Venturing out of the Penn Bubble: Philly Parks, Markets, and Festivals

Having gone to college in Philadelphia for the past two years now, you can bet my Floridian impression about seasons has changed a great deal. From two (wet and dry) to four distinct seasons, this change was one of affectionate captivation. Although I have reasons for loving each season, I’ve gotta say Fall is definitely one of my favorites. From pumpkin ravioli to apple picking to pumpkin spice lattes to colorful leaves to pumpkin ice cream to fashionable coats to pumpkin macarons (ok so basically pumpkin anything) to finally the notion that “the holidays” are always kinda sorta just around the corner… there’s so much to love about Fall! However, early Fall also usually signals the beginning of another season at Penn: midterm season.

Because life as a Penn student can be stressful at times, Felicia and I always make time in our busy schedules to escape the Penn Bubble and just enjoy life. And lucky for us, there are always so many events going on in the city! Not including restaurant week or other restaurant outings, here are some of the things we’ve been up to the past two and a half weeks:

Spruce Street Harbor Park (Old City)

Spruce Street Harbor Park was a pop-up park along the Delaware River Waterfront that was supposed to only be around for two months (July and August) in the summer. However due to popular demand, the park stayed open for an extra month, making Felicia and I two very happy mid-September benefactors.

10687977_10152749707784603_2505013833198238650_oThe park was designed as an “urban beach” with its centerpiece being a series of floating barges that not only encapsulated a lily pad water garden, but also housed a floating pop-up restaurant and bar.

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And this pop-up restaurant wasn’t just any old restaurant. Blue Anchor was a temporary Garces Group restaurant that featured menu pulls popular at Garces’ Village Whiskey, including the Village Burger, Shorty Fries (fries topped with braised short ribs and sly fox cheddar sauce), and the Cracker Jack sundae.

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Blue Anchor Special: Truffle-Mushroom, Caramelized Onions, Cheddar

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This park also had a thing for hammocks. There were four like the one above that allowed visitors to relax suspended over the water. But for those more into traditional tree hammocks, there were over 50 colorful versions of those strung under more than 800 feet of LED lights.

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The boardwalk area also had a lot of games, such as ping pong, life-sized chess, giant connect four…but it was giant Jenga that peaked our interest.1532042_10152749708554603_977127794575530045_o

The full design of the project was meant to “celebrate the River’s industrial past and the bright future ahead for Philadelphia’s waterfront.” So in good, nostalgic spirits and being that it was on the way back to the Septa station, there was really no way we could walk pass by Franklin Fountain without stopping in for some old-fashioned ice cream.

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And guess what seasonal flavor just happened to have an early debut this year… pumpkin! That plus a scoop of Whirly Berly (chocolate with nougat, salted caramel, and cocoa nibs) made their way into a carton and our Thursday was made.10712589_10152749708834603_8871207161948791003_o 10655175_10152749708939603_4354358864028484592_o

College Fest (Museum District)

An annual Philadelphia tradition, College Fest has been an event celebrating new and returning students for more than 20 years now with free admission to several museums, free transportation around the city, free food samples, and like all events done in Philadelphian style, food trucks (though not free).

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Cheesesteak Spring Rolls from the Four Seasons Food Truck (So delicious!)

Speaking of food trucks, the predominant reason why Felicia and I wanted to go to College Fest in the first place was actually because we knew the Four Seasons Food Truck was going to be there. We anxiously got ourselves an order of Cheesesteak Spring Rolls along with their Victory Root Beer “Phloat” featuring Tastykake Krimpet Ice Cream. The Cheesesteak Spring Rolls were unforgettably delicious and fortunately from looking at the recipe the Four Seasons put on their website, they seem quite easy to make. Although when it comes to these kinds of recipes, finding the right ingredients is usually the tricky part. On the other hand, the Victory Root Beer “Phloat” was a bit disappointing, but then again I don’t even like root beer to begin with…

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Free Pumpkin S’mores Lil’ Pop Shop Popsicle Sample

In its nine city tour, the Four Seasons Food Truck is even scheduled to makes its way to my hometown of Palm Beach, Florida! Sadly, I’ll still be up in Philadelphia when that happens, but I thought it was still pretty neat that they’d venture so far south when I don’t even consider Palm Beach to be a buzzing foodie scene.

