Sunday Philly Funday: Food Truck Street

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A quick Sunday post to satiate all you folks who gave up deliciousness for Lent:

Though this might be a trend nationwide/in Philly that already reached its saturation point (thanks a lot for the overexposure, Tyler Florence), I do love me a good food truck.

I stayed away from them for a long time; in my parents’ time, food trucks were dubbed “roach coaches” and only people who needed to lose a lot of weight via food poisoning to fit into their wedding dress ever dared to eat from one.

Some socio-foodologist could probably trace the history of gourmet food trucks better than I can, but it’s my understanding that the trend started in Los Angeles with the Kogi BBQ truck, which tweeted out its location every day; the thrill of the hunt, probably as much as the food itself, created a massive following.

The first time I became aware of gourmet food trucks in Philly was with the Buttercream Philadelphia truck, owned and operated by “the Cupcake Lady,” Kate Carrara. Kate was right on the crest of the cupcake wave, and was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the craze to Philly.

Probably about two years ago now, more and more gourmet trucks began popping up: Vernalicious, Chewy’s, Pitruco (with a brick oven in the back of the truck!), Guapos Tacos (by Iron Chef Jorge Garces, now more or less defunct), Foo Truck, Say Cheese, among dozens of others (some great, some not).

Thankfully, there’s a great line-up of trucks just down the street from where I work at the intersection of 33rd and Arch Streets here in Philadelphia.  Spot Burger makes what might be the best bang-for-your-buck burger I’ve ever had.  Mac Mart is one of the newest of the bunch, but serves some deliciously satisfying spins on classic mac n’ cheese.

And, of course, my favorite has to be Rival Bros. Besides the super-dreaminess of its owners/operators [Get ahold of yourself, Jeff!], they make what is by far the best latte I’ve ever had…and their hand-drip ain’t too bad either.

This crop of food trucks is great because you’re getting some really high-quality goods at solid–though not dirt-cheap–prices.  However, if you consider the food to be of the same quality (or better) than that of a sit-down restaurant, you’re saving money and time.

If the rumors of a food truck area in the new Disney Springs section of the Walt Disney World Resort turn out to be true, they could do a lot worse than emulating these guys.

 

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Sunday Philly Funday

Philadelphia townhouses

 

[My apologies to architecture-nut fans: I’m still trying to sort out the “nuances” between rowhomes, townhouses, and brownstones. I’m fairly confident the above can at least be classified as townhouses but please correct me if I’m wrong.]

One of the pledges Lance and I made before moving back into Philadelphia was to make sure we appreciated it more. We’d try unique local restaurants, explore heretofore unseen neighborhoods, take long walks along the Schuylkill River Trail (yes, it took me a good two months to find out how to pronounce that.)  Moving back into the city wasn’t just about having more immediate access to the Gayborhood, though there was/is an element of that.  We wanted a high-density collection of Things To Do, within walking distance.

Before our exodus into the suburbs, we were eating lots of Domino’s, Ruby Tuesday, and watching lots of TV–we weren’t taking advantage of city living and felt like we were wasting money living in the city, and we used that as one reason to leave (as it turns out, living in the ‘burbs was just as expensive for us.)

We’re now a week into our return, and this self-imposed pledge has seen mixed results.  While we’ve already ordered from a local pizza place (La Scala’s Pronto on Spring Garden, expensive but a well-balanced pie), and I’ve taken up a chunk of the River Trail for my commute to work, we haven’t yet ventured much beyond our little chunk of the Art Museum/Fairmount neighborhood.

Yesterday morning, I was tasked with moving our car: one of the more pleasant (yippee!) realities of living in the city is what to do with your car, if you own one.  Do you pay the $150+/month to rent a space from your landlord, or do you pay $35 a year for a zoned neighborhood permit that allows you to park on the street?

I’m cheap as shit, and $35 a year sounds way better than $1800, so we bought the street-parking permit.  Unfortunately, this means that you’re not guaranteed a specific–or any–parking spot, just the opportunity to park if something’s available and not get a ticket.  Of course, this meant that no zoned street parking was available on Friday night, so I had to park at a meter (which thankfully wasn’t enforced between 8:00PM and 8:00AM) and then move the car into a zoned spot, if I could find one, the next morning.

