2nd Course: Manayunk Bucket List

In an effort to make the most (or eat the most, rather) of my remaining time in Philadelphia, I’ve made it my mission to eat my way down Main Street, home to over 25 restaurants in Manayunk, PA. Much unlike the mediocre chain restaurants that surround St. Joseph’s University, the restaurants on Main are unique and chic. It’s a lively neighborhood bustling with Philadelphia college students, young professionals and growing families. Located just a few miles and a quick cab ride from St. Joe’s campus, Manayunk’s Main Street provides a world of delicious options to celebrate any occasion with friends or family. After all, a college girl can only eat so much Qdoba, Cosi’s, Chili’s, repeat…

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Main St. Philadelphia, PA

And so, in hopes of introducing my taste buds to as many different Philadelphia restaurants as possible, I have slowly but surely been crossing each Main Street eatery off of my Manayunk Bucket List one by one. Whether celebrating a friends birthday, entertaining mom and dad for the weekend or killing time with my boyfriend (who I owe many thanks to for being a good sport and taking me on far more ‘date nights, afternoons and mornings’ than your average couple), Manayunk has a restaurant for every occasion and everyone’s palate. Here are a few of my favorites so far:

With a Group of Friends, Han Dynasty:

Grab a few girls who barely know each other, a bottle of wine and a large order of Kung Pao style chicken, and you’ve got a recipe for instant friendship. The first time I went to Han Dynasty I was with 4 girls who are now my closest friends. At the time we had just recently met and were thrown into the then intimidating world of SJU’s Greek Life. We knew very little about each other but quickly found common ground in our love for chinese cuisine and good (ok, boxed) wine. At the big round table we enjoyed each others company, and a variety of authentic Chinese dishes made to share rotating around the turntable in the center. We left with full bellies and happy hearts.

For adventurous friends who aren’t afraid to try something new (something they may not know exactly how to pronounce), Han Dynasty is the perfect place! With plenty of options, both spicy and sweet, and helpful recommendations from the friendly staff, it’s no doubt you’ll find a dish or two that meets everyone’s preferences.

On a Date, Manayunk Brewing Company:

From burgers and pub favorites to stone-oven fired pizza and a full service sushi bar, Manayunk Brewing Co. offers a little something for everyone and a unique craft beer, like Schuylkill Punch or  Manayunk IPA, to go along with it for some added local flavor.

With a large outdoor deck overlooking the Schuylkill River and TV’s all around, it’s a great place to enjoy a low-key meal (and the game!) with your guy.

Celebrating a Birthday with Brunch, Derek’s Cafe and Lounge: 

Nothing beats a Sunday morning spent with friends, good food and a Mimosa in hand and when there’s something to celebrate, like a birthday or college reunion, it’s all the more merry.  Derek’s provides a place for all three and much more. With extravagant options like stuffed strawberry and brioche french toast, Southwestern turkey sausage wrap and classic steak and eggs, Derek’s offer’s a variety of options, all which go perfectly with Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s, breakfast potatoes and good friends.

The lounge area and large windows (and of course, the food!) will make you want to stay all day long.

Party of 3, Dinner with Mom and Dad, Jake’s and Cooper’s Wine Bar

If my parents are making the 5+ hour road trip from CT to Philly to see their favorite (ok, only) daughter, they are without doubt anticipating a good meal upon their arrival (and no, Qdoba and Olive Garden do not make the cut). As my parents are unfamiliar with the area, it’s often up to me (and Yelp! reviews) to pick a place and make a reservation. Of course, this works in my advantage as a number of the restaurants on the Manayunk Bucket List slightly exceed my college-student budget.

That’s why I save the pricer, slightly more sophisticated restaurants, like Jake’s and Cooper’s Wine Bar, for when mom and dad are in town (plus my mom and I have a little thing for wine). Some of my personal favorites? Portobello Mushroom Soup, Potato Gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce  and the Pan Seared Sea Scallops.

“Guaranteed satisfaction with every bite and sip.”

Best of Both Words, Lunch and Outdoor Dining, The Couch Tomato Cafe: 

During the final days of winter, as the ground begins to thaw and the sun shines a little brighter, spending even more time indoors seems ridiculous. Combining meal time with Vitamin D consumption is pretty much as good as it gets in my opinion, so I’m always on the look-out for outdoor seating. Which is why Couch Tomato Cafe is my number one choice for a casual, outdoor lunch during the spring and summer months. Located on the corner of Main Street and Rector Street the cafe features delicious homemade soups, wraps, salads and pizzas for lunch, sunshine and a great spot for people watching. My personal favorite is the “La Fiesta” Wrap which combines mixed greens, spicy chicken and a refreshing blend of Mango Salsa and pepper jack cheese to create a spicy and sweet meal perfect for awakening your taste buds after a cold winter.

