Snapper Soup, Texas Weiners, and Cheesesteaks: Things I Ate in Philadelphia This Weekend


Geno’s may not be the best, but it is the most garish purveyor of Philadelphia’s famous cheesesteaks.

My great good luck in chasing down eats in Baltimore a few weeks a go led me and a pal to make a brazen assault on Philadelphia this weekend.

Oink Johnson’s BBQ

Oink Johnson’s BBQ flourishes in Bucks County just north of Philadelphia.

I started out taking the wrong road, Highway 78 to Easton, Pennsylvania, then decided to take local roads going down the Delaware River to reach the great metropolis. Outside of the improbably named Plumsteadville in Bucks County, we stumbled on a decent roadside barbecue called Oink Johnson’s, which stood in front of the stone barn of Jack’s Dog Farm. The brisket was entirely agreeable, shredded like pulled pork and moistened with a sauce I didn’t object to. The pork ribs had been good once, but were now dry and flint-like, though the smoky flavor was still there.

The brisket was good, but the ribs were dry at Oink Johnson’s.

Next: We pass the city limits


A.P.J. Texas Weiner Restaurant

Serving so-called Texas weiners since 1920.

On the way to the Reading Terminal Market, I stumbled on a distinguished hot dog diner a block away, specializing in what are known around these parts and in parts of New Jersey as “Texas weiners.” These are grilled franks topped with mustard, raw onions, and what is often identified as chili. Most examples are really derivatives of a meat sauce developed by Greek hot dog vendors, and named chili only after chili-con-carne became a food fad at the Columbia Exposition. Actually, the chili now being served at A.P.J. Texas Weiner Restaurant really is a species of chili-con-carne and thus has no beans. The awning notes that the restaurant–which is also a full service lunch counter–was founded in 1920.

The delicious Texas weiner–split, grilled, slathered with mustard, sprinkled with raw onions, and mantled with real chili.

Reading Terminal Market

The 13th Street entrance to the Reading Terminal Market, founded in 1893.

Hot dog still half-eaten in hand, I zeroed in on the famed Reading Terminal Market, which remains one of the better food courts you’ve ever seen, with several outstanding eateries, some distinguished bakers and purveyors of chocolate, plus lots of good meat and vegetable sellers.

The lunch counter at Pearl’s attracts Philadelphians of every stripe for its cut-rate and well-prepared seafood.

At Pearl’s Oyster Bar (not to be confused with our own Pearl Oyster Bar) I sat at the ancient horseshoe-shaped lunch counter and slurped down a good cup of New England clam chowder, a cup of snapper soup zapped with sherry (which tasted like a cousin of sweet-and-sour soup), and, best of all, ate a plate of James River oysters for the bargain price of $8.95 for a half-dozen.

The oyster service at Pearl’s isn’t flashy, but the oysters are briny and cheap.

Pearl’s snapper soup is laced with sherry, and the recipe hints at the sorts of things served in fancy restaurants 150 years ago.

The counter at the Dutch Eating Place.

There are barbecue places, fried chicken places, and places that specialize in making sandwiches of roast meat. There are Cajun places and sushi bars, too, but another of the most notorious counters is The Dutch Eating Place, an ancient eating institution exemplifying the German-American rural cooking around Lancaster, Pennsylvania staffed by waitresses and cooks in Amish garb, including pinafores and lace skullcaps. The menu leans toward breakfasts and baked goods, and the massive apple dumpling is one of their specialties.

The famed apple dumplings at the Dutch Eating Place

Next: A Jewish deli and a Basque tapas bar


Famous 4th Street Deli

The humongous sandwich made with excellent house-cured corned beef at Famous 4th Street Delicatessan

Feeling peckish around 5 pm, I sought out Famous 4th Street Deli (South 19th Street branch), a Jewish deli founded in 1923 that specializes in corned beef. They cure their own, and then slice it by machine, and it’s some of the best corned beef I’ve ever tasted. As we ate, we were surrounded by snowy-haired ladies tucking into outsize sandwiches, soups, and a whole chickens served in enormous pots. The place calls itself a Brooklyn-style deli, but there aren’t that many delis this good left in Brooklyn.

Early-bird patrons of the Famous 4th Street Deli


Tinto, a Basque tapas bar, is extensively decorated wtih corkscrews.

Later that evening, Tinto beckoned, the second restaurant of esteemed chef Jose Garces, located just northwest of Rittenhouse Square. The dark,mazelike space is jammed in the evening, and the short dishs include deshelled mussels in a peppery Basque sauce served with crisp French fries, a garlic sausage called butifarra on a bed of lentils, and a special matching thick-tentacled Pacific octopus with fiddleheads and piperade. The wine list is all Spanish bottles, and there are sherries and beers, too. The food was almost unfailingly excellent.

Fiddleheads, thick-tentacled octopus, and piperade made for an amazing little snack to go with a glass of Albarino.

Bellying up to the (tapas) bar at Tinto

Next: the next morning


Woman with a horn, from the Mutter Museum.

I passed out that evening in a food coma, but the next morning was at it again. After an almond croissant to get the blood flowing, and a visit to the Mutter Museum to see its disturbing collection of medical oddities, we headed down to South Street, where the Saturday market was in full swing: a dozen or so blocks filled with greengrocers, meat markets, and sellers of miscellaneous products. The sprawling market has taken on a Mexican identity in many of its areas, and there are perhaps a dozen taquerias featuring the products of the market.

The south Philly market district features block upon block of vegetable vendors, meat markets, pasta and tortilla makers, in addition to sellers of notions and other miscellany.

Pat’s King of Steaks

Pat’s King of Steaks supposedly invented the cheesesteak in 1930.

But first I went south of Washington Avenue to get a cheesesteak from Pat’s King of Steaks, the place that claims to have originated the sandwich. I picked what is supposed to have been the original configuration, using provolone instead of the upstart Cheez Whiz. The provolone confers a subtlety, while the Whiz imparts an intensely orange saltiness to the sandwich.

Assembling the steaks at Pat’s is serious business.

Ta-Dah: the steak sandwich with provolone and fried onions

La Lupe

Huarache with barbacoa, La Lupe

Before heading back to New York, we made one last stop at La Lupe, where my friend and I enjoyed a lush version of huevos rancheros and a freshly made huarache stuffed with barbacoa (steamed goat). If you choose carefully, it seems that you can’t get a bad bite in Philadelphia, I reflected as we sped over the Walt Whitman Bridge back toward New York.

The superlative huevos rancheros, laked in homemade mole verde and lavished with cheese and crema.

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