So I’m grumbly as all hell at 7:45AM on Saturday morning, driving through the neighborhood north of our apartment building, while Lance is snuggled warm under the covers dreaming of scented body products and somesuch.  After 20 minutes, I finally find an open spot and tuck my little Ford Fiesta inside.

As I’m trekking back home, the sun’s low on the horizon and lighting up the stretch of Green Street in front of me.  I’ve always been in love with these tightly packed, design-dissonant homes, with churches and sushi restaurants and dry cleaners scattered randomly throughout.

This is a side of Philly that most tourists probably never see: streets upon streets of gorgeous, well-kept homes.  Too often, people stick to Center City or Old City or are understandably put off by what they see along the Amtrak line in and out of 30th Street Station.

Like any city, though, Philly’s got its charm along with its crap.  Too often we’re seen as the rougher, blue-collar cousin to New York, Boston, or D.C., and that’s probably true.  Philly wants to be in the big leagues with those other East Coast cities, and it’s not quite there and everybody knows it.  We’ve got a lot of shitty neighborhoods, a lot of crime and violence, and man, some huge rats.  We’re perennially behind on every trend–we just got cupcakes like two years ago!–and the customer service in this city leaves a lot to be desired.

Those were all things that were on my list of reasons to move out of the city.  And they still exist even though we’re back.  But the challenge of living anywhere, especially a city, is to either ignore, embrace, or work to improve those flaws, and find beauty where it exists.

Escape From The Suburbs

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Ripley checking out his new home.

“Why did we ever leave?” Lance asked me.

“We were too impulsive,” I said, which is not a word you usually associate with “the suburbs.”

Lance and I met in the city.  We dated in the city, got our first pet in the city, moved in together in the city.  We started our married life in the city.  But things change–bad jobs and experiences sour your relationship with a place.

Philly is not a beautiful city.  (When we got back from Tokyo, I realized I’d be embarrassed to invite somebody from such a clean, well-organized metropolis to dingy, dilapidated old bag like Philadelphia.)  It’s dirty and huge swaths of it are really, actually falling down.  Our “shopping district” consists of, like, three blocks of one street.  Philadelphians aren’t New York City rude, they’re angry and mean; the Ben & Jerry’s employees in our Amtrak station wear t-shirts that read “I’m not angry, I’m from Philly.”

So we got disillusioned after awhile.  The city and the experiences we had therein just wore us down, so we left.  That, and Lance loved his Ruby Tuesdays and his Dunkin Donuts, so the suburbs just made sense.

But man, was it boring.

There are a lot of stories about how the suburbs (or, at least, our particular suburb) didn’t work for us, which I never covered here since Lance and I were, at the time, doing a delicate dance of negotiation and, well, pretending to be happy.  While it was quiet, we couldn’t handle the fact that our only options for entertainment were a classic car show or getting drinks at local watering hole Dirty Jerzees, and we had moved so far out of the city that it was a legitimate pain in the butt for us to get to any of our friends’, and vice versa.  I was commuting an hour each way, via car and bike and walking and train.  We only have one car, which further complicated matters.

Moving to the suburbs was just a half-baked idea, a little knee-jerk.  It wasn’t for us.

Philly, you’re not a perfect city.  We don’t even like you all that much.  But, baby, you’re what we’ve got.

The Year Without French Fries

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Regular fries from 500 Degrees, Philadelphia

I’m a big fan of personal challenges. I don’t always stick to them, but I like the idea of exercising some self-control, to push yourself, etc.

That’s why, for all of 2012, I gave up french fries, like one super-sized Lent sacrifice. Of all of the foods in my diet, fries were by far the worst for me…well, except for all the carbs I regularly consume, but at least most of those aren’t doused in oil.

