Creole calamari, Fisher's pretzels.
After I retired from restaurant reviews, I swore I'd never, ever voluntarily eat another order of fried calamari again. Too many times I'd been lured in by menu descriptions that involved the words "crispy" or "tender." I'd bite into it, only to discover the batter tasted like damp socks and the squid like bicycle inner tubes. No amount of mayonnaise-based dipping sauce or doctored tomato paste could obscure the flaws of the majority of calamari squiggling its way onto plates in Philadelphia. And yet, like so many other things I swore I'd never do again, I found myself somehow ordering the creole calamari last week at Sidecar. It's good. Damn good. I might even call it some of the best I've had in town. It's described as "crispy outside, tender inside" on the menu, and for once in the history of calamari, this is not a big fat lie: It's meltingly tender on the inside and blessedly crisp on the outside. The hickory-smoked tomato dipping sauce adds just the right twist. After chronicling the rough times owners Adam and Jen Ritter had getting Sidecar open in an article a few years back, I was delighted to see they've really transformed this former nuisance bar into a neighborhood institution. Now I wish someone would hurry up and do it with the crappy nuisance bar on my block. >> Sidecar Bar & Grille, 2201 Christian St. 215.732.3429. www.thesidecarbar.com
I have a special spot in my heart for Fisher's, the soft pretzel and candy stall in Reading Terminal Market. Their seminal soft pretzel was the subject of the first column I ever wrote for this paper four years ago, and I really believe they are one of the two finest examples of this species of bread product in town. Despite my great love for the magnificent pretzels, I try to limit my intake because they're one of most highly addictive substances on the planet. When I visit the market, I give the stall wide berth--usually. But last week I was chauffeuring my grandmother around the market (or I should say, trailing behind her as she carefully inspected the lamb chops at every single butcher in the place until she found one worthy of purchase) and decided I needed a reward for keeping up with this shopping machine. My big prize was scrambled eggs, crumbled spiced sausage and cheese rolled up and tucked into an envelope of pretzel dough. It might change your life. And it's yet another reason for me to visit--or try to avoid--Fisher's. >> Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch sts. 215922.2317. www.readingterminalmarket.org