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Making our way up the Rocky Steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art!

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There’s something about going to museums that makes me feel like I’m on vacation

Like our Spruce Street Harbor Park trip, we usually can’t help but append other activities while we’re already out and about. Since College Fest included free rides on the PHLASH bus that runs through Center City, we decided to append a quick grocery run to Reading Terminal Market.

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Spotted from the bus window: an Indian New Year parade

Since we usually take the trolley or SEPTA (underground modes of transportation) to get around Center City, it was actually quite interesting to view the city as a passenger from street level. 2014-09-29 01.15.04

I’d call ourselves regulars at Reading Terminal Market now, yet I doubt we’ve tried even a quarter of the food places there. That’s because whenever we’re in the area, we usually can’t resist getting a Dinic’s pulled pork sandwich with provolone and broccoli rabe paired with a drink from the Four Seasons Juice Bar (and then there’s Chinatown right around the corner for dessert!). However, Felicia and I have made it a mission to try something new every time we go to Reading and so this time we went to a place we’d been eyeing for a little while now: Meltkraft.

The Seasonal Sandwich: The Red White and Green

Seasonal Special: The Red White and Green

Meltkraft prizes itself in “artisan grilled cheese” and their Red White and Green was exactly that. Because of the baby spinach, roasted tomatoes, and freshly pulled never refrigerated mozzarella, this grilled cheese was definitely more refreshing than its classic American counterpart. However, their menu covers a wide breadth as the Valley Thunder (cheddar, brisket, and macaroni and cheese) takes the first spot on the menu. While by this point we were in the right state to food coma, we actually had to run and catch the next train back to campus as one of Felicia’s Penn Dance rehearsals would be starting in fifteen minutes.

Chinatown Night Market (Chinatown)

Unlike many other events around the city, the Chinatown Night Market is well… at night! The Chinatown Night Market is just one in a series of night markets organized by The Food Trust, but the others usually occur over summer with the Chinatown Night Market closing out the season.

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This year, over 60 food vendors brought their best sellers and some even created new dishes specially for the event (i.e. Sbraga). The list of “food + drink” was almost overwhelmingly long, but after some patient research two prioritized lists took shape.

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The Savory List
Mom Mom’s Polish Food Cart: Handmade pierogies
Pie Stand: Sweet and savory pies
Indeblue: Basil mint tandoori kabob
Delicas: Arepas with various fillings
Ka’Chi: Fried kimchi rice balls
Bao Boy: General Tso Chicken Bao
Scratch Biscuits: Crab rangoon biscuit
The Cow and the Curd: Wisconsin fried cheese curds
Sbraga Restaurant: Vadouvan chicken wings with labne
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Potato and Cheddar Pierogis ($7) by Mom Mom’s Polish Food Cart (Best savory thing of the night hands down!)

Upon arrival, I was instantly relieved that I’d made myself a clear game plan as the sight of so many food trucks/carts/tents lined up amongst the hoards of people was all too disorienting. And although there was no map to follow, we luckily managed to find my top three choices quite easily!

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Shepard’s Pie ($8) by Pie Stand

Out of the three savory things Felicia and I tried, our favorite by far were the pierogis. Ironically just the weekend before, I’d never even heard of a pierogi before. It was actually at our college house’s around-the-world themed potluck where we were first introduced to them, but in a quite unjustified way (think: a package of mass produced, frozen pierogis boiled in water).

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Waiting for our basil mint tandoori kabobs ($5) by Indeblue

These handmade pierogies were freshly pan-fried to crisp perfection and served at just the right “street food temperature.” By this point, the lines for Delicas, Bao Boy, Ka’Chi, and Sbraga had all grown to daunting lengths, but conveniently dessert was calling our names. 2014-10-03 00.30.07

The Sweet List
Sugar Philly: Macaron ice cream sandwiches
Sweet Lavendar: Lavendar creme brûlée
Luscious Bakery: Ginger-apple dumplings with 5-spice caramel
Wonderland Cakes: Cake shots

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Felicia and I are always up to give new places a taste, but when one of your favorite old places is selling new items, how can you resist?! Sugar Philly had debuted their ice cream macarons this past summer, but it wasn’t until the night market that they returned since the start of Fall classes. In other words, this was our first chance to try their macaron ice cream sandwiches and we sure weren’t gonna let the opportunity pass us by! As I’m typing this now, I can still taste the perfectly thick, chewy macaron shell against the cool, refreshing ice cream. Ugh, I wish I could literally munch down on another right now!

