Travel Eats documents my food adventures outside of Chicago.
Philly cheese steak with onions and Cheez Whiz, Pat’s
I spent 48 hours in Philadelphia for the bachelorette party of a dear friend I’ve known since preschool who now lives there. Our group managed to fit in a surprisingly wide range of cuisine in a short amount of time – starting, of course, with a classic Philly cheese steak. Two of the most famous steak places sit right across the street from each other in South Philly: Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks. We went with Pat’s, and it was a quintessential no-nonsense sandwich joint. I ordered my steak “wit” (with onions), and with neon-yellow Cheez Whiz (seemingly the most popular option). It was drier than I expected, although I guess I’m just used to Italian beef, and did truly showcase meat, cheese, and bread in their purest, no-frills form. I also added a few of the house peppers and hot sauce, but only to one side, as they did overpower the steak a bit. We also stopped nearby for gelati from Rita’s, a treat that I’d remembered from a summer on the Jersey Shore. It was half mango Italian ice and half vanilla custard, which gave it a well-balanced Creamsicle effect.
Mango gelati with Italian ice and frozen custard, Rita’s
For brunch, it was The Dandelion, a British pub-style eatery filled with charming details. A citrusy pitcher of Pimm’s cup was an exceedingly refreshing way to start – it should really be offered on more brunch cocktail menus. I really loved my poached eggs with bubbles and squeak, a traditional hash from across the pond that’s made with veggies, cabbage, and potatoes. What really made the dish was the housemade steak sauce, basically a thicker version of worcestershire sauce that made the eggs and hash incredibly savory. We also shared the scotch pancakes, which hit all the right maple-apple-cinnamon notes.
Poached eggs with bubble & squeak, plus hollandaise and housemade steak sauce, The Dandelion
Pitcher of Pimm’s cup with cucumber, orange, lemon, and strawberry as a brunch cocktail at The Dandelion
Scotch pancakes with maple apples and cinnamon cream, The Dandelion
The Dandelion’s charming exterior
We spent one evening in Chinatown, first noshing on creative sushi and okonomiyaki (seafood pancake) at Yakitori Boy. When we finished, instead of venturing upstairs to the two floors of karaoke that were already in high demand, we rounded the corner to what was our most intriguing destination. A buzzed-about speakeasy called Hop Sing Laundromat lies hidden behind an unmarked door that’s guarded by a man that I later learned was known as Lee. He asked us what we were there for and who had told us about the place (we may or may not have name-dropped a certain celebrity chef), and finally made it in inside. Lee launched into the house rules: primarily, no photos or videos of any kind, and no phone calls except in the lobby area; if any rule was broken, we’d be kicked out immediately. By the time he was done with his spiel, we were sufficiently terrified to disobey him, and were ready for our table. The space was rich and cozy, and I took it in all the more knowing that it couldn’t be documented. I also had one of the most interesting cocktails I’ve ever had: the Montana Payback, with applejack brandy, rum, velvet falernum, lime juice, muddled strawberries, Thai chili, and cream, topped with rose petals. It was fruit-forward and complex, and the chili left my lips tingling. This place is absolutely worth a visit if you’re ever in the area.
Proprietor Lee standing behind the secret door to Hop Sing Laundromat speakeasy (shhhh!)
Sushi rolls, Yakitori Boy
Our other big meal was at Philly’s popular Oyster House. We’d called in advance to partake in the Dump Dinner, a clam bake-esque feast of Maine lobster (a half-lobster per person), steamed clams, mussels, merguez sausage, kale, and new potatoes, all in a pot, plus fries and slaw on the side. With pages from the Sunday New York Times covering the table and lobster bibs around our necks, we dug in for a messy, but completely delicious seafood extravaganza. While it’s tough to beat dunking lobster claw meat into melted butter, I also appreciated the contrast of the wilted kale and merguez sausage that had soaked up all the shellfish liquid.
Dump Dinner place setting, complete with lobster bib, at Oyster House
“Dump Dinner” with steamed clams, mussels, Maine lobsters, merguez sausage, kale, potatoes, fries, and slaw
The details: Pat’s, 1237 E. Passyunk Ave.; Rita’s, 239 South St.; Yakitori Boy, 211 N. 11th St.; Hop Sing Laundromat, 1029 Race St.; The Dandelion, 124 S. 18th St.; Oyster House, 1516 Sansom St. (all Philadelphia).