A hop, skip, and a jump back to the City of Brotherly Love

Ok, I have been here many many times before and I got to tell ya, Philadelphia is an underrated mini NYC.  There may not be as much to do as in a city like New York and the crime rate is certainly much higher, but this city has got something in it that strikes me; it has some of the best eats anywhere in the country!! We all know that Philadelphia is famous for its Reading Terminal Market with stalls with homade amish pretzels, traditional philly hoagies, and other treats that will satisfy any tourist.  I encourage one to go there and check it out, but if you really want to get a taste of Philly at its most authentic, take a trip down to South Philadelphia.  One of my favorite places to grab a hoagie is a place called Sarcone's Deli.  Located on the corner of S 9th street and Fitzwater, it is easily accessible by many southbound buses.  There is also street parking as well.  My favorite hoagie combo is called the Junk Yard Special.  Google this place and your mouth will water after you see their several sandwich combos.  They also make sandwiches with YOUR favorite combo of meats, cheeses, and veggies.  

Welcome Park Philadelphia Photograph by John Greim

It's Not Just the "City of Brotherly Love," Everyone Gets Along in Philadelphia

What do we think of when we think of Philadelphia, well we can say it was the birthplace of America, the constitution was signed here.  It is also where Bruce Springstein's song, "Streets of Philadelphia" took place.  That movie, Rocky Balboa took place here also.  We can picture Rocky running up those stairs of the Philadelphia Museum, and Philadelphia has their beloved football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, which are more like the Philadelphia "Pigeons" to many New Yorkers.  But anyway, Philadelphia, or "Philly" as the locals call it, has some great things to offer for a solid day or weekend trip.  The "Italian Market" located along several blocks of 9th street has many authentic Italian foods.  In case you were wondering, Rocky Balboa was running through here.  

Philadelphia is a little over a hundred miles away from NYC, but it is very easy to get to using public transit.  You can hop an Amtrak train for about 50 bucks, depending upon when you go, and that will get you into 30th station Philly in about an hour and twenty minutes.  For about half the price, you can take the NJ Transit commuter train in which you would then have to transfer to the SEPTA commuter train in order to get into Philly.  This method, all in all will take you about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  So pick your poison wisely.  Philly has some decent intercity transit, with two subway lines running perpendicular to each other.  Each line passes through Center City, which is like Philly's version of midtown manhattan, although it's 3 times as small, just for comparison's sake.  Philly also has a very extensive bus system so there is a pretty good chance you won't be stranded.


When people come to Philadelphia for food though, they automatically think of getting a cheesesteak.  You've seen the Travel Channel.  You've seen those shows such as "Sandwich Paradise," or Food Paradise, whatever the hell it is.  You see these people blabber about which cheesesteak they like the best, either from Pat's or Geno's, just to name the two well known competetors.  Now listen, if cheesesteaks are you're thing, I would suggest exiting this page right now! Go watch the Travel Channel or go on Yelp for that matter.  Although Anthony Bourdain made it clear that he would not even talk about cheesesteaks at all in his show of "The Layover" when he had like 36 hours in Philly or something.  Me? I'm with Bourdain on this one.  Cheesesteaks will NOT be covered in this blog.  Did I make myself clear? Good.  

Philadelphia has a very wide range of cultures and foods to choose from.  First, I'll talk about the most iconic food store in Philly, the Reading Terminal Market.  Yes, all the travel guides say that you must go here, but I'm telling you, this place is an absolute must! Once a formal train station, this colossal 60,000 square foot bazaar has got it all; from hoagies, to fresh produce, meat, and fish.  There are also many amish specialties such as amazing pretzels and other baked goods.  This is a must stop in Philly.  Philadelphia is also know for having a very large Italian population, especially in South Philly.   Head down to South Philly to the Italian Market, which runs along 9th street.  This place has the true authentic Italian fare.  The burning garbage cans add a tough, sketchty vibe to this place.  


