Thursday, June 28, 2018

In a new city and need a place to eat? Skip Yelp and ask a local where to go

While visiting Philadelphia for the first time recently I found myself hungry with no idea where to eat lunch. Luckily, I had wandered into an art gallery to check out some cool drawings and the woman working there I was chatting with about the heat wave I hadn't packed for recommended a cafe nearby that ended up being the perfect spot.

That was cool.

All I told the woman was that I wasn't interested in eating a Philly cheesesteak just then, so she suggested I go to Day By Day around the corner. There I found exactly what I wanted: a salad full of fresh greens topped with quinoa and chicken, served in cafe full of windows with many locals sitting alone that were very friendly with both each other and the staff, creating a soothing atmosphere for a woman traveling alone.

The $1 grab bag of desserts.
Even cooler was what I found on my way out: Next to the cash register were $1 bags of broken cookie, brownie and tart bits, what I think is the perfect way for businesses to avoid waste by offering folks like me a little taste of every dessert instead of having to choose just one. 

What was not cool, however, was the cafe I chose through Yelp alone.
I judge breakfast places on just a few basic items because that is all I order: coffee, eggs, potatoes, toast and bacon. I don't care what your scone or scramble of the day is, I want a reasonably-strong cup of coffee, eggs cooked as over-medium as possible and served with decent sourdough toast, big pieces of smokey bacon that ain't limp and greasy and some nicely seasoned and properly cooked potatoes that are preferably hash browns.

I picked a place in the Philly neighborhood I would be walking through that had great Yelp reviews,  but it failed to deliver on nearly every part of the basic breakfast. The eggs were cooked well, but the potatoes were underdone and poorly-seasoned (the type of homefries that seem to be seasoned solely with big chunks of onion) and the bacon slices were not only limp and greasy but also small. Saddest of all, the sourdough toast looked beautiful but had the taste and texture of Kleenex. Oh, and the coffee was mediocre at best. (And yes, I did fill out a Yelp review letting people know that, in my opinion, this was not the place to find good basics.)

So, technology like Yelp is great for some things, but when it comes to food, I vow to seek recommendations from live people whenever possible. And if not, I'll stick to the recommendations in my guidebook, which I should not have strayed from. (Lately whenever I choose a new city to visit, the first thing I buy is the Frommer's Day by Day guide for that city, which so far were great for both Boston and Philadelphia.)