My problem with fries was two-fold:

  1. They’re everywhere! Whenever we went out to eat, fries were the automatic side, and it was getting to the point where I was eating fries a half-dozen times a week. Granted, this could be a product of the types of restaurants we eat at and the meals I order (mostly sandwiches), but still, a non-fried vegetable option would be appreciated.
  2. I can’t control myself. If you’re ever seen me at a buffet, or even at a party with a decent spread, you know I just keep stuffing my face until I pass out. I have no discipline to eat “just enough”; if it’s in front of me, I’m going to eat it…and your leftovers, too.
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Fries from Whole Foods Market, Plymouth Meeting, PA

So that’s why fries had to go, or at least why I had to try. By excising an unhealthy food from my diet, I hoped to be healthier, and maybe lose a little bit of my starch-pudge in the process (this unfortunately did not happen.)

2012 came and went, and I didn’t have a single french fry all year…I even spit one out onto our kitchen floor when I realized I’d starting munching on one absentmindedly (classy, that’s me). Home fries and hash browns, at least mentally, were not included in this ban since I rarely eat a breakfast more complicated than a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats.

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Regular order of fries at Spot Burger, Philadelphia

As of midnight on January 1, however, the fry ban was lifted, and I vowed to be more selective in my fry consumption. No more Burger King fries “just ’cause”! If I was going to blow the calories on them, I might as well get the best possible.

My first dip back into the world of fries came from 500 Degrees, a burger joint here in Philly that is really quite good, and fries are made to order. These were cooked until they were all shades of gold and brown, but…they weren’t that satisfying. After the quick sense-memory overload after my first bite, I was left a little wanting.

The second fry trial of 2013 came from the burger and fries bar at the Whole Foods in Plymouth Meeting. This is by far the nicest Whole Foods I’ve ever been in, mostly due to the fact that they rock their own bar and several different prepared food sections, including a brick-oven pizza, a barbecue station, a “world foods” station, and so on. These fries, whenever Lance ordered them, always smelled so temptingly delicious, so I couldn’t wait to try them.

…And yet again, while aesthetically pleasing, after the first handful or so, I was already kind of bored. What was wrong with these fries?

Then came my last foray into fries (so far) for 2013: the Spot Burger stand in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia. Don’t get me wrong: I love Spot Burger and think they rock what is by far the best burger I’ve ever had, and whenever my co-workers added a side of made-to-order fries in the past, I got so jealous. And it’s not to say that these fries aren’t good–they’re nicely seasoned with a perfect amount of salt, and fried just enough to be crispy without being soggy, but…

…I think I’ve lost my appetite for french fries.

They used to satisfy some deeper, fatty craving. But after going cold turkey on them for a year, these fries–not just any old Ore Ida fries, but good fries–just don’t meet that “yum yum fried starchy goodness” need in the same way.

And maybe that’s because that need’s no longer there.

Origin Story

Very early in our relationship, my then 22-year-old self made a near-fatal error.  You know that time in your budding romance where you shower each other with compliments, a weird sort of one-upsmanship of “Oooh, you’re so thoughtful!” and “How cute are you?” and so on.

Well, I can’t say that I was always the mature wordsmith that I am today.  When we first started dating [Lance interjects here, screaming, “DATING?!?!”…long story.], relieved and somewhat perplexed that I had snared an extremely attractive fellow, I may have half-jokingly said the following…out loud…to Lance, with a smug look of satisfaction on my face:

“Yep, I scored myself a hot piece of ass.”

See, this was totally meant to be a compliment.  I mean, look at the guy!

Adorable!  You don’t just reel that into your boat and toss it back! You take that home and put it above your fireplace!

Well, as you can probably imagine, Lance was not too thrilled with this line.  He didn’t take it as the obvious compliment it was and instead considered it “objectification”…whatever that is.  I didn’t know how upset he was about it until much later; see, I’d said it during that early point in any relationship where nobody tries to rock the boat too much even if the other person has offended you, so Lance kept his distaste for my comment to himself for quite awhile.

Now how did I get to this point where I considered my future husband essentially a piece of meat?

See, Lance and I are super-shy and were both super-alone about five years ago.  I had recently moved to Philadelphia rack up a lifetime of debt in grad school, not knowing anybody.  When my university was holding a grad student LGBTQXYZ mixer one night, I struggled to overcome my shy awkwardness, eventually getting myself to the event to “mingle” (small talk is quite possibly my least fave thing ever).

