Chuck and I are both originally from Philadelphia. He grew up just across the bridge in South Jersey and moved into Philly right out of high school, and I grew up in the northern burbs, moved around after college, and moved back a few years before meeting Chuck.
We really miss Philly food, there are just some things you can’t get here in Florida.
So recently, I had a client hosting an industry event, who flew me in for the event. I added on an extra night to explore our old stomping grounds in South Philadelphia, and then another on the end to spend with family.
The Bella Vista neighborhood of Philadelphia is in South Philadelphia, south of South Street, and encompassing the iconic Italian Market. So there is fantastic food to enjoy everywhere you look.
Rather than stay in a larger Center City hotel, I chose a quirky boutique hotel called the Philadelphia Hotel Bella Vista. It’s a cluster of townhouses whose owners had an antique shop, and all of the rooms are decorated in unique, curated collectibles.
The hotel offers suites, rooms with private baths and rooms with shared baths.
I chose the City View Room on the third floor, a room with a queen bed, a shared bath, and a shared kitchenette. The room was decorated in a Caribbean vibe, sunny peach-toned walls with ocean blue accents and nautical-themed décor.
The room also had a balcony that overlooked the Center City Philadelphia skyline, while it was a dozen or so blocks off in the distance, it was nice to sit, relax and take in the views.
The hotel was very quiet, once I booked I was emailed an access code for both the front door and my room as well as a phone number and email in case I needed anything.
The hardest part of the trip for me was exploring the Italian Market and knowing I wouldn’t be able to stock up and take much home with me.
The market is now a mixture of Italian, Mexican, and Southeast Asian grocers, stores, and restaurants, so there is a lot to explore.
I made a beeline for Isgro’s Italian Bakery for a freshly filled cannoli. We lived a few blocks away, and this used to be a regular occurrence.
During my 24 hours in Bella Vista, I also had dinner at Ralph’s, the oldest Italian restaurant in the country. A tiny little row house that makes ‘GRAVY”, not sauce has incredible homemade meatballs served with a bit of South Philly attitude and delicious home cooking.
I had delicious lasagna, the rich, dense kind with plenty of ground meat, ricotta cheese, and gravy.
I also came back past Ralph’s the next morning to hit up Sarcone’s, known for their incredible bread and tomato pie.
South Philadelphia tomato pie is different from southern tomato pie, which is more like a quiche with fresh tomatoes. This is expertly made bread dough, baked in a large shallow rectangular pan, and topped with rich, chunky gravy; and a little sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
It’s AMAZING, and while to some, it resembles a pizza, it’s just not the same.
I saw children from nearby St Mary’s school walking to go see the Liberty Bell, something I think I last did when I was about their age. So, I ducked in and looked on in awe like I had years before.
Even though we were both raised in the city, we have talked about heading back for a week to just explore new restaurants, eat some iconic foods at little hole-in-the-wall places, and see some new museums and historical sites we hadn’t explored in ages.
Be sure to check back to find out about my visit with two fantastic foodie friends impacting the Philly food scene.