Sunday, March 11, 2018

It's Always Sunny in Philly

Let's just say we didn't come for the brotherly love.

When Lady G and I set out for Philly, it was for multiple reasons - she hadn't been in 30 years, I hadn't been in 11- with the main ones being we wanted some out-of-town art and food. We got even luckier when it turned out to be a 78-degree day, because, let's face it, almost anywhere would be a fine destination when the February weather is so agreeable.

On a stop in Elkton, Maryland, I got out to stretch my legs and spotted what looked like an 18-wheeler with the words, "Mobile Chapel" on one side, and underneath, "Transport for Christ." Is it just me or does this have the makings of a hysterical Saturday Night Live skit?

We rolled into Philly around lunchtime, paid a king's ransom at a parking garage  for expediency's sake and sat down at Rooster Soup Company just as the regular lunch rush was winding down. The subterranean spot got our business because they a) make great food and b) donate their profits to "vulnerable Philadelphians."

When I asked about that last part, the manager said they work with a Broad Street ministry that supplies all kinds of services to locals in need.  In order to do my part for those less fortunate people, I was willing to scarf today's special: a smoked trout tartine on housemade semolina with pickled fresno pepper salad, green goddess dressing and sunflowers.

I raved about the flavor combination when asked by our server and she nodded approvingly. "We're putting it on the menu tomorrow," she said. Not a moment too soon, I told her. Meanwhile, we swooned over G's cauliflower soup with capers, which the manager told us he eats almost every day.

Our seats at the long, sleek counter were near a metal cabinet with a collection of colorful, magnetized plastic letters scattered on it, so I took the opportunity to create some short-term graffiti by arranging the letters to reflect both my and Lady G's initials, the date and our location (RS Co).

Proof, in other words, should the cops come looking for us.

We wanted dessert, we asked about dessert and our server let us down gently by saying they were sold out of desserts and their local bakers hadn't replenished their desserts yet. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we'd have some killer desserts at dinner.

Properly fortified, we headed back outside to enjoy the spring-like weather at the Morris Arboretum. You might wonder why two art-loving tourists would choose to visit an arboretum in February when trees are leafless and few flowers are in bloom (snowdrops, crocuses and heliobores were about it, but, wow, were they ever fragrant) and it would be a fair question.

Let me tell you. We wanted to experience Out on a Limb, a 450' long walkway 50' in the air, with a 12' nest complete with 3 oversize robin's egg blue eggs at one terminus and two rope suspensions built around massive trees for those brave enough to walk it or sprawl out on it at the other.

Lady G opted out of both, while I couldn't resist doing either.

Besides, even if I hadn't gotten the chance to literally hang out 50' feet up, the grounds were well worth a walk. Sure, the trees were leafless, but they were all such magnificent specimens that it was like looking at nature's sculpture as we admired the dramatic trunks and branches of massive old locusts, chestnuts and, yep, even redwoods.

Best of all, there was a TV crew there filming people's reactions to such an oddly warm day and while I was running back to the car to get my hat, G got asked to share her opinion on camera. They had no clue she was a visitor and she happily opined on the problems of warm weather arriving too early.

When she said, "We thought it would be rainy and in the 40s when we came, " I called out from off-camera, "It's going to be tomorrow!" and the crew cracked up. Needless to say, my comments didn't make it onto the 6:00 news, although G's did.

More clues for the coppers if they're hot on our trail.

Once I'd worn her out walking past keyhole ponds, outdoor sculpture (the kinetic "Two Lines" was my favorite) and fields of wild crocuses, we headed back to the Museum District to our short-term digs, accessed by going behind the gyro shop, up the 2 steps to the purple door under the blue awning, where you enter the secret code that allows you inside, where you climb three flights to apartment #4.

Good luck following that bread crumb trail, fellas.

After freshening up, we strolled to dinner, bottle of wine in hand, past Philadelphians reveling in their weather. The sheer number of shorts and tank tops we saw made us think that these people never truly pack away their summer clothes, they just push them to the back of the drawer so they're ready on days like this.

Our destination was Trattoria Carina, a former fine dining place that had recently decided to forego reservations, welcome BYOB and simplify the menu to a few housemade pastas, a couple entrees and some starters and call it a night.

Lady G wasn't in the mood to sit outside, but the host all but insisted we take the corner table outside - a prime spot with privacy - when I let on that I was dying to sit out there. It wound up being the best table anyway because everyone crossing the street - and it was prime time, after work, walk your dog time - walked within inches and most of the dogs gave us a sniff hoping for scraps.

For the record, we did not share with the dogs of Philly. Who would when the food was so good?

A tomato soup with chicken and barley was loaded with rich thigh meat and a touch of heat, while warm farro with roasted brussels sprouts made me so full I couldn't do dessert. After shells granchio arrabbiato with spicy crab, G was every bit as stuffed, a shame since we'd been owed dessert since lunch.

Instead, we walked off the wine and fabulous food at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is not only the third largest in the country, but also happens to be open on Wednesday evenings. Moseying through the Impressionist galleries, we were terribly impressed with breadth of their collection, seeing for the first time  a Monet done in England that was completely unfamiliar to both of us and looked almost Degas-like.

But it was in the American galleries that we swooned the most, what with the Sargeants, Whistlers and Philly's own Thomas Eakins. The sheer number of works and sketches by Eakins make it the largest Eakins collection in the world, although we were both a little disappointed not to see a single male nude.

Come on, Philly, we all know he painted them. Show us the goods.

The museum was lively, with lots of people also taking advantage of the evening to mill about and get lost in the art. We made it nearly till closing time, when Lady G announced that her legs had had quite enough walking, thankyouverymuch, and it was time to head back to our clandestine digs.

And even though it had been a very long, non-stop day, when we walked out of the museum only to be met with warm air, a crescent of a moon and a view of the lighted city, the sore bits were forgotten and I, for one, would have happily walked until I dropped.

Yo, Adrian, a balmy night in Philly is a seductive thing. And with my bedroom windows wide open, every bit as noisy as J-Ward.

But it's not J-Ward, and for me right now, that's just what I need.

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