Archive for the ‘Dining’ Category

The Fitzwater Café is a bright, cheerful, and surprisingly affordable brunch spot in Bella Vista.  A classic breakfast of eggs, toast, and home fries is only $5.00, which means you can order bottomless coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice without breaking the bank.  For those with more of a morning sweet tooth, Pancakes and French Toast are each only $5.50.  After a leisurely brunch, it’s only a short stroll to the Fleisher Art Memorial  gallery at 719 Catherine street.  In addition to curating multiple art exhibitions throughout the year, the Fleisher also offers free (with membership) art classes for both children and adults.

How cheap we talkin’: $5.00-$5.50 for breakfast, $1.75 for coffee, $2.95 for O.J., and approximately $3 for a must-have shared dessert (plus tax and tip). Entry to the Fleisher is FREE!

Why this will impress your date:  As the oldest free community art school in the United States, Fleisher will impress both history and art buffs.

The Inside Game: The key at Fitzwater Café is to be careful with add-ons. Berries on your pankcakes will cost an additional $3.00, and each omlette ingredient is $1.25.  So stick to the basics and save room (and $) for dessert!

Score Extra Points: By pointing out the other art hidden in the hallways at Fleisher: There’s a copy of a mosaic from St Mark’s Basilica near the elevators, and  near the restrooms hangs a pop-art piece spoofing the Snickers ads from a few years back with the text “Haterectomy.”

Next date:  Any day except Sunday. Fitzwater Cafe is open for breakfast 7:30am-2pm everyday, and the Fleisher gallery space is open 10-3pm Monday-Saturday. Note: When school is not in session, the Fleisher is NOT open on the weekends, so double check the gallery schedule before you go! 


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On a Friday night, Old City can sometimes seem a bit overrun by heavy drinkers, flashy dressers, and unruly crowds – not necessarily the most inviting atmosphere for a date.  But that’s only if you don’t know where to go (or where not to go).  For an Old City date with old-fashioned charm, start with homemade ice cream from Franklin Fountain, then take in the concert and fireworks at Penn’s Landing. (Concert starts at 7:30, fireworks at 9:15).  After the big show, head to Sassafras International Cafe (and bar) at 48 S.2nd between Market and Walnut.  With painted tin ceilings, a faux fireplace, and international beer list, this intimate and classy joint is a welcoming respite from the mayhem of the club scene.  That is, if you can make it past the throngs on the street.

How cheap we talkin’: $5-7pp for ice cream (it gets pricey fast if you opt for the waffle cones like we did!) and $6 for drafts at Sassafras (plus tip!).

Why this will impress your date: Because there is something even more awesome about fireworks when it’s not the Fourth of July.

Score Extra Points: By splurging for the waffle cone at Franklin Fountain. Trust me, it’s worth it.

The Inside Game: There is a full sized couch in the ladies room at Sassafras.  And a lock on the door.  Just sayin.’

Next Date: Ice cream and drinks are available anytime, but the last Friday for fireworks is September 3, 2010.


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There is good fun to be had with old-fashioned bar hopping in boisterous pubs or local dives, but on a recent weeknight, my date and I decided to class it up with a happy hour “cocktail crawl” in Center City.  We started around 5:30pm at Vintage, a wine bar and bistro at 129 S.13th street that offers up $4 house wines by the glass from 4-6pm, Monday-Friday.  After one delicious glass of red there, we trotted 1 block south and 2 blocks west to the swanky nineteenth floor bar at the Bellevue Hotel (aptly named XIX), where all signature cocktails are only $6 from 5-7pm, Monday-Friday.  After enjoying a well-made cocktail and the view from the balcony, we made a last stop at the nearby Kimmel Center to walk off our buzzes wandering around the rooftop garden.

How cheap we talkin:’ Wine at Vintage: $8.80 + $2 tip for 2 glasses. Cocktails at the Bellevue $12.00 + $2.00 tip for 2 signature cocktails.

Why this will impress your date: This time, it’s class all the way.

