I love public markets.
Whether it’s Milwaukee’s Public Market or San Diego’s Liberty Station Market or Chicago’s French Market, I’m always ridiculously excited by a mass of stalls sporting spices, local delicacies, savory grab-and-go restaurants, and a communal atmosphere.
It’s why I was also happy to have extended my stay in Philadelphia to include the Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch Sts., pronounced red-ing). So far it’s the largest market I’ve hit and even through two passes, I was wondering if I’d regret passing over something (note: I did). I suppose that’s what return trips are for?
First off, it’s not just food.
The Cookbook Stall could give endless ideas for the spices you found at The Head Nut (which also has some amazing bulk options for spices and candies and nut mixes, great if you’re on the go). Fresh seafood enticed from a few stalls, as did meat and poultry and dairy stalls. If that doesn’t impress, maybe the endless rows of olive varieties, the grilled cheese stall, the Indian and Pakistani food stall, the Cajun Cafe, those ubiquitous Philly cheesesteak stalls, Pearl’s Oyster Bar, Profi’s Creperie, a huge produce array, the impressive by-the-pound buffet, or the insane Original Turkey sandwich stall among their 24 restaurants will.
But I’m not done. A dozen Pennsylvania Dutch shops sweet-talk with amazing donuts, deli spreads, dairy and ribs (did you have to ask? Of course it’s locally sourced).
I had to make a choice.
Settling on Keven Parker’s Soul Food Cafe, their chicken was ample, though I was sad to miss out on mac and cheese, as they were out. Forget seasoning–this chicken was fried and seasoned to perfection and needed nothing but a healthy appetite. This cafe features the same type of food at his Miss Tootsie’s RBL on South Street (that I kept missing by my weird hours out on the town), but instead of a sit-down Parker calls it “feel good fast food.” This I can attest to. His fresh tropical tea with a slice of watermelon was perfection on a hot Philly day and a perfect capper to the meal.
Not to say I stopped eating.
I still stopped off at Bassett’s Ice Cream for Whyy Experience ice cream (vanilla with butterscotch swirls and chocolate covered pretzels, one of their fresh and original flavors that rotate out among other delectables like Pomegranate Bluberry Chunk and Guatemalan Ripple. Sadly it was just OK and I’d likely get a different flavor with a little more oomph.
But as I said earlier, I know I’d regret missing out on something. The doughnuts feel like a must, as do the ribs and a stop at the Oyster Bar (at this point, even I was tired of seafood). I could easily have stopped here each of my eight days in Philly and still not have repeated a meal, or indeed, gotten tired of it.
Reading Terminal Market is worth a stop, especially if you’re in a group or are faced with a picky eater (or are one yourself). If you can leave hungry, indeed, you’re doing something wrong.