection that has been reproduced and can be seen hanging on the office walls of some historians and rail buffs. Dating from the 1850s, it rails against a plan to build a "LOCOMOTIVE RAIL ROAD" into the city which would "defile our fair streets and destroy the tranquility of our neighborhoods."

"Citizens! Will you stand up and OPPOSE this OUTRAGE!" it exhorts. "Or do you consent to become a SUBURB OF NEW-YORK?"

(The railroad in question, an extension of the Camden & Amboy, eventually became the 9th Street main line of the Philadelphia and Reading--which later would terminate at the Reading Terminal, opened in 1893.)

Whether or not we consented, a suburb of New York is to an extent what we became. The might of our industrial enterprises--the Pennsylvania Railroad was the Microsoft of its day--and the diversity of our manufacturing--the city's nickname for many years was "Workshop of the World"--still paled in comparison to the financial power of the city on the Hudson.

But our industrial heritage has also shaped us in other ways. Philadelphians to this day tend to be less well educated than denizens of other large urban centers, and that too may contribute to this city's relatively low self-esteem.

But over the nearly quarter century I've been living here, there has been a palpable change in the place. To move the issue back on topic, like so much else that's good about Philly now, the seeds of the current restaurant scene were sown in the 1970s, when a bunch of young folks with a shocking disregard for the conventions of Proper Philadelphia dining opened quirky restaurants with unorthodox menus and funky décor. The "Restaurant Renaissance" produced dozens of these places, two of which, both beloved institutions, survive: the Astral Plane and Friday Saturday Sunday.

But these in turn produced new generations of entrepreneurial chefs, helped along by local institutions like The Restaurant School (now The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College), and a public whose appetite for the new and interesting was whetted by coverage in publications like Philadelphia magazine, which evolved from a stodgy Chamber of Commerce promotional magazine into a muckraking, attitude-filled monthly in the 1970s and in the process spawned a new category of periodical, the "city magazine." (Of course, a similar transformation was also under way in New York, where New York magazine emerged from the death throes of the New York Herald Tribune at about the same time.)

What you see around you in Philadelphia today is, if you will, the institutionalization of this culture. Philadelphians have grown accustomed to eating in restaurants that offer adventuresome fare--increasingly global in character--and restaurateurs have responded in kind. People like the folks who hang out on the Pennsylvania board here have become educated food consumers--and a smart restaurateur knows that, as Sy Syms put it, "an educated consumer is our best customer."

Add to that the rich culinary heritage of the surrounding countryside, which a few savvy Philadelphians like Jack McDavid* and Judy Wicks have worked hard to preserve and spread, and institutions like the Reading Terminal Market have also helped maintain, and you end up with a city that, culinarily speaking, is like no other in the United States. No, it's not New York, and heaven forbid that it should ever become a clone of it. It's more like Seattle in being a unique product of time and place.

The reason that people outside the city may only now be cottoning on to this may also have to do with the city's legendary municipal inferiority complex. Kansas Citians, by comparison, are downright self-confident. You still hear people talk about the legendary promotional slogan cooked up by a local ad executive in the 1970s: "Philadelphia isn't as bad as Philadelphians say it is." And I have run across few residents who are as hard on their hometowns as Philadelphians are. (An acquaintance of mine, Mark Stern, a professor at York University in Canada and the author of a history of gay and lesbian activism in Philadelphia pre-Stonewall called "City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love," wrote in the preface to his book that one problem he had in putting the book together was that he didn't like Philadelphia all that much. Then he read a survey that stated that 60 percent of Philadelphians would rather live somewhere else and decided he fit right in. After that, he continued, the city grew on him, and he has come to have a genuine fondness for the place.)

I've come to the conclusion that some -- not all -- of those Philadelphians who come down hard on their hometown do so because they actually love it with a passion and believe it could be so much better than it is. They have been helped in their efforts to make it so by small but growing numbers of non-natives like me who saw the potential in this place--"acres of diamonds in their own back yard," to paraphrase Baptist orator and Temple University founder Russell Conwell. They've been busy polishing those diamonds to the point where others have suddenly taken notice that where they thought they saw just another bit of the Rust Belt, there is actually an urban gem.

