17 NOV 2014So you thought you knew the famous Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Philadelphia Zoo, the spot of love where Rocky proposed to Adrian. Ever since the movie Rocky entered our pop culture psyche as Sly Stallone jogged past now familiar landmarks in Philadelphia and yelled “Adrian,” folks have got a taste for Philly.

But last week a whole new dimension appeared. I attended a cooking-themed evening dubbed “A Taste of Philadelphia” hosted by LMA Communications’ Visit Philadelphia rep in Canada, Jerry Grymek along with other Philly reps and one of their city’s culinary stars, Joncarl Lachman.

Yes, culinary. Sure you’re thinking what more can you do with a Philly cheese steak. Well, I’m here to tell you from the town where insiders report “(Philadelphia) started it all, we’re the birthplace of America,” relayed Donna Schorr, director of communications for Visit Philadelphia at the Dish Cooking Studio in the Annex to a group of travel journos who were there to learn about Philadelphia.

Hot Food Scene

The foodie scene is hot. You know there’s something going on when NYC culinary star transplants like Chef Eli Kulp from Torrisi Italian Specialties-fame leave behind a New York culinary bastion where average dinner and tips at the Zagat-rated Italian resto hover around US$130 to make their way down the tree fringed streets of Philadelphia.

By all accounts, Kulp has decided to go plainer, humbler but not compromising quality with his new eatery known as Fork. He recently garnered “Chef of the Year” by The Philadelphia Inquirer among a host of other accolades for his culinary creations.

Neighbourhoods

Then there are the local foodie hubs. We learned one area that’s getting huge reviews is the Passyunk area in South Philly where hipsters gather to imbibe, eat and indulge in this old Italian neighborhood.

Joncarl opened his boutique eatery on Tasker Street off the main East Passyunk crossing but doesn’t blink an eyelash from the competition. In fact, he admits when you come to his restaurant Noord Eetcafe (noordphilly.com) expect home-style service with home-inspired cooking. “Most nights I’m out there talking to my guests and I feel really good when I hear someone say it reminds them of their grandmother’s cooking.”

The Noord Dish

I for one can attest to that. Good homemade cuisine cooked just like my Mum does. Before the presentations I snuck over to observe Joncarl creating a bubbling vat of sauerkraut infused with caraway seeds and juniper that swirled around a Jurassic Park-sized smoked pork hock, sausage. In another bowl on the counter were ready-to-steam clams. It’s called, Zuurkool, a Dutch dish. “My cooking is inspired by my Dutch roots. The restaurant focuses on Northern European recipes,” he says about Noord Eetcafe where folks can do BYOB (Bring your own bottle).

In Philadelphia over 200 restaurants have BYOB and as Drew Lazor, foodie columnist with The Philadelphia Daily News who was also in attendance describes it, “The plate prices are pretty competitive.”

So what’s a typical Philadelphia restaurant like? “It’s more casual dining where chefs are using fresh ingredients,” he says and added the ambiance, quality of service, and menu calibre is on par with the Bar Isabel in Toronto. Uh-hum, Enroute magazine has voted this Toronto foodie spot as “Canada’s Best New Restaurant.”

Drive or Fly

Besides the love of food in “The City of Brotherly Love,” the proximity and price-point also deserve some attention. There is no sales tax on clothing. For the fly crowd, there are 90-minute non-stop departures from Toronto with carriers like Air Canada, US Airways and United. For the bumper crowd expect a full day of driving and inquire about the Visit Philly Overnight Package with its car stay free promotion. A 2-night stay gets free parking.

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The hotel and restaurant prices meanwhile Donna says are more affordable than pricey New York or Washington D.C. with its political types. Still if clients wish to experience these three great cities, Philadelphia could certainly be a good launch pad she notes. “We’re about an hour and 15 by train from New York City and by car it’s over two and a half hours to D.C.”

Special culinary events

Culinary celebrations happen in August with a 10-day Night Out Restaurant Week (http://nightoutrestaurantweek.com/) with three course fixed dinner menus between US$25-$35. The Passyunk area has special events such as Flavours of the Avenue, the annual food and wine event held in April. For more special events see http://www.visiteastpassyunk.com/. East Passyunk Avenue was recently rated as a Top Food Neighborhood in Philly by Zagat and Top 10 Foodie Streets in America by Food and Wine magazine.

Still if you’re hankering for that Philly Cheese Steak, one big tip notes Drew is the name. “If it’s named after an uncle it’s a great thing,” he laughs and cites Pat’s King of Steaks as a Philly cheese steak institution.

 

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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