The morning began early with a long run followed by left-over cake from Wit & Wisdom (plus some terrible hotel coffee) prior to the drive from Baltimore to Philadelphia – a drive made in record time thus landing me in the City of Brotherly Love at 7:10am, a mere ten minutes after Michael Solomonov’s oft-raved Federal Donuts opened its doors. Always a fan of breakfasts and baked goods, particularly from a chef who went out of his way to stop by my table to chat when I ordered (er, ‘devoured like a viking’) the pork shoulder at Zahav, Federal Donuts had been on my ‘to visit’ list for a while and although my eating plans for the day were substantial I knew walking in the door that I had co-diners throughout the day with whom I’d happily be able to share.
A small space to be sure and not yet busy on a Tuesday morning parking was a cinch and with two bakers plus a young clerk I asked what was best with a typical response, “everything,” and sizing up the donuts and realizing them to be small I went with the theme ordering a half-dozen fancy options and one of the made to order hot sugared donuts plus a cup of Federal Blend coffee plus a plastic knife with which to divide the selections.
Making my way to the street and sipping the vibrant coffee with earthy cinnamon tones throughout I started first with the hot “Vanilla Lavender” selection and was instantly quite impressed as the exterior was a bit crunchy while the interior was soft and dense, the floral notes understated while mellow vanilla notes came to the fore. Moving next to the daily selections of $2 fancies it was a mixed bag (or box) with the same high quality textures as the hot donuts but the flavors far more bold – and sometimes a bit strange.
Starting with the selections I expected to work nicely, Creamsicle, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, and Chocolate Banana each choice was a pleasant blend of flavors with the same cake body simply wrapped in a different glaze – a fan of cake donuts over yeasted ‘raised/glazed’ things were off to a good start. Moving next to the more aggressive flavors, Chili Mango and Pomegranate Nutella both proved to be quite bold and interesting – the former with a bit of heat and the later somewhat akin to a peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich in flavor. Far less successful, the Mandarin Coffee was simply not my style – far too much acid with the smoky coffee notes providing little balance. Overall a really interesting spot with a good vibe and prices far less than many ‘designer’ donut shops I unfortunately never did make it back for the fried chicken…..though I guess there is always next time.
Moving next just down the street I arrived at Green Eggs Café just after 8am and with a pair of tables already filled I was greeted by my hostess/server Erica, a smiling young lady who seemed to be running the front of the house solo that morning and seated near a window I perused the menu only to find at least three items that sounded great, but a daily special on the chalkboard that sounded even better. Offered water and coffee I gladly accepted both and with free Wi-Fi I decided to pull out my laptop when I was told my order would take “about twenty to thirty minutes.”
A lovely space with a lot of regulars coming in for breakfast even on a weekday morning I sat and sipped a bold (and copiously refilled) mug of fair trade yirgacheffe as I caught up on the previous night’s NHL playoff action and just as promised my breakfast arrived in twenty minutes – a mountain of carbohydrates entitled “Cherry Garcia Stuffed French Toast” featuring an astounding array of toppings including Chocolate Morsels, Cream Cheese , Vanilla Custard, Cherry Syrup, melted Ice Cream Sauce, Chantilly Cream, Bing Cherries, and Chocolate Chips all atop buttery brioche with a “drizzle” of pure maple syrup. Not for the faint of heart (or small of stomach) this was every bit the sort of breakfast I dream of when on vacation and although not QUITE the best French Toast I’ve ever had, a strong contender for top 5 as the golden crust and custard interior stood up admirably to the plethoric toppings; each bite a new and delicious composition of flavors.
With three locations in Philadelphia (and unfortunately none here in Phoenix) Green Eggs Café definitely goes on the “to be revisited” list, ideally next time with others in order to sample more of the menu.
Checked into the hotel with breakfast past, lunch finally started savory with a walk through the Italian Market leading me to Paesano’s II where I met a life-long local gourmand named Ray. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable of the area’s culture we wandered and chatted for a bit before the small sandwich shop opened its doors but after perhaps ten minutes we were the first ones in the door. Greeted by two clerks, one running the register and the other tending the grill we perused the options and settled on three sandwiches that sounded best – “a few minutes” we were told, and paying the modest tab we took a seat.
