August 23rd, 2015


Post-Surgery Victory Lap 2015: June 27: Philadelphia and New Jersey

The destination in Philadelphia I was most excited about was Reading Terminal Market, which has a history as a public market going back to the 1800s.

We missed an opportunity through lack of research: I discovered only the night before that there’s a tour of the market available on Saturdays. But by that time, all the tickets were sold.


For breakfast, we started with the Dutch Eating Place, staffed by efficient women in white bonnets.

Lori’s food was a disappointment. Though she had ordered blueberry pancakes, the pancakes she received were blueberry-free, and heavy and doughy to boot. The bacon was even more unpleasant; it was boiled and not at all crisp.

I ordered the creamed chipped beef over hashed browns. It was fairly heavy and gloppy, but tasty enough that I finished it anyway.

My favorite part of that meal, though, was the scrapple. I was not expecting this to be the case. This was my third try with scrapple, and the first two experiences were not pleasant at all. I had decided that scrapple was on probation; if my third try with scrapple was equally unpleasant, I was going to decide I was unlikely to ever enjoy it and stop trying. But this scrapple was excellent, with a very crisp crust and a smooth creamy interior that tasted of pork instead of grease. I think I will still be a bit picky about scrapple, but I now have proof that scrapple can be delicious.

We explored the rest of Reading Terminal Market; we sampled cheese, we admired local produce, we watched Caribbean dancing, Lori bought a cookbook, we bought cookies.

We joined our friend Sarah for lunch. We’ve heard Sarah scoff at the most famous cheesesteak places, so we asked for her favorite cheesesteaks. She mentioned John’s Roast Pork, and I seized upon that, because I’ve seen that widely praised on the Roadfood forums. It was certainly popular; we had to park blocks away and walk through the rain to get there.

Inside, the line was packed with a serpentine line of people. A counterman called for orders from everyone, and we felt that we were throwing grit in the gears for not being ready with an order before we’d seen the menu board.

I had the roast pork sandwich with sharp provolone and spinach. It was a delicious sandwich, full of juicy pork. I was surprised, though, at how gentle a sandwich it was. I had expected that the flavors of sharp provolone and spinach would contrast against each other, but they all melded into a very mild flavor.

We also ordered a cheesesteak.
This is only the second cheesesteak I’ve had in Philadelphia, but my experience with cheesesteaks has been different from most regional foods. Cheesesteaks have spread well beyond Philadelphia. You can get a cheesesteak (or at least some sort of steak and cheese in a sub roll) in Pittsburgh or Dallas - you can even get one at Subway restaurants. And I generally like all those cheesesteaks. So I assumed that local expertise and competition would mean that cheesesteaks in Philadelphia were the pinnacle of the cheesesteak art, the most delicious example of a food I already enjoy.
But – and I feel like a Roadfood heretic for saying this – I’ve found the two cheesesteaks I’ve had in Philadelphia much less pleasant than the cheesesteaks I’ve had elsewhere. The roll and the meat were both very tough, making this a sandwich to be gnawed and worried at instead of savored. (I was told that they use Amoroso rolls for the cheesesteaks, but Carangi rolls for the roast pork.)
It’s possible that I got unlucky with both cheesesteaks. I won’t put Philadelphia cheesesteaks on probation yet, because I’ve enjoyed cheesesteaks outside Philadelphia so much. But so far, I’ve enjoyed cheesesteaks more in the Philadelphia airport than at Roadfood-listed cheesesteak places.

From there, we led Sarah to RIM Cafe, a Philadelphia experience she had never encountered before. RIM Cafe is a coffee and chocolate shop with abundant character, recommended to us by The Travelin Man and cheesewit on a previous visit to Philadelphia. It may well be the best place to eat hot chocolate under the glowering visage of Rocky Balboa.

We got a few truffles and a chocolate-covered Oreo.

Lori also ordered a Chocolate Volcano. This is RIM Cafe’s signature hot chocolate, prepared on a handmade tower of three rotating disks accreted with years of chocolate deposits. It began with milk and cream...

and she added melted chocolate...

and grated espresso chocolate over it...

and black and white chocolate (and another chocolate I didn’t record in my notes)...

and pistachio chocolate, and blueberry & goat cheese chocolate (I believe the exotic chocolates are all made in-house)...

it all accumulated into an extraordinary chocolate drink:

Sarah is having a very busy time; she’s working full time and attending college full time, and she has just bought a house. When we discovered all this, we were even more glad that she’d made time to visit with us.

Rene didn’t come into RIM Cafe until we had been there a few hours; a new granddaughter has just been born, and that has been occupying much of his time and attention. He was delighted to show pictures to Lori and to see her pictures of our niece and nephew.

From there, we drove an hour through heavy rain to meet our friends Mike and Kate in New Brunswick, New Jersey for dinner at Stuff Yer Face. The food cognoscenti among you will have already inferred from the name that this is unlikely to be the sort of elegant restaurant in which tuxedo-clad waiters serve glamorous meals under silver domes. And that would be a correct inference. Indeed, hardly any elegant restaurants have theme songs to the tune of "Dem Bones". Stuff Yer Face is an eatery aimed towards students at Rutgers University, and has been a familiar part of Mike’s dining landscape for many years. Kate was slightly chagrined that they were bringing us to a place so lowbrow, but I assured her that I was glad to eat at a place with such significance to a friend.

The specialty of Stuff Yer Face is a stromboli, abbreviated here to boli. I chose the original boli, with mozzarella, salami, green pepper, onion, and cappicola. It was a hearty, satisfying sandwich, and much more wieldy than most strombolis of my experience. It was easy to eat with a hand, but a little grease leaked to require a napkin.
Lori had the pepperoni stromboli, which was also tasty.

We spent hours chatting with Mike and Kate until we left for New York. In this part of our itinerary, we had had one planning insight that served us very well: as we were making plans that led us from New Jersey to Massachusetts with a stop in New York City, we realized that if we stayed on the northwest side of New York City, we could be driving through New York City on Saturday night and hope for less traffic than on Monday morning. This worked well for us; traffic was light as we drove through to New Rochelle.

The minor complication was that we got a phone call from the B&B as we drove; she was called in to work (she’s a nurse), and wouldn’t be there to receive us. But she left a key for us on the doorstep, and we got in without trouble and were guided to our room by notes she had left for us.