Rape Happens Here

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In the early 1980s, staff members in one of Swarthmore’s libraries began hanging reams of white computer paper in the bathroom stalls, which students would use to gossip about cute boys or gripe about homework. A few years ago, pieces of white paper of a different sort began appearing in campus bathrooms. They’re printed up by the administration and emblazoned with the words SEXUAL ASSAULT RESOURCES. One of those resources, as of a couple years ago, was a student named Lisa Sendrow. Last spring, for the first time, Sendrow herself needed to reach out to someone whose name appeared on the white piece of paper.

Sendrow is a 23-year-old brunette from Princeton, New Jersey. Her mother is from Mexico; her dad is a Jewish guy from the Bronx. She graduated last spring and works in health care in Washington, D.C. If 3,000 smiling Facebook photos are a good barometer, her four years at Swarthmore seem to have passed by untroubled. But in the midwinter of 2013, Sendrow says, she was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months. They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. “I basically said, ‘No, I don’t want to have sex with you.’ And then he said, ‘Okay, that’s fine’ and stopped,” Sendrow told me. “And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.”

A month and a half went by before Sendrow paid a visit to Tom Elverson, a drug and alcohol counselor at the school who also served as a liaison to its fraternities. A former frat brother at Swarthmore, he was jolly and bushy-mustached, a human mascot hired a decade earlier to smooth over alumni displeasure at the elimination of the football team, which his father had coached when Elverson was a student. When Sendrow told him she had been raped, he was incredulous. He told her the student was “such a good guy,” she says, and that she must be mistaken. Sendrow left his office in tears. She was so discouraged about going back to the administration that it wasn’t until several months later that she told a dean about the incident. Shortly thereafter, both students graduated, and Sendrow says she was never told the outcome of any investigation. (Elverson, whose position was eliminated by the school last summer, emailed me that he would answer the “great questions” I raised, but never wrote back.)

As the issue of campus assault gains national media traction, stories about incompetent or callous administrators have become bleakly — almost numbingly — familiar. But Sendrow’s account is also quite specific to Swarthmore. The unrest that’s roiled the little U.S. News & World Report juggernaut 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia over the past year — including dozens of allegations of student-on-student sexual assault, two federal investigations, two student-filed federal lawsuits, and four (unprecedented) expulsions for sexual misconduct — nominally revolves around a campus rape problem and an administration accused of abetting it. But the conflict in fact runs deeper: Swarthmore’s 150-year-old Quaker-inspired governing philosophy has collided with the far less forgiving demands of contemporary campus life.

Swarthmore College Title IX Complaint and Official Response

There are 11 additional student testimonials contained in the Title IX complaint filed against Swarthmore College in 2013 — which Philadelphia magazine obtained earlier this year through a Freedom of Information Act request and is embedded below — that were not detailed in “Rape Happens Here.” According to the complaint, the administration discouraged victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment from reporting incidents, didn’t take student testimonials seriously, and didn’t adequately punish perpetrators. One student who says she was discouraged from taking her case to the local police also claims she was told “Swarthmore doesn’t expel people.”

Swarthmore provided the magazine with the following response to the complaint:

“Please note, these items are allegations only. While the Department of Education agreed to investigate the allegations, it has stated explicitly that its investigation ‘in no way implies that OCR has decided merit.’ We are cooperating completely with the Department of Education, and it is up to them to rule on the allegations’ veracity.

“At Swarthmore we care passionately about the health and welfare of our students. Since the complaint was filed a year ago, this college has worked tirelessly to institute a comprehensive series of major, intensive and expansive changes meant to turn Swarthmore into a model of proactivity in preventing, addressing, responding to, and adjudicating sexual assault and harassment. We are determined to let no instance of any such behavior exist unaddressed on this campus. We fully embrace the letter, the spirit, and the essence of the Department of Education’s ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, and other guidance.”

The Most Powerful Man in Philadelphia

Brian Roberts Comcast

Photography by Adam Jones

The last time we ranked the most powerful people in Philadelphia, in November 2009, Brian Roberts came in at a solid but not spectacular number 11. The book on Roberts was that he used his clout to run his company and not necessarily to influence life in the city.

