The Gift of Travel Philly for Father

By Alona Abbady Martinez

It’s time to up the ante on presents for Dad this Father’s Day. After all, how many ties, socks, or tool kits can one man have? A trip, on the other hand, is a gift that will keep on giving—making memories with the family that will last a lifetime. As one of our nation’s most esteemed authors (and father of four) Mark Twain once professed, “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 

Philadelphia, aka The City of Brotherly Love, makes for a great Father’s Day weekend getaway. A quick and easy flight from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale, it is a city rich in history, boasting a vibrant food scene, and compact enough to walk from place to place with plenty of activities fathers will love.

It’s Dad, so, let’s start with the obvious: a visit to the Rocky Steps, the 72 steps leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where Sylvester Stallone famously ended his morning run in the iconic 1976 film, Rocky. It’s a rite of passage to jog up to the top, raise your arms up in victory, and take in the incredible view down below. On your way down, stop by the Rocky bronze statue (at the bottom) for a must-stop photo op.

They say the best way to a man’s heart is his stomach, and what better start than a legendary Philly cheesesteak? The city’s food scene is dynamic and diverse (see suggestions below) but ordering one of these, made with thinly-sliced ribeye, melted cheese, and optional veggies (onions, peppers, and mushrooms) is the best way to start, and perhaps end, Dad’s stay. Debate on who makes the best Philly cheesesteak is heated, but two spots that make the final cut are John’s Roast Pork and Jim’s South St. There’s also much talk about the proper cheese, whether it be the original melted provolone or the super gooey Cheese Whiz, introduced with much fanfare in the ‘50s. (Please note, John’s Roast Pork opts out of the latter.) 

There’s so much history in Philadelphia, most of which is within walking distance. Treat Dad to an afternoon basking in the achievements of our Founding Fathers, beginning at Independence Hall, the building where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the U.S. Constitution was debated, drafted, and signed. The Liberty Bell Center is nearby. Visitors can see up close the notably cracked bell, said to have been rung four days after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence to celebrate the first public reading of the document. Originally placed in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House, it served, and continues to serve, as a symbol of American independence.

Philadelphia is packed with museums for all tastes and interests. For those still on the history track, the Museum of the American Revolution, which shares the dramatic story of the nation’s founding replete with era-appropriate weapons, personal items, and immersive galleries, is a must-visit spot. The Benjamin Franklin Museum, housed in the original home of the statesman and inventor offers a look into the life and legacy of Philadelphia’s most famous Founding Father. What dad does not love superheroes? The recently opened exhibit of Marvel Universe of Super Heroes at The Franklin Institute features more than 300 artifacts, including some of Marvel’s most iconic and sought-after pages, costumes, and props. There are plenty of photo opportunities as well (keep a look out for a dangling Spiderman and The Thing.) The exhibit runs through September 2, 2019. Finally, fathers will get a kick out of visiting the Eastern State Penitentiary, once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, housing celebrity criminal Al Capone. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of its inmates.

Food halls and marketplaces have come into fashion in South Florida these days, so it goes without saying that a stop at Reading Terminal Market, one of America’s oldest and largest public markets, is a must. Active since 1893 and housed in a National Historic Landmark building, the market sits in the city’s commercial heart and offers an extensive selection of locally grown produce, meats and seafood. Show up hungry and meander. The selection of cheeses, baked goods, and sweets, many of which come from nearby Amish and Mennonite communities, is extensive. Must stops include Dutch Eating Place, a wrap-around diner-style breakfast spot serving freshly baked apple dumplings (served with whipped or heavy cream), fried scrapple, a pork-based Pennsylvania Dutch staple, and Beiler’s Doughnuts and Salads, which offers doughnuts baked fresh on premises (good luck narrowing it down to one choice). 

