[I should have titled this “Philling Up In Philly With Philly Phood And Philly Phroth While Phillies Phans And The Philly Phanatic Phrenetially Phoam At The Mouth,” but rushed this post into print too frenetically.]
My wife and I recently visited Philadelphia to see out youngest daughter. We were there almost exactly twenty-four hours, arriving late in the afternoon and leaving about the same time the next day.
Philadelphia is perhaps most phamed for Phillie Cheesesteak. I enjoyed this dish a few times in years past, before I was instructed by my doctor on the dangers of cholosterol. . Indeed, I divide life into two stages: the first few decades in which one can enjoy cheesesteak and all the other heart-attack-on-a-plate forms of cuisine, and the sadder but wiser days in which one learns about tofu, brown rice, fish, and other dishes that — while mundane to the younger set –I have come to enjoy, in an attempt to extend the life of both myself and this blog.
But there is better fare to be had — in any decade –if you listen to the locals and carefully sample what is available.
For example, after we arrived Jen said she needed some time to finish her work and to get ready to go out, so my cutie-pie and I adjourned to a nearby bar and had a glass of Philly Phroth in the form of a large glass of Yard’s Yellow Pale Ale, an excellent brew indeed.  We arrived just as the Phillies — both the team and the local citizenry — were getting rocked by the Colorado Rockies, and as the game ended saw several locals Phoaming at the mouth.
We had dinner at Estia Restaurant. In its own words, “Estia restaurant specializes in whole grilled fish served by the pound from the Greek islands, Morocco, Tunisia and Portugal. Estia restaurant offers a first-rate wine list with more than 300 selections including wines from Greece, Europe, Israel and Lebanon. Join us for live music from 7-11pm every Friday and Saturday night.”
I had diner there only once before, when I had their pre-theater dinner for thirty dollars that included an appetizer, main course, and dessert. We arrived a few minutes after seven PM and so had to avail ourselves of the regular menu, and I am glad that we did.
Jen and my cutie-pie both had excellent fish dishes. Notwithstanding my doctor’s warnings, I felt like having lamb, and saw two such dishes on the menu. The more expensive was of “lamb marinated for three days” that cost about $34. I settled on a more modest disk for about $22. (I don’t remember the names of the dishes and so identify them by their cost.)
That $22 lamb dish may be been the best Greek lamb dish I have ever had, and back in the 60’s when I first moved to New York I used to dine often at Greek restaurants when there were many of them in midtown Manhattan.  I recall with special fondness Molfeta’s, a cafeteria in the West 40’s, and the Acropolis, at the corner of 47th and 9th Ave; both are long gone.
This Estia lamb dish was dry, served with rice and some vegetables in an excellent sauce the seasoning was to die for. Strongly recommended. The restaurant has a wonderful ambience. When the weather is warm, as it was that evening, the windows are opened and one can dine on the street, though we decided to sit inside as it was a bit noisy outside.
If you dine at Estia’s then do NOT order dessert off the menu. Instead — and this ploy best works when you go as part of a group — distract the receptionist near the front door while you shovel as many of the little cookies that are waiting on a dish near her stand into your pocket as you can. They are yummy indeed.
By the way, if you can’t make it to Estia’s then please do visit their web site. I did so as I started writing about Estia’s a few paragraphs back, only to hear the wonderful sounds of Greek music. (I became so enchanted by that music when I first heard it after checking our a record of it from the Pasadena while at college that I have a large collection. Indeed, I even later bought myself a bouzouki that I kept for many years, though I never learned how to play it.)
The next morning we had cappucino at Cafe Hausbrandt on Locust. It’s the best cappuccino I have yet had on this side of the Atantic. I have a long history with that drink, as you can find by reading my post On Ferrara Cafe; a picture of the Cafe can be found at the top of this blog’s main page.
The best cappuccino I have had was, of course, to be found in Italy. My cutie-pie and I visited Florence during late February a few years back. After we arrived at the airport I retrieved our luggage and went out to wait for a bus, while my cutie-pie volunteered to go back to the airport to get us some cups of cappuccino. I waited as the cold winds came sweeeping down the neary hills to give me a cold welcome. About ten minutes later my cutie-pie came back to say she had just had the best every cappuccino she had tasted, and my heart warmed with gratitude. But the warmth lasted only a few seconds as she then informed they didn’t have take-out, though I later confirmed the brew was excellent as we stopped to get a cup before catching our return flight.
