In my opinion, one’s senses will never be so enhanced (or lonely) as when traveling alone. Without the banter and cheerful distraction of a companion, one’s eyes, ears and nose percolate on the spaces in between.
Climbing out of bed at 4am, I think I actually wimpered as I silenced my alarm. I was off to do yet another exam in the WSET Diploma series (the hardest of them all–Unit 3), an exam I hardly felt prepared for–words I compulsively utter when I know I couldn’t possibly have studied one flashcard more. It’s the retention part that threatens my unquiet mind. But I can’t focus on that. As I all but drool, half asleep, brushing my teeth, I decide to shift my attention to the fact that I’m about to go to Philly: home of Rocky, fantastic art, cultural history and an exciting foodie scene that is venturing way beyond the cheesesteak.
Each and every get away, specifically to the hip, historic Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, I am determined to find something worth bringing home in the way of words. Since I have visited Philly once before just last Autumn, this time I wanted to focus on traveling alone for a weekend… on a major budget. Amazed at how quickly these exams add up when not offered in your own city, I was hellbent on saving a few pennies wherever I could. Here’s what I suggest if you are headed to the city of brotherly love.
Be sure to book on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. It’s not wive’s tale. It’s cheaper. Also, word has it 5 weeks before your getaway is the best time to find deals.
Made the mistake of taking a cab on my way in for about $35 with tip. It took about 35 minutes with traffic to get near downtown. On my way back to the airport, I wised up, went online and found that there are stations EVERYWHERE that feed into the airport. In fact, I was staying near one that was direct. Just 3 blocks, $7 and 25 minutes got me to the terminal I needed. Go to SEPTA’s website: http://www.septa.org/welcome/airport.html.
Screw the automobile. Just walk (and bring a big purse for your heels)…
Depending on where you are staying, you might find there is no need to take a cab ever if the weather is nice. I even had rain and was grateful for the low tech umbrella I grabbed at the local Walgreens for less than the price of a taxi. I stayed near Rittenhouse Square and there was no need for a car there. Even if I had wanted to walk over to the Liberty Bell, it would have only been about 25 or so minutes.
Where to Stay…
So many places to choose from on Hotels.com, I went with one that was only a couple bucks more than some of the others and found it was quite nice for my needs: the Windsor Hotel. The staff was exceptionally nice, they had a decent rooftop pool, I worked out a few times in their exercise center and they had a very quaint little corner pub that was always busy with what seemed like locals. Clean, central and only about $130/nt.
Finally, eating on the cheap…
My first night found me here at Tria on the recommendation of a friend. As though lured in by the shear volume, this electric place was clearly the spot to be on a Tuesday night at 6:30. There was even a wait–a wait heavy with worth. I climbed up to the bar and got to know the staff, a very pleasing bunch. On their recommendation, I tried the homemade lamb sausage with red bell pepper and pesto upon large white beans. It was ridiculous! For $6, I couldn’t believe the length one got from this appetizer. It was quite hearty and filling. I washed this down with a glass of Spanish Godello from Bodega Ladera Sagrada for $9–effortlessly elegant, it’s youth is obscured by its old, knowing soul.
As I move onto the next ‘bite’, I change the wine as well. There on their humble, yet well-composed list, is an ’03 Huber Zweigelt Reserve from Austria for a mere $10. I would have gotten it regardless of my dish. Thankfully, the pairing was a match in heaven. Zweiglet is a cross between two equally less familiar varietals: St. Laurent & Blaufrankish (the former relative of Pinot Noir). Much like Pinot Noir, Zweigelt can develop tertiary qualities of forest floor, wet leaves, game and savory essence. The Huber was without exception. It was riveting with the grilled bread bound by truffled mushrooms and fontina for $4.50. At this point, I regretted having ordered one more ‘bite’ as I was learning these were anything but. But for the price, I figured I would do my best and take the rest with me back to the hotel fridge.
My final course was an arugula salad with beets, fresh softened goat cheese, toasted almonds, red onion and balsamic. It sounds basic, a fairly common salad. I agree. But they did such a lovely job executing the flavors, I fell in love with this classic combo all over again. I could only finish a quarter of the dish, as it was very substantial in size. A mere $8.50… and a doggy bag to boot!
The next day–exam day– I began with Spread Bagelry. People, this place is one to check out. Whether early in the morning or midday, they make bagel sandwiches that give NY a run for their money. Done in what they call the ‘Montreal way’, these handcrafted bagels are individually rolled, boiled in honey water then baked all day long in small batches in a wood fired brick oven that was custom made. Everything is fresh and locally sourced. I recommend their Amish farm fresh cream cheese and homemade jams. Bagels are $2, cheese is $3 as is the jam. Most meal sandwiches are around $8.
After a hard core morning of blind wine tasting, I recalled a lunch spot the bartender from Tria suggested: Hip City Veg. I loved the name, and it was close by the testing center. All natural and fresh is what they do. It may be a hip trend right now, but really it is about as retro as food gets. Simple, pure ingredients are encouraging when you are on the go, traveling or working. It is rough to eat out for every meal. Thankfully places like this offer numerous healthy options that let mother nature work her stuff. I can hardly say I know this place after one meal of a Jerk Chicken Caesar with Jicama and Crispy Plantains, but it was enough to convince me to check it out again when I come back to Philly.
Without a doubt my favorite little spot to accidentally discover. After reading a local blog called Foobooz, I decided to take a chance on this little gem that opened just a few months ago. Nearing my destination on 18th street, I saw a sign for the restaurant in the yard of a massive art building: the Philadelphia Art Alliance, in fact. Peering in, it seemed like a museum only. I sheepishly began to walk away when a young man asked if I was there for the restaurant. Thankfully, he pulled me back in and before me was a very grand entrance into a rather ‘posh’ tavern in the back. A verdant garden courtyard was open, so I took a seat there. It was such a serene spot. One might hardly feel they are even in a bustling city. I only stayed for an appetizer and a cocktail, but I was diggin’ on the whole package. Each drink and dish that came out to nearby tables were lovely, artistic creations. A perfect synergy between place and plate. I was starting to wishI hadn’t made plans to venture to another place. Alas, I stepped away from this moment in time and vowed to return to this place first when I get back to this city. My recommendation? Get there before 6pm and catch their happy hour. Most specialty drinks are $5 (including the Simply Dolin, which I had and LOVED!) apps range from about $5-10. It can be a pretty pricey place otherwise, even if it is well spent.
Certainly a restaurant with a following, I was eager to check out a. kitchen. Perhaps there was no way to do it dirt cheap, but at least for my ‘celebration’ dinner, I knew the dollars would be well spent. In a nutshell, this restaurant allows fresh, vibrant flavors of the food itself to shine through… naturally. The ingredients are transparent. There are no tricks up their sleeves. No smoke, no gadgets, no chemical concoctions to decipher. Just good food done right. The bolognese was scrumptious, but the real star was the Asparagus and Roasted Shitakes with Radish & Pecorino Fondue. The texture they packed in with each bite was unreal and really spoke to the invisible genius that truly sets one chef apart from another.
Foodie on a budget is effortlessly within reach for a quick weekend in Philly’s fashionable Rittenhouse Square. All in all you can get out alive and well fed for about $100 (not including airfare and lodgings). Just step away from the shops on Rittenhouse Row. And if you go it alone, it’s even easier. When you have a partner in crime, it’s easier to splurge!