It’s All About the Benjamin Franklin [Not Really.]
Like New York, Philadelphia’s vegan options are ever-evolving.
From the vegan mock meat Asian restaurants I visited decades ago when I briefly contemplated moving to Philly with a friend to all the brief day trips through the passing years, today’s highlights are a quick skimming off the mound of Philly vegan options to get to. Being barely less than 2 hours away, a quick trip is easy and does not require too much pressure or cramming. First, a stop The Market at Miss Rachel’s Pantry.
A fan of Rachel’s vintage aesthetic, her space is adorable firstly.
The case is stocked with some truly unique vegan finds. Golden beet “lox,” “whitefish” salad, housemade nut cheeses, knishes, cakes, quiche pies, etc. These, along with her Market dishes, are a new genre–southern down home Jewish deli.
I had the Hummingbird Cake to start, which is one of those things I will always have to get if available. Trouble is, besides my own attempt, I’ve never seen it vegan! So it is wonderful to have this tall, beautiful slice staring at me.
Nutty, banana-y, spiced–Miss Rachel does a lovely Hummingbird Cake. Though it’s a bit of a southern thing, I am hoping more vegan bakeries will take the cake on!
Next was a grilled cheese on housemade challah bread… with the housemade cheese and tempeh bits. It was a glistening, oozy, salty piece of vegan goodness. But it maybe got a little too salty after repeated bites.
Other vegan challah breadmakers, Maywood Pancake House and Rutherford Pancake House, have also stayed with your standard slices rather than the traditional braided. I wonder if a vegan braided challah was ever attempted… Oh, Isa did it! And Blossom! [And this recipe from Earth Balance looks pretty darn good.]
CP’s big ol’ bowl of Mac and Cheese.
Later, another meal. We headed to Front Street Cafe in the heavy gentri neighborhood of Fishtown. I had excitedly viewed the menu from afar and was really looking forward to a vegan Tofu Benedict, my brunch favorite.
I enjoyed this dish a great deal despite it being pretty cold upon arrival… despite it not being a Benny, but more a tofu scramble piled on thick bread. The mushroom-lentil scrapple was yummy, as were the bites with the bright, vegan Hollandaise. I guess the dish just needed much more of that sauce as textures were pretty dry. So yes, thin down that Hollandaise and douse all those other delicious ingredients.
Before heading out, a quick stop at Hip City Veg for a cupcake and a vegan Philly Cheesesteak to go (more on that later).
Though it isn’t really “urban exploration” if you pay an admission fee and grab a headphones set for an audio tour, Eastern State Penitentiary is great stop to explore and roam if you’re in the Philadelphia area. I’m going to tag this post under “urban exploration” anyway, by merit of the beautiful peeling paint.
Opened in 1829, it was radically different in its form and intent. Born of The Enlightenment, the Eastern State was the first “penitentiary,” a place where isolation, labor, along with the centrally heated individual cell–each with its own skylight and flush toilet–was thought to bring prisoners to penitence, regretting their wrongdoing. Though the exterior of the building seems Medieval and foreboding, inside it was a “forced monastery,” built to move prisoners to reflect on their actions and heal with the glory of the heavenly light streaming through the skylight. Though this model seemed a more humane approach then previous dealings with those who broke the law, I find agreement with Charles Dickens’s take on the system:
In its intention I am well convinced that it is kind, humane, and meant for reformation; but I am persuaded that those who designed this system of Prison Discipline, and those benevolent gentleman who carry it into execution, do not know what it is that they are doing….I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye,… and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment in which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.
Read more of its rich history here.
At the forefront of modernity and progressive institutional architecture, inmates had running water in their cells in a time when President Andrew Jackson had no such thing in The White House.
It was left abandoned between 1971 and the mid-1980’s.
Saved from demolition and redevelopment in 1988, how wonderful the site exists to tell the rich history of these walls.
Tours began in 1994. Visitors needed to sign liability forms and wear hard hats.
Trivia: Philadelphia’s Dead Milkmen used the prison as a backdrop to their catchy single, Punk Rock Girl. Other filmings include a Tina Turner video, vegan-centric dystopian 12 Monkeys, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the one and only movie I’ve viewed at a drive-in, oddly enough.
Many of the original details were left as-is, like this mop station.
You can step into many cells for small, related exhibits. Though it is a crowded, tourist stop, there are opportunities for–isolation.
A gold leaf art exhibit in one of the cells.
Along with other notable prisoners, Al Capone had a cell here. This art installation shows the set-up of his cozy cell.
Though Eastern State Penitentiary is worth a trip for many reasons, nothing made more of an impact than the small guided tour of penitentiary Chaplain’s office and its amazing collection of 23 murals painted by reformed inmate Lester Smith. The collection depicts his spiritual reform. Though abused during the years of abandonment in the 70’s and 80’s, Lester Smith’s murals have been beautifully conserved, making a stop in the Chaplain’s office a must.
At the close of the short talk, one of our tour guides shared his moving story, which paralleled the reform of inmate Lester Smith. Incarcerated as a young man, art helped save him. “Curtis” offered an inspiring and hopeful end to a space that ached with the collective misfortune of the penitentiary’s inmates.