Philadelphia’s storied chapter in America’s political past draws people from all over the Eastern Seaboard eager to see the gleaming Liberty Bell and, while they’re at it, decide for themselves which of the city’s rival sandwich shops makes the best cheesesteak. Delightful as these fixtures are, to get to know the city today, you’ll want to revel in its upswell of creative energy. Entrepreneurs are setting up shop, and restaurateurs such as Michael Solomonov and Scott Schroeder are reviving the food scene. To experience the city as it evolves, follow this day-by-day guide.
Friday: In the Neighborhood
On the narrow, off-kilter streets of North Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood, enterprising chefs and creatives are dreaming restaurants and shops into life. You’ll know you’re in this newly flourishing section of the city when you spot grinning artist-designed trash-can lids in the shape of fish heads along the main strip, Frankford Avenue. To put a smile on your own face, and fuel up for the shopping you’re about to do, grab a cup from the always busy La Colombe, Philly’s proud homegrown coffee empire, housed in a cavernous space set up as a coffee shop, restaurant, and bar. Or opt for a treat at Cake Life, where Boston cream “cry baby” cakes (a shopkeeper is quick to point out you can order by the slice) and cherry-topped chocolate cupcakes wink from display cases.
At Vestige, you’ll find No. 6 clogs, M Quan pottery, and women’s clothing, such as Lauren Manoogian sweaters made by Peruvian knitters, displayed like the works of art they are. Next door, Minnow Lane overflows with children’s books, wood dinosaur puzzles, and Philadelphia-themed onesies stamped with “My Lil Cheesesteak.” Across the street at Field, big leafy plants and small portable cacti in hand-painted ceramic pots in the shape of faces are arranged to make you feel like you’re in a botanical garden. You could easily fit a cactus in the car as a souvenir. And with its arches adorned with greenery and clusters of pumpkins, the nearby storefront of Riverwards Produce looks like something out of a Nora Ephron romantic comedy. Inside, you can pick up ground coffee, fruit, and cheese to bring back to your resort kitchen for the weekend; the market supplies some of the pickiest area chefs with regional produce so you know the selection is good.
Philly is a food city. You’ll want to sit down at the new Wm. Mulherin’s Sons for your weekend’s first serious meal. Housed in an 1887 whiskey distillery, the three-room Italian restaurant embodies some of the best of the old and new Philly. “Fishtown is one of the greatest neighborhoods in the U.S.,” says Randall Cook, CEO and cofounder of Method Co., the restaurant’s parent company. “So many wonderful things have been happening in this neighborhood, and we felt it was time for a slightly elevated project to open to help. We went to serious lengths to restore the original millwork and to blend in any new millwork so that it’s hard to differentiate what has been here since the late 1800s and what we installed.” The effect is charming. The main dining room is especially cozy, thanks to a fireplace. The restaurant is packed with locals on weekend nights, and everyone—from twosomes on first dates, to thirtysomething married couples toasting birthdays, to groups of sixtysomething friends looking for a night out—is dressed up and in good spirits, leaning across tables to enthusiastically swap recommendations with strangers about their favorite dishes. On one recent night, a self-proclaimed sweets hater raved about the pear tart for dessert—“It’s just a little bit sweet but also nicely savory. Perfect balance and definitely worth it”—and he was right. Also on the menu: luscious head-on prawns with serrano peppers and pine nuts; delicate veal tortellini; and curlicues of messinesi with sausage ragù and a dollop of ricotta.
Saturday: Art and History
To pay tribute to Philadelphia’s role in America’s earliest days, make your way to the country’s oldest residential street, Elfreth’s Alley, a five-minute drive northeast from Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed, and the Liberty Bell. Flanking the alley, 32 Federal- and Georgian-style rowhouses dating to the 1720s and 1830s sit pretty. Cabinetmakers and silversmiths once lived here; today, these houses are still occupied, with the notable exception of two, which were converted into the Elfreth’s Alley Museum House. Don’t miss the alley’s even smaller offshoot, Bladens Court, where two brothers-in-law on opposing sides of the Revolutionary War once shared a courtyard.