Where To Dine

PHILLY CHEESESTEAKS

John’s Roast Pork:

14 E. Snyder Ave.

Philadelphia, PA 19148

215-463-1951

johnsroastpork.com

Jim’s South St.:

400 S. St., Philadelphia, PA 19147

215-928-1911

jimssouthstreet.com 

BREAKFAST

Middle Child:

248 S. 11th St., Philadelphia, PA 19107

267-930-8344

middlechildphilly.com

This miniscule local breakfast/lunch spot offers barstool seating and four laminate tables surrounded with old black and white photos including The Boss in his younger days and basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain decked out in his Philadelphia 76ers uniform stepping into a pristine VW bug. The sign outside promises “fluffy eggs” and, by golly, do they deliver. The staple Breakfast Sandwich comes with scrambled eggs, sharp American cheese, and arugula, served on a pullman potato bun, and the Herschel Waker features scrambled eggs, sharp American, short-rib corned beef on a seeded rye. Vegans (and non-vegans) will adore the “Phoagie”—hoisin eggplant, avocado, bean sprouts, fresh and frizzled onions, Vietnamese herb mix, pho sauce, sambal chili paste, served on a hoagie roll (which the restaurant proclaims is “vegan by chance”).

LUNCH

Royal Boucherie:

52 S. 2nd St.

Philadelphia, PA 19106

267-606-6313

royalboucherie.com

Dad will love this classy, French-inspired brasserie helmed by Bravo Top Chef winner Nicholas Elmi. Walk into the elegant gem where songs like “Ces Bottes sont Faites Pour Marcher” (Eileen’s rendition of “These Boots Were Made For Walking”) set the fun and sassy tone. The pressed-tin ceiling in a shade of hunter green compliments the dark mahogany wood and bronze winged horses that hold up the foot rest of the bar, which is renowned for its $2 lunch martini specials (with any entree). Yes, you read that right, $2.

Pops should start with one of those and nosh on some small plates like pork chips (chicharron) or steak tartare with a cheddar tuile and grilled rye bread. Pork-stuffed fried olives are addictive as well. The Boucherie Burger has the reputation of being one of the best in town. It comes with bacon, American cheese, truffle mayo, and a half-sour pickle. The 72-hour beef short rib is another hearty favorite as is the mortadella grilled cheese. Top it off with the crème brûlée with cinnamon poached pear and fresh mint (quite possibly the best we’ve ever had) or for those seeking the perfectly tart lemon pie, your search is over at Royal Boucherie.

BEER BREAK

Independence Beer Garden:

100 S. Independence Mall West

Philadelphia, PA 19106

215-922-7100

phlbeergarden.com

Strategically set overlooking Liberty Bell Center and Independence National Historical Park, this 20,000 square foot outdoor retreat referred to as IBC features casual picnic-style tables under a lush trellis. The menu offers American favorites like Buffalo wings, pretzel bites, and crispy cauliflower alongside 40 taps of regional and domestic craft beers, cocktails, and wine. 

COFFEE & BREAKFAST

Vernick Coffee Bar:

1800 Arch St.

Philadelphia, PA 19103

215-419-5052

vernickcoffeebar.com

Coffee is serious in Philadelphia. You’ll notice tons of independent coffee shops brimming with people getting a much-needed caffeine fix. Vernick Coffee Bar is housed in the brand new (and architecturally stunning) Comcast Center. James Beard award-winning Chef Greg Vernick partners with Four Seasons Hotel to deliver a modern coffee bar and café. There’s a barista bar with in-house baked goods and pastries, sandwiches, salads, and fresh-pressed juices, which can be prepared to go or for eat-in at the large communal dining space (complete with charging stations for devices). Or enjoy a full-service meal at the 40-seat café serving dishes like “eggs in purgatory,” Vernick’s take on shakshuka, the popular North African breakfast dish of poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce as well as a wild mushroom and avocado grain bowl with green goddess dressing.

