Christmasy surprises, one after another

Dishes 207-8: Fish and Chips at the Whip Tavern, 1383 N. Chatham Road, Coatesville

Cheese and Potato Tart at the Marshalton Inn, 1300 West Strasburg Rd, West Chester

Whip Tavern fish and chips = minor food coma

Full-bellied, we drove into the town of Marshalton at dusk, after a full afternoon of puttering around Bucks County in search of horses, goats, grain silos, and the Whip Tavern. (Check, check, check, and check!) The Marshalton Inn was our last stop before heading back to Philly for an action packed Saturday night.

A block from the Inn, there was a park centering on the ruins of a historical stone building iced in white Christmas lights. Parents milled around the crumbling fireplaces, where fresh crackling fires had been lit; boys and girls played tag, cutting off white-haired revelers stopping by the sweets table for cookies and a Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. Tim parked behind a silver pickup which had evidently been holding, until recently, a very large Christmas tree—and directly ahead, we saw its precious cargo: the town tree. We climbed out of the car and up the embankment where we were absorbed into the small crowd. A tall woman with glasses smiled warmly. “Are you two new in town? I haven’t seen you before.” We explained that we were just passing through, and she nodded, “Wonderful! Well, you’re just in time, we’re about to light the tree. The carolers will start any second now, go get some hot chocolate before they begin!” We wandered towards the fold up table loaded down with three by eight feet worth of cookies—sugar, chocolate chip, fudgy, store bought and homemade, rum-soaked—and were nearly overwhelmed by the choices. The tree flickered on for a second, reminding us to hurry up, and we each picked a cookie and a cup of hot chocolate before heading back towards the excitement. The choir finished God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and then everyone counted down together… four… three… two… ONE… and cheers erupted from the crowd as the tree lit up, beautiful against the night sky.

*  *  *

Dishes 209-11: Beer Battered Dill Pickles at Memphis Taproom, 2331 East Cumberland St

Sausage Pizza at Tacconelli’s, 2604 East Somerset St

Fried Shrimp at Sid Booker’s, 4600 North Broad

In light of the recent and escalating violence in Kensington, I have decided to forfeit the two dishes located in this neighborhood, at Memphis Taproom and at Tacconelli’s. For the same reason of safety I am also going to forfeit Sid Booker’s famous shrimp by Temple.

*  *  *

Dishes 212-4: Asian Eggplant at Thai Basil, 653 Haddon Ave, Collingswood

Short Ribs at Nunzio’s, 706 Haddon Ave, Collingswood

Gnocchi at Sapori, 601 Haddon Ave, Collingswood

I recently walked into a seminar several minutes late, as the instructor was in the midst of a rant about how North Jersey is so different from South Jersey and it should really just secede, because South Jersey doesn’t want to associate itself with North Jersey anyway. I had no idea the feeling was mutual. GOOD. Make fun all you like, at least we have all our teeth and don’t wear elastic waist jeans to the bar.

Tim is from a faraway place where the North/South Jersey divide doesn’t even register on the radar. So while I didn’t want to look petty by talking trash, I’d honestly rather eat a can of Crisco than cross the BFB. Thankfully he is insistent and goal-oriented and managed to drag my ambitions to the surface through a heavy quagmire of ingrained regional pride. “These three restaurants [Thai Basil, Nunzio’s, and Sapori] are all close together, what do you think about hitting those tonight?” I hesitated. He started again. “Or not, we don’t have to. But you only have two weeks left for all these, we should get a couple tonight.” I squirmed like a first grader who had been hoarding crayons in her desk. Not Collingswood… the South Jersey restaurants have been delicious, but they’re so farrrrr, out in the burbs- whyyyyyyy…  “Okayyyyyy. Okay. Ok. No really, it’s fine.”

White lights wrapped around the lollipop trees lining Haddon Ave and lit the driving rain to almost cheerful levels. Lights arched across the street, spelling out “Season’s Greetings!” welcomed us to the quiet downtown of BYO’s. Thai Basil was hushed, jarred occasionally by the ringing laughter of a small group. Nunzio’s no longer offers short ribs on the menu—“Would you like something else?” “Maybe, what’s good?” “Oh, we have a great rack of lamb.” “I don’t think so, thank you.” “The veal chop, perhaps?” “Um, no thanks.”

 Two blocks down, Sapori hosted an intimate Christmas party of stylish women with highlighted black hair in different age-appropriate styles; two men, willing captives, looked on with amused smiles. The stone walls encircling the restaurant lent an unexpected coziness; feeling a strange glow from someplace within my chest, I looked at Tim. “I think—you know, this place is nice.” He agreed enthusiastically. The carrot and butternut squash purees served with the bread were so light and seasonal, and the atmosphere so friendly. “And—it isn’t that far from the city, after all.” No, no it isn’t, he agreed. “I kind of—wouldn’t mind coming back.”


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