*Edited to add: Like me, McDavid is also a non-native--a transplant from Tennessee, in his case. So, for that matter, is the most popular mayor Philadelphia has had since Richardson Dilworth--the current Governor of Pennsylvania (the first Philadelphian to hold the office since 1911), New York-born Ed Rendell. One of the things Rendell did was make the city believe in itself again.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

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Well, Philadelphia's own self image problems are at the very least useful for those of us who find ourselves away from home for a period of time. During my years in Texas, where football is a religion, when asked about the game (which I inevitably knew nothing about) my response was always "I'm a Philadelphia fan, I hate my own team, I just hate all the other teams more." Got me out of talking football more times than I can count.

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You still hear people talk about the legendary promotional slogan cooked up by a local ad executive in the 1970s: "Philadelphia isn't as bad as Philadelphians say it is." 

here you go:

click here

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Just  to say I'm really enjoying this, as a longtime Philly aficianado who hasn't spent nearly enough time there.

My fondness for your city dates back to Thanksgiving 1966, which I spent with a college classmate in  Pottstown PA.  We took the train into Philly one day (I'm also a train maniac) & went to the Reading Terminal Market, where I had my first taste of Brie, among other delights.

Funny how things go, but of the hundreds of varieties of cheese out there, Brie is one of the few that don't float my boat. Unless it's baked, in which case it's wonderful.

Here's one vote for a trip to the RTM this week, though I realize it's  been nicely covered in other threads.  Still one of my favorite places on the East Coast.

ANd if you don't get there, my thanks for wherever you take us.

Come hell or high water, I will take you all there. I have a Shakespeare workshop with school children from Chester and Ridley Township to shoot Saturday afternoon, but I will drop in on the RTM either en route there or once I get back. Remember, Market East Station is right next door.

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So here it is, Thursday late night (well, Friday if you're going to be technical about it), and I haven't even gotten past Wednesday yet. So, let's resume the week in the life...

Heading back into town from the office Wednesday, my train was delayed. Just before it should have appeared, something else came up the track:



Concrete ties for the Northeast Corridor tracks. It seems that there is always some sort of repair or maintenance job going on somewhere along the busy rail route.

I got off at Suburban Station, the other underground hub of the regional rail network:


Opened in 1930, the Pennsy's underground terminal was supposed to replace Broad Street Station and the elevated "Chinese Wall" viaduct that led to it. Instead, the old station saw service all the way through World War II and did not close until 1952. Demolition of the "Wall" and the station made possible the transformation of Market Street west of City Hall into today's office canyon. The PRR developed the Penn Center office building complex on its site; all the buildings are connected to Suburban Station via underground concourses. SEPTA is putting the finishing touches on a complete rebuild of the station's main concourse.


There was a street musician playing the recorder in the concourse this evening--a common sight in New York but fairly rare in Philadelphia, where SEPTA has no program that promotes music in the underground:


I got off one stop early in order to take a stroll down Chestnut Street:


The city's former premier shopping street went into serious decline after an ill-fated "transitway" opened in 1979, and has been eclipsed by Walnut Street one block south as the fashionable place to shop. Removal of the transitway in 2000, however, has sparked a slow revival of the street, one that is now well along in its western reaches, thanks in part to the opening of Liberty Place (on the left in the photo above), the complex that includes the 1987 tower that broke a longstanding informal height limit and gave Philadelphia a real skyline.

One of the recent additions to this stretch of Chestnut is my first destination on the way home:


DiBruno Bros., an Italian Market institution and cheese lovers' Mecca since 1939, opened a Rittenhouse Square store on South 18th Street in the late 1990s and added a prepared-foods shop next to it around 2000. Last year, it combined the two shops into a new, much larger store on Chestnut just east of 18th. The store has been a hit since Day One, and it's easy to see why:


Inside the two-story shop is just about anything one might want in the way of cheese and specialty foods. The cheeses are at the back:



The store is running a salute to France this week, so it's only natural that the featured variety this week would be French:


There are so many different varieties of cheese here, it's easy to lose yourself in them. Fortunately, they have help for the perplexed:


It takes human form as well:


Cheese is just the beginning. They also have wonderful sausages:


a full selection of deli items:



prepared foods to take home, including that reliable standby, rotisserie chicken:



and a coffee bar.


