My sister knows me pretty well, because this year she got me a gift certificate for a Philadelphia food tour, which combines three of my favorite things: eating, free-samples (technically if you pay for this yourself, it won’t fall into this category, but since it was a gift for me, it does), and random trivia that isn’t helpful in the grand scheme of things, which she scheduled on the day she, my brother, and I were going to see The Killers, essentially setting up what is colloquially known by people of a certain age (aka those of us who grew up quoting Old School) as a nice little Saturday.
City Food Tours is a company that, you guessed it, specializes in food tours. They run in New York and Philly, and the Philly tours center on the Center City and South Philly areas. They have 7 public tours you can take listed on their website, which also says that customized/private tours are available upon request. While I’m sure the “Flavors of Philly” tour (where you sample cheese steaks, pretzels, tomato pies, and other foods Philly is known for) would be great for someone who’s visiting for the first time, between my sister and college pals, I’m in Philly enough, and am glad she picked something a bit different. We did the “Decadent Gourmet” tour which takes you to 3 locales in Reading Terminal Market, a cheese sampling at DiBruno Brothers, and finished with a gelato sampling. Really, my sister couldn’t have chosen better if she’d have designed this herself. High marks for that one.
The tour met at 3:00 at The Field House, a bar across the street from Reading Terminal. The guide introduced herself, gave us a quick overview of what we’d be doing, and then started in on a little bit of a spiel about how both Reading Terminal came into being, and some architectural info about the building we were in. While we absolutely ate on the tour, and the food was the centerpiece, for all intents and purposes, it could’ve been an architectural tour of Philly too, which I wasn’t expecting, and found very interesting. My sister and friend Maura, who were on the tour with us, and both have been living in Center City for years now, said they both learned things about buildings they pass almost daily.
The tour actually marks my first time in Reading Terminal, which is kind of crazy, especially when you consider that my sister used to live just 4 blocks away. I’ve always heard that this particular market is a bit of a cluster**** (it is the number one tourist attraction in Philly), so kind of avoided it in the past, but it wasn’t too bad, and I’m kind of kicking myself for never venturing in before. That all being said, I could easily see going in there and dropping lan unnecessary $100.00 on cheese, pastries, and sandwiches in a quick half hour, so maybe it’s all for the best.
Our first stop was Meltkraft, which makes their own cheese, and specializes in gourmet grilled cheeses. We had a brie, caramelized onion, and dried cranberry grilled cheese on brioche. This is not something I’d ever order myself, but proved very tasty.
Our second stop was Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties, which we learned is the oldest leased stall in the market at the moment. They gave us a sampling platter which ended up being the only option I didn’t completely scarf down; I have a deeply ingrained distaste for humus, and really anything chickpea related, for no real reason. That being said, I saw plenty of options on the menu here that looked great, it smelled delicious, and I ended up making my own purchase here, for a chocolate-creme nut roll, which might’ve been the best thing I ate that day (not-pictured because I’m a beast who immediately devoured it).
The third stop in the market was at Beiler’s Dougnuts, which I’ve heard about due to how infamous the line to get one of these bad boys is. I was expecting the doughnut to be overrated. It wasn’t. It was glorious. It somehow tasted like a better Krispy Kreme, which I don’t even like typing, because it feels wrong to say, but who am I to argue with the truth, ya know?
En route to our next destination, we stopped at a Macy’s that was once Wanamaker’s, Philly’s premier department store back in the day, as well as an old bank that’s now a steakhouse, to learn a little about their significance to the city. Both these stops proved more interesting than I thought they’d be, but I don’t want to spoil any trivia if you want to take the tour yourself. They also proved a welcome respite to the cold weather. My sister and I both made the extremely dumb mistake to venture out on a 10 degree day wearing only sweaters and light vests. We “didn’t want to have to deal with coats” at the concert. We are both morons.
DiBruno Brothers was next, another place I mostly avoid, because I’ll spend unnecessary money on cheese and cured meat, for a very delightful, and very filling cheese sampling. Very filling. I was expecting a piece of cheese on a toothpick, but the amount they gave us could’ve essentially been a $25.00 cheese plate at one of Philly’s bougier establishments, so props to you City Food Tours, for making sure patrons get their money’s worth.
The tour ended, as previewed earlier, with a blind tasting of gelato at Capogiro Gelateria. We were presented with 6 options, and then had to each guess what they were. I guessed one correctly (dark chocolate), but I’m never going to mad about gelato sampling, and ended up enjoying a walnut gelato I probably never would have ordered on my own. I think that’s what I liked best about this tour, tasting things I would’ve never picked.
All in all, this was a really pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and I’d really like to attend one of their pizza tours in the future. It was a great way to learn about some new Philly establishments, and get a taste of some you’ve heard about, but never breached, and is a solid way to get one of those donuts without having to wait in line. I do want to point out that while they were good sized, these are samples, so this isn’t something you could substitute for a meal, which is essentially what I’ve been telling myself in order to not feel bad about the fact that I ended that particular Saturday in a very Philadelphia fashion, but getting myself a 1:00 AM Wawa hoagie (6-inch, buffalo chicken, on whole wheat, for those wondering).