Monk’s Cafe (Philadelphia)

Monk's Red Light Mussels

Monk’s Red Light Mussels

Ever have a sour beer? Not one that’s gone bad, but a beer that’s brewed that way? It’s quite distinctive, deriving its sourness from lactic acid.  Monk’s offers a Flemish sour ale that is made for them in Belgium. On first taste, the sourness is surprising, but it grows on you. It pairs especially well with the restaurant’s specialty, steamed mussels, which come in a variety of preparations. All the mussels are cultivated in the cold waters of Nova Scotia. The dish pictured above is the Red Light Mussels steamed in Belgian witbier (white ale), fumé blanc, toasted chile de arbol peppers, chervil and garlic. The mussel meat was small (the way I like them) and perfectly cooked, if somewhat gritty. All the mussel dishes come with Belgian fries, cut small and twice-fried for crispiness, accompanied by a tasty bourbon mayonnaise. A single roll is also provided for sopping up the delicious broth.

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Monk’s Cafe
264 S 16th St
Philadelphia, PA

Carmen’s Italian Hoagies

Carmen’s Super Italian hoagie

The hoagies of Philadelphia are justifiably famous. The sheer number of restaurants that serve them keeps the competition high. Besides Chickie’s, Carmen’s is a local favorite. I ate one of their sandwiches on our last trip to Philadelphia and was impressed. I ordered the same hoagie again, the Super Italian, filled with sweet sopressata, capocola, mortadella, tomatoes, onion, lettuce, and roasted spicy peppers, whose fire sort of sneaks up on you. The bread here was light, yet wonderfully crispy and seeded on the outside. I much preferred the bread here than at Chickie’s, which uses Sarcone’s. Here, on some sandwiches you can also add “extras” like sharp Provolone and broccoli rate, Philly favorites.

Carmen’s Italian Hoagies
51 N 12th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Between Arch St & Filbert St

Tommy Di Nic’s (Philadelphia)

Tommy Di Nic’s is another hoagie stand (Reading Terminal Station in Philadelphia) that appears on many favorite lists. They specialize in roast beef and roast pork, as well as pulled pork. I got the roast pork, plentiful slices that were piled into a light, crispy roll, mounded with sautéed broccoli rabe and sharp Provolone, and finally finished with pork gravy. This was a superb sandwich, with ingredients that typify the hoagie made in this part of the country (including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware).

Adam Richman ate and praised this sandwich on his Man v. Food show back in 2009 (Season 2).

Roast pork with sharp provolone and broccoli rate. Photo borrowed from (Cynthia L)

Reading Terminal Market
1136 Arch Street
12th and Arch streets
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Chickie’s Italian Deli (Philadelphia)

Chickie’s veggie hoagie

Chickie’s is one of many restaurants in Philadelphia that make Italian hoagies. The veggie and tuna sandwiches are their two famous specialties. The vegetarian in particular has received several awards and media recognition. Chickie’s claims that even blue collar workers can’t resist it. Roasted red bell pepper, baked eggplant and sauteed broccoli rabe are nestled in a sliced and lightly toasted bread made by Sarcone’s, a long-time bakery in the Italian shopping district. Grated sharp Provolone and a vinaigrette dressing round out this delicious sandwich. I found that the bread suffers from a somewhat dense and chewy texture, like a baguette, with the result that biting into it causes the filling to be squeezed out at the opposite end. Other than that, this is a noteworthy hoagie. The tuna sandwich (featuring oil-packed tuna, which is much more flavorful than water-packed) will have to wait for another visit.

Chickie’s Italian Deli
1014 Federal Street
Philadelphia, PA

Mercato (Philadelphia)

Within a few blocks of our daughter and son-in-law’s house is Mercato, a restaurant that draws inspiration from Italian and Italian-American cooking. It’s nestled in a tiny space on Spruce near 12th, but the cheerful saffron yellow walls make it feel more expansive. Our daughter brought along an Italian soave because of a BYOB policy observed by many Philadelphia restaurants.

The evening got started with spectacular antipasti, Mercato’s splendid version spread with grilled and marinated vegetables, bocconcini, a sampling of cured olives, crostini topped with diced tomato, slivered basil and red onion, and thinly sliced soppressata artfully folded to suggest a flower.

Mercato Antipasti

Another appetizer was a spot-on grilled artichoke accompanied by a citrus aioli. The grilling intensified the vegetable’s flavor.

Grilled artichoke

Grilled artichoke with citrus aioli

Three pan seared diver scallops were served on a bed of mushroom and English pea risotto, topped with a Parmesan crisp. As if that weren’t enough, the entire dish was drizzled with truffle oil. The scallops were crisply browned but still sweet and succulent. An excellent entrée.

