Thursday, April 24, 2014
To Market, to Market....and hidden gems of Philly
The Reading Terminal Market is such a treasure. It contains over 80 vendors, many of them selling ready to eat food, as well as purveyors of vegetables and fruit, meats, poultry, fish, chocolate and a smattering of non-edibles such as french linens, cookbooks, "made in Pa" items and a kitchen supply store. The ethnic range of the food is remarkable and representative of the region: Amish, Italian, Soul Food, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Middle Eastern, French, Caribbean and more. You can taste your way through the Philly classics: an Amish breakfast at the Dutch Eating Place, snapper soup at Pearl's Oyster Bar, a cheesesteak at Carmines or Dinic's award winning pork sandwich, Bassett's ice cream for dessert and from one of the numerous candy stands pick up some Wilbur buds (from whom Hershey stole the idea of the kisses...buds are better!)
Usually when I've visited the market, I've rushed through at lunch time or on my way from one destination to another. Yesterday, it was my destination. We arrived at about 10:30, a perfect time to stroll the aisles. The lunch crowd hadn't arrived so we were able to go up and down each aisle and really peruse the goods. I noticed there are a good amount of new vendors that look promising as well as the old stalwarts. There is Valley Shepherds Creamery & Meltkraft Grilled Cheese (won best of Philly grilled cheese sandwich) which produces cheese in New Jersey. I didn't try one of their sandwiches but plan to bring Bobby back next week to sample. I have high hopes!
At 11am we joined a food tour of the market with our guide Betty. It was an excellent tour, giving the history of the market and a real "flavor" of the place. The tours run Wednesdays and Saturdays and for $16 are a bargain!
As part of the tour, Betty took us outside the market building and onto Market Street to look at the Terminal Head House where the Reading Railroad trains used to come into the city. It's a beautiful Victorian building but the best part is on the inside. If you go into the entrance marked "Convention Center" and up the escalator, you'll come to the original train shed. When the Reading Railroad built this terminal in the 1890's, there was an existing farmers market on the site and they refused to leave. So the company built the train shed above them and created the market space (originally for 800 vendors) below, in the space that still houses the market. The trains stopped running to the elevated tracks in the 80's timeframe, with the Market Street East Station being built underground. When the convention center was built they took over the train shed and as part of Philly's mandated public art initiative (1% of new construction cost must go to public art...how great is that!?), they added a wonderful Calder-like aerial sculpture in the beautiful hall where the shed existed. You can still see the arched structure with sky lights and if you examine the marble floor, you can also see the original tracks. I never knew this place existed...it's now on my list of hidden gems of the city.
Also on this list is Maxfield Parrish Tiffany mosaic in the Curtis building. The Curtis building is just across from Independence Hall's back park on 6th Street and is where the Saturday Evening post was published. You need to go around to the 7th Street entrance, walk through the marble atrium, telling the guard you are going to see the mosaic, and head to the 6th Street side of the building. As you come around the corner, you'll be blown away. The mosaic is huge and breathtaking...I like to sit and contemplate it. It is an oasis of calm and beauty.
My last gem (hopefully I'll find more) is the Rare Book room in the Free Library of Philadelphia. For years, I've wanted to go into the Free Library just off Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and finally did a year or two ago on another jaunt into the city with my brother. The building itself is impressive but I had read about the rare book room and wanted to check it out. It was the year of Dickens celebration and they were having an exhibit that sounded interesting. I asked at one of the information desks where the room was and was directed to an elevator and told to go to the third floor. There you'll see a glassed in room with a doorbell! You ring the bell and are ushered into an incredible collection of beautiful and rare books and a rotating exhibit space. There is the original lovely 62 foot paneled Georgian library room from the original bequester, William Elkins, who donated all the contents and the room itself. They even have Charles Dickens pet raven, Grip, stuffed for all to see! If you are one of those people who treasures books, this is a wonderful place!
I love exploring cities and need to make the effort to explore my own city more...there are so many treasures to discover!