This spring break, I was lucky enough to travel to three big cities on the East Coast: Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. Each city came with its own set of activities, friends and food! Here is what I consider to be some of the tastiest food I had the pleasure to encounter.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Reading Terminal Market:
Not difficult to find, Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia is high up on the tourist “to-do” list. The indoor farmer’s market is housed in what used to be a train terminal in the heart of the city and has been a source of produce, fresh meats, specialty foods and assorted miscellaneous objects since 1892. While overwhelmingly large and packed with people, Reading Terminal Market offers something for everyone.
Following the advice of a more experienced Philadelphian, I first walked the perimeter of the market. When I say there was a variety of options, that is not even scratching the surface. While there were numerous stalls of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats, the abundance of prepared food was incredible. There was soul food, middle eastern food, Vietnamese food and the famous Philly cheese steak, just to name a few. Finally settling on what looked like the most incredible soul food stand, we proceeded to wait in a winding line for ten minutes. The wait was entirely worth it. Though expensive (~$15), the massive take-out box of freshly made fried chicken, collard greens and gooey mac and cheese was worth its (immense) weight.
The chicken wings were just the right amount of greasy and moist with the crispy skin nearly falling off the bone. Piled high in the take-out box, the generous serving proved to be unfinishable, but not by much. For someone who has not had a substantial amount of fried chicken in her life, this definitely shot to the top of the list and I foresee it staying there for quite a while.
The collard greens and mac and cheese were not relegated to the shadows as side dishes. Both portions could have passed, in quantity, for the main course. Apparently a novice to most foods traditionally from the South, I realized as I waited in line that I had never had collard greens before. But believe me, other collard green first-timers, once you try the greens at Reading, you will never look back. While quite salty, the greens were packed with flavor. The mixed-in onions and hints of bacon gave it the complexity it needed to perfectly complement the fried chicken, while also not making it too rich.
As it was being served, the mac and cheese looked incredible. Fresh out of the oven, it was creamy, gooey and looked like pure bliss. By the time we sat down to eat, the cheese had cooled and so had my dairy-fueled desire. The mac and cheese was tasty, but was lacking in flavor. Although it was likely temperature-related, the congealed cheese proved to be not as appealing as the freshly melted gold that had come out of the oven and was a little underwhelming.
Not to be missed in the Reading Terminal Market, and also a go-to for tourists and locals alike, was Beiler’s, home of the hand rolled donuts. Housed in the old train terminal, Beiler’s is a donut and baked goods stall staffed mostly by the Pennsylvania Dutch. The history of the Pennsylvania Dutch as being avid bakers is clearly shown at Beiler’s, where those waiting in line watch as a handful of bakers skirt around each other to simultaneously cook, glaze, fill and decorate donuts and fritters. Beiler’s is no small deal, they have won numerous awards over the past few years such as “One of America’s 20 Best Dessert Spots” by Fodor’s Travel Guide. It is impressive to note that for a decently small bakery, Beiler’s consistently sells anywhere from six to seven thousand donuts on an average day (bonappetit.com).
Approached to have my order taken before I even had the chance to see the full menu of donuts, I quickly followed my Philadelphian lead and ordered a salted caramel donut. The pastry was slightly larger than my palm, still warm to the touch and respectably cheap at ninety-nine cents. I have never been more enamored by a dessert, let alone a pastry, in my entire life. Baked just the right amount, the dough was not too chewy, and housed the highlight of the donut: the homemade cream. Light and fluffy, the plain cream took up the entire interior and, unlike many fast food donuts, had a subtle taste of its own. The topside of the donut was coated in a thin layer of caramel sauce, which was impeccable, and then lightly sprinkled with a dusting of sea salt. Unreal. It was hard to make it last and not immediately stuff the entire package of sugary goodness into my mouth in one bite.
