Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Philly Part 2: Foodie for a Day

                Much to Rhea’s occasional chagrin, I’m not much of a foodie.  Whereas she’s got an admirable “I’ll try anything that doesn’t contain mayonnaise” approach to food, I’m the type of dude who’d be perfectly content to choose from a menu of the same twenty foods for the rest of my shuffle along this huge rotating buffet we’ve all been born into.  She’s into trying new sushi, and I’m a happy little bear when Checkers periodically re-introduces the Bacon Philly Cheesesteak burger to their menu.  There’s no wrong and no right in any of this, of course: it’s just a way in which we’re different.  Happens to the best of us.

                Smack in the center of the intersection between Rhea’s food approach and mine lies Adam Richman’s Man v. Food.  Rhea digs the various locales he ends up in, while I’m amused that a good 70% of the meals he ends up eating seem to be based around hamburgers and/or Buffalo wings; if health were no object, 70% of my meals would look the same.  One night a few months back, we flipped on an episode that found him in Philadelphia.  The locale made us pay a bit more attention than usual: “hey, we could go there!”  Once my darling laid eyes on the Reading Terminal Market and the Franklin Fountain, it was really only a matter of finding some free time.

                Come Saturday morning, the wait was over.  We checked out of our palatial suite at the HoJo Express and headed straight for North 12th Street, empty stomachs at the ready.  For those who’ve never been there, the Reading Terminal Market almost defies description.  Like I said before, I’m not exactly gastronomically adventurous, and even I wanted to eat every last thing in the joint that I’m not allergic to – and maybe play stomach roulette with a few of the things I am.  We wandered around a bit, but deep in my heart I knew what I was there for: a roasted pork sandwich from Tommy DiNic’s, just like the one I’d seen on Man v. Food.  While it had looked good when Richman profiled it, the second I laid eyes and nose on Dinic’s stall itself, I knew I’d found lunch.  The Reading Terminal Market is huge, easily the size of a standard Sam’s Club/Costco warehouse, and stuffed full of every option your palate could conceivably handle.  Even with all that, the line for DiNic’s was a good half-hour deep.  Rhea and I just looked at each other and nodded: if people were really willing to wait that long even with all the other choices available, this had to be the place.  And oh, good lord was it ever.
If it weren't a 125 mile drive, this would be lunch every day.
                The picture looks delicious, doesn’t it?  Trust me: it doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the awesomeness it depicts.  It’s simple, in the way that the best-made things often are: nothing but pork, pork drippings and sweet green peppers on a scrumptious, oven-fresh bakery roll.  If I manage to have something better for lunch at any point this year, I’ll be stunned.  Really, folks, it’s that good: to miss an opportunity to check it out for yourself would be to kick yourself in the stomach for all eternity.  I’m not exaggerating.

                Happily stuffed, we decided that some walking around was in order.  Our first stop was the always excellent AKA Music, one of my absolute favorite indie record stores.  Surprisingly, I came away with nothing: I was really tempted by the nice first pressing vinyl copy of the Replacements’ Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash up on the wall, but ultimately decided to have my moment of communion with it and walk away.  I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t really justify spending collector money on music I already own anymore.  Cool to hold for a few seconds?  Sure, but at the end of the day I’m just fine with Rhino’s excellent expand-o-remaster CD from a few years back.
                From there, it was onwards to a lovely hand-holdin’ walk down South Street.  It’s been a few years since we’d found ourselves in Philly, and I’d forgotten how much I dig South Street.  Speaking totally as an outsider, it really seems to have escaped a good deal of the soul-destroying commercialism that has plagued its NYC analogue, St. Mark’s Place, in the past decade or so.  Or maybe it’s just that it’s got more porn – oh, sorry – adult entertainment stores, I don’t know.  Whatever it is, we spent a truly enjoyable hour and a piece walking the length of the street: highlights included a bit more record browsing (Repo Records has some nice vinyl at good prices; nothing I needed at the moment, but well worth a browse), the 8-Twelve convenience store that we’ve already discussed, and a thrift shop that seems to organize its book section by color.  I worked for Borders for years, and “by color” was always the internal snarky response I and others had to every dope who would smug their way on up to the information desk and ask if “these books were in any kinda order.”  Apparently, some employee at this store was as sick of it as we were.  I kid you not:

So, which color are the Oprah books?
                Having made room in our tummies, we then made our way up to the Franklin Fountain.  Honestly, I should really have Rhea tell you about this part: I liked it just fine, but she was well and truly in love with her Lightning Rod sundae.  That, my friends, is no small compliment coming from a woman who takes her ice cream as seriously as Rhea does.  Since I can’t even hope to do it the sort of justice she would, I’ll leave it at this: best peanut butter ice cream ever.  That, my friends, is no small compliment coming from a dude who takes his peanut butter as seriously as I do.

Rhea's Lightning Rod.  Behind it: my gut, which was about to expand.
                 Fed and happy, we then began the journey home, which included a stop-off at the Princeton Record Exchange, one of my two or three favorite el cheapo music depots.  In this day and age where hipster demand for vinyl has driven a few too many stores to add an extra zero to the end of what used to rightly be a $1.00 price sticker, it’s always good to have a place or two where the cheap bin is still cheap.  This time, the wallet came out: I picked up a pile of Earth, Wind & Fire on vinyl (always a good thing for the soul), and a white label promo of Cheap Trick’s All Shook Up.  Yeah, I know what I said a couple of paragraphs back about not needing to re-buy music I already own seven ways from Sunday, but sometimes a neat collectible from your all-time heroes is still worth it.  Especially for $3.  Sounds great, too!

Old habits die hard.  Looks like track 3 was not a fave of the previous owner.

                 With that, it was time to head home for real.  A short vacation, true, but a great one; sometimes, twenty-odd quality hours can easily beat a mediocre week.  Adam Richman, if you’re out there somewhere: thank you, good sir.

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