The exhibition offers some serious information about sugar-refining techniques and sugar trade routes, as well as a display of the Berleys’ collection of candymaking machinery and molds. But the kid inside me wanted to don apron and cap in the faux candy kitchen that’s meant for actual children.
Back in Old City, I continued my sweet “research” at the fountain, which serves house-made ice cream and such traditional favorites as egg creams. Shane, which sells a limited number of items in the museum shop, is worth a stop for its old-time atmosphere alone.
Living just a few blocks from the city’s most famous cheesesteak stands — Passyunk Avenue rivals Pat’s and Geno’s — I often bump into hungry-looking tourists trying to find these temples of onions and grease.
My advice is to skip the overrated sandwich in favor of a classic roast beef or roast pork accessorized with long hot peppers, broccoli rabe and/or sharp provolone at Stogie Joe’s, a local tavern also on Passyunk. Or pop over to the nearby Italian Market, a colorful traditional stall market, to a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop called Paesano’s. My favorites there include the Paesano, a messy but delicious combination of beef brisket, horseradish mayo, roasted tomatoes, pepperoncino and sharp provolone, topped with a fried egg.
Across the street from Pat’s and Geno’s in the former Satellite Auto Body is a new beer-focused bar, Garage. It’s no-frills — the roll-up door from its former incarnation is still in place — but offers some 200 canned brews, as well as skeeball, pinball and a pool table. For entertainment on a quirkier scale, I might pop into the nearby Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar for its boisterous karaoke, cheap drinks and smoky atmosphere. (The bar has an exemption from the city’s smoking ban.)
The Avenue, as locals call it, is now a happening retail and restaurant district, with vintage and other boutiques and upscale restaurants complementing its traditional school-uniform shops, pizza joints and cheese shops. But one of my go-to BYOB spots usually looks shut down. Open only for dinner on weekends, the cash-only Mr. Martino’s Trattoria is like visiting someone’s antique-filled home, and the food is prepped with equal care. I always bring a bottle or two of red and plan to settle in for a leisurely evening of polenta and sausage, pasta fagiole, tiramisu and other home-style dishes.
On the way from my rowhouse to the Italian Market, I pass another quirky gem tucked inside a former church rectory. The Mario Lanza Institute and Museum pays homage to a local son and opera singer who was a crossover star decades before the Three Tenors and Josh Groban. Born in 1921, Lanza was touted as the next Enrico Caruso and became an unlikely MGM heartthrob before dying (operatically) at age 38. The free museum is carefully maintained by some remaining devotees, who celebrate his life via posters, photos, costumes and other memorabilia.
One of my regular destinations of late isn’t really hidden, but soon will disappear for good. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which organizes the city’s popular Flower Show each March, has created a pop-up beer garden on a vacant lot on Broad Street in Center City, across from the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
I can’t get enough of this playground for adults, which is stocked with mature trees, picnic tables, vintage lawn chairs and shipping pallets refashioned as lounges. The garden serves a limited selection of draft beers, margaritas and light fare, but there’s no purchase required to enjoy the space, which is slated to shut down in mid-October.
Next year, though, promises another pop-up at a different location — and more opportunities to explore Philadelphia’s hidden side.
DiGiacomo is the Philadelphia dining writer for Gayot.com and co-founder of TheCityTraveler.com.