PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Is this you? A couple walks into a bar and before they’re seated, two drinks are mixed and placed. In our case it’s a Martini and a Manhattan. It’s, “The Usual.” It’s not much different in favorite restaurants. You may have wide-ranging tastes, but at certain eateries, there’s a tendency to always opt for one or two dishes that especially tantalize our taste buds on that particular menu. So, concentrating on lunch, here are some of my favorites at frequently frequented local spots.
This popular Old City hot spot has the feel of a 1950’s Havana street scene. From a colorful Latin facade to the traditional overhead fans, the throwback setting creates a mood. For me, it also creates a craving for – Levanta Muerto. That is a soup, crowded with seafood and spiced to provide a warm tingle without fire. What does the name mean? – “Raise the Dead.” It certainly gets my attention. While other dishes follow, here, Levanta Muerto is my “usual.”
Modeled after an upscale English Pub with furnishings that could have once occupied its British counterpart in country or city, Dandelion has the comfort and service expected of English hospitality. Dark wood bars and a fireplace add to authenticity. The deviled eggs and a U.K. brewed beer are good starting points. But I always order “the usual” when it’s time to get to serious eating. Fish and Chips. The cod is delicately beer battered and fried to a light golden sheen that provides a light crunch with a moist filet and a blend of flavors that brings out the best in both. Warning: It’ll be hard not to fill up on the chips (fries) – outstanding.
This Skippack Bistro is a place for all moods. It holds an active evening bar with incredibly well mixed cocktails, a small dining room with small plates and a wood fired pizza oven, topped by an upstairs, upscale room with a compact American and Continental menu. For the visual appeal and flavor, our usual here is a bar staple. It’s a creatively decorated Martini glass that holds a cocktail of crustaceans that defy the name, “Shrimp.” Their tails almost reach the stem. Pair it with favorite drinks and you’re ready to settle in for some communal bar conversation.
This King of Prussia eatery was a “go-to” spot for KYW’s Suburban Bureau in nearby Norristown when traditional Italian favorites would grip the mid-day lunch quest. Over the years, the dish of choice turned out to be the rich Bolognese meat sauce that is liberally ladled over a plate of rigatoni. The blend of veal, beef and pork generates a flavor high that becomes an obsession for anyone who follows their cravings. And so, at Peppers, it becomes “the usual”.
If your cravings run to sweet and delicate Asian sauces and new takes on Chinese food for American tastes, Yang Ming on the Main Line has been our spot for years. While I can’t help meandering around the intriguing menu, I habitually return to one plate that has withstood the test of time and changing luncheon temptations – it’s the Shrimp with Honey Walnuts in a garlic infused sauce. The shrimp is coated and sauteed to combine with walnuts, creating a combination that suggests you linger over lunch and savor each morsel, thus making this shrimp dish, “the usual.”
It is a bakery that turns out loaves to compete with the best of South Philly. But it resides in the Burbs where some of the area’s most popular restaurants fill their baskets. But the Collegeville Bakery is more. There’s the pizzeria, Italian favorites, takeout imports and the once-a-month pig roast. That’s every third Thursday when the amiable Steve Carcarey and his family roast up a whole pig in time for the noon lunch crowd. It’s fresh, moist, and when nestled in one of the bakery’s Italian rolls, leaves us enthusiastically dubbing it, “the usual.”
Find your usual and the servers will never have to ask, “What’ll you have?”