A Great Close To Your Washington D.C. Getaway With Some Damn Good Chicken

If you are on your way out of the D.C. area and you need to catch an evening train or plane, then head out to Arlington, Virginia for some of the best Peruvian chicken you will ever have in your life.  El Pollo Rico located at 932 N Kenmore Street is just a few stops on the Metro Orange Line from Washington D.C. IMG_2631Once you rise from the dark, waffle-like ceilings of the metro station, you're in a whole other world.  It doesn't even look like downtown D.C.  It's a neighborhood with actual homes!...and some apartments, so it's really different from downtown D.C.

IMG_2663The restaurant's location is in a neighborhood that is mainly comprised of residents from South America.  As soon as you walk into the restaurant, it looks like a giant mess hall and everyone is speaking Spanish.  Since their clientele is mainly Latin American, the employees speak very little English so it would be a good idea to brush up on your Spanish skills.  If you walk in a little further and you will see 4 giant rotisseries with over 20 chickens spinning inside them.  And the smell of those birds oh my god it's incredible!  And the best part is... you get the best bang for your buck here.   IMG_0067It's cheap and delicious!  It is totally worth going out there for that chicken.  You will definitely not be disappointed!  But make sure you leave plenty of time to get there and back to the train or airport because it can take roughly 15 minutes to go to Union Station right after.  When I went here, I wanted to pick up dinner for myself and I was rushing like crazy to get to the train station and I thought I was going to miss it! but it turned out that the train was running 40 minutes late! Thanks to Amtrak.  But that did not surprise me.  Amtrak is late pretty much all of the time...   But that's besides the point.  The point is that it's a great place to go when you're on a budget and it's delicious and I hope you check it out sometime.

Candy, Pickles, Donuts and More Down in the Lower East Side

A few blocks east of the trendy neighborhood of soho lies a place with loads of history and culture and plenty of cheap eats.  It's a neighborhood that is quickly becoming gentrified and more and more people are starting to live there.  In this blog, I am going to talk about three places out of several others that are well known on the Lower East Side.

To get to the Lower East Side, you have several options.  The general area is served by the NYC Subway F,J,M and Z trains.  So you will have no trouble getting over here especially from Midtown Manhattan.

IMG_2696If you guys love candy, well this place is for you.  Economy Candy located at 108 Rivington St is by far the best candy store in NYC.  It's way better than the touristy Dylan's Candy Bar uptown.  Even though Dylan's is big and has a nice selection, Economy Candy is just more edgy and older.  Anyway back to Economy Candy.  Since 1937, this place has been selling decent quality candy as well as candy dating back to even the 50's and earlier for low prices.  Just be careful because some of the candy they sell can be illigally patented.  IMG_2699It's always best to get the original candy and not something with arabic letters on it (I bought a Kit Kat bar with arabic letters on it).  It's just safer to get the real american brands because the candies with different languages on the wrappers can have well... you never know what they're made with or how they made them blah blah blah.  But it's an awesome place and definitely worth going to even when you are not in the area.  

IMG_2705After you've satisfied your sweet tooth, walk a few blocks down Essex Street to satisfy your sour tooth at simply The Pickle Guys at 49 Essex Street.  This basement like room of salty, briny goodness does not just sell pickles, they sell pickled vegetables and olives as well. IMG_2703  I personally like the full sour pickles, but which ever pickles you prefer, get them and they will be fantastic.  And they're so cheap! You can get 4 pickles for like 2 bucks.  So they're like 50 cents a pickle.  Not bad eh? And everything is stored in barrels just pointing that out.


IMG_2704Just in case you didn't get enough junk food for one day, head over to Doughnut Plant at 379 Grand Street.  This is not a Dunkin Donuts type place.  In fact, that place can have a much greater effect on your health than Doughnut Plant, but I won't get into that.  They don't have munchkins or anything like that.  What they do have however are excellent doughnuts.  They have several different flavors to choose from, ranging from chocolate to peanut butter and jelly and even Creme Brulee.  The great thing is that the doughnuts actually taste exactly like the pure ingredients they're made with.  When you take a bite out of one of these doughnuts, you will say, and I know I say this a lot, but you will say that these are the best damn doughnuts you've ever eaten.

The Lower East Side of Manhattan is rich in history and as well has some great culinary delights.  So while you're sampling the history, check out these places and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.     