Although I have yet to try it out for myself, above the casual cafe, you’ll find the Tomato Bistro.  Remaining consistent with the cafe’s relaxing atmosphere, the Bistro offers a menu full of cafe favorites with an additional variety of “small plate” entrees, an extensive wine list and an assortment of craft beers. Some favorites recommended by friends include the Fig pizza and Crispy Artichoke appetizer.

Stay tuned for more reviews and stories, from my plate to yours, as I make my way down Main Street in hopes of tasting the Manayunk Bucket List in it’s entirety.

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4 Foods For Happier Tastebuds This Spring

For a girl like me, the return of spring means much more than open windows and increased amounts of Starbucks’ passion tea lemonade. I’m celebrating the arrival of this long overdue warm weather with, you guessed it, food. Each turn in season provides a plate-full of mouthwatering treats most appreciated during a select few months of the year. Although winter is not quite over and spring has not quite sprung, I present to you 4 foods your taste buds have been patiently waiting for all winter long.

1. The Ice Cream Cone

A little fun fact about yours truly, I always order my ice cream (red raspberry chocolate chip, preferably) “in a sugar cone with rainbow sprinkles, please!”  Now that’s not to say I always get what I ask for (why some ice cream shops only carry chocolate sprinkles, I will never know),  but I always ask. 

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There’s nothing quite like the first lick of an ice cream cone after a dark and gloomy winter. Winter coats hang abandoned in the closet and flip-flops are retrieved from under the bed, where they’ve lived for the past seven months. The sun shines warm on your face and  your taste buds are the happiest they’ve been since summertime. If you’re an ice cream lover like myself, you know just what I’m talking about. The first signs of spring indicate that summer is near. Why wait empty handed? Grab an ice cream cone and enjoy the sunshine.

Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth in Philadelphia? Check out The Franklin Fountain located in the heart of Old City on Market Street. An ode to Ben Franklin, this ice cream parlor mixes a little bit of history into each and every batch of it’s hand-made ice cream, a combination that is surprisingly, sure to please.

2. Ballpark Franks

Screen shot 2014-03-11 at 10.55.58 PM I am a Red Sox fan, don’t be mistaken, but when you attend a university 6  hours away from the legendary “Green Monstah”, you’ve gotta work with what  you’ve got. Luckily for me, Citizen’s Bank Park is a great alternative. Home of  the Philadelphia Phillies, this ballpark has tons of 7th inning snacks to satisfy  your every craving. From Tony Luke’s cheesesteaks and Bull’s BBQ to  Philadelphia’s beloved Chickie’s and Pete’s crab fries and of course a classic  ballpark  frank from Phanatic Phood, CBP has got it all (including Turkey Hill  ice cream; sugar cone and rainbow sprinkles available upon request).

While the choices may not compare to Boston’s famous Fenway Franks (in my eyes, anyway), even  at a  baseball game,  you’ve “gotta eat!”, no matter what city you’re in or what team you’re routing for. The return of springs means the return of baseball, one of the tastiest sports to watch!

Don’t feel like spending money inside the gates? Pack your own meal and head down to the Philadelphia Sports Complex well before the first pitch to enjoy hoagies in FDR Park, a great place for free parking and a quick bite to eat!

3. Manayunk StrEAT Food Festival 

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If you’re like me and missed it in the fall don’t fret! The Manayunk StrEAT Food Festival, and many others just like it across the nation, return this spring! Saturday, April 12th walk the length of Main Street in Philadelphia’s quaint neighborhood, Manayunk, to enjoy meals and treats from some of the city’s best food trucks. What could be better than an entire street lined bumper-to-bumper with food trucks? 

Local chefs and restaurants take over the neighborhood from 11-5 to provide food-lovers with a taste of some of their greatest creations, at prices any college student can handle! Following the delicious festival, stick around town because Manayunk Restaurant Week begins Sunday, April 13th and lasts for two weeks until Friday April 25th.

Add a little shopping and a little music into the festival’s mix and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a flawless spring day.

4. Burgers (or veggies!) on the Grill

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One of the best things about living at home in High School was the certainty of a home-cooked meal, just about every night of the week. In the spring, when the days grew longer and the sun shined brighter, dinner was almost always served on the patio in the backyard. Mom would make her neighborhood-famous macaroni salad,  dad would stand patiently at the grill tending to the burgers, and my brothers  and I would sit at the table enjoying the last few hours of blue sky and  sunshine. Any meal tastes better outdoors. 

 Sadly, however, this weather won’t last long. Soon enough we’ll be back inside,  windows up,  Air Conditioning on low. So while you still can, grab some friends and throw something on the grill. Whether it’s burgers, dogs, or veggies your taste buds (and hopefully your friends) will thank  you. 

At the Beach House

I boarded train number 56, the Vermonter, at 9:59am from stairway 3. Most people consider arriving at the train station early enough to print a ticket or use the bathroom. I was sure to plan enough time for coffee and a bagel before my departure.