They also have a wide selection of oils, vinegars, juices, cold dishes, sauces and interesting snack items. Someone tell Brooks Hamaker that should he ever get a hankering to visit Philly, we've got his snackin' jones taken care of here:


Upstairs is a café and demonstration kitchen with a full schedule of events. It was closed off when I visited, even though there was a sign announcing a "Book and the Cook Circle" event that night at the base of the steps. But there was also this sign on the door:


Are they reconfiguring the second floor? Inquiring minds want to know.

Heading east on Chestnut, I passed the site of the late, lamented--well, lamented by me, at least--Hamburger Mary's.


This gay-friendly burger joint (with a video bar upstairs), the Philadelphia outpost of a national chain of 14 such places, lasted about a year. The owners--a trans-Atlantic couple, one-half of whom was from Britain, the other half of whom was from the States--were a nice couple, but unfortunately, they didn't really have their act together when it came to running a restaurant. They might have also done better had they located east of Broad, closer to the gayborhood; even though this is a walking city, a lot of us won't walk too far to get somewhere if there's no good reason to.

The Copabanana--whose burgers are among the better in town--is taking over this space for a fourth restaurant, Copa Miami. That bright orange placard in the window is a liquor license application; spot one of these--and they're hard to miss--and you know that someone has plans for a restaurant (usually) in the space.

While waiting for the Copa Miami to arrive, burger aficionados in this area who don't have the $15 to drop on the best burger in town--served at Rouge, on 18th just below Walnut, facing Rittenhouse Square itself--will have to make do with this recently opened Ruby Tuesday in Liberty Place:


(An aside here: Philadelphia street signs are unique among U.S. cities for their distinctive shape. They are also easy to read and informative, giving the house numbering coordinates. Given that this is the first American city laid out in a grid, and the house numbering system follows the grid, I find it difficult to believe that anyone could really get lost in this city. Yet people do, all the time. Go figure.)

The weather here has been gorgeous all week, with summery temperatures. As recently as a decade ago, that might not have made much difference, as there were few places with sidewalk seating; the conventional wisdom was that the narrow sidewalks on Philadelphia streets made sidewalk dining impractical at best. No longer. Now lots of places sport sidewalk tables, which have made the streets even more inviting. Diners at the Marathon Grill in the 1300 block of Chestnut--a popular local chain offering quick casual fare--were certainly enjoying the weather:


One hazard of living in a city chock-full of history is that you keep bumping into it wherever you turn. I took that picture just a few steps west of where this occurred:


Some of you with long memories may recall the incredibly Soviet experience of shopping for booze in Pennsylvania, where the state has a monopoly on the sale of wine and spirits. (When he was a star columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Steve Lopez summed up the attitude behind the State Store system thusly: "This is horrible stuff. Here, let us sell you some.")

Those days are long gone, and the--please don't call them State Stores anymore, even though everyone still does--are now downright pleasant places to shop. And if you're a fine wine lover, they're fabulous places to shop, thanks to oenophile Liquor Control Board Chairman Jonathan Newman (son of Sandra Schultz Newman, a prominent state judge from Philadelphia). My local Wine & Spirits Shop, in the 1200 block of Chestnut, is a wine lover's paradise:


with a huge selection. The really good stuff's at the back:


Thanks to the Chairman's Selection program, there are now fantastic wine buys in all price ranges:


It gets better from here. Read these and weep, non-Pennsylvanians:



The program has led to a previously unimaginable phenomenon: wine lovers driving from New Jersey into Pennsylvania to buy wine. (Not to say that everything's hunky dory: the sales staff at the best wine shops in Jersey, like Moore Bros. in Cherry Hill, probably know more about what they sell than the typical PLCB employee. But even there the PLCB has made progress. If you'd like to see what I mean, check out the long-running "Wine Bargains at the PLCB" thread in the Pennsylvania forum.)

