Monday, August 3, 2015

That Time I Ate Philadelphia: A History-filled Trip with the Kids (and my mom!)

My mother grew up outside of Philadelphia until she was 10.  I had never been.. and the kids had never been.  We decided this was the time to make the trip happen!  Sadly, The Hubby could not get time off work to join us, but I have all sorts of notes for when he and I manage to get down there by ourselves sometime!

Fair Warning:  This is going to be a long post!  We left on Wednesday morning, and came home on Sunday.  It was an amazing trip.

Day 1:
Easy pre-portioned road snacks!

For the trip down, I packed car snacks for the kids in Easylunchboxes.  I put each snack in single serving portions, with carb counts written on the baggies, so that The Boy could give himself insulin without us stopping.  He knows his carb to insulin ratios, and  he can give himself shots on the road.

We stopped for lunch at a rest stop, and I had packed us lunches, also in Easylunchboxes.  We each had a sandwich on a pretzel roll, with Muhammara, turkey, and cheese, along with champagne grapes, apple slices, and a fruit bar.

The kids brought their stuffed tigers - The Boy's Hobbes, and The Girl's Tigey.
When we got to Philadelphia, we checked into our hotel, The Independent, and then decided to take a walk out into the city to see some of the historic areas and to scope out where we would go for the rest of the time.

A lovely Elfreth's Alley Cat came out to greet us and got some petting
We wandered up to Elfreth's Alley, the oldest residential neighborhood in America.  I have ancestors who lived there, though their house is no longer extant, unfortunately.

For dinner, we decided to go The City Tavern.  It is a historic restaurant, and the waitstaff dress in Colonial style.  Thankfully, it is air conditioned, so it is not entirely historically accurate.

We started out in the bar, while we waited for our table.

Mom and I enjoyed a sampler flight of beers brewed according to founding father's recipes.
Mom and I both got a full glass of the Thomas Jefferson brew with dinner!
Our favorite?  Thomas Jefferson's brew - 1774 Tavern Ale.

Once we got to our table, we were treated to a variety of breads - Thomas Jefferson's favorite sweet potato pecan biscuits (I will be making these at home for sure!), Sally Lunn bread (just really good white bread), and Anadama bread (a dark bread made with molasses).

For dinner, The Boy got a grilled ham and cheese off the kid's menu.  He claimed it was the best grilled cheese ever.

The Girl got Chicken Madeira and loved it.

My mother got the day's special - a mixed seafood pasta dish.

I decided to go for a veal and herb sausage dish, with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes.

Pewter goblets for our water!

Our waiter was the charming Davonte (I'm sure I've spelled his name wrong). It was very difficult to get good photographs in the candlelight... I did my best.

Though this was not an inexpensive meal, it was absolutely worth it for the ambiance, and the food was really excellent.

It was a late night getting back to the hotel, because we didn't even get into town until about 5:30.  It's a 7 hour drive to Philadelphia from where we are in Vermont, and that's without stops.  I think we took about 8 hours to get there.  We all slept well that first night.

Day 2:

Our hotel provided us breakfast, so we ate early and got started right away.  We headed right over to Independence Visitor's Center, and got (free) tickets to Independence Hall.
We are all huge fans of the musical 1776, about the writing of The Declaration of Independence, and though it was not filmed at Independence Hall, it was a great recreation! It was amazing to be there, where so much of our history had taken place.

We also went into Congress Hall, where Vermont became a state (the 14th!)

From there, we went to the Liberty Bell Center.  The kids loved this - there were kid's activities and such as well, so they felt very involved.

After the Liberty Bell, we went back to the Independence Visitor's Center and shared a couple soft pretzels for a snack.  It was just ok - mom was looking forward to showing us what real Philadelphia soft pretzels were like.  (That came a bit later).  We didn't want to fill ourselves up, because we had plans for later.

Next, we went to the Betsy Ross house.  We did the self-guided tour.   At this point, I think the kids were pretty much done with history, so onward we went ....

 To Reading Terminal Market!

 We took a little look around before we decided to sample some of the food.  The entire trip could simply have been Reading Terminal Market, and we would have eaten very well indeed...