The best cappuccino I have ever had was this past summer at Cafe Eustachio in Rome. Llocated in the square of the same name, it was halfway between our hotel near Piazza Navona and the Forum, the most well-preserved building from Roman times I have ever seen. Near the door can be found a column by the NY Times’s reporter William Grimes, a former bureau chief of the Times in Rome. He related his unsuccessful attempts to find a good cup of cappuccino in New York City, and ends the article by saying, “If a New Yorker wants a great cup of cappuccino, then take a cab to JFK, fly to Rome, and on arriving ask the cab driver to take you to Cafe Eustachio.”
Later in the day I also had a cup of Philly Phroth when I stopped at a cafe on the way to Rittenhouse Square. It was very good, and when I looked at the shelf I noticed it was the Illy brand, another excellent coffee from Italy.
On the way back from Rittenhouse Square to drop off Jen and start our drive home, we stopped at Di Bruno Bros. a local institution that is a veritable museum of Italian food. We bought a bottle of their branded olive oil. I’m sure it is good though I haven’t yet made a salad with it.
One of the less pleasant aspects of visiting Philadelphia is the need to traverse much of New Jersey on the trip to and from New York, but some money can be saved to ease the journey by stopping for New Jersey Phroth in the form of gasoline, as NJ prices are always substantially less than those in Pennsylvania or New York
1. The doctor was not only a good doctor but a man with a sense of humor. After he had given me my annual physical at the age of 27 or so, he said that I was in very good health, but it would be downhill from then on, as my body had just passed its physical peak. Youth had ended; it was time to start paying for its excesses.
A few years later, after I passed forty, he noted with alarm that my cholesterol level was quite high — near 300 — and suggested I should do something about it. It was shortly after that I started a regular exercise program, spending the year that remained before we moved to the suburbs spending starting most days with a jog around the Central Park Reservoir. It was also then that I started to make regular visits to the gym, as it is hard to run in the winter. I ran also when I started at IBM twenty years ago, mostly through the nearby cemeteries, where many NYC notables such as Babe Ruth are buried (the next town over from Hawthorne, the IBM lab where I then worked, is aptly named Valhalla, and is the home of many cemeteries, including that of the Catholic Diocese of New York). After a lapse of a few years, I started regular visits to the gym over eleven years ago, and have gone to the gym more days that not most weeks since then.)
I have worked from home most of the last year. Though I thought it would be hard to work and live in the same place, I have found it helps to make the transition from home to office by beginning my day at the gym, leaving from home and returning to my office, even though both are the same place.
I have also lost at least ten pounds since I started working at home, as I tend to make more modest lunches. Though I used to make frequent use of the salad bar at the cafeteria at the IBM cafeteria in Somers, it is hard to avoid the oil that is all too frequently poured over everything.
2. Pennsylvania is a great place for a beer drinker such as myself. I enjoyed many wondeful ales and porters when I used to visit a friend who grew up in that lovely state. He was not alone in his enjoyment of the “gentle gambrinian.” For example, his father once worked for the Police Dept. in Reading, PA, and I learned there was a pipe that ran directly from the brewery across the street to a tap in the basement of the police station — “All’s Well That Ends With Ale.”
3. I moved to New York City in the mid 1960’s, just as the many Greek establishments that comprised the Greek neighborhood of Manhattan were migrating elsewhere, most of them to the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, where they can be found today. For example, I often stop at the Neptune Diner just off Astoria Blvd. on the way to see the Mets at Shea, as their Greek food is orders of magnitude better than the over-priced dreck offered by Shea’s vendors.
I used to go to cafes on 9th Ave. in the 20’s to drink ouzo and hear the music, often accompanied by the soft sound of patrons throwing dollars bills at the occasional belly dancer, but those days are long gone, sad to say.
By the way, there is a Greek bakery on the west side of Astoria Blvd., about three blocks south of the Grand Central Parkway, on the west side. They make cookies that are drenched in honey that are totally addictive. It is simply impossible to each just one.
I named this blog after A.J. Liebling, one of my favorite writers. He worked for the New Yorker magazine for many years, as has Calvin Trillin for several decades. Mr. Trillin specializes in food, and had I not gone with A.J. this blog might well be called “Kansas City Blues” or some such.
I suspect it was Trillin who first noted the fatal flaw in Saul Steinberg’s distorted map of the United States, which starts with Manhattan in the foreground, and fades into nothingness as one crosses the Hudson River. There should have been a single location shown between the Hudson and the Pacific, Kansas City. Calvin Trillin put that city onto the map, Harry Truman notwithstanding.