LUNCH OR DINNER

The Love: 

130 S. 18th St. 

Philadelphia, PA 19103

215-433-1555

theloverestaurant.com

Stephen Starr has made a successful culinary footprint in South Florida, so it’s no surprise he goes above and beyond in his hometown of Philadelphia, where he partnered with Aimee Olexy, one of Philadelphia’s most notable names in the food industry. Together, they opened this modern American charmer set in the center of bustling downtown, notable for its use of local produce. It’s a favorite lunch spot for dishes like a crispy fried chicken piccata sandwich and Tuscan black kale risotto. Dinner items like whole smoke roasted branzino and the ribs served with spicy Korean barbeque have a following of their own. Don’t leave without trying the True Love, a strawberry shortcake “sundae” with strawberries, poppy and buttermilk ice cream. Cocktails, with straight up names like A Very Good Bourbon Drink, Killer Tomato (spicy Bloody Mary), and Love Sazerac, a take on the classic are splendid ways to start.

Suraya:

1528 Frankford Ave.

Philadelphia, PA 19125

215-302-1900

surayaphilly.com

Enter this chic and contemporary Lebanese restaurant to an airy bright marketplace featuring products like rose petal preserves and pomegranate syrup before being greeted at the hostess stand. Walk further in and you’ll find a beautiful bar rich with detailed Middle Eastern patterns housing life-sized finches meant to mimic the owner’s home in Lebanon.

With so many tempting choices to choose from, ordering the tasting menu, aptly called “A Taste of Suraya” is a smart way to sample a bit of everything. Begin with traditional Middle Eastern dips like hummus, babaganoush, labne, muhammara (red pepper) and taboule, choose one remaining mezza (fatteh, a warm chickpea, eggplant dish with crispy pita, cashews, and brown butter, is a top contender), followed by an appetizer and dessert. 

Omakase at Royal Sushi
& Izakaya:

780 S. 2nd St. 

Philadelphia, PA 19147

267-909-9002

royalsushiandizakaya.com

Your Uber driver may zip right past this spot, as there is no name or written address. Look out for the Japanese lantern and the tidy blue door. Upon entry you’ll be greeted by a compact bustling restaurant. The omakase experience is in the back of the restaurant, where a lucky ten diners get to experience, one by one, a sampling of the chef’s freshest choices, include delicacies such as live scallop with black sea salt and lemon zest, Japanese cherry trout smoked with cedar wood, akame, and bluefin tuna from Spain. The experience lasts just under two hours and features 18 selections. Reservations are required.

Zahav:

237 St. James Pl.

Philadelphia, PA 19106

215-625-8800

zahavrestaurant.com

A trip to Philly would not be complete without a meal at this modern Israeli restaurant from Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook. South Floridians may recall Solomonov’s short-lived but beloved Wynwood hotspots, Dizengoff and Federal Donuts (both of which boast long lines in their original Philadelphia locations). “Zahav” means “gold” in Hebrew, it is easy to see why this eatery continues to win awards since opening in 2008. First-time visitors will be well-served with the “Tayim” tasting menu which will take you on an extraordinary culinary trip of Israeli cuisine replete with bright and fresh mezze, or small plates, with dishes like kibbe naya, a type of lamb tartare with bulgur wheat and garlic, and fried cauliflower served with labneh, mint, and aleppo pepper. Main courses include “Al Ha’esh” (on the grill) with offerings like Romanian beef kebab, chicken shishlik, and cremini mushrooms served with pistachio muhammara. There’s a wine pairing option available (featuring Israeli wines), which is highly recommended.

Where To Stay

Warwick Hotel
Rittenhouse Square:

220 S. 17th St.

Philadelphia, PA 19103

215-735-6000

warwickrittenhouse.com

Steps away from the charming Rittenhouse Square, this elegant landmark hotel with a bold, modern lobby is in close proximity to many Philadelphia attractions. The rooms offer free Wi-Fi, mini-fridge and coffee makers with Starbucks blends. 

Keep a lookout for the Four Seasons, scheduled to open in the late summer (date tba) 

Inside the impressive new Comcast Center, this soon-to-open luxury property was designed by legendary architect Lord Norman Foster (mastermind behind Apple’s headquarters, known as Apple Park) and will be one of the highest hotels in North America. It will feature, among other dining options, two restaurants by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center

One North 19th St. 

Philadelphia, PA 19103

215-419-5000  

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