 We started by sharing a chicken souvlaki, and a lamb souvlaki at Olympic Gyro.  Both were amazing.

 Finally, we got real Amish soft pretzels.  Mom has been waxing poetic about these since I was a child, so it was wonderful to share the experience with her.  We were not disappointed.

 We looked around a little more before deciding to try a cheese steak.

 We settled on Carmen's, and opted for their signature Franklin Cheese steak - Philadelphia cream cheese, American cheese, sweet bell peppers, and onions.  We all shared one, and it was lovely.  It's hard to get a good picture of a cheesesteak that really captures how delicious it is.  The bread was phenomenal.

While I was in line at Carmen's (and there was a line - and it was cash only, in case you visit), mom got us all fresh juices from another stall.  Delicious.

 Finally, we decided to sit down for a drink at Molly Malloy's.  Mom and I got local Yard's beer, and we all shared butternut squash croquettes with an apple butter sauce.  Delicious.

Finally, before we left, we picked up a piece of shoofly pie to share, and also some Amish sticky buns to have for breakfast (another thing that mom has been dreaming about since we began planning our trip).  If I'm being honest, I prefer my shoofly pie - I use a very bold molasses, and we all like that better.  The shoofly pie that we bought tasted almost like corn syrup.  I'm sure I would have liked it just fine, if I wasn't used to my own shoofly pie.

That was the end of our jam-packed second day!  If you could only have one day in Philadelphia, one like this one would have been pretty amazing... we were pretty thrilled with how much we stuffed into it.

It was also raining lightly on the way back to the hotel, and we got a bit damp - we called it an early night!

Day 3:

This was what the kids were looking forward to most of all - the Philadelphia Zoo!

We started out by supplementing our breakfast from the hotel with the Amish sticky buns that we had gotten from Reading Terminal Market.  Amazing.  Mom has good reason for being in love with them.

We were a bit early for the first shuttle out to the zoo (we took the Phlash shuttle, which was very inexpensive). The Phlash shuttle happened to pick up right near Reading Terminal Market.  Whatever were we to do while waiting?  How about some scrapple from The Dutch Eating Place?  Another of mom's regional favorites, we split one order and enjoyed every bite.  Mom said that she as usually had scrapple with pork sausage mixed with corn meal - this scrapple definitely had some liver in it, which we all enjoyed quite a lot.  I may try making some at home with sausage mixed with some liverwurst.  The kids loved it!

On to the zoo!  The kids have only been to one other zoo, and it was when The Boy was a babe in arms, and The Girl was 3... they were more than thrilled to go to the Philadelphia Zoo.

Though it was a very hot day, and many of the animals were kind of lounging around and not doing much, the kids still had a great time.

The Boy said that his favorites were the giant otters.

The Girl really loved the Amur tiger.  He was pacing in front of the viewing window.

Personally, I really loved the Southern white rhinoceros. It felt like such an honor to see one!

We really should have packed lunches for the zoo... I didn't think that they would let us, but other people were doing so.  I should have brought our Easylunchboxes from the hotel, and bought some food at Reading Terminal Market.. we spent a lot of money on simple burgers and hot dogs with french fries, and bottled waters were $3 each.  There were water fountains around the zoo, so we refilled our water bottles, but it was still crazy.  So, let this be my recommendation to you.

We saw pretty much all of the animals at the zoo, and it was well worth the visit.

After the zoo, we decided to go the a little Italian restaurant right next to our hotel for dinner, Little Nonna's.   We shared two appetizers and two entrees.

For appetizers, we got the garlic bread with fresh roasted garlic.

We also got their fig bruschetta.  Wonderful.  I'll be playing with those flavors for sure.

For an entree, the kids shared the pan seared gnocchi (they both LOVE gnocchi!).

Mom and I shared the Italian mixed grill.

And we sampled some local brews.

This dinner was simply lovely.  I can heartily recommend this restaurant.

I got pistachio and lychee
Afterwards, we decided to walk down the street and get some gelato.

We were able to sample several of the flavors before settling, and we each got the smallest gelatos (piccolo!).  It was perfect to end our third day.
The hotel staff appreciated the tigers
 Day 4: 

We walked down to the Declaration House, where Jefferson wrote the Declaration, but were disappointed that it was only available to go into on tours, running when we had other plans for the day..