I somehow found space in my over-packed carry-on for a soft pretzel and apple slices, which added slightly more weight to my already unmanageable load. Chargers and headphones and scarves overflow from the top of the bag, but I of course find space for a snack.

30th Street Station was awake with business men and women hustling to and from their offices. Weekend travelers, escaping from the cold or perhaps, as in my case, heading towards even lower temperatures, sat on benches or stood in line waiting patiently for their turn to board. My eyes were tired, but my stomach full from breakfast. I stood with many others, anticipating the 4 hour ride to New England via train number 56.

From Philadelphia, to New Jersey to New York, into Connecticut, Stanford, Meridan and everything in between I waited patiently for my stop. “Hartford’s next!”

I hurriedly departed the train, 2:34pm, 24 minutes behind schedule, and headed straight towards my mother’s car. In the trunk, there was an empty spot for my luggage, right next to hers. An iced coffee waiting for me in the passenger side cup holder.

We exited Connecticut, zoomed through Rhode Island, into Massachusetts and over the Sagamore Bridge. We exhaled a sigh of relief and of joy as we sailed over the Cape Cod Canal. Although an hour from our house, we were “home”.

6:00 grows near, but we haven’t reached our final destination just yet. Our stomachs grumble. Dinner options are limited. Most of the peninsula’s population has flown south for the winter. The streets are empty, the restaurants are dark, boarded up until the first signs of spring.

Luckily for us, a new local (and personal) favorite, Rock Harbor Grill, remains open through the snowy season. Dim lights shine from within, every table is occupied.

Wild Mushroom wood fired pizza and Tuscan Kale salad to go. We spend the remaining 15 minutes of our journey to Eastham engulfed by the sweet aroma of mushrooms infused with garlic.

Rocks crunch beneath the tires as we pull into the driveway. We carry the pizza box and enough luggage for 2 weeks (despite our brief 48 hour stay) up the steps and into the frozen house. We dump each bag in the living room and place the pizza box gently on the counter.

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Of course, Beach House Pinot Grigio

6+ hours of travel, by train and by car. A joyride, a familiar route. From the heart of Philadelphia to the elbow of Cape Cod, all in a days time. Winter coats take the place of our summer sundresses but we don’t mind.

The wine is waiting, perfectly chilled by the basement which now doubles as an ice box. The pizza is hot, our toes are cold, the bags remain packed, abandoned in the small living room.

In the summertime we share every meal at the big round table on the porch. Rain or shine, dad sits under the umbrella with his chips on a napkin, roast beef sandwich on a paper plate. Inside, there is no kitchen table. Just a variety of wooden chairs from thrift shops up and down The Cape that mom has found and made beautiful.

Restricted by the frosty winter air, we are unable to take our usual places at the big round table on the porch. Inside, we stand. Mom by the fire, and I in the kitchen. Pizza in one hand, Pino in the other.

I’ve traveled 400 miles for this moment. For cold feet and Rock Harbor pizza. For dinner and a movie with my mom. And so we eat. Because at the beach house, we eat first and leave the unpacking for later.

 

Philadelphia’s Phinest: 1st course

4 years ago, ‘Wawa’ was simply the first sign of a baby learning to talk. 4 years ago, I loved the salt and the crunch of bite-size pretzels, but never thought twice about it’s bigger, warmer, and softer older sibling. 4 years ago, I never craved the combination of shaved steak smothered in Cheese-Wiz, known in Connecticut as a “steak and cheese” sandwich. 4 years ago, “wooder-ice” did not exist and Rita’s was simply a name. 4 years ago I had never tasted Philadelphia.

Freshman 15? Try, Philadelphia 15. There is one thing I love most about the City of Brotherly Love (as if you haven’t already guessed) and it’s the food. Since moving to Philadelphia to attend St. Joseph’s University, I’ve gained a heartfelt appreciation for the Philadelphia classics; soft pretzels, hoagies, cheesesteaks, water ice and much more. In the great debate of cheesesteaks, forget Pat’s or Geno’s, I’m headed to Tony Luke’s in South Philly, “wiz, wit-out”. On the first day of spring, you’ll find me in line, along with many others, waiting anxiously for the first taste of Rita’s water-ice. Pretty little cupcakes from the city’s famous “Philadelphia Cupcake” transform any old day from mediocre to magnificent. And of course, any food-lovers paradise, Reading Terminal Market, will introduce your taste-buds to local favorites and delicacies from around the world.

In a series of posts, which I will refer to as ‘courses’ rather than ‘parts’, I will share with you my Philadelphia food stories, plate by plate, bite by bite. Stories from the past and stories that have yet to be devoured. From my personal Manayunk Restaurant Challenge to a mouth-watering journey on the Philadelphia Chocolate Tour, I won’t leave a single bite out.