After that, it was home to drop off a few things and change out of office drag.

Next up: A reader's request addressed.

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Kona coffee and choral concerts: two of my favorite topics any time, ever.  May I ask what you sang, and for whom? 

I am loving this blog.


Your timing is pretty good.

After I changed, I headed over to the William Way Community Center on Spruce Street, which is where The Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus rehearses every Wednesday evening from 7 to 9:30. I sing second tenor in the chorus, which I joined in September of last year after several acquaintances had repeatedly encouraged me to audition. (I was one of the charter members of the The Boston Gay Men's Chorus, established in 1982, one year after Philadelphia's. It's somewhat indicative of the differences between the two cities--which are constantly compared--that the bigger chorus is in the smaller city [the BGMC started out with nearly 80 voices and now has more than 175; the PGMC started out with four and now has about 100]. Anyone who has read Penn sociologist Digby Baltzell's Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia can probably give you chapter and verse on the Philadelphia penchant for civic disengagement in contrast to Bostonians' hyper-involvement, and Bostonians are as smug about their city as Philadelphians are disparaging about theirs. But take it from me: Pace New England clam chowder, the dining scene's better here.)

After rehearsal, many chorus members repair to a nearby bar and restaurant, the Irish Pub, around the corner from me in the 1100 block of Walnut, for food, drink and camraderie.


Why, you might ask, would a bunch of gay men, in the middle of Philadelphia's gay neighborhood, where all the bars are, choose what is probably the most thoroughly hetero spot for blocks around as their after-rehearsal gathering place?

Because it's the only place for blocks around that can put together enough tables to accommodate all of us, that's why.

(Warning: The photos that follow were all shot without flash with a digital camera that shoots no faster than ISO 200. Which means that--even after bumping up the exposure to its highest setting--the shutter speed was really too slow to do what I was trying to do. But since I am committed to giving you a fully illustrated glimpse into my life this week, you will simply have to imagine that these are in focus.)

I don't always go to "Afterglow"--I'm more likely to head straight to the karaoke night at Pure (about which more later)--but sometimes I do join the chorus. Wednesday night was one of those times.


That's me with Dean Allen (baritone), the chorus' music librarian.

Skip Concilla, who takes attendance at each rehearsal, had berated us the week before for our poor attendance. He later apologized for the rant in an e-mail in which he also offered to buy everyone's non-alcoholic drinks if at least 75 of the 83 members singing in our next concert showed up at Wednesday's rehearsal.

As he was buying this past Wednesday, I took him up on the offer and ordered a root beer. The waitress apologized, as they had no root beer, and substituted something better:


This is the reincarnation of a popular local soda, Black Cherry Wishniak, which was made for decades by Frank's Beverages of Northeast Philly. Frank's was bought out a few years back and the Philly plant shut down, and not long after that, Black Cherry Wishniak disappeared from store shelves. Hank's, a local boutique soda bottler, has revived it. When next you're in town, you should try a bottle.

(I'd appreciate a little help from my fellow Philadelphians with this question: What does "Wishniak" mean, and how did the soda get that name?)

Of course, the Irish Pub has a menu full of pub fare: burgers, fries, wings, appetizers, and some traditional Anglo-Irish fare, including fish and chips and shepherd's pie. I wasn't up for a full dinner, so I ordered Buffalo wings.

I forgot I was supposed to be documenting what I ate and started wolfing them down as soon as they arrived. I assure you, this was a plate of Buffalo wings:


Afterwards, I ambled over to Pure, a popular gay dance club and lounge, for "Karaoke Blvd."

This is Natasha, the hostess with the mostest who presides over Karaoke Blvd. on Wednesdays and Saturdays and "Trivia Queen" games (which change often; the current incarnation is a Pictionary-style game, "Picture This") on Fridays in the downstairs lounge:


I'd been wondering for some time now how Natasha got the idea that I loved to eat. Aside from my gut and my sometime tendency to singlehandedly wipe out the crudité platters that get set out in Pure's downstairs lounge on occasion, that is.