We headed out to Old Swede's Church, which was a much longer walk than we anticipated.  Much longer.

It left us down by the waterfront of the Deleware River, where we had not spent any time before.  It was hot.  Really hot.

We stopped at the first place that looked good, and it ended up being refreshing and exactly what we needed - a brunch buffet at the Keatings River Grill at the Penn's Landing Hilton.

We were so overheated, we downed a ton of water, and then we all enjoyed some welcome breakfast food.

Mom and I found the salmon.  Yes, please.

After our wonderful brunch and air conditioning, we made The Boy's whole trip by telling us that we were going to take the subway to go to the American Swedish History Museum.

He had been begging to take the subway for the whole trip.  We have no subways in Vermont, so he always loves to ride them.

He actually gets a little obsessed with the idea...

The American Swedish History museum holds a special place in our hearts.  My father made a bowl that they have on display (hand hewn, azxe to adz).  It was our first time seeing it in the museum.

The kids also loved the Astrid Lindgren room, and played there while mom and I looked around the rest of the museum.  Pippi is a favorite of ours.
Again, the hotel staff loved the tigers while tidying the room
Back to the hotel to decide where to go for dinner, with another ride on the subway.

For dinner, we decided to hit Happy Hour at Sampan restaurant, which was possibly the best decision we made during the whole trip.

Pork and potato potstickers
Sesame Rice Balls.  We got two servings of this!

Beef satay

Pork Bao

Pork Dumplings

Bahn Mi

Shrimp satay
We tried many different small plates, and mom and I each had two of their beer special, and it was less than $60 for all of us!!
Ommegang Wheat Beer
Shirley Temple and lemonade for the kids!
We plan on checking out happy hour specials at restaurants for future trips.  I've read reviews saying that Sampan has possibly the best happy hour in the city, so we chose well.

On top of the amazing food, we were seated right at the chef's bar, so we could watch the action!  Dinner, and a show!

The cookie box.  I love it.
Across the street from Sampan, we found a genius establishment - Insomnia Cookies!  How cool is it that they will deliver cookies until 3 AM?  We bought half a dozen cookies to share and brought them back to the hotel.  We shared two that night, and the rest on the trip home.

And Finally....

Day 5:

We started off the day early.  While we had ice packs on the way down, and  a fridge (no freezer) in the hotel room, we had to come up with a way to keep The Boy's insulin cold on the way home.  I improvised and filled an Easylunchbox with ice from the hotel, closed it as best we could with hair bands, and put it carefully on the bottom of our cooler bag, with the insulin right next to it.  This worked wonderfully!

I packed some snack boxes for the kids for the ride home, again in our Easylunchboxes.  We hit the road, and took a more scenic route home.

We drove through mom's hometown of Ambler, PA - and drove up to her childhood home!  It's gorgeous, and I'm so glad to have seen it.

From there, we drove into Buck's County, PA, and saw the Quaker Meeting House some of mom's ancestor's helped to found.  It was very pretty, and is still in use today.

We found our way up through more rural New Jersey on the way home, and got lunch at Vicki's Diner in Westfield, NJ.

The Boy got a grilled cheese with bacon.

The Girl got a Philly cheesesteak.

Mom got a chicken Philly cheesesteak.

I got a Reuben panini.

The diner was packed full of locals, and our food was delicious, so we felt like we made a really good choice.

It was quite a long drive home, but at least it was pretty..

Across the ferry on Lake Champlain, and we were finally home.

It was the trip of a lifetime, and I hope that you don't mind the super long post.. we packed a lot of travel and delicious food into our trip, and I hope that you get the chance to try some of the places that we did... Let me know if I missed any of your favorites!

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  1. Trip of a lifetime indeed! What a wonderful record you've made of this eventful family vacation Astrid. Of course, I love that you threw in a reference to a musical and I chuckled to myself about your boy being a bit obsessed about riding the subway. In the pic, it doesn't look like his sister shares his enthusiasm ;) Thank you for sharing how my EasyLunchboxes were such a helpful addition to your trip. What a fun read - a fabulous post!!