“These are a few of my favorite (Philadelphia) things…”
I grew up in suburban Philadelphia. Norristown, Royersford, King of Prussia – these are the places of my childhood (and adulthood as well). Now that I live in Texas, I find myself missing Philadelphia occasionally. The romance of your childhood always has a strong pull and for me, there is a checklist of items I must always cross off before returning home. Here’s my list of things I cannot miss while in the Philadelphia area.
Take 76 from the airport to the suburbs. While locals will always tell you to take the Blue Route, nothing compares to a drive on 76. Even though you may face some ugly traffic and some of PA’s more aggressive drivers, the trip from the airport through Center City and along the Schuylkill River is something I cannot live without. Center City Philadelphia is a thing of beauty as you drive along 76 and something the Blue Route simply can’t compete with. After you pass the city and leave the Art Museum and Boathouse Row in the dust, the tiny communities that speckle the hillsides along the banks of the Schuylkill offer a look back at a more industrial time for the Philadelphia area. Soon you’ll find yourself at King of Prussia and the nightmare of mall traffic, but by now, you’re almost home.
Make multiple trips to Wawa, even if you don’t need anything. For those in the know, Wawa is the greatest place on earth. If you live in or near the Philadelphia area, you know Wawa. You won’t realize how important it is to you until you leave. For the uninitiated, Wawa is a convenience store unlike any you’ve ever seen. Wawa is home to several of my must have items when in Philadelphia: coffee, Tastykakes, and hoagies. While I can get all three of these in Texas, all pale in comparison to Wawa.
Wawa’s coffee is legendary. This isn’t any sort of fancy pants coffee, it’s simple, jumbo-cup to start your day coffee. A simple blend that will have you coming back time and time again. It’s never burnt or old, it’s always fresh and comes with every choice of add-ins. Want 2% milk and sugar? Done. Cream (real cream) and Splenda? Done. Half and half with raw sugar? Done. Wawa has it all.
Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake. While my local HEB grocery store now carries Tastykakes in Texas, there’s something extra satisfying about grabbing a pack of Peanut Butter Kandykakes while in Philadelphia. Maybe it’s the freshness of not being shipped to Texas, but the Tastykakes just taste better. Plus, Texans only get the basic flavors. I have yet to come across a Tasy-Klair or any of their limited run pies in the Lonestar State. I’m fine with this fact as it keeps my childhood snack extra special to me.
Hoagies. Let’s get this out the way: a hoagie is not a sub, a hero, a grinder, or a sandwich. It’s a hoagie. End of. While I love mom and pop shops throughout Philadelphia for their amazing hoagies, no one beats Wawa. An Italian Classic with provolone, lettuce, onions, pickles, hot peppers, oil, oregano, salt, and pepper is the hoagie of my dreams. And I make it a reality every time I visit Philadelphia. Usually more than once.
Find a local pizza place and enjoy a proper cheesesteak. Yeah, us Philadelphians love the cheesesteak (one word, without the word “Philly” in front of it). A cheesesteak is the simplest of meals, yet no one outside of the tri-state area ever seems to master it. Some argue that it’s the rolls (which is definitely part of the allure), but I would say it’s the simplicity that makes everyone screw it up royally. Every time I see “Philly cheese steak” (shudder) on a menu, they try too hard. Stop trying. A cheesesteak is a meager four ingredients: steak, onions, cheese, and a roll. That’s it. Add peppers and it’s a peppersteak. Add mushrooms and it’s a mushroom steak. Add lettuce, tomato, and mayo and it’s now a cheesesteak hoagie. Just stop fucking with the simplicity. You’ll still probably mess it up anyway, so maybe we should just stop trying.
Drink as much Yuengling as possible while in Philadelphia. I know plenty of beer snobs that will turn their nose up at this amber colored brew, which is fine by me. That just means there’s more for me to enjoy. America’s oldest brewery has been pumping out this beer since 1829 and it’s the perfect beer: simple, tasty, and cheap. Occasionally friends will ship me cases down to Texas. When in Philadelphia, it’s all I drink when I go out…and you don’t ask for a Yuengling, you just ask for a lager and it’s what the bartender will pour for you.
Drive down 422 until I see the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant cooling towers. Growing up under the shadow of the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant may not seem romantic, but it gave my younger years a certain Simpsons-esque slant as I rounded the corner on 422 and saw the twin towers churning out steam. I’m glad there’s never been an accident there and I certainly hope there never will be, but something about those towers is comforting to me.
Choke down at least one soft pretzel. The Philadelphia soft pretzel is really a misnomer. They are typically anything but soft. Not to be confused with a SuperPretzel or Auntie Anne’s, the Philadelphia soft pretzel is a hardcore dough lover’s delight. They’re hard to chew and most people know the stinging pain of getting a chunk caught in your throat because you didn’t chew it quite enough. Regardless, these things are a must have on my list. Bonus points for buying them from some homeless guy pushing a shopping cart full of them at 10 for $1 outside the Wachovia Center.
Spend a night at the Trappe Tavern with friends. The Trappe Tavern was our local watering hole, particularly during my years with the Bloodhound Gang, so if I’m going to get all sorts of nostalgic, I need a trip here when visiting the Philadelphia area. Somehow the tab never seems out of control, no matter how crazy the night gets. I’ve had some wild nights here…and some not so wild. The Trappe will always be my local, no matter where I find myself.
So there you have it, my checklist of must-do items when visiting Philadelphia. Perhaps I’ll write another one someday about my favorite tourist spots, but for me, these places are my home – my past and my comfort whenever I find myself in suburban Philadelphia.
image courtesy of vic15