Between Christmas and New Year’s, Marnay and I spent a brutally cold 36 hours in Philadelphia exploring as much of the dining scene as we possibly could. We took Amtrak after work on Wednesday and then kicked things off with dinner at a.kitchen.
a.kitchen (that’s really how it’s spelled) is a cozy restaurant inside of the AKA Hotel, located at the ritzy Rittenhouse Square. Marnay and I shared the choucrute garnie, a platter of Alsatian pork done four ways—sausage, pork chop, pork shoulder and French pork belly, or what our server described as “French Super Bacon”. All this pork goodness sat on top of addictive Riesling-braised sauerkraut that had sopped up the pork drippings. The best pork items were the sausage and the pork belly, which tasted like a really thick piece of perfectly crispy bacon.
Our server smartly recommended that we pair all this pork with a 2016 Domaine Schoffit Chasselas, an Alsatian white wine with a creamy mouthfeel that effortlessly cut through the meal’s richness. All of our servers (and it truly was server-by-committee) were professional, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
We started our Thursday morning at Hungry Pigeon, an all-day café in the Queen Village neighborhood of South Philly. All-day cafes are a concept that has yet to gain traction in the DC-area but which has exploded in Philadelphia. At its most basic form, an all-day café as a restaurant that’s open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and for after dinner drinks. It seems like a lot of work for the restaurants, requiring many employees with different specialties, so I think that is why you do not see it that often.
The chocolate croissant at Hungry Pigeon showed the marks of a great baker, with its dark golden brown skin that was crispy and flaky—sort of like the fried chicken of pastries. After our huge dinner the night before, I took it easy and ordered a vegan breakfast bowl, a really unique creation that had a brown rice porridge base, along with vegetables, avocados and kimchi. Marnay’s eggs and toast came with a crispy, square hash brown that I swear was created to try to replicate the McDonald’s hash brown. It tasted exactly like one! Eating it brought back happy memories of going to McDonald’s for breakfast and playing the McDonald’s Monopoly game.
Walnut Street Cafe
After a few hours of truly frigid walking and exploring, we headed into Walnut Street Café, our second all-day café. Walnut Street Café is on the ground floor of a brand new skyscraper, one block south of 30th Street Station. The restaurant has floor to ceiling glass windows, great for looking out on Walnut Street towards the Schuykill River below.
On this cold day, butternut squash soup was an ideal start to the meal. The velvety soup is made richer with a drizzle of crème fraiche. Toasted seeds and diced squash add some welcome crunch. Marnay and I also shared the fried porgy, which arrived on our plate in the form of fish and chips. It was a bit of a surprise, since the menu just says “fried porgy”, but a delicious one! The batter was light and crispy but not oily and the porgy had a better, less bland (in my opinion) flavor than the traditional cod. Walnut Street Café also has an exemplary wine list, and Marnay enjoyed a glass of a white blend from a notable natural wine producer in the Finger Lakes.
Vernick Food & Drink
It seems to be nearly impossible to get a reservation at Vernick these days. Luckily, we were able to grab a high top table in the walk-in bar area, along with Marnay’s Mom. (A tip: The bar area opens at 4:30pm while the rest of the restaurant opens at 5:00pm.)
The crab toast and roasted chicken were as incredible as they were during our last visit, impressive, since it had been almost two years. Still, the one thing that was not consistent was the service – this time it was a bit pushy, our server trying to get us to order more than we wanted. I am willing to give it a pass, if only because the food was so good, but it may be a while before we go back to Vernick.
We had so much fun with our winter adventure in Philadelphia! The all-day-café trend really needs to take off in the DC area, or we are going to be making more trips to Philly. In fact, we are returning in a few weeks. Stay tuned for more adventures!
Paul: Roasted chicken at Vernick
Marnay: Sausage at a.kitchen
a.kitchen: 135 S 18th Street Philadelphia, PA 19103
Hungry Pigeon: 743 S 4th Street Philadelphia, PA 19147
Walnut Street Café: 2929 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19104
Vernick Food & Drink: 2031 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103