Although we tend to consider Philadelphia a "small" city, there are still several neighborhoods that we have never explored. One of these is the "up and coming" stretch of Passyunk Avenue that cuts diagonally across South Philly to the east of Broad Street. Pronounced "Pash-yunk" by locals, this street extends through the Italian Market and is probably most famous for competing Philly cheesesteak shops: Pat's and Geno's.
With a free afternoon (with absolutely gorgeous weather to boot), A & I decided to take the subway down to our "starting point" of East Passyunk and walk/eat our way back towards the city. This may have been one of the best ideas we've had in awhile. Before we left, we picked out a few places we definitely had to hit up; because it was late morning when we started, we picked out places open for brunch. This prevented us from hitting up some of the fancier places, but we can save that for another trip.
As we turned onto Passyunk, we immediately spotted our first destination. The bright orange exterior of Cantina Los Caballitos is hard to miss. We were the first diners in for brunch, so we grabbed sunny window seats. The waitstaff was laid back and friendly, mostly young hipster types. We decided to order just one thing off the menu, which made for a difficult decision. We opted for the Torrejas ($7)- french toast made with sopapilla topped with a cinnamon infused maple syrup. This seemed like an original brunch item that would "represent" the type of food at Los Caballitos.
We were pleasantly surprised with the arrival of a big basket of fresh tortilla chips, served with generous helpings of two different types of salsa. The chips were crispy and perfectly salted, with many of them shaped to A's dipping standards: a slight curve to maximize salsa scoopage. The green salsa had the same flavor profile as guacamole, while the red had a decent kick- both very flavorful and a good snack to tide us over till our "entree" arrived.
The Torrejas was a very interesting take on french toast- the sopapilla base is a very dense Mexican pastry that is typically deep fried into more of a crunchy sweet bread. In this case, it very lightly soaked up egg, maintaining the sweet pastry flavor of the sopapilla. Sometimes french toast is overwhelmingly eggy, but that was not the case here. The texture was unique- more like a pancake or super fat tortilla. Powdered sugar and the cinnamon syrup gave a touch of sweetness.
We also order a side of chorizo ($3). The dish of spicy crumbled meat was repurposed as a tortilla chip topper- unbelievably delicious, especially with a dollop of salsa. A likened it to taco meat, but it had a couple extra dimensions of flavor than standard ground beef. We didn't finish either dish, allowing the first stop to just take the edge off our hunger. The rest of the menu looked interesting, dishes served to nearby diners looked delicious, and the prices/portions were hard to beat. It seems like a fun place to come for dinner with a large group.
Our next stop was practically right across the street. Green Aisle Grocery is a very unique neighborhood grocery store, stocking a carefully selected array of typical, and atypical, grocery items, as well as some prepared foods from well-known Philly restaurants. Brothers Adam and Andrew Erace have created a very cute, bright little shop that we wish was a little closer to our place! They recently announced that they were carrying sandwiches made by Tim McGinnis of previously discussed Spinal Tapas fame. One of Tim's ventures is named "American Meats & Provisions," whereby he makes all of his own meats- think herb-brined turkey and thick cut housemade ham. These meats then go into sandwiches to be sold at Green Aisle.
We snagged the very last sandwich in the refrigerated section- the Russian Lox ($10). This fit in well with our brunch eats, so I was happy. While it might seem a little steep for a simple sandwich, let me tell you, this was no simple sandwich. First off- it was huge. A & I found an unoccupied corner stoop and got to work. The sandwich was constructed strangely- somehow the "seam" of the sandwich was along the top. The vodka-cured lox filled the inside of the crusty, chewy baguette- its vivid pink color matched its intense flavor. The texture of the salmon was smooth and silky. Herb-y cream cheese, a caper spread, and bits of lemon added in all those delicious flavors associated with your typical bagel & lox. The quality of each ingredient created a sandwich that was out of this world.
We took a little food break and stopped at the Black & Brew for some much needed caffeine. I would love to try their Flour-Free Banana & Blueberry Pancakes, but our stomachs weren't up for another heavy dish. We sat in the very cheery and uniquely decorated coffee shop and enjoyed iced coffee (for A) and a double Americano (for me) while reading the newspaper. At this point I was a little high on delicious food and caffeine (BnB coffee packs a punch) and had a little euphoric "I love Philly" moment. The atmosphere on East Passyunk is just so super friendly and neighborhoodly, you can't help but feel like you belong there.
Our next stop was at a well-known East Passyunk institution, aptly named "The Pub on Passyunk East" or POPE for short (yay acronyms!). With a definite "hipster dive bar" atmosphere, we avoided the dim inside and snagged a sidewalk table- unfortunately surrounded by a few chain-smoking, sailor-mouthed, tattered-clothes- wearing groups. Slightly entertaining to listen to, but I could have done without the smoke bubble.
We made the best of it and enjoyed the sunshine. The brunch menu has most of the "standards" but we decided to try the Shrimp and Grits (a Southern classic). Unfortunately, our waitress informed us they were fresh out of shrimp, so we ordered the Trinity ($8)instead. Not expecting too much, we were pleasantly surprised (again!) to be served a very beautifully arranged plate of food. Crisp Granny Smith apple, juicy Bosc pear, and a few pieces of chewy pita bread were served alongside three different dips. The first was my favorite- a very thick, rich goat cheese well complemented by bits of mint and chopped walnuts. Slathered on a sweet and sour piece of apple, this was amazing. A's favorite was the scoop of hummus. Incredibly heavy on the tahini, the hummus was thick and creamy and full of flavor. The third dip was a salty mix of chopped olives with a very Mediterranean feel. Sort of like a tapenade but with a rougher chop on the olives.
We were pretty full at this point and debated continuing our journey through the Italian Market. We decided against it, and broke off from East Passyunk and headed toward home. With a bit of luck, we ran smack into Isgro, a well-known Italian pastry shop in the midst of many delicious looking Italian restaurants.
I've heard that Isgro's sells the best cannolli in Philly (obviously up for debate), but A & I each ordered a pastry to top off our culinary adventure with something sweet. I chose the apple turnover and A ordered the carrot cake ($6.90 for both). Wrapped up in a cute white box reminiscent of most Italian bakeries, these pastries didn't make it but a block down the road before we pulled them out. The turnover was chock full of sweet cinnamon apples, the pastry was flaky and topped with those large sugar crystals that dissolve in your mouth. A little bit of heaven for sure. The carrot cake had lots of raisins and walnuts and was layered with a cream cheese frosting. Rich and spicy, the cake had many visible shreds of carrots (making it healthy, right?).
A & I were overwhelmingly pleased with our venture through South Philly. Lots of good food, cute neighborhood restaurants and shops, and plenty of reasons to go back. What neighborhood should we explore next?
Cantina Los Caballitos
1651 E. Passyunk Ave
Green Aisle Grocery
1618 E. Passyunk Ave
Black N Brew
1523 E. Passyunk Ave
Pub on Passyunk East
1501 E. Passyunk Ave
1009 Christian Street