A Taste of Ethnic Philly: Reading Terminal Market
The Reading Terminal Market, at 12th and Arch streets (tel. 215/922-2317; www.readingterminalmarket.org), has been a greengrocer, snack shop, butcher, fish market, and sundries store for Philadelphians since the late 1800s. The original idea was to use the space underneath the terminal's tracks for food vendors so that commuters could stock up easily and cheaply. Today, it's lively, charming, redolent, noisy, aboveground, and overall a great place to have lunch or breakfast, or pick up a picnic. Half the fun of shopping among the market's grid of indoor stalls is getting lost. Don't miss a single aisle. Scrapple, mangoes, clam chowder, pretzels, and cheese worth its weight in gold -- if it's fresh, it's here.
Prices vary by vendor, and about half accept cash only. Public restrooms are on the 11th and Arch side of the market, behind the Beer Garden. Market hours are Monday through Saturday 8am to 6pm; about two-thirds of vendors are open on Sundays, from 9am to 5pm. Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) vendors have market days Wednesday 8am to 3pm and Thursday through Saturday 8am to 5pm. If you're lucky enough to be marketing then, pick up hot cross buns at Beiler's Bakery, and individual egg custards ($1) and chicken potpies ($6) at the counter of the Dutch Eating Place.
Local, organic-minded farm collectives (Fair Food Farmstand, Livengood's Produce) have also set up shop (Livengood's is only open Sat). Strawberries, just-clipped watercress, butternut squash, and ripe tomatoes are offered seasonally. Also look for locally produced raw-milk cheese from Fair Food Farmstand, and grass-fed, hormone-free meat, poultry, and homemade sausage at Guinta's Prime.
Gourmets won't be able to resist asking for samples of the incredible variety at Downtown Cheese Shop. Caffeine addicts can get their fix at Old City Coffee. Sweet tooths can get their cannoli at Termini Brothers Bakery, their vanilla rooibos cake and green tea pound cake at Flying Monkey Patisserie, and their daisy mints and boxes of dark chocolate ears at Chocolate by Mueller. Carbaholics will gobble up the baguettes, bagels, coffeecakes, and croissants at Le Bus and Metropolitan bakeries.
For more protein, Pearl's Oyster Bar practically gives away six Top Neck clams for $4.95, and a shrimp platter goes for $7.95. Or try Coastal Cave, which has great clam chowder, oyster crackers, and smoked fish. Across the market, DiNic's gets lines for their roast pork sandwich -- oft considered the cheesesteak's superior cousin. 12th Street Cantina sells not only tasty enchiladas and burritos, but also authentic ingredients, like blue cornmeal. Those off the meat wagon aren't ignored, either. The Basic Four Vegetarian Snack Bar makes delicious, meatless chicken salad and fishless tuna sandwiches, and veggie burgers.
Wash it all down with a pint of Yuengling Lager -- just call it "lager" -- at the odd and less-than-comely Beer Garden. Or better yet, treat yourself to a scoop of genuine, egg-included French vanilla at the outpost of Philly-based Bassetts, America's oldest ice-cream company. A cone will set you back $3.50.
Dim Sum for Everyone
Taking the family out for China's traditional daytime meal of "tiny plates" is a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon. Ocean Harbor at 1023 Race St. (tel. 215/574-1398) and Imperial Inn at 142 N. 10th St. (tel. 215/627-2299) both offer plenty of shrimp dumplings, steamed pork buns, and radish cakes from rolling silver carts.
Philly's Italian Market
While touring South Street or South Philadelphia, make an effort to head a few blocks south to the Italian Market, located along 9th Street, from Fitzwater to Wharton. This gritty outdoor market -- part of Rocky's famous run -- has stands hawking fresh produce, pasta, seafood, and other culinary delights. With the atmosphere of a street fair, it's a tad rough-and-tumble, what with the merchants yelling and the trash fires burning (in winter) and the chickens squawking (at the butcher south of the main area). Some of the more famous vendors include Sonny D'Angelo's butcher shop; Di Bruno Bros., a cramped space for the ultimate in dairy; and Giordano's produce stand at the corner of 9th and Washington. Before you reach the market, be sure to pick up a loaf of sesame seed-coated Italian bread "seeded" at Sarcone's Deli, between Fitzwater and Catharine streets. Here's a fun tidbit for you: The big mural across from Di Bruno Bros. Pronto is of controversial former mayor Frank Rizzo. According to the Mural Arts Commission, it's the most defaced mural in the city. The market is open daily from dawn to dusk but many vendors close early on Sunday. Bus: 47 or 64.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.