Thursday, April 16, 2009

Philly Alfresco

Although it’s been hard to tell lately, it is, in fact, springtime in the city. Yes, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping and it’s beginning to warm up (most days). After the winter we’ve had, what better way to enjoy the weather than to take it outside? Your food that is. Dining alfresco is like an event in the city. On any mild day you can see lines of people vying for those outdoor seats, waiting to see and be seen. Here are some of the top places those warm-weather crowds are flocking to wine, dine and take in some of that well deserved sunshine.

The Plough and the Stars (123 Chestnut St): This warm Irish restaurant, which opened in 1997, is known as much for its outdoor seating as it is for the grand former bank building in which it is now housed. An Old City fixture for years, Plough and the Stars specializes in Irish fare with a Continental flare, and an appreciation for locally grown produce and ingredients. They also feature live music most days, often of the lively traditional Irish variety. The alfresco seating offers awesome views of the most bustling part of Old City and even comes with some large umbrellas to provide a little shade. So, if you’re ever in the area, Plough and the Stars is a can’t miss - literally, the bustling crowds are often the loudest on the street.

El Vez (121 S. 13th St): Of course, no talk of Philly restaurants is complete without a mention of a Stephen Starr creation. El Vez, often overshadowed by its more famous Starr cousins, is at the epicenter of Midtown Village, one of the up and coming neighborhoods in the city. Serving funky and fun Mexican food in a funky interior (complete with a bejeweled motorcycle and gold velvet booths), it also has some of the city’s best outdoor seating. With things on the menu ranging from classic burritos to the “Cesar Chavez” salad, Mexican food lovers will love the loud and over the top atmosphere of El Vez. It’s also great for people watching due to its proximity to some other great Midtown dining spots (i.e. Raw Sushi, Capogiro Gelato, Vintage Wine Bar, etc.)

Tria Washington Square (12th and Spruce Sts): Its high profile sibling, Tria Rittenhouse Square, is already quite well known for its sidewalk seating so close the park. This second Tria venture, while conceptually the same, is contextually very different. Located on a much less bustling corner of the quaint Antique Row section of the city, Tria offers some of the best selections of bruschettas, cheeses and white and red wines in the city. While they do offer a few salads and sandwiches to quench the hungry, their concentration - what they are best known for - is the continental beer, wine and cheese. On a good day, it is almost always packed with neighborhood locals hoping to take in the picturesque tree-lined streets and prewar townhouses. Don’t fret even if you can’t get a seat outdoors; the windows slide open fully to allow an open air experience for indoor diners too.

Le Bus Rittenhouse Square (135 S. 18th St): This small, local bread chain has quickly become one of the most popular bakeries in the area. Started nearly twenty five years ago, they began serving food from an old converted school bus on our very own Penn campus. Gradually, it gained so much popularity that it became a bread supplier to restaurants across the region. Now, it has established a Rittenhouse bakery that is often packed with locals yearning to get a taste of their wide variety of breads and pastries. From bagels to brioche to croissants and scones, Le Bus is a baked goods lover’s dream. While it’s outdoor seating is limited, if you go on a good day and manage to grab a sidewalk table, it can be unparalleled. Located right down from the square on one of the busiest city streets, Le Bus is a great place for people watching while munching on a muffin or sipping on some coffee.

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