When I was a young girl with long hair, my grandmother, who lived in South Philly, would brush my hair to put in braids or pony tails and exclaim, “This part looks like Passyunk Avenue!” Being so young, I had no idea what she meant, although I would walk along Passyunk Avenue (pronounced pashunk by all of us in the Philly area) with my grandparents to go places in the neighborhood. When I grew up, I laughed when I realized that she meant my part was as crooked and as convoluted as the street.
I was reminded of my Grandmom’s roots and her repeated hair comment, as I made my way down the very curvy Passyunk Avenue last week for the Flavors on the Avenue media tour. I jumped on the opportunity to go when it presented itself, because I kept hearing about the great lineup of restaurants now “on the Avenue” and how hip and trendy that the street of my childhood has become. For years, insiders have flocked to East Passyunk, knowing its restaurants would have the real deal of homemade red “gravy” and pasta made from scratch. However, in recent years, East Passyunk Avenue and the neighborhood surrounding it have undergone some revitalizations and a renaissance has happened to the area.
Visitors who stroll down Passyunk can now find eclectic boutiques, coffee shops, vintage clothing stores, gastropubs, international fare, as well as the same authentic Italian eateries that first made this street famous — not to mention the two across-the-street cheesesteak rivals, Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks.
Living in Delco, we have such terrific restaurants offering just about any kind or type of food for which we’re in the mood, there’s really not often a justifiable reason to leave and go elsewhere for a bite. However, often eating out is a destination, and people like to discover unexplored places and new hot spots to try and add to their list of favorites. I know that many people travel to West Chester, Center City, Manayunk, Wilmington, Jersey and other places, just to eat at certain restaurants. So, the next time residents of Delaware County are thinking of venturing out of the box or have a special occasion to celebrate, they can get out of Dodge without having to drive very far by giving Passyunk Avenue a try. South Philly is only a stone’s throw from most parts of Delaware County, and half of us have roots, family or friends there , so it’s often not unusual to find ourselves close to the hood anyway. For those living in the burbs, it certainly is a memorable and fun experience to shop and dine on East Passyunk, especially for those who have beyond-the-ordinary shopping tastes and adventurous palates.
The Avenue features something for every taste and palate, even “pills” like me who aren’t too daring about trying new foods. With a variety of fare, from sweet to savory, casual to fine dining, American to international, every diner should be able to find their food niche here. The neighborhood’s strong Italian roots are still proudly displayed, but they’re augmented by daring immigrant-owned eateries, with young, passionate chefs eager to make a mark among their peers and show off their skills.
The recent media food tour was held to preview some of the fare that would be offered during the “Flavors On The Avenue” street festival last week, an event held annually on East Passyunk. The tour began at The Pub On Passyunk East and snaked its way down through the neighborhood. On our taste-tour, and at the actual festival, a record-setting 27 restaurants offered signature dishes and twists on street food. I brought my daughter with me on the sampling tour, which stretched from Broad to Dickinson streets, since her food tastes are way more exotic and bold than mine are. The nice thing was, however, there was a decent share of out-of-the-ordinary for her and an equal share of tried-and-true for me. The atmosphere was definitely city-chic, and I kept making mental notes throughout the evening about specific people that I would immediately tip off because I know they would love it. Publications have started referring to East Passyunk Avenue as the city’s contemporary Restaurant Row, and that seemed like the perfect description.
Unfortunately, because of time (and stomach) limitations, we couldn’t visit all of the 27 restaurants, so we randomly picked some to try. Among them were Bing Bing Dim Sum, where we sampled pork buns and corn rangoon; Cantina los Caballitos, where we munched on tacos al pastor, elote and sipped on classic and cucumber margaritas; Noir, where we tasted arancini balls and watermelon salad; Noord, where we ate bitterballen (Dutch meatballs — a definite new one for me!); P’unk Burger, where we ate pulled portobello sandwiches and caprese pesto burgers; Perla, which gave pork belly, adobo with garlic rice; Fond, which offered salmon tartare with sesame, nori and avocado; Stogie Joe’s, which served us meatballs with toasted bread and pizza; and the Plenty Café, which offered us Choripan, a traditional South African sandwich with chorizo, chimichurri and pickled red onion on a baguette (another first for me!).
I would be a miss if I didn’t mention the places we were going to scope out, but just couldn’t get to them all. Others on the Avenue include Chhaya, El Sarape, Izumi, Laurel, Le Virtu, Mamma Maria, Marra’s, Paradiso, POPE, Stargazy, Stateside, Townsend, Tre Scalini, Vanilya Bakery and Will BYOB.
East Passyunk Avenue’s restaurant row is definitely a destination, especially if you’re a foodie with a yen for good quality food or a yearning for something different. The options are plentiful. If you can find a spot to park, it’s a fun place to stroll on a spring or summer night. When asked about the tight parking situation, both servers and owners said to call ahead to the restaurant to where you want to go and they will tell you the best place to park.
Personally, once parked, I loved being able to walk along The Avenue and see all the sights and sounds of South Philly on a spring evening. Our little excursion there happened to be on a weeknight so there were plenty of spaces to be had.
To be honest, I was forced out of my culinary comfort zone when I tried most of the foods on this tour. I mean, honestly, how often do you get to eat at a Dutch or Malaysian restaurant? These were both firsts for me. When I go back, I will probably stick to the restaurants with the more mainstream fare (yawn, yawn, I know). On the other hand, my daughter loved every minute of the tour and already has headed back with friends to some of her favorite spots from the tour. She couldn’t wait to try some more of the exotic, unusual offerings that she spotted on the menus on the preview night. Her food preferences compared to mine are definitely “different strokes,” and that’s OK because, basically, that seems to be the flavor of the crooked, culinary conclave, that we call “Pashunk” Avenue!
For more information about the very trendy, hip and happening restaurant and retail row of East Passyunk Avenue, visit visiteastpassyunk.com or follow @EPassyunkAve on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Readers can reach Peg DeGrassa at firstname.lastname@example.org.