ONE of the first lessons you learn in the real world is to grab your precious free time and make sure to use it well. So on this particular Saturday, as I was between trips to various parts northwards, I was finally able to catch up with some friends on their very non-real world Fall Break. (Ah, college; how I miss that about you!) Andrea, of course, is between cities too; but she made time for brunch and a tour of various cafes in Center City. And Steph came down from up north to spend the weekend in Philly, and stop one was food. As is only right.
Philly is a city of possibilities. Things are, for the most part, in walking distance from each other. And as much as people disparage Septa, it’s really not that bad. People still get where they want to go, pretty close to schedule. And the city is positively teeming with places to eat, drink, or sit and sip coffee. So faced with the challenge of finding a place to brunch today, I decided to strike out and try some place new. The unanimous vote was for something ethnic-y, so the group of us convened at the corner of 10th and Spruce for some New World Mexican fare.
We all came from different directions. Yuan came with Erik by way of Kansas; Linda rode in on Septa; Steph braved the Chinatown Bus; Andrea drove in from Cherry Hill. And the beautiful thing about Philly is that all these routes can drop you off in the same spot. Kind of like “all roads lead to Rome,” but with a Quaker edge.
So we met up, finally, at Azul Cantina, which has only been open since May. There’s a sense of newness around the place-the colors are still bright, the menu still well-tended and spotless, and some of the picture frames are still missing pictures.
The waitstaff are still working out the details. We started with one waitress, but ended up with two. The coffee grounds are too fine for the French Press they bring out (part of that New World charm), and so the coffee is both weak and swimming with grounds. And poor Erik didn’t actually have a chair at the table–he had the butt end of the bench and spent all brunch half on and half off the cushion.
But the food more than made up for it. We ordered a full spectrum, from appetizers to a wide variety of entrees. Andrea tried out one of the Mexican sodas, which was a delightful light mango drink that was neither too sweet nor too bubbly. Kind of like Baby Bear’s belongings in the Goldilocks story, it was “just right.” And I tried the smashed fruit Blackberry Mojito, which was muddied with cilantro and hit just the right spot.
We started with the Chipotle Goat Cheese Tostadas, which packed a surprising punch for how pink they were. And then, with the main courses, the sharing began. Two orders of chilaquiles–tortillas buried under mounds of ancho chile, chihuahua cheese, cilantro, avocado, and egg. One grilled burger, complete with an avocado layer and a fried egg on top. Grilled Vegetable + Black Bean Tacos. Flank Steak Tacos. Huevos Rancheros. Pulled Pork Enchiladas. Mmmmm.
Plates switched hands; forks picked off bites from their neighbors. I don’t think any of us particularly wanted the food to end–I know I didn’t. I’m happy to stay anywhere the food is good and fresh; the mojitos are plentiful; and the conversation takes us to interesting pathways. And Andrea’s moving to Philly, which means I’ll have another food-goer to take on adventures! (Andrea, this is advance warning.)
Even after we’d settled the bill and nudged ourselves back into our jackets–Philly is finally getting chilly–we weren’t ready to part company. So on a quest for more food, more sustenance, and more conversation, we headed en masse to Naked Chocolate Cafe on Walnut Street. We picked up Loretta and Heather there, and Yuan tried out the lemon bar while she and Erik trudged through their Aztec sipping chocolate. (Scrumptious, but thick and heavy. Do not consume on an over-stuffed tummy.)
From Naked Chocolate, we made our way down to the Last Drop on Pine Street; here, we met up with some others–we were becoming a veritable Pied Piper group by this point–and here it was that we decided to part. Errands had to be run, laundry done. And Yuan still had to go pick up some students from the airport. Fall break ends on Monday, and people are slowly starting to straggle back to campus. And Yuan, bless her heart, is there to oversee that shift back to the hallowed dorm halls.
As a breather before another trip, it was a beautiful day. I love the walkability of Philadelphia, and we took grand advantage of that. I love crisp air; there was a bite to the day that urged us to quicker steps, but did not hinder our plans. We explored a new brunch place, and though I think it could still use some maturing (the coffee, especially, and the waitress who kept trying to push alcoholic beverages even though we’d made it quite clear that some of us were not going to imbibe), it was still a beautifully laid out meal and a beautifully maintained space–not unlike Frida Kahlo‘s Casa Azul in Mexico City.
Even better, of course, was the unexpectedness of it all. Coincidence and fate seemed to play a hand in today’s venture–Linda and I had planned to meet up today, but we hadn’t known Yuan would be back in time to come out and play, nor that she’d be able to convince Erik to come into town with her. Steph and Andrea were able to shift their plans to join in the fun, too, and of course later on we dragged Loretta and Heather around with us. Ah, Philly! How you inspire!