Pan Seared Diver Scallops

Ricotta gnocchi were served with long-braised, fork-tender short ribs, broccoli rabe and locatelli cheese, and bathed in a fresh tomato sauce.

Short rib ragu

You know it’s was winning restaurant when it was hard to say which entrée was our favorite.

1216 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Rodin Museum (Philadelphia, PA)

The Thinker

I was surprised to learn that there was a museum here in Philadelphia of Auguste Rodin’s works, thinking that most, if not all, of the originals would be in Paris. This belief is based on a misunderstanding of how Rodin worked. He often made plaster casts of his sculpture to be used to make replicas in bronze. To preserve their value, only limited numbers of pieces were ever made. Thus, there are other museums of Rodin’s works.

The Thinker, Rodin’s most recognizable bronze sculpture, sits outside the Rodin Museum. The Philadelphia museum houses the largest collection of his sculpture outside France. Though the building is quite small, there are over 100 of Rodin’s pieces here.

Rodin’s (in)famous sculpture is The Kiss, which is also widely recognizable as one of his enduring and erotic works. There is a copy of it, actually done for the museum by Henry Gréber. Another marble sculpture of an embracing couple is Eternal Springtime, a bronze casting of which also stands nearby.

Eternal Spring

Rodin’s most ambitious work is The Gates of Hell, a bronze door that recreates themes from Dante’s Divine Comedy. It can be seen in the portico as you approach the front of the museum. Several of Rodin’s most famous sculptures were inspired by smaller versions of them on the door, such as The Thinker and The Kiss.

Gates of Hell

Masonic Temple (Philadelphia, PA)

A view down the Grand Staircase from the second floor

The Philadelphia Masonic Temple, built in 1873 and situated directly across the street from City Hall, is one of the city’s historic buildings and an architectural wonder. The design of its interior is among the finest of all Masonic temples. Its museum holds many interesting artifacts from American history. The lodge (the full name is The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania) is where luminaries of the American revolution claimed membership. The last time I was in town in May, the museum was closed because of renovation to the Grand Entrance gate.

Freemasonry has been an enigmatic, some say secret society of men which has played an influential role in American history. It is assumed by some that it traces its roots back to the Knights Templar, the organization primarily responsible for Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. Many of the most important Founding Fathers were Freemasons: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, to name a few. Most American Presidents were Masons. While the Freemasons were not a majority of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution, whatever you think of them, they were extremely influential in shaping the ideas of what we now call American democracy and creating its form of government. How ironic that a society dedicated to equality, righteousness, and fraternity did not (and still does not) officially include women.

A guided tour of the temple will not necessarily reveal what Freemasonry is or does, in no small measure because it was led by a Stanford graduate (just kidding, but he is an alum). You do discover that it adheres to no particular faith, its only “religious” requirement for membership being the belief in a Creator. There is also a belief that esoteric wisdom was handed down by priesthoods or secret societies throughout history, dating as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, some of which is codified in the symbols that are very much a part of a Freemason’s education.

There are seven lodge halls designed in a variety of architectural styles. Oriental Hall reproduces a part of the Alhambra in Granada (Spain), giving it a striking Moorish appearance. Egyptian motifs and hieroglyphics adorn the Egyptian Hall, designed after the temples of Luxor. The other meeting rooms are Renaissance, Ionic, Corinthian, Gothic, and Norman.

Oriental Room is inspired by Granada’s Alhambra

Egyptian Room shows influence of the temples of Luxor

Symbols are very important to Freemasons. There are many beyond the well-known compass and square. For example, the Star of David makes its appearance, not necessarily as an emblem of Judaism but as an esoteric symbol, signifying Divine Providence. The Star of David can be seen as an interweaving of two equilateral triangles, a special Euclidian shape and an important symbol to Masons. It also appears as points on George Washington’s Masonic apron.

Star of David

Even the materials used in the construction of the temple have meaning. An entire side of the building is covered in stone (Cape Ann syenite) that was quarried in Upper Egypt, the very same stone used by the ancient Egyptians to build pyramids and temples.

The museum is also an architectural masterpiece, done in the Byzantine style. It is so ornate that you tend to overlook the fact that it holds important Masonic artifacts, such as the apron, embroidered by the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette (also a Mason), that George Washington wore when he laid the first stone of the U.S. Capitol building.

Byzantine architecture of the museum (note the Star of David pattern again and other Masonic symbols)

If you are a Masonic scholar or interested in Freemasonry or if you are a student of architecture, you can do no better than pay a visit here.