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Left: large taro macaron / Right: chocolate brownie hazelnut ice cream macaron

Tangent/”Appendage”: Sugar Philly actually decided to sell a very limited quantity of a different flavor ice cream macaron in University City the very next day! And thanks to a heads up from Dan (Sugar Philly’s head pastry chef) Felicia and I were the first in line. ^_^

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Just look at the cross section!

All in all, it was a memorable night spent with great food and better yet great company. Already can’t wait for the night market to roll around again next year!
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Midtown Village Fall Festival (Center City)

Out of the four events we went to in Philly these past two weeks, the Midtown Village Fall Festival was my favorite. Seven blocks of food, shopping, and entertainment radiated out from the intersection of 13th and Sansom. The whole area was blocked off to cars, transforming this usually high vehicular traffic area into a pedestrian foodie wonderland.

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One of the coolest parts about the festival was that several of the restaurants participating were tented right outside their home turf. For example, Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran’s Jamonera, Grocery, Lolita, and Barbuzzo all participated. Felicia even recognized Marcie Turney (look she’s there in the picture below on the right!) overlooking her staff as we waited for our Crisy Calasparra Rice.

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Crispy Calasparra Rice- Butternut Squash + Manchego

Crispy Calasparra Rice- Butternut Squash + Manchego ($7) by Jamonera

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Here street food was taken to a whole new level. Everything was made fresh to order and to makes matters even better the lines were short to none. Conveniently for Felicia and I, food either came in generous portions or in pairs of two. Considering most of the restaurants participating are usually at the higher price point, I was really impressed by how much bang we got for our buck. 2014-10-04 20.10.30

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Turkey Empanadas ($6) by Jamonera

Another cool thing about the festival was that some of the restaurants offered things not on their usual menus, like the two things we got at Jamonera. However, Barbuzzo brought back their limited edition summer spin on their popular Salted Caramel Budino dessert, transforming it into a heavenly frozen caramel pudding pop with a core of salted caramel and dark chocolate cookie crumbs that’s then dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt.

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Salted Caramel Budino Pops ($5) by Barbuzzo

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And then there were restaurants like El Vez and Sampan that pulled stuff off their regular menus, but offered them at almost too-good-to-be-true prices. El Vez was selling their adobo chicken tacos (2 for $5), which can usually only be ordered under the “Tacos Al Carbon for 2” section priced at a whopping $32.

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Adobo Chicken Tacos ($5) by El Vez

Speaking of good deals, Felicia was debating about whether to buy a bottle of water since all the food was pretty heavily salted. We turned around and there was Jake’s Sandwich Board not only selling bottled water, but also giving out free bottles of sriracha! I don’t think I’ve had straight up sriracha before and so I don’t even know if I like it, but I guess now I’ll get to find out.

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Although our eyes usually found themselves fixated on all the mesmerizing food around (especially those captivating cannolis that I somehow managed to resist), there was a lot more going on at the festival too, cute dog sightings and Macy’s branded balloon giveaways included.

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By now it should come to no surprise that every main event somehow ends up with an appended portion and this time it was a stop at the newborn Uniqlo! This was only the second day the Philadelphia store had been open for business, which meant two things: grand-opening sales and (perhaps more importantly) free hi-chew candies! ^_^
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To sum it all up, over the past few weeks, Philly has really proven itself to be a dynamic city, especially fit for foodies. From Old City to the Museum District to Chinatown to Center City, festivities were scattered all around in not just time, but also location. And although there’s usually enough going on in University City, Felicia and I can’t help but venture and venture often. After all, adventure is out there!

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