Eventually, a group of guys decided to head to the bars; oblivious to the fact that nobody actually wanted me to tag along (yep, THAT guy right here, folks), I goofily followed.  Now, most of these guys were, like, PhD students in religious studies or tax code or something like that, and I’d never seen an episode of Sex and the City in my life, so I was waaay out of my element, a dumb Midwestern hick with nothing to provide to the group conversation.  The awkwardness was pervasive, and I was starting to look for a way to remove myself without looking totally lame. I figured I’d give it one more bar stop, just to see if things improved.

After a stop at the semi-legendary drag show at Bob & Barbara’s, we headed to Woody’s, because, honestly, why wouldn’t you name a gay bar Woody’s?  Woody’s represents the kind of pathetic sadness of Philly’s gay scene: the place at that point was kind of a mess across multiple floors: if I remember correctly, lots of seedy industrial carpet, chunky bartenders, and themed nights like…country line-dancing.

That, and it must be said that Philly’s gay scene, like any other “scene” on the East Coast, is full of people that couldn’t cut it in New York City, so…there’s that.

Anyway, yes, it was country line-dancing night at Woody’s. I’d clearly not had enough to drink for this, and people were starting to peel away from the group with which I came.  Time to start looking for my own exit, I thought to myself.

Then I saw him, sitting at the bar, quite possibly the most attractive boy I’d seen.  Just look at him!

We made eye contact, but me being me, I freaked out and started playing with my phone, you know, because that’s smooth and obviously, so many people were texting me at 11:30 at night.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself by playing eye footsie (eye-sie?) only to find out that the cute guy at the bar was just taking mental notes of how not to dress or something.  There’s no way this guy’d want to talk to me, anyway (low self-esteem leftover from childhood obesity FTW!)

Then, a little pixie popped up next to me.  No, not a gay, but a then-unknown Alix, with her cute little pixie-cut, showed up in my life just then and sprinkled a whole bunch of magic dust on me.  Alix coming over and talking to me at that moment, in Woody’s, was one of the most important interactions I will ever have in my life.

“Heeey,” said Alix (we’re all a little drunk at this point).  “My friend over there wants to talk to you.”

My brain was already fumbling.  Uhh, what?  So, I’m like 22 at this point and nobody has ever sent an emissary over to solicit my attention.  Nobody has ever cold-call approached me before, so I really had no idea what to say.

“Err…hello.  Umm…what?”

Alix motioned over to the bar, in the direction of the cute guy that I’d made eye-contact with earlier.  “The guy over there, he thinks you’re cute.”

Haha.  She must be joking.  When does it ever happen that the person you think is attractive is actually attracted to you as well?  That’s, like, a thing that surely doesn’t happen, right?

“Uhh, well, I don’t really think…” I mumbled.

“Ohh, please.” Alix at this point was already over this act of goodwill.  “Just go talk to him, ya goon.”

Okay.  Okay okay.  So, I had some “evidence” here, just by Alix’s presence, that I wasn’t going to totally embarrass myself by initiating a conversation with this Cute Guy at the Bar.  Still, I needed to leave myself a little bit of an out in case it soured or in case this was just some giant prank.

I walked up to Cute Guy, and basically said in one unbroken word, “UmIhavetoleavesoonbutcanIgetyournumberKThxbyeeeee.”

Cute Guy turned to me, and said, “I’m Lance.”  The rest is history.  We ended up going to another bar, a piano bar, together, where we discussed the merits of “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, as sung by a sixty-year-old chain smoker.

We were both good that night, and went out separate ways, with me writing my number on the cover of a J.Crew catalog that Alix had in her purse.  Lance texted me the next day to ask if I wanted to have dinner, which, by the way, continues to be the only non-birthday meal where Lance has paid for me.

And, in a weird roundabout way as Lance slouches toward his mid-thirties (ooh, man, I’m gonna pay for that comment later…), he now embraces his “hot piece of ass”-ness, wearing it as a badge of honor as he watches many of his contemporaries fall into the sweatpants-in-the-grocery-store disrepair of adulthood.

Queue-Jumping

Annnnnd…we’re back!