The Inside Game: If you are going to stop by the Kimmel Center, check the calendar and make sure it will be open. It closes at 6pm when there are no evening events.

Score Extra Points: Before leaving the Bellevue, take your date to the 12th floor where we stumbled across an atrium with a fountain and an unattended grand piano. My date scored extra points by treating me to a few impromptu show tunes.

Next Date: Any Monday-Friday.


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Lining up for $1 treats!

The stretch of commerce along Baltimore Avenue between 50th and 43rd streets in West Philly offers a fantastic variety of restaurants, stores, and services.  At least, that is the conclusion I came to after checking out the Baltimore Avenue Dollar Stroll on a recent date.  Tonight (July 8th) and again on August 12th, from 5:30 until 8:30 pm, participating merchants will be showcasing their wares and enticing passerby with special, one-night-only offerings for $1.  Starting off with $1 pizza slices at Dock Street Brewing Co. and ending with $1 ice cream cones at Milk & Honey (with $1 theater tickets and cat toys in between), we had a great time: discovered some new places to put on the we-should-come-back-here-sometime list, picked up some free books (that we probably should have just put down), and ended the evening by watching the fireflies light up nearby Clark Park.

How cheap we talkin’: With 15 vendors at last count, you could spend up to the budget on $1 coffee, cookies, sandwiches, beer, records, clothes, etc.  We spent about $8 each, and still ended the night full and happy.

Why this will impress your date: Because of the confidence with which you can pick up the tab and say, “I got this.”

Score extra points: By coming up with a game to play to pass the time while waiting in line. Rock, paper, scissors is a good one. Or I-spy.

The inside game: If there is something you know you want to try, go there first. In some places supplies were limited.

Next date: The 2010 season is over. Hopefully they will reprise this event in 2011!


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Host Eric Thomas reading the rules

Last Tuesday night, my date and I went to a Story Slam, a unique event sponsored by First Person Arts that is part theater, part stand-up comedy, part open-mic, and part game show. Ten volunteer contestants each vie to be named best storyteller of the night by regaling the audience with personal tales related to a predetermined theme.  Each story must be less than five minutes in length, and Judges award points for content and delivery.  Between sets, we were kept well entertained by quick-witted host Eric Thomas, who at one point put on a t-shirt bearing the slogan “I did Justin Three Times” and explained that — although he had bought the shirt for Justin Timberlake —  it had become very awkward for him to wear the shirt ever since the ascent of Justin Beiber because, in his words, “Bieber is a 15 year old lesbian.” That was only one of the many laughs my date and I shared as Thomas and the rest of the storytellers each took their turns on the stage.

After the Slam, which took place at L’Etage, a swank nightclub on the corner of 6th and Bainbridge in Queen Village, we meandered downstairs to Beau Monde, a cozy french-style crêperie that proved to be the perfect spot to indulge in a little post-show dessert.

How cheap we talkin’: $10 per person entry to the Story Slam.  One shared crepe at Beau Monde: $7-8, including tax and tip.

Why this will impress your date: I did mention that Beau Monde has Nutella, right?

The Inside Game: If you decide to order anything during the Slam, pay in cash so you don’t have to wait for your check at the end.

Score Extra Points: By putting your name in the bucket!  Nothing is sexier than an abject willingness to expose oneself to public humiliation.  (Remember, most of the shows are taped for You Tube).

Next Date: L’Etage hosts a slam every fourth Tuesday of the month.  There are also Story Slams every second Monday at World Café Live, which are open to all ages (L’Etage is 21+).  Check the First Person Arts web calendar to confirm upcoming dates.


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Corner stools - best seats in the house

Every Wednesday, the Ritz theaters in Old City reduce rates on all shows to an amazingly affordable $6. The Ritz are good “date-movie” theaters because there is always something interesting/stimulating/artsy/educational/foreign/award-winning showing (i.e. you can generally avoid the cheesy romcoms and lame studio blockbusters which can be date-movie disasters, trust me).

