Kutztown Soda Works of Pennsylvania

One of the highlights of our trip to Ohio in December was our visit to Jungle Jim’s, the gigantic grocery store – slash – tourist mecca in the Cincinnati suburbs. There, we spent a good deal of vacation money in their soda aisle – sorry, their “pop” aisle – bringing back a few old favorites and getting several new things to sample. Continue reading “Kutztown Soda Works of Pennsylvania”

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Nifty Fifty’s, Philadelphia PA

(Honeymoon flashback: In July 2009, Marie and I took a road trip up to Montreal and back, enjoying some really terrific meals over our ten-day expedition. I’ve selected some of those great restaurants, and, once per month, we’ll tell you about them.)

So a month ago, I wrote about how Marie and I stopped by the terrific Little Hut Sandwich Shop for lunch before going to visit her aunt Bertie and uncle Bruce in Ridley Park. There was one other stop that we wanted to make before we went looking for their house, though. We asked the staff at Little Hut whether there was a Best Buy in the area. We were having a small issue with Marie’s laptop that required a little help from the Geek Squad.

Happily, one was not far away at all. They directed us to take a left at Lincoln, and travel in the direction that we were heading anyway, and go about three miles to Baltimore Pike, I think, and take a right. So we enjoyed that tremendously good sandwich and resumed our drive. We noted the place where we’d turn to get to Bertie and Bruce’s on the way back, and then saw a remarkably neat building on our right. I didn’t know what we would be doing for supper – it turned out that Bertie had some wonderful curried chicken salad waiting for us – but I knew exactly where I wanted dessert.

This was Nifty Fifty’s, and they have a few locations, apparently five, in the area. Basically, it’s a neon-flooded fifties-style diner, extremely popular with teens, and they do desserts worth driving a hundred miles for. I’ll have to disagree with the otherwise excellent review at Burt’s Food Blog about the feel of the restaurant. It’s fifties-style in the same way that the Johnny Rocket’s chain is, filtered through 1985’s window of nostalgia into the past.

I’d really like to try the burgers and fries at Nifty Fifty’s, because the drinks and desserts are just amazingly fun and decadent and delicious, and the service first-rate, suggesting that the kitchen might be relied upon for some more successes.

Amusingly, they claim to be the world’s largest soda fountain, on account of their willingness to mix flavors and give you everything from Lemon Dr. Pepper to Cherry Chocolate Cola to, errrm, Toasted Marshmellow Soda. I tried this one, against our server’s advice, and can confirm it was every bit as gloriously awful as I hoped. But the chocolate ice cream soda was more than worth the trip. Bertie had a big ole ice cream sundae and Marie had a chocolate banana shake, and we were all very pleased and stuffed. If the road ever takes us back towards Philly, I hope that we can return to Nifty Fifty’s.

We took lots of pictures, but, well, we’re in all of them. We hadn’t formalized taking pictures of our meals yet, so you’ll just have to imagine a crowded, bright interior with a pink neon glow illuminating everything. It’s not authentically 1950s, but it’s delicious all the same. I strongly recommend travelers stop by one of these places for a meal. They’re open all hours, serving their giant milkshakes and burgers.

Little Hut Sandwich Shop, Philadelphia PA

(Honeymoon flashback: In July 2009, Marie and I took a road trip up to Montreal and back, enjoying some really terrific meals over our ten-day expedition. I’ve selected some of those great restaurants, and, once per month, we’ll tell you about them.)

Our friend Chris in Jacksonville has lived all over the place, and he’s got relations and aunts (he pronounces it “onts,” magically) and kinfolk all over, so he’s a pretty reliable source for getting ideas about where a fellow should visit. When Marie and I let our friends know about the honeymoon road trip, Chris was among the first people to make a suggestion. Since we were going to be visiting Philadelphia to see Marie’s aunt and uncle, we needed to swing by the Little Hut Sandwich Shop in Ridley Park, which is not far from where they live. Apparently, Chris is under strict orders to always bring his grandmother a big cheesesteak from this little takeaway counter whenever he visits.

Boy, you want to see people fight? City of Brotherly Love my eye, you just watch what happens when a newbie wanting to visit Philadelphia asks where he should go to get an “authentic” Philly cheesesteak. I think fans of one shop literally drive across town and beat people up for what was said on the internet about somebody else’s. I once defended Roy’s Cheesesteaks here in the ‘burbs of Atlanta as being as authentic as what you can get in Philadelphia, as Roy is actually from Cherry Hill. One guy told me “he isn’t there any more, is he?” and another said that Cherry Hill’s not Philadelphia. I took a lesson from internet fights that I once spent far too long fighting, and withdrew after the first round.

Oh, we just had a ball getting to this place. See, I printed maps of each little area that we would visit and, naively, assumed that you could just take I-95 down from New York into Philly. The Jersey Turnpike isn’t really I-95, even though it’s the same road. To continue on I-95, you actually have to detour onto one of a number of perimeter highways. Thankfully, Marie had to foresight to buy an atlas just in case, and pointed out that if we continued south on the Turnpike without exiting, then we would end up in Wilmington without seeing Philly at all. This remarkably confusing problem is detailed at Wikipedia across several pages; in short, this is one of the only interstates in the country that has two separate legs, and requires drivers to use other highways to get from one to the other.

Detouring via, I think, I-195 and I-295 around Trenton just to stay on the road we wanted was actually the second weird disappointment of the day. After our wonderful trip to Boston, we drove as far as someplace in Connecticut called Cromwell for the night. We had slept pretty decently at a Super 8 and looked around for some breakfast. I can’t remember where we ended up and I’m hesitant to name it for fear of shaming the wrong place, but it was a diner and Marie wanted pie for breakfast and they served her a piece with mold on it. Seriously.

The morning was spent driving through northeastern sprawl. The highway skirted around New Haven for the most part, and then through the disagreeably ugly Bridgeport. In time, I-95 carried us through the Bronx and Queens (cue the customary verse of “Dose Were Da Days”) and across the George Washington Bridge, eventually putting us onto the Jersey Turnpike. If you remember July 2009, you might recall that the feds came down on a half-dozen or more elected officials in New Jersey for corruption. I had a little frisson of excitement hearing about this on the news as we continued, but happily, we made it out of the state before the FBI closed the borders or anything to stop any of these crooks from leaving town.

We got to Philly a little after one. The northeastern neighborhoods are ugly as sin, but the downtown is breathtaking, the bridges are gorgeous and I love how all the ballparks and arenas are in one area. We got a glimpse of the Spectrum, which was demolished about a month later. We made our way to Ridley Park and found Little Hut very easily. The teeny place only does carry-out orders, though they do have a picnic table outside.

After enjoying some great conversation with the couple who were working the counter and learning about their shop, Marie and I split a giant mushroom cheesesteak and it was just amazingly yummy. The bread was soft and chewy, and the meat was seasoned just right. Neither of us had a cheesesteak that good before, and, other than Roy’s, haven’t had one that good since, although Woody’s comes pretty close. We had a bag of Herr’s brand chips and washed it down with a Hank’s orange cream soda. Amazingly, Marie’s aunt and uncle live only about two miles from Little Hut but haven’t got around to trying them. We made sure to let ’em know where to go next time they get a hankerin’ for a steak sandwich like this.