As a pre-Vancouver trip report, I wanted to share my experience on just trying to get on the plane at Philadelphia International.

A few co-workers and I were to catch the 7:00AM flight from PHL to Toronto (then connecting on to Vancouver).  Now, I know our carrier, Air Canada, flies out of the domestic terminals at PHL, so I showed up first at the airport at around 5:00, giving me an hour-and-a-half before the plane was scheduled to begin boarding. PLENTY of time.

First snag: You can’t check-in online for an Air Canada flight that  leaves out of PHL.  This must have something to do with the fact that the airline…flies out of the domestic terminal and they need to check your passport or something. Okay, fine, no problem, I’ll just use the kiosk at the airport to do a self-check-in, since I only have a carry-on bag.

Snag #2: Well, I’ll be…there’s no self-check-in kiosk at the airport, meaning my co-workers (who were also unable to check-in online) will need to go to the counter to check-in and get our boarding passes.  Well, that’s not too bad; when I get to the airport, there’re only a dozen people in line.  I’ll wait for my co-workers to get here and then we’ll hop in line.

Snag #3:  The line to the counter isn’t moving.

My boss, Rachael, gets to the airport at around 5:30, so we get in line because I start panicking a little.  Um, why isn’t this line moving?  I’ve been here for 30 minutes already and barely an inch!  At this point, I start worrying if we’re even going to make it on the plane, since after check-in, we still need to go through security…on a Monday morning…in PHL.  At least if we get in line, we can get closer and hopefully get to security around 15 minutes before boarding begins.

A few people get in line behind us, and Emily, our third and final co-worker/traveler, arrives at the airport.  At first she doesn’t see Rachael and I, so we shout and scream and gesticulate wildly to get her attention.  She sees us, and then joins us in line.

I share how glad I am that Emily made it, trying to keep my confident composure while internally freaking out that we’re going to miss our flight.  We all laugh nervously, as it’s getting past 6:00AM and the check-in line still hasn’t moved.  Only 30 more minutes before boarding!

“Excuse me,” comes a quaint, tea-infused voice from behind us. “Are you queue-jumping?”

We all stop talking.

“What?” Emily asks, turning to the crumpet-y source of the voice.  It’s a girl, probably no older than 17, with her arms crossed and looking peeved.

“Are you queue-jumping, pip pip?” she reiterates.

Now, we’re all a little sleep-deprived, so we really didn’t understand what this girl was saying.  “Are you asking if I’m cutting the line?” says Emily.

“Yes, are you queue-jumping, blimey bollocks?”

“Well, I’m with these people,” says Emily, gesturing to Rachael and I.  “We’re traveling together.”

“You can’t queue-jump, cheerio guv’nor bangers n’ mash,” says the girl, obviously from Great Britain, feeling indignant that some blasted Yankee would try to make it onto one of her Empire’s planes before she could.

“We’re a group,” Emily responds.  “We’re together.”

“You have separate passports,” says the girl, smirking, like she has the upper hand.  “You have to check-in separately. No queue-jumping, jolly good higgledy-piggledy.”

Now, the girl had a point; I wouldn’t want people cutting in front of me in line, though I would’ve probably just stood there, blood boiling instead of actually saying anything.  Nevertheless, we are AMERICANS, gosh darn it, and we deserve to go first! (Also, we were tired and probably didn’t fully comprehend the situation.)

Emily finally relented, with a pointed, “Well, good morning to you, too!” and an under-her-breathe, “How many world wars did we save you from??” and then moved to the back of the line.

At around 6:25AM, we finally get checked in and rush up to security, where Emily ends up beating the British girl by several people.  Sweet American justice!!

And thankfully, since basically everybody on our flight had the same snag at check-in, they held the plane an extra 15 minutes, so we were able to make it on to our flight…where we discover that the British girl is sitting in Rachael’s seat.

“Um, excuse me,” says Rachael. “I think you’re in my seat?”

Sheepishly, the British girl checks her boarding pass and realizes she’s in the wrong.  Just like at Yorktown, we boot her out and back to her own seat.  VENGEANCE IS OURS!!

USA! USA! USA!