Sitting in the back room of the Monk’s Café listening to dinner conversations and Neil Young on the stereo with fresh mussels, pommes frites with bourbon mayonnaise and Belgian beer from the tap in front of us, it was easy to remember why this is one of my favorite places in PA.
Few things please me more than good food, good drink and a good atmosphere to enjoy them. Monk’s Café, located at 264 16th street in Philadelphia delivers the trifecta. I had been secretly hoping to squeeze in a visit during our stay in Philadelphia. When we arrived in center city around 8 pm last evening, the time seemed right. If only we could find the place.
After we circled a few blocks and before we gave up and walked home hungry, we spotted a newspaper vending box with one lone copy of the City Paper left inside. We checked the listing and turned down the one street we hadn’t tried – 16th. Unlike the rest of the restaurants and cafes we had passed, Monk’s was crowded. 8:30 on a Monday night and there was still a 10 minute wait for tables in the front room.
Luckily, Michael and I both prefer to sit in the little known smaller back room, which meant there was space waiting for us. I ordered a Lucifer, a crisp light brew with a hint of cloves; Michael chose the even more flavorful Gouden Cardus Tripel. For dinner, we shared a small pot of Ghent Mussels – mussels steamed with “saison Dupont,” parsley, caramelized leeks, bacon, bleu cheese and garlic – with pommes frites (French fries) and a spicy bourbon mayonnaise as a side.
It tasted even better than it sounds.
The bourbon mayonnaise bears no resemblance to the white spread that Michael hates. Its gentle bite accents the crisp thin fries and goes well with every beverage selection that we’ve tried. The small pot of mussels was plenty for two of us to share, but I’ll have to admit using the warm olive bread that was served with it to sop up more caramelized onions and bacon from the bottom of the pot.
To wash down the meal, Michael selected a Grottenbierre; I had the Monk’s Café Sour Flemish Ale which, in retrospect, I should have sampled before ordering. In contrast to Michael’s smooth and dark malty choice, the sour beer was a bit too sour, tasting like a penny. I can’t say the bartender didn’t warn me and she did know her stuff. When we asked about a particular beer she couldn’t recall, she came over and had a taste of it with us so we could sample it and she would be prepared the next time someone asked. That’s professionalism I can appreciate.
This is perhaps the third or fourth time we’ve been to the Monk’s Café and each visit has been this good. Although the mussels are our favorite, the burgers and sausages are meaty and equally delicious. Everything on the menu is affordable. I haven’t seen a larger selection of Belgian beers outside of Brugge.
By the time we finished our meal, Valley Forge was catching up to us and we decided to return to our host’s home to rest up for today, which we knew would be equally busy.
Purchased Monday evening at REI, they proved themselves today as we traversed the streets of center city Philadelphia, navigating stressful security lines for the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall**, strolling through the calmer sites of Franklin Court and New Hall Military Museum, trudging disappointingly away from the closed Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial and later, chasing after Henry and Frida, our charges, at the local dog park this evening.
Apparently, these hybrid kicks are the hot ticket this season. I’ve already drawn envious sighs from staff at other outfitters as we went in search for a pair for Michael. After four tries, we eventually found an even cooler version for him in dark blue. I was wary at first. I had my eye on a new pair of sneakers and these looked a little too similar to the sandals that I tease my friend Bruce for owning. But these have a strong rubber tread and an inside which molds to your feet as you wear them, similar to Birkenstocks. They can be worn on trails, in streams, on the street, running, walking, hiking, climbing. Fully functional. And although we don’t categorize ourselves among the hard core outdoor folks that usually sport this style, I need me some fully functional footwear.
I feel legit.
**Notes: As we go from place to place, we will be rating each site according to our unique perspective and experience in 10 distinctive categories. Click here to see the newest addition to the site – the Ratings Page.
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