Thirty-six hours in Philly
Life is more than Philly Cheese Steaks
|Ya ever have a Philly Cheese Steak? I mean a real, honest-to-goodness Philly Cheese Steak, made in Philly by the masters of the craft? Well, I hope you have, cuz after thirty-six hours of trying, I gave up and had brunch instead. Now, let me give you a short tour of what I did find:
My friend Tom, who I met in Beijing, has an odd taste. I never realized how odd his taste was until we went bar-hopping in his West Philly neighborhood Friday night. The first bar he took me to was ‘College Frat Night’ at its best and the second one Oh the second on was amazing!
When we walked in to the Ethiopian bar, I immediately wanted to sit downstairs, where a few cool Afrikan men were chilling at the bar. Instead, Tom took us upstairs where I had one hell of a shock. The second floor bar was packed, wall-to-wall, with what I can only describe as the unwashed masses.
Think bike couriers no, they bathe more often than these kids, who were all about 18-25, but not one had seen a bar of soap or pair of scissors in way too long. I distinctly remember the collective stink overpowering the many cigarettes while I tried desperately not to actually touch anyone when I pressed my way though.
Retreating to the downstairs bar, Tom got brave and sampled the house specialty: raw meat with spicy mustard. Tom says it tastes just as you would expect, like raw meat with spicy mustard. With an aching tooth and frozen Mongolian horsemeat memories, I passed.
Luckily, Saturday night was better, for Dave, Tom and I headed to the 700 Club, in East Philly, to check out Dave’s taste in nightlife. At first, I was wondering what kinda bar Dave was taking us to, for the name made me think of TV religion and neighborhood’s old factories, boarded-up houses, and vacant lots reminded me of Russia’s rust belt.
Dave, true to from, directed us to a cool little haunt that really surprised me. 700 Club was filled with an odd selection of people that I couldn’t quite figure out at first. Then it hit me Philly is an industrial town. From the Navy yard next to I-95, to the factories near the 700 Club, Philly is a real Rocky Balboa kinda place.
Okay, you might laugh at me for not knowing it before, but I’ve never lived in a blue-collar town. From Florida, to DC, to Russia, to China, to London, I’ve only lived in small tourist towns or big national capitals, none of which are know to produce anything by sunshine, oranges, and reams of paper.
Seeing the kids in the 700 Club really shocked me. They look, act, and dress so much differently than the crew I usually hang out with. I can’t put my finger on an exact difference, but I definitely felt it.
Wait, here’s a great example: the Philly Cheese Steak. Just listen to the names of the three famous places for ’em; Gino’s, Pat’s and Jim’s. How’s that for a workingman’s lunch spot? And the dish itself, from what I understand, its meat and cheese on bread, which is pure, straight to your heart cholesterol goodness! All three places are so poplar that every time I went by, from afternoon to late night, they were packed, with lines all the way around the buildings.
A Cheese Steak would never come from DC. No, we’d have a place like Rx, or at least I wish we did. For two days in a row, I had brunch, which for me was a real treat since Jingmei doesn’t like American brunch and I can never get the energy to go alone.
For two days in a row, Tom took me to Rx a great little cafe built into an old drugstore, with the best brunch food you could imagine. Amazing omelets, wonderful waffles, savory sweet potato pie, and just for those Cheese Steak lovers; that great Navy mainstay, SOS.