By Denise Clay
While I love writing about politics and the people who practice it, there’s another thing that I love writing about just as much.
My dream job would be writing a weekly column in which I go to lunch with various politicians to see if I could figure out what makes them tick by seeing what they eat. What does President Obama eat when he goes to Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Va.? Does Speaker of the House John Boehner eat oranges?
But since that hasn’t happened yet, I’ll take writing about food, restaurants, food trends, and all of the stuff that goes into what we eat. And since I wanted to do it for the readers of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, that meant running it by our Managing Editor, Teresa Emerson.
So naturally, I took her to lunch.
We went to Darling’s Diner@ the Piazza at Schmidt’s in Northern Liberties. I had been there a couple of times and decided that it would be the best place to make my pitch for a food column because it’s the kind of place that both hipsters in need of munchies to take the overdrinking edge off and families looking for a quick Saturday brunch can go to and enjoy.
Because the diner is an outgrowth of Darling’s Cheesecakes Café on Spring Street, it was natural to see a variety of cheesecakes. But where a diner makes its bones is in how it does food that isn’t sugar-based.
I ordered the patty melt with sweet potato fries with bourbon barbecue sauce, while Teresa ordered the Country grits with fried catfish, sliced tomatoes and herbs. We also had dessert: I had the chocolate chip/marble pound cake and she had the strawberry cheesecake.
The burger was cooked medium well and was juicy and seasoned well. The rye toast was fresh and crunchy, which is how I like it. While the sweet potato fries aren’t quite the caliber of the ones at Ray’s Hell Burger, they were good once salted and dipped in the barbecue sauce. I also put the barbecue sauce on the burger, which made a good burger taste even better.
Teresa raved about both the catfish and the grits. The catfish was fried in a way that didn’t leave the catfish greasy, which is something that happens when the oil it’s cooked in isn’t hot enough. And the grits, she said, were smooth and creamy with just the right amount of cheddar cheese. Add to this the fact that they were able to achieve this creaminess without being runny, and you get the kind of grits that would make Food Network star Paula Deen retire.
I had forgotten for a couple of weeks that I had ordered the chocolate chip marble pound cake, and that I had brought it home. I was in the mood for something sweet one day and decided to eat it.
It was as if I had just ordered it. It was just the right combination of moist and sweet, with a generous helping of chocolate chips.
But just in case you’re not interested in burgers or catfish, Darling’s has other offerings you can take on. My Significant Other loves the beef chili and raved about the Key Lime Pie.
However, my suggestion is that you hit the Sunday brunch…and that you try the stuffed French Toast.
There are some food offerings that should be illegal and this concoction is one of them. A combination of cinnamon and egg dipped Texas toast, and the cheesecake of your choice, (I went with white chocolate/raspberry), this big slice of heaven will knock your socks off. Make sure you have a whole lot of coffee or milk, otherwise you may find yourself twitching from the sugar high…
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the service at Darling’s. In all of the times that I’ve been there, I’ve never had to wait longer than two minutes for a table. The waiters and waitresses were attentive and it seemed as if my coffee cup and soda glass were bottomless.
While the phrase “diner” in Northern Liberties means something a lot different than it does in just about everywhere else here in Philly, Darling’s Diner@the Piazza is one of those places where different ingredients can be turned into flavors you’ll recognize and really enjoy.
And it’s also the best place to take your boss when you’re trying to get his or her approval for something…but don’t have the money to head to the Capital Grille.
I mean, hey, it worked for me.
The Munchies Rundown:
Name: Darling’s Diner@ The Piazza
Address: 1033 N. 2nd St.
Hours: 24-hours, seven days a week
Offerings: American diner cuisine, small plates, vegetarian and vegan offerings
Munchability: Three stars out of four.