City of Brotherly Love is rich in history & culture
~First published in the Burlington Times-News, section A10
One of the oldest cities in the United States, our first capital and the cradle of liberty, Philadelphia is as diverse as they come. In 1682, the city was founded by William Penn as the capital of the province of Pennsylvania. The province was offered to settle a debt the king owed him, and Penn bought the land from the Lenape Tribe. To this day our colonial heritage is easily visible everywhere you look. There are so many layers of hidden gems in Philly, they can easily be overlooked in such a rich cultural and culinary landscape.
If you are driving into the city from the west, take the scenic Kelly Drive route. This curving road is named for Princess Grace’s brother, and is a stone’s throw from where she grew up. The Drive runs along the Schuylkill River, which is lined with paddlers. The park that runs along the river is filled with families and friends rollerblading, biking, jogging and picnicking. And, as with elsewhere in this city filled with public art, there are a generous number of statues scattered throughout.
As you move further east, your first glimpse of the city’s towering skyline is visible between the quaint university sculling team homes lining Boathouse Row. Skyscrapers did not exist in Philly before 1987, as prior to then, according to a gentleman’s agreement, no building was permitted to be taller then the crown of William Penn’s hat, residing on the top of Philadelphia’s City Hall — the largest and most ornate city hall in the United States.
Getting around the city
Driving in Center City can feel like you are playing a video game, so it is best to understand the layout before diving in. The streets are laid out in a grid pattern designed by William Penn’s surveyor in the 1600s — keeping the houses spread apart to prevent fires from spreading. Most roads running east-west were originally named after trees, and those going north-south are numbered, going down in value as you head toward Front Street and the Delaware River. The vast majority of streets in Center City are one-way, so getting lost is nearly impossible. You simply “go around the block” if you miss a turn. There are a few notable exceptions like Broad Street (14th), which happens to be the longest straight north-south street in the country. On many Center City streets, they paved right over the original cobblestones, but when you near Head House Square you are in for a bumpy ride, and an even more challenging stroll, as the stones remain exposed. Head House is home to one of the oldest continuously run farmers markets in our country.
Before William Penn expanded the city limits, Philadelphia took up what is today known as Center City. The “downtown” area of Philly, Center City is full of delightful restaurants, street vendors, parks, statues, fountains and murals. Shoppers will enjoy Antique Row, Jeweler’s Row, and South Street for funky finds. Center City itself is divided into five districts; Rittenhouse Square, Convention Center, Washington Square, Historic/ Waterfront, and the Parkway Museums District. This last has brilliantly colored flags from more than 100 countries lining the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and is very appropriately named since it is crammed full of every type of museum you can think of. My personal favorite, The Academy of Natural Sciences, was the first natural history museum in the U.S. Continue down the parkway and you will see the grand entrance to the Philadelphia Art Museum, one of the largest museums in the country, and home to my favorite collection of arms and armor. The plaza and building looks as though they were transported from ancient Athens, and the museums front steps are the famous ones on which Rocky ran. His statue is tucked to the side, and there is always a line of tourists waiting to take their picture with Rocky.
One of the best places to begin a day of sightseeing is at the Independence Visitor Center. Here you will find maps and brochures, information about tours, and helpful, friendly guides. If the weather cooperates, I recommend Big Bus Tours with open-top, double-decker buses. The hour-and-a-half tour goes all over Center City, providing a quick glance, along with tons of background information and intriguing facts. Sites on their tour include Betsy Ross House, US Mint, Ben Franklin’s grave, National Constitution Center, Chinatown, Reading Terminal Market, City Hall, Barnes Foundation, Rodin Museum, Philadelphia Art Museum, Franklin Institute, and much more. The buses run all day, and you can get off one bus at any of the stops and visit the sight before getting back on another one. One-, two- and three-day passes can be purchased.
Good Eats: Philly is known for its cheese steak sandwich
Philadelphia is well-known for a variety of culinary delights, but one in particular is so synonymous with the city that it is even named after it. The Philly Cheese Steak has become so famous, it is even listed on our own Graham Soda Shop’s menu. Other local Philly favorites include hoagies (subs) and water ice (Italian ice). Philly claims to be the home of America’s ice cream. Philly’s pizza has a character all of its own. Unlike Chicago’s deep dish, Philly’s pizza is thin and crispy, and it seems as though there is a pizzeria on every corner. Another favorite local treat is soft pretzels, sold on pushcarts found on most Center City street corners. Be prepared to answer, “With or without?” The vendor will want to know if you want mustard on your pretzel.
For a cornucopia of local foods all in one place, visit Reading Terminal Market, one of America’s “largest and oldest public markets,” which has been at 12th and Arch Streets since 1893. For fabulous ethnic cuisine, the 9th Street Italian Market is located just south of Center City, and Chinatown has a multitude of delectable restaurants and shops. Famous Delicatessen, a vintage example of a real old fashioned deli, is a personal favorite of my grandparents, and has kept much of the original charm from when it opened its doors in 1923.
From Vine to Arch Streets and 7th to Broad Streets
The Chinatown Friendship Gate is at 10th and Arch Streets
Open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
700 South 4th Street, Philadelphia, Pa. — on Fabric Row
1219 South 9th Street, Philadelphia, Pa. (at 9th and Passyunk Avenue)
Admission is free, market tours available for $29. for adults and $24 for children
Open daily, outdoor vendors open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays
9th Street from Wharton to Fitzwater Streets
Pat’s King of Steaks
1237 E. Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa.
Reading Terminal Market
Admission is free, market tours available for adults $17 and children $10
Open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays
51 North 12th Street, Philadelphia, Pa.
Here’s a recipe to try at home:
Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich
1 large Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped
1 large bell pepper, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound shaved rib-eye steak
1/2 pound provolone cheese, thinly sliced or shredded — other cheeses can be substituted
4 long Italian hoagie rolls (bread rolls)
Heat a large flat sauté pan on medium heat and when hot, brush heavily with olive oil. Add chopped peppers and onions, and salt and pepper. Sauté mixture for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are translucent, but not browned. Push the mixture to the perimeter of the pan, and cook the meat in the center (hottest) part of the pan for 3 to 4 minutes, until all sign of pink is gone. While cooking, chop and mix the meat in the pan. When the meat is done, stir in the onion-pepper mixture from the perimeter of the pan. Add the cheese on top and let cook until fully melted into the mixture. Slice rolls lengthwise so there is a “hinge” on one side holding it together, and warm or lightly toast. Spoon 1/4 of the cheese/steak mixture into each roll. Top with ketchup or other condiments, if desired.