So what’s happened in four and a half years that’s vaulted him to the top of our list? Simple: Comcast is vastly larger, more powerful and more ambitious than it was then — a reflection of Roberts’s growing vision for the company.

Since acquiring control of NBC Universal in 2011, Comcast has become one of the world’s most prominent and profitable media conglomerates, with interests in everything from Internet service and home security to movies, TV production and theme parks. And its momentum shows no sign of stopping. In February the company announced its intention to buy Time Warner Cable, which — if the sale is approved by the FCC and the Justice ­Dep­artment — would give it control of 30 percent of all U.S. cable and Internet markets. Perhaps more importantly for Philadelphia, the company also announced plans to build a second office tower in Center City — this one designed by renowned architect Norman Foster. (Ground will be broken this summer on the new building, which will bring 6,300 temporary construction jobs and 2,800 permanent positions to Center City.)

Philly Mag editor Tom McGrath talked with Roberts, 54, about the state of the company, plans for the new building, and how Philadelphia’s fate is now entwined with that of its most high-profile corporation.

With the focus on innovation and technology, your new building seems to be a statement about where Comcast is headed as well as a major commitment to Philadelphia. Does it feel that way to you? It does. Initially the project was started by simply … we’re out of space, which is hard to imagine. We’re always careful not to get ahead of ourselves, but we have a thousand employees who work in downtown Philadelphia who don’t have an office in the Comcast Center. And so the project began purely out of space needs. Once we started to discuss what we would build, that’s when I felt we should try to think about what the company’s needs are going to be. Where is the growth coming from? And a lot of that growth is around innovation and technology.

And that raised the question: Should we build that in Philadelphia? And the answer is, we think we can successfully recruit and attract the talent, and retain the talent, and do something that perhaps no one is doing anywhere in the country — build a vertical campus, and have the newest part of the campus be completely different from the last building and give it its own personality and sense of purpose.

Ten years ago, Comcast was mostly a cable company. After the NBC Universal acquisition, you became a cable and content company. How do you see yourselves going forward? We’ve thought about that question a lot, and with the help of [chief communications officer] D’Arcy Rudnay, we have a real definition. We view ourselves uniquely at the crossroads of media and technology. We are helping to create news, entertainment, sports, broadband, connectivity for homes and businesses, new advertising platforms. There are other news and sports and media companies, and there are other cable companies, and there are people who only focus on phone and wireless. Our company has the opportunity to touch all of those spaces here and, hopefully in the future, around the world.

My Crowdsourced Life

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Illustration by Joe Reinfurt

It was, you have to admit, a pretty smart publicity grab.

Back in January, Mark Zuckerberg snapped a picture, posted it online, and posed a question to his readers: What kind of spider is this, and is it okay to let it keep living in my shower?

The Facebook founder wasn’t posting on his own site; he was on Jelly, a hip new app from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone that lets users upload photos so their social media contacts can answer questions about them. Nine minutes later, Zuckerberg got his answer from Kevin Thau, Jelly’s COO: I think it’s a Phidippus johnsoni. Probably want to relocate it out of the house. As backup, Thau included a Wiki link about Phidippus johnsoni — a terrifying jumping spider with a nasty bite. Not long after, Stone completed the loop with a tweet: “First life saved via Jelly!”

Welcome to research in the age of social media. Jelly’s raison d’être may be crowdsourcing, but you don’t have to download the app to tap into the collective brainpower of the masses — not if you have any other sort of social media account. At 31, I’m at the stage of life where I use my Facebook account mostly for birthday reminders and cat videos (fine, and maybe to find out if that cute woman I met has a boyfriend) — but I think I’m increasingly alone. So many of my friends in Philly use social media to outsource their problems that my various newsfeeds have more pleas for help than an episode of Dr. Phil.

My car horn stopped working — will it be expensive to fix? Does someone have a copy of Photoshop I can have? I want to start running. What’s the best couch-to-5K app? I don’t know what to wear tonight! (On that last one, the “help me” is clearly implied.)