Delivered as they were finished our first two tastes were the oft raved Arista and the Gustaio, later to be joined by the Bolognese. Beginning first with the Arista, a sandwich piled high with Whole Roasted Suckling Pig, Broccoli Rabe, Italian Long Hots, and Sharp Provolone there really isn’t much more that can be said about this sandwich – a bit like DiNic’s, but in my opinion with superior bread that really stood up to the juicy sandwich. Entirely savory, modestly bitter, and just a bit of heat – great stuff, but not the best Paesano’s has to offer.
Next up, the Gustaio, and whether due to my sweet tooth or simply the awesomeness of the sandwich itself potentially the best thing ever placed on sliced bread. Featuring Roasted Lamb Sausage, Sun Dried Cherry Mustard, Gorgonzola, and Fennel on a sort of Panini-pressed golden wrap every bite was teaming with a deft balance of sweet and savory while the fennel lent a light undertone serving the smoky protein very well. Far less bread-y than the Gustaio or the Bolognese this was certainly the most portable sandwich, but even if I’d have been indulging alone there is no way a bite would have made it out the door.
For the final taste, I think the novelty of Crispy Fried Lasagna, Smoked Parmesan, and a Fried Egg lured me in, but in reality the Bolognese was only ‘okay’ when compared to the others. Great tomato flavor and good ragu with an interesting texture the fried egg was largely lost amongst the other fatty flavors and in the end the overall taste was essentially that of a really good meatball sub. Certainly not a ‘bad’ sandwich by any means, just not as stunning as the others (and quite heavy considering the day’s eating plans.)
All in all a great spot run by some really good people my prior visit to Modo Mio and this visit to Paesano’s was more than enough to convince me to check out Monsu the next day and the trio along with Marc Vetri’s spots more than enough to cement Philly as my favorite place to eat Italian in the United States.
After Paesano’s Ray wanted to show me another Philly institution and so we hiked it down the street to John’s Water Ice – a space apparently established in 1945 and a favorite of many who grew up in the Italian (and surrounding) neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Featuring a limited menu of four flavors of water ice, four ice creams, and mixes referred to as gelati at bargain basement prices compared to your typical ice cream scoop-shops (and more so compared to the stellar Capogiro) we decided to sample the gamut – four small water ices for $1.50 each – and with no seating we took our Dixie cups a few steps away to enjoy.
Having never experienced water-ice before (aside from those things sold as ‘frozen lemonade’ at the zoo or Cedar Point) but watching it scooped up and smashed into the cups by a young man at the counter I rather assumed it would be icy and artificial flavored, but with our flavor selections included Chocolate, Cherry, Lemon, and Pineapple I was surprised to find each flavor well-suited to its namesake and despite being non-dairy, non-fat and cholesterol free the textures were creamy and rich, much like a sherbet. Certainly not as refined or interesting as gelato or designer ice cream, but the chocolate and cherry particularly tasty I definitely understand how these treats are emblematic of a hot summer’s day for folks in the area, particularly at the price, and although I can’t say I’d personally crave a water-ice or seek it out like a good scoop of gelato it is hard to argue with the price/quality ratio, particularly for food with nostalgic meaning to so many.
Not one to be satisfied by a few bites of water ice for dessert my last stop of the afternoon was at Frangelli’s Bakery on Ritner St, a very aged spot where I’d targeted an ice cream donut sandwich only to be thwarted by a lack of ice cream that day – a bummer indeed, but one compensated by the lovely staff who offered be a free glazed donut hot from the fryer in addition to making the stellar recommendation of a Blackberry Powdered Sugar Donut – $1 and back to the streets to enjoy.
Starting first with the glazed, a nice litmus test although not my favorite sort of fried pastry, the glaze had largely dried by the time I walked a few blocks and still warm the yeasty notes were quite nice, though the dough itself slightly thicker than I’d have hoped – not ‘doughy’ per se, but also not light and fluffy as one would expect – a texture about halfway between a cake donut and a yeasted raised one. Moving next to the filled option, thankfully not served hot as my first bite nearly left my shirt stained blue (and would have left my chin scorched if it were hot) I’ll just say this was about as good as a jelly donut gets – absolutely stuffed with blackberry compote they make in house, light yet toothsome, and loaded with powdered sugar. Somewhat akin to a Polish Paczki but not as dense, if you’re in the neighborhood I’d strongly recommend checking one out – a great end to the first half of day one in Philly.