27 Nov The MAPPETITE MILE: AROUND RITTENHOUSE SQUARE
For a time the best thing about Philadelphia was New York. Well unbuckle your seat belts for a stop in these colonial environs – in the world of the arts, design and dines the city of Brotherly Love is making a revolutionary comeback.
There’s no shortage of sights in Philadelphia. Get on the super highway of architecture and art that is The Museum Parkway District and make your first stop at the Fairmount, the hill so christened by William Penn for its commanding views. It’s also the site of the grand dame of the city’s art houses with the PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART, memorable to many for its cinematic claim to fame with Rocky’s training jaunts up-and-down its grand staircase. From there a short walk takes you to the RODIN MUSEUM and the newly minted modern-minded home for the BARNES FOUNDATION.
If you’ve worked up an appetite you’re going to be at a loss for a food stop let alone a dine along this cultural packed roadway. However, crossover Market Street to the Rittenhouse District where restaurants vie for your dining dollars. Then of course, there’s the square itself: even with all its posh apartment houses and homes it still draws in a varied cross section of the city”s eccentrics and stragglers taking residence on the park’s benches. Along with farmer’s markets, street fairs and community events, Rittenhouse Square makes for a lively oasis in Philadelphia’s urban grid.
Predictability is, for the most part, the rule for shopping in the Rittenhouse Square District. Walnut Street is packed with mall-minded youth-centric budget retailers like the Gap and H&M along with a Barney’s New York, Ralph Lauren and Burberry’s to up the couture ante. On Chestnut Street there’s not much to hold your attentions amongst a slew of seedy and down-market shops with little in the way of retail intrigue. For many a Pennsylvanian shopping means an outing to the colossal King of Prussia Mall – for those more obsessed with the streetscape than canned couture a handful of smart shops and cool boutiques await you in sojourns to the Washington Square and Old City districts.
So it goes, imitation is the best form of flattery. Thanks to the restauranteur Stephen Starr there’s lots of complimenting to New York City’s food scene in Philadelphia with themed restaurants that, while very formulaic, make for good wine and dine experiences.
The big plus in Philadelphia is a provincial charm that is hard to find outside of New York”s West Village. Around Rittenhouse Square there’s plenty of building stock exuding old world charms to complement what Mr. Starr so aptly stages. We couldn’t be happier with cured salmon or fish and chips
from THE DANDELLION, his excellent take on New York’s Spotted Pig and many an English “gastro” pub, London chef and all. BARCLAY PRIME is the posh New York steak house (think Craft meets the Palm meets BLT) with it’s own peculiar twist: you get to choose your cutlery based on country of origin and bovine-centric menu selection (something to keep the locals amused but really?). Then there’s the very Pastis of PARC, if nothing else, for the great feels-like-Europe al fresco dining and brasserie fare.
Chef Jose Garces, another well-heeled maestro in the world of branding and culinary arts, populates Rittenhouse Square with the very Espana Basque
tapas bar TINTO and its next-door neighbor, VILLAGE WHISKEY for what could be the city’s best burger in cool tavern style. On a warm day grab a seat outside for one hefty charred burger and the exceptional yum of fried-in-duck-fat French fries. If this is too much of a whopper for you to handle then there’s Danny Meyer’s New York export SHACK SHACK on the corner across the street. Here, nostalgia plays to fast food spots of yore – drive-ins, highway stops and beach concessions – though here we’re talking about specially blended patties, pedigreed hot dogs, Yukon fries and custard rich concretes, aka super rich ice cream shakes.
And, speaking of days of yore, how about LITTLE PETE’S (no website) where there may be no James Beard awards on the walls but no shortage of classic Americana diner style at its retro counter. From the FAMOUS 4TH STREET DELICATESSEN you’ve got your hefty pastrami on rye and there’s nothing chintzy about the Montreal style bagels at THE SPREAD BAGELRY, where it’s a line-up affair on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Too bad you”re hard pressed to find a Philly cheesesteak but for excellent fried chicken paired with scrumptous donuts you can skip over those national chains for the recently minted FEDERAL DONUTS. Here Fancy and Hot Fresh varieties fly out the door as does the chicken, glazed or seasoned, at runs-out-by-noon speed. If you were too late for the donuts and your sweet tooth is still aching, you’ll be happy to take on the carbs in the rustic bakes at METROPOLITAN BAKERY, the shop every neighborhood should have but sadly, does not. For ice cream, no doubts about it, one of Philadelphia’s best is the exceptional gelato that comes in a multitude of real-as-life flavors at CAPOGIRO.
Finish it all off with a coffee from COLOMBE and, presto, you’re all set for a go around Rittenhouse Square.