My Review of the Italian Restaurant at the Philadelphia Airport
What’s worse than a two-hour layover in Philadelphia?
A three-hour layover in Philadelphia, my least favorite American city.
Oh well, as the Romans say – when in Philly behave as a Philadelphian. Since there are no bare walls to tag with graffiti or opposing sports fans to beat up, I’ll try my best to blend in other ways.
Here at the Philadelphia International Airport, there’s a little sit-down Italian restaurant with a table and chair awaiting my presence, my hearty appetite, and ultimately my critique.
This “review” wasn’t planned. It just happened. Just like the multitude of random rituals each of use encounters – some amusing, others appalling – that make days like this one more memorable than others. Travel days are infinitely more unpredictable than days at home. Not that this is necessarily a good thing.
I once described the Philadelphia International Airport as a lifeless structure that resembles the “Social Security Administration laying on its side.” Even though some of America’s best traditional old-world Italian restaurants can be found within just a few miles in South Philadelphia, fine dining isn’t an option on this side of the TSA checkpoint. For those of us trapped in airport purgatory, it’s pretty much a choice between the food court or this sit-down Italian restaurant with a “scenic view” overlooking the tarmac.
Minutes after taking a seat, the restaurant already has three strikes against it.
First, rap music is blasting from the speakers. Rap music. Loud. In an airport. Explain please?
Second, the wine prices are outrageous. I figure a few hours easily allows for the consumption of a bottle of wine and I have every intention of treating my refined palate to the spoils of a some autumn grape harvest from 2009.
The vintage wine selection is remarkably varied – a solid mix of bottles from California, France, and Italy (definitely out). Prices start at $12 – er glass! Twelve bucks! This would be fine if we were being served something decent, but there’s no way I’m going to watch baggage handlers busting luggage off the plane and sip wine out of a bottle that costs $9 at Costco.
Plus, I’m in a my white wine phase this time of year, and given the oppressive summer heat, I could definitely guzzle a down a full bottle of Chardonnay. Trouble is, the cheapest pick of the overpriced litter is Clos de Bois – tagged at $76 a bottle. That’s right, $76 a bottle! Last time I checked, it was like $11 a bottle at the store.
Since the Philadelphia Airport surcharge makes everything cost prohibitive, I’m passing on the wine. I simply refuse to pay those inflated prices. I’ll drink fucking Coors and vote Republican before I’d pay that.
And now for the restaurant’s third strike. They assign me a pregnant waitress, which means she’s probably not going to be moving very fast. So, the girl who looks like she’s about to pop a pup asks me for my drink order. I respond that I’d like to order a bottle of wine, but can’t believe the fucking prices.
“Well, that’s what we charge,” she snaps.
Fine. There’s always my version of old faithful. “Bring me a bottle of Pellegrino mineral water,” I say.
“We don’t carry that.”
Huh? An Italian restaurant doesn’t carry Pellegrino? In Philadelphia? That’s blasphemy. That’s like not serving spaghetti.
I resist an insatiable urge to abandon this sinking ship. That would be pointless. After all, where would I go? To Sbarro over in the food court? Dunkin’ Donuts? McDonalds? Just fucking shoot me.
Painted into a corner of no choices, I make the best out of a bad situation. I order the spinach salad as a starter, fettucine alfredo as my entree (how do you fuck that up?), and and order of garlic bread.
Oh, the garlic bread is a story in an of itself. I asked the waitress what kind of bread they normally serve with the meal, which triggers more attitude.
“What kind of bread do we serve? What do you mean?” she asks.
“I mean, what kind of bread is it?”
“Bread, it’s bread,” she says.
I’m picky about my bread. I don’t want the bread unless it’s good. I don’t want cold stale bread. And I sure as shit won’t eat bread unless I get real butter. I’m the world’s biggest bread asshole.
“I mean, is it fresh baked here?” I ask. “Is it like Italian bread?
“This is an airport,” she says. “I don’t really know where it’s baked, sir.”
“Alight then, just bring me an order of garlic toast.”
Twenty minutes later, the food arrives and to my shock, it’s actually pretty good. Not exactly “go out of your way and make dinner reservations here” good. I’m not recommending you cancel your Chef Moulenoux reservations on Friday night and come here instead. More like, “if you come off a plane starving and don’t want to eat at McDonald’s, then this place is serviceable” good. Understand the difference?
Of course, the clincher to the story is always a surprise. After paying a $45 bill, I exit. The kicker happens every time.
What is Philadelphia known for? I mean, besides mafia murders and frozen food warehouses? You guessed it.
Walking to the gate, I catch an intoxicating whiff of onions. Sizzling onions. And cooked beef. The beef that drips with tasty fat, engulfed in a smoke that makes the Philly Cheesesteak about the only fast food I will eat.
I walk by a restaurant that serves Philly Cheesesteak. Wine at $5 a glass. And no pregnant waitresses.
Next time, I’ll know better.