138 South Second Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 413-1443

I arrived by train at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station to meet the fam for a little trip through the City of Brotherly Love. See, Bro has moved there and, couple that with some existing vacation time, we all decided to converge there and spend a long weekend wandering (side note: Bro threatens to create his own Philly food blog, link to follow should it ever happen). After a wee bit of debate, the decision was to try out City Tavern, a restaurant in the Old City neighborhood that specializes in colonial-era cooking and which traces its roots to the days when it fed the Founding Fathers.

In a very real sense, City Tavern is a theme restaurant. Just the way that Jekyll & Hyde is like eating in a haunted house, and Rainforest Cafe is like eating in a jungle, and Planet Hollywood is like eating in the cafeteria of a Madame Tussaud's, City Tavern is like eating in 1785. The staff dress in colonial-style clothing, the water goblets are faux-pewter, tall candles decorate the table, it's dark because there isn't any lighting, the food and even the beer is largely based on recipes from the colonial-era, and there isn't any music. Someone was playing a piano at one point, but not for very long. This lends an eerie silence to the place, as everyone tries to talk in a whisper to prevent other patrons from listening in.

The City Tavern waiting room.

If there is one thing that colonial food was, it's simple. These were not elegant dishes, not fancy dishes, and there was hardly even the attempt to make them such. I think this was my biggest problem with City Tavern. Given the cost (expensive), I expected more. Maybe colonial food is just boring in general and to make it "better" would delete its colonial character. But personally, I need way more than kitch to be willing to shell out this much cash again.

The second floor dining room.
For an appetizer, Dudeman ordered the Crab Cakes "Chesapeake Style" with an herbed remoulade dipping sauce. These were very good. Creamy, loaded with crab instead of bread. Easily, it was the best thing of anything we ordered on the menu this evening. Unfortunately, that means that everything else wasn't as impressive. And so it was with the Mallard Duck Sausage, a duck and pork sausage over sweet and sour cabbage. While Bro liked it, finding that the sausage was well spiced and flavorful, I found it pretty bland and in dire need of the cabbage. My appetizer was the Giant Cornmeal Fried Oysters, and they were indeed giant. They were decent, deep fried and, coated with some tartar sauce, not bad. But nothing better than I could have gotten at any one of a dozen pubs for less money. Shrink ordered the Mushroom Barley Soup and, when I asked what she thought, she replied "it's salty mushroom barley soup".

Bro ordered the Roasted Duckling in a clover honey glaze with chutney, herbed barley, zucchini and asparagus, again, he won out with best entree. The glaze, while a little thick, worked well with the duck, which wasn't fatty in the least. The steamed vegetables were fine and clearly barley was the go-to side of the time. Dudeman went with the Medallions of Venison in a rosemary bourbon sauce with herbed barley, leek and vegetables. He found it gamey and that's not surprising for venison. As we passed the dish around, everyone just sort of nodded their assent. A venison stew. No more, no less. My dinner was the Tenderloin Tips & Mushrooms, beef cubes over egg noodles in a mushroom cream sauce. If you have ever had beef Stroganoff, then you've had this. All that they changed was the name. Don't get me wrong, I like beef Stroganoff. But by the third bite I was literally bored. Shrink's Braised Rabbit in a mushroom vegetable red wine sauce, also over egg noodles was too heavy on the wine sauce, so you could barely taste the rabbit.

My dessert was a Chocolate Mousse Cake based on a recipe by Martha Washington. It was very smooth, very creamy. Not bad. But it wasn't as good as the Apple Cobbler that Bro ordered (again, besting me), though it came with a cinnamon ice cream that I didn't much care for. Mostly this was because the cobbler was already cinnamony and it made the spice too prominent.

I feel like City Tavern is the kind of place that a tourist to Philadelphia might go to after having visited the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and so forth. It can wrap up the whole colonial experience before moving on to the more modern things that the city has to offer. But I can't envision going here again personally, and I don't see City Tavern a restaurant that would be appealing to anyone who isn't here as a tourist.

Four appetizers, four entrees, four coffees, two desserts and some drinks came to $ after tax and tip.

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