Philadelphia Freedom


I enjoy comparisons. Comparisons, after all, are what we use to make most decisions. “Do I want oatmeal or pancakes for breakfast?” To decide, you mentally compare the two. “Should I continuing dating Jake, or is it just going to end badly, like Jack did?” Again, you compare. “Do I take the high-paying but boring job or the low-paying creative job?”

A few weeks back I compared SF’s fresh-and-local cred with Seattle’s, after being stunned by the color, flavor and taste of the Great Northwest. This week, we turn our attention east, toward Philadelphia—a great food city with a thriving restaurant scene that effortlessly combines haute Euro Frenchiness (no one tells you this, but there are a lot of young, beautiful, sophisticated French people living in Philly, and they’ve affected its food) with old-school Italian family restaurants and lowbrow delicacies such as Scrapple and cheesesteaks.

So I found myself in Reading Terminal Market, which is Philly’s version of the Ferry Building—except where the Ferry Building is white, bright and open to the water, RTM is enclosed, lit with fluorescents and neon signs, and tucked between a convention center and a Greyhound bus station smack in the center of the city.

RTM’s products aren’t quite as fresh as the Ferry Building’s either. Sure, the Ferry Building’s got burgers at Taylor’s Refresher, but RTM’s got burgers, sausages, apple fritters, Italian hoagies and the aforementioned cheesesteaks. Instead of choosing from wedges of Cowgirl Creamery cheese, at RTM you can choose from about 40 different varieties of pickled vegetables. Instead of debating the merits of chocolate vs. lemon organic cupcakes at Miette, at RTM you must consider whether you’re in the mood for bratwurst or kielbasa.

Don’t get me wrong. RTM has incredible food—perfectly roasted dark coffee from Old City Coffee, perhaps the best pastries on the planet courtesy of Metropolitan Bakery, dozens of varieties of wild honey fresh from Amish country. It’s just that alongside those, you also get ribs, hot dogs, waffle cones and all the other sinful, old-fashioned goodies that make fresh and local produce taste even better—in moderation, that is.

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