That art history class you took in college will come rushing back to you at the 93,000-square-foot Barnes Foundation, a part-limestone, part-translucent box along the city’s grand tree-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Inside is the world’s most remarkable collection of Impressionist and Postimpressionist art, amassed between 1912 and 1951 by businessman Albert Barnes, who kept it all at an estate in a suburb outside the city. The collection’s recent move into the city was controversial but has been a success. Expect to see 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes (more than in all of France), and a slew of Rousseaus and Matisses. Unlike at most museums, wall labels contextualizing each painting are absent. As you wander the rooms, you might recognize a painting, or make out the artist’s brushstrokes, or notice his or her name on a placard embedded into the frame, but your eye and imagination are free to leap from one painting to the next, picking up similarities and differences in color and composition, like the way a carefully placed chair echoes the elongated figure of Modigliani’s wife, Jeanne Hébuterne, in a 1919 portrait.
When your server at Zahav tells you about the chef’s tasting menu (it’s not listed on the main menu), order it. That’s the only way to try chef Michael Solomonov’s melt-in-your-mouth lamb shoulder. Famous for bringing modern Middle Eastern food to America, Solomonov and his much-talked-about restaurant in Philly’s Society Hill neighborhood import a lot of authentic Israeli ingredients as well as use regional ones. And pastry chef Camille Cogswell, who won the coveted 2018 James Beard Rising Star award, hails from North Carolina and puts her own spin on traditional Israeli desserts: “I’m pulling influence from Israeli cuisine and secondarily from my Southern heritage. We’ve put our own twist on the konafi, for example. Instead of dousing the dough in syrup and pistachios, we layer in chocolate ganache and serve it with charred-sweet-potato ice cream.”
Sunday: One for the Road
Meals at the newly opened Hungry Pigeon, on a corner in Queens Village, are all about comfort food. Chef and co-owner Scott Schroeder’s egg-and-cheese sandwich with scrapple (pork scraps that have been rescued and wantonly seasoned) more than hits the spot, but don’t pass on the counter pastries: Co-owner Pat O’Malley used to be a chef at Keith McNally’s famed Balthazar Bakery in Manhattan, and you may find yourself wetting your finger to dab up the fallen flakes of his apple galette. When asked for a recommendation, one server confessed to a habit of bringing the ham-and-cheese croissant home and slipping in her own fried egg. Ask for one to go so that you can do the same and literally savor your vacation just a little bit longer.
2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.; 215-278-7000; barnesfoundation.org; admission, $25
Elfreth’s Alley Museum House
124–126 Elfreth’s Alley; 215-574-0560; elfrethsalley.org; admission, $3
Chestnut St. between Fifth and Sixth Sts.; admission, free (walk-up) or $1 (reserved at nps.gov)
Sixth St. and Market St.; nps.gov; admission, free and no tickets required
2032 Frankford Ave.
2029 Frankford Ave.; 215-291-1875; minnowlane.com
2200 E. Norris St.; 215-678-4304; riverwardsproduce.com
2041 Frankford Ave.; 267-457-3088; shop-vestige.com
1306 Frankford Ave.; 215-278-2580; cakelifebakeshop.com; cake for two, $14*
743 S. Fourth St.; 215-278-2736; hungrypigeon.com; brunch for two, $25
1335 Frankford Ave.; 267-479-1600; lacolombe.com; coffee for two, $6
Wm. Mulherin’s Sons
1355 N. Front St.; 215-291-1355; wmmulherinssons.com; dinner for two, $95
237 St. James Pl.; 215-625-8800; zahavrestaurant.com; tasting menu for two, $96
RCI® affiliated resorts within 40 miles of Philadelphia include:
A good location on the Atlantic City boardwalk, and many of the rooms look out at the water. 1507 Boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ
Member Review: “An excellent experience.”
An outdoor pool and proximity to the casinos are draws at this contemporary Atlantic City Boardwalk high-rise. 1507 Boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ
Member Review: “Great location, and the rooms are oceanfront, spacious, and well-equipped.”
A short drive to Atlantic City. 4500 W. Brigantine Ave., Brigantine, NJ
Member Review: “A lovely, quiet beach resort.”
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts in Philadelphia include:
Wm. Mulherin’s Sons
An airy four-room hotel (there’s no front desk, and rooms have kitchens) in Fishtown. Expect La Colombe coffee, soft Sferra linens, and Moroccan rugs. The downstairs restaurant is excellent. 1355 N. Front St.; 215-291-1355; wmmulherinssons.com; doubles from $294 a night
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Fall 2019