A journalist friend of mine turns to her “friends” on Facebook regularly for stories she’s working on. “I don’t only learn about my topic,” she says, “but I figure out what people are interested in hearing about. It helps me shape my stories, too.” Another pal cops to crowdsourcing everything from mechanics to cold remedies, out of what he readily admits is sheer sloth.

The lazy friend has a point: Any reasonably connected human being can simply ask and then receive — and receive immediately, with zero effort. Crowdsourcing is about efficiency, really — about putting social media to work for you. But while the answers you get from that network of 500 of your nearest and dearest are fast and easy (and also probably better than the ones that come from the unwashed Internet masses on, say, Yahoo! Answers), that doesn’t mean the collective brainpower of the crowd is always right. Is it your transmission making that noise? Was that a Phidippus johnsoni? Does having so many answers at our fingertips actually make life easier and better? Or just … noisier?

I decide to find out — to spend a week crowdsourcing my decision-making, letting “friends” on Facebook and my Twitter followers guide my path.

Without a Trace

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Richard and Danielle six months before they vanished.

To most anyone watching, they were just another couple, out on a Saturday night at Abilene’s on South Street, drinking a few beers and watching a band.

Never much for dressing up, Richard Petrone wore a gray hoodie, jeans and sneakers. But the night no doubt meant something special to him, because she was there.

A few weeks earlier, Danielle Imbo had ended their on-again, off-again relationship. She’d begun dating Richard during a long separation from her husband — a separation she was intending to punctuate with a divorce. She wanted time to focus on the transition from married woman to single mother. Richard said he understood; he’d raised a daughter on his own. But inside, he hurt. Danielle, five-foot-five, trim and pretty, looked like the real thing. She fronted a rock band around New Jersey and boasted a singer’s outgoing personality, and after the trouble she’d had with her estranged husband, she’d responded to Richard’s gentler approach.

They hadn’t spoken since she broke things off, blowing right through Valentine’s Day without even a text message. But tonight, on February 19, 2005, he had been alone, eating in a South Philly bar and working his cell phone, searching for someone to meet up with for a drink. He reached his sister, Christine, and found her enjoying a ladies’ night out with their mother, Marge, and two longtime friends, Felice Ottobre and her daughter.

Danielle.

Richard and Danielle’s relationship always bore this extra wrinkle: Danielle was his sister’s best friend, dating back to high school. Their moms enjoyed a friendship of their own.

“Want to come have a drink?” Richard asked.

Christine said no. But she put the invitation to Danielle. And two hours later, the reunited couple looked happy together. They sat close, smiling and laughing. They kissed. They compared notes on what their ensuing Sundays entailed: Danielle had a hair appointment at 11 a.m.; her ex-husband was scheduled to return their son after that. Richard, a NASCAR fan, planned to watch the Daytona 500. At around 11:45 p.m., they got up to leave.

Richard said he’d drive Danielle home to Mount Laurel before returning to his place in South Philly. And so, on a night when the temperature was about 27 degrees and the crowd at 4th and South was probably a little thinner than usual, Danielle and Richard walked out of Abilene’s toward Richard’s truck.

And vanished.

NOTHING HAS EVER BEEN FOUND — not a bolt, not a screw, not a purse or a hair, no clue at all — to explain what happened that night more than nine years ago. In the early hours and days after Richard Petrone and Danielle Imbo disappeared, their families banded together, frantically phoning each other the next morning when Danielle didn’t turn up for her hair appointment and both her cell phone and Richard’s kicked straight to voicemail.

Danielle’s brother, John Ottobre, had a key to Danielle’s house. He went in and found the place dark, still and undisturbed. But panic didn’t really set in until 3 p.m., when Danielle’s son, little Joe, was due to be dropped back home by his father.

“She wouldn’t have missed that,” John says now. “No way.”

Police often wait as long as 48 hours to consider adults missing. That night, John and Richard Petrone Sr. set out on a nightlong drive, John behind the wheel, rolling slowly along darkened city streets, tracing and retracing every major highway route and side road leading from Philly to Mount Laurel. Richard Sr., in the passenger seat, peered out into the dark, searching for his son’s truck. The pair crossed and recrossed the Walt Whitman, Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross bridges. At dawn, they returned home, exhausted.

Friends also swarmed into the picture. Volunteers