New York City, NY: Katz Delicatessen:
Making my way north to New York, I knew my culinary adventures were just beginning. My aunt is an incredible cook, and in addition to the lentil pasta sauce she whipped up, I had plans to meet up with friends to head to one of New York City’s most renowned institutions, Katz Delicatessen. The last time I went to Katz was on an eighth grade Sunday School trip to NYC, and I was more than excited to see what my thirteen-year-old self had remembered correctly. One thing I hadn’t remembered, or maybe blocked from my memory, was how expensive the food was. With sandwiches ranging from $15 to over $20, Katz is in no way a casual lunch spot. Intended for tourists and nostalgic New Yorkers, the interior of the massive deli is covered in pictures of famous visitors and fluorescent lights. Everyone in our group was just the right amount of indecisive so we all opted for a “special” combination: half a sandwich of your choice and a bowl of matzo ball soup. Maybe friends in part due to our shared taste in all things delicious, we all ordered half a pastrami sandwich to accompany our soup. Something neat that Katz did (to counter the sky-high prices?) was to service a small sample of the pastrami as you waited for your food at the counter. A few minutes later, the three of us made our way to one of the many tables lining the packed room hands full of a tray containing the largest half of a sandwich I have ever been witness to. Coupled with a hearty bowl of matzo ball soup (basically liquid gold — chicken broth with vegetables and a dumpling-esque ball made of ground matzo, an unleavened bread) and a plate full of pickles, this was a meal not to be missed.
The pastrami sandwich was hands down one of the best creations I have ever tasted. Maybe five inches high and slathered in mustard, the meat was incredible moist, flavorful and fatty. A little much for my unprepared stomach, I unfortunately was not able to finish the feast that lay before me, but my companions were more successful than me in their endeavors and finished everything in front of them.
The matzo ball soup, while not the best I have ever had (shout out to my mom), had delicate flavor and a matzo ball that was bigger than my fist. A warm and filling bowl of soup, there is reason the soup is commonly referred to as a form of medicine, as it soothes and satisfies those eating it. Overall delicious, the soup could have been an entirely separate meal due to the giant size of the matzo ball.
Superb in both its individual parts and as a whole, Katz did not disappoint. If it were a tad bit cheaper, I would quickly recommend it as a must-go when in New York City. Price aside, it was one of the best, and most fillings meals, I have had in awhile. If you have the funds and are looking for an incredible sandwich and soup combo, head on downtown to get more than you could ever imagine of either or both.
Boston, MA: Stoked Food Truck
As Dorothy would say, “there is no place like home.” These words have never rung truer in the blossoming Boston food truck scene. In the past few years food trucks have popped up everywhere, from ones specializing in grilled cheese (if you ever are in Boston and see the Roxy food truck, make sure to get at least one sandwich), to numerous other varied cuisines.
It was just my luck that on my last full day in Boston I was strolling through Copley Plaza downtown, when I spotted a mob of people on a street corner. Intrigued, I made my way through the crowd of business people on lunch break to discover Stoked, a food truck exclusively selling freshly made 11-inch pizzas. For a food truck, which in my experience tend to have a limited selection, Stoked had a diverse menu. There were your standard red sauce pizzas such as cheese, Italian sausage and vegetable, as well as a handful of white pizzas, such as buffalo chicken and barbecue chicken. Many of the pizzas could be made with vegan cheese as well, for an additional $1.
I ordered the buffalo chicken pizza ($11) and proceeded to wait for nearly 20 minutes before my name was called. The pizza came out of the oven steaming and covered in homemade hot sauce, which was delicious! Although relatively well priced for an entire, freshly made pizza, an 11-inch pizza proved to be a bit too much for me to eat in one midday sitting, meaning that I had some tasty leftovers to microwave when I got home.
Stoked served a great and decently priced lunch if you have 20 minutes to kill in downtown Boston. The city is rapidly becoming more welcoming to these mobile kitchens, and it is clear from the huge crowds that they are being well received by the public. So if you are ever in Boston, head downtown midday. You are sure to find some sort of food truck pumping out an assortment of freshly made delicacies.