There are 3 Ritz theatres all within walking distance of one another, but the Ritz Five at 214 Walnut Street is the closest to Zahav, a “modern Israeli” restaurant with a comfortable atmosphere, an elegant bar, and an outstanding happy hour from 5-7pm.  Be warned, however; the Lemonnanas at Zahav are so delicious, you may end up ditching the movie and ordering another round instead.

How cheap we talkin’: Admittedly, this date cuts it close, but $15 per person should get you 2 theatre tickets, 2 Lemonnana cocktails, and one order of half-price hummus to share, including tax and tip.  But if your bartender was as nice as ours, you should pony up the extra buck or two and tip handsomely.  I will not stand accused of being a Rachel Ray.

Why this will impress your date: The Ritz Five has history (it has been in operation over 30 years and was one of the first “arthouse” theaters in Philadelaphia), and Zahav has class (afterall, it was reviewed in Gourmet magazine).

The Inside Game: Demonstrate you possess the twin turn-ons of planning and foresight by picking up movie tickets on your way to Zahav. That way you won’t have to wait in line later, and you’re guaranteed a seat.

Score Extra Points: By actually knowing how to find Zahav.

Next Date: Any Wednesday!


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Rittenhouse Square park, between 18th and 19th streets on Walnut, is a tree-filled haven of green in the middle of Center City’s busy downtown shopping district.  It is also a centrally located and easily accessible place to bring a blanket and some snacks and have a picnic.  But before setting up camp, stop in across the street at Barnes and Noble and pick out some fun magazines to read from or a book of crossword puzzles to work on together after you get bored of people and/or cloud watching.

How cheap we talkin’: $30 or less. Magazines, $12-$15, for 3.  Snacks: $15 or less.

Why this will impress your date: Good elocution skills are sexy.

The Inside Game: Cherries are portable and delicious, but they are not an ideal date food, because, well, they inevitably involve spitting.  Also, do not picnic on fleece blankets if you can help it.  Apparently they generate a lot of heat (and not the good kind).

Score Extra Points: By bringing something homemade.  My date surprised me with fresh guacamole (my favorite!), and it was delicious.

Next date: Anytime.


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First Oriental is a full-service grocery store at 6th and Washington streets, but in addition to its wide selection of ordinary foodstuffs, it also stocks tons of fascinating products that you can’t find in the average supermarket: lychee, jackfruit and other exotic produce, every kind of rice and noodle imaginable, an entire aisle of imported candies and cookies, quail eggs by the dozen, vats of seaweed crusted with salt, tripe, pig’s feet, frogs, eels, frozen fish (whole), and dozens of varieties of dumplings, fish balls, gyoza, and shumai.  In other words, it makes shopping for a dinner date into an adventure of its own.

How cheap we talkin’: $10-$15 per person.   Our total came to roughly $20, which included frozen dumplings, ingredients for noodle soup, and dessert.

Why this will impress your date: Did I mention the live frogs?

The Inside Game: Buy at least one thing you’ve never seen/eaten/cooked with before. Part of the fun is buying whatever looks intriguing, and making a meal out of it.

Score Extra Points: By carrying the groceries.

Next date: Anytime.


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National Mechanics is an Old City bar with an imposing façade but an inviting interior.  I think it makes a good first date spot because it’s dimly lit without being dark, it’s nice without being fancy, and it’s usually lively without being overcrowded.  There are also many seating options – a long bar, where you can wait for your date without having to stand around awkwardly, and deep wooden booths if you want a bit more privacy.  On Monday nights, however, you should stake out one of the tall tables with high-backed stools near the back of the room where, come 9pm, you will be front and center for the irresistably kooky “Monday Night Club,” hosted by the irrepressible and unforgettable Needles Jones.

How cheap we talkin’: Monday Night Club is FREE; Burgers and a lager during happy hour about $12, including tax and tip.

Why this will impress your date: Everyone looks better in strobe lighting.

The Inside Game: Try the veggie burger! It’s one of the best, heartiest, and most original in the city (it tastes like lomein!)

Score extra points: Audience participation is encouraged, so brush up on your Needles and sing along!

Next Date: Every Monday.


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