On Wednesday, she revealed the secret: She's been reading this blog! I hope you're pleased with the photo, Tash.

Anyway, Wednesday's karaoke night qualifies for inclusion in this foodblog for another reason--there was food on hand. To be specific, cookies:


and brownies:


brought in by another Karaoke Blvd. regular, Michael Olsen:


As it was after 11 when I arrived, I didn't get a chance to sing that night. I had a drink there, went down to 12th Air Command (which also has karaoke on Wednesday nights), found out that a bunch of Pure regulars had done likewise, sang "Big Yellow Taxi" (Counting Crows version), and went home to post a little.

Now to tackle Thursday before turning in. Since I have a 10 a.m. doctor's appointment tomorrow, I don't have to get up early and can catch up on stuff right now.

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One of the good things about working at a small school like Widener is that everyone knows everyone else and there's very little in the way of bureaucracy to negotiate.

One of the other good things is that leftover food from meetings often shows up in the coffee room--or, in the case of Thursday morning, in the office itself.

The Chorus performed selections from its most recent and its upcoming concert (our debut in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts!) at the Springside School in Chestnut Hill this morning for an audience composed of Springside girls and boys from next-door Chestnut Hill Academy, so I didn't get into the office until 1. But when I got there, the breakfast I didn't have this morning was waiting for me:


Bagels and cream cheese from Panera Bread--probably their location in Springfield Square on Baltimore Pike, about 15-20 minutes' drive from campus.

Make that cream cheese spread. It tasted like cream cheese, but had the consistency of softened butter.

I decided against the poppyseed-and-onion bagel and grabbed something that I thought was another bagel variety. Well, it was round! But its texture was nothing like a bagel's:


I guess the absence of a hole in the middle should have tipped me off, though what with "squagels" and "sandwich bagels" and other such abominations these days, I wouldn't put it past someone to produce a hole-free bagel.

When I bit into it, I found out that I had just spread cream cheese on a croissant. So I did something different today without even intending to.

I'll get to the rest of the day in a little while.

Edited to add a link to the upcoming PGMC concert on the Kimmel Center's Web site. If you live in the Philadelphia area, I invite you to come hear us sing in Perelman Theater on June 10. You can buy tickets online through the Kimmel Center Web site.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

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Good morning!

I'll get to the rest of Thursday later today, probably after I'm in the office after my doctor's appointment. In the meantime, here are today's trivial pursuits.

Apparently, the answer to yesterday's Trivia Question was researchable, for one eGulleteer presented me with a blog entry by Robert Drake, producer of the syndicated public radio show "Kids Corner" and the local gay news/arts/culture program "Q'zine" on WXPN (88.5 FM) and a passing acquaintance, in which he remarks on his role in both organizing Dining Out for Life and establishing the answer:

MANNA, the Metropolitan AIDS Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance.

One of the other founders of MANNA was Kenwyn Smith, a professor of social work at Penn and a member of the Center City Presbyterian congregation that chose meals for homebound people with AIDS as a service project to revitalize their drifting church. He wrote a wonderful and illuminating book about the experience, MANNA in the Wilderness of AIDS: Ten Lessons in Abundance (Pilgrim Press, 2002). Why don't you go to the eGullet Amazon link and pick up a copy?

I profiled Smith and his book in The Penn Current in 2002.

Now, on to Today's Trivia Question, another photo question which should be a gimme.

One of the places I had intended to visit, but will have to leave off the itinerary, is the only sit-down restaurant near the Widener campus, Dawn's Diner, next to the Days Inn at the intersection of Providence and Edgmont Avenues right by I-95:


The people are friendly and the atmosphere pleasant, but the food is only average. Still, it's a decent place to eat in an area with few such choices.

The Trivia Question is: What sort of restaurant was this originally?

See you all later today.

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Oops! Forgot to issue kudos to the correct respondents. I did get one incorrect response, and will keep the identity of the sender private to spare further embarrassment.

Congrats to *Deborah*, mamabear, mizducky, Chufi, ghostrider and Gruzia, the eGer who found Robert Drake's blog.


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