Ethnically Diverse Astoria

If you're an obsessive foody, or you just like food, Astoria is probably best place in the country for that.  Astoria is one of the most interesting neighborhoods in New York City.  It's even hard to believe that you are in NYC as soon as you set foot in this place.  Astoria is primarily Greek.  It has the largest Greek population in the U.S. outside of Greece. However, there are handfuls of italian and other immigrants that are settling here.

Astoria is accesible from the N,Q and the neighborhood is served by the stations Broadway all the way up to Ditmars blvd.  You can also take the M,R trains to Steinway St if you want to start exploring Astoria from there.  As soon as you arrive in Astoria, you will think you are either in Greece or somewhere in the Middle East, literally! You will right away notice the sights and smells of all the different cultures and foods that Astoria has to offer.   

The streets with the most action in Astoria are Broadway, 30th Avenue, and Steinway Street.  The best time to go to Astoria is on a warm weekend night (also could be a friday) when everybody is out and about.  You can see men sitting outside in multiple groups playing backgammon and smoking Hookah pipes in the Little Egypt section on Steinway Street, which mainly extends from Astoria blvd to 28th Avenue. 

30th Avenue and Broadway have may restaurants from almost every cuisine you can think of.  They have many ethnic markets as well including a produce market and a meat market.  The meat market is right off the 30th Avenue stop and displays lamb's heads in the window as well many many other different cuts of meat. IMG_2223

I noticed a pretty cool hobby shop.  It happens to have several antique models from years back and they also have many new models.  The man working there is a pretty nice guy and would able to help with your hobby needs.  This place is called Rudy's Hobby and Art.  I strongly urge you to check this place out.  It's very interesting.  

One of my favorite markets ever is here in Astoria and is called Titan FOODS located right under the subway tracks at 2556 31st Street.  They have every Greek specialty that you can think of and each product is at its highest quality, but my all time favorite part of the market is the OLIVE counter.   There are over 20 different types of olives and I swear to god, these, and I'm not just saying this, but these are the best f**king olives in the world!!! Okay well maybe outside of Greece.  But as soon as you put one of their several olives in your mouth, your taste buds will take you to heaven.  I'm dead serious! It's totally worth coming out to Astoria just to get those olives.  There is also a great feta cheese counter with many different types.  In my opinion, they have the best feta you will get outside of Greece.  Here's the deal.  Titan Foods has the highest quality goods from Greece you will ever get in the country period.

This next place is the best Greek bakery you will ever go to outside of Greece; with all the authentic Greek baked goods including spinach and cheese pies and my personal favorite, the Baklava! Artopolis Bakery is in the back of a small strip mall on 31st Street.  Everything in this bakery is made from scratch either with local ingredients or imports from Greece. I've been to many middle eastern and Greek restaurants before, but their Baklava doesn't even compare to what this Baklava is all about!

To find out more about Artopolis Bakery, check out the interview with Regina, the owner of Artopolis. 



Off The Beaten Freedom Trail In Boston

Whenever most people think of Boston, they think of Paul Revere, the Freedom Trail, Quincy Market, Harvard and the many other universities there, but not me! I know of some other cool places to go when you're up in the largest city in New England.

Transportation is plentiful.  The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority or MBTA offers a very reliable Commuter Rail, Subway, Bus, and Ferry service to, from, and around the city limits (It's referred to as the "T").  To get from the New York area, you take Amtrak.  Timing of the trip depends on the train you take, if you take the Northeast Regional, it will take a little over 3 hours to get up there.  However, if you take the Acela Express like I did, it takes a little under 3 hours, and it's a real thrill to ride the Acela to Boston since it races along at 150 mph along the gorgeous Connecticut coastline.  I took a snapshot of my phone GPS that showed my position and how fast I was going. Check it out!


     Once I got to Boston,  I took a quick trip over to the North End and Quincy Market.  I walked along Hanover St. but did not find anything that really turned me on.  I then decided to head over to Quincy Market.  I browsed around the typical touristy shops.  When I was walking by a restaurant called Dicks Last Resort, I noticed diners wearing strange looking paper hats.   IMG_2567I hear that is part of the restaurant's shtick.  I also read that the serving staff is known for their rude behavior. If this is your idea of a good time, this is the restaurant for you.

I then went to Cambridge, which is only a 10 minute ride on the T from Quincy Market.  You know what schools are there.  There were lots of students on the street as well as street musicians.  The stores consisted of college apparel shops, restaurants, and Boston souvenir shops.  There were a couple of high end stores, but they were few and far between.  Now on to an edgier spot and what I find more interesting.

I took the red line from Cambridge over to the green line T, which brought me to the neighborhood of Allston.  This line of the T is a light rail and runs both above ground and underground.  On the ride, I had a chance to see the Boston University Campus.  Shortly after passing the campus I got off at Harvard Avenue. which is the main drag in Allston.  Allston is considered to be Boston's "rock city."   IMG_2596Everywhere you look there are music stores and dive bars featuring live bands.  My favorite music store is called Mr. Music located at 128 Harvard Av.  Their main focus is guitars and guitar accessories.  The staff is friendly and cool.  The rest of Allston has an eclectic mix of fun stores including tattoo shops, comis stores, and tarot card readings.  

After exploring Allston, I hopped on a bus down Harvard Avenue over to the town of Brookline, MA.  This is also a fun place to look around.  Here too, is an eclectic mix of shops, but a little higher end than in Allston.  Before I left Brookline, I went over to Anna's Taqueria to get a tasty Burrito.  Anna's has many locations including Cambridge, Somerville, Allston, and Brookline.  It's a good choice for an inexpensive meal.  

This ended my trip to Boston and I had to catch the Amtrak back to New York.  Once again I enjoyed the beautiful views of the Connecticut coastline before it got dark.   


Where Can You Find Some Of The Best Italian in NYC? Fo' Getta Bout It Cause We're going to Brooklyn baby!

New York City is not just known for Times Square, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty, it is also known for having great cuisines of all kinds.  Brooklyn has a large Italian population and you can get some of the best Italian food in the city and even the entire country! I started off by going to a local eatery in Gravsend Brooklyn called L and B Spumoni Gardens located at 2725 86th Street just north of Coney Island. IMG_0597  It will take some subway time on the D or N trains, but it's well worth it.  Hey! If you're coming from Coney Island and you're hungry, GO TO THIS PLACE! But if you have $2.25 in your wallet, don't refill your metrocard!!! (You will regret it if you do), instead spend it on a "Square" slice because that's how much it costs at L and B.  Just walk from Coney Island it's not that difficult of a walk.  At least you'll get some exercise.

 This place serves several typical Italian classics, but there is one item that gives everything else on the menu a run for their money; "The Square." Their signature Sicilian pizza slice.  That slice is worth coming down to Brooklyn for.  It's crunchy on the outside and nice and chewy on the inside.  And for those of you who like A LOT of tomato sauce on your slice, this is the place to be yo.  Lines can be long, but they move quickly.  Also, go on a day when it's not supposed to rain, since the area where they serve the pizza is outdoors.  There is a small tent covering a small portion of the outdoor eating area, but it's not effective.   The rain water will still seep in and you wouldn't want rainwater all over your delicious precious square! (Happened to me once when I was there and it wasn't cool) So this is a great bang for the buck and is very tasty. 

There's an Italian Market that I like very much called D. Coluccio and Sons located at 1214 60th Street in Bensonhurst. IMG_0596  You can take the N train to Fort Hamilton Parkway (It's right on the way to Spumoni Gardens)  They have several different types of tomatos, Italian snacks, olives and DRY pastas, no fresh:(  The thing that really turned me on about this place was their giant jars of Nutella.  There was one that was about the size of a computer screen selling for $68! I thought it was European Nutella but apparently it was Canadian.  European Nutella in my opinion tastes so much better than "the other stuff." When I was in France, I had Nutella and Banana Crepes and those were just off the charts amazing! When you're in this store, make sure you get some Tarallini crackers.  They're really good and you probably won't find them anywhere else but here and over in Italy. IMG_0619



So if your heading out to Brooklyn, check out these places and you won't be disappointed! (More about places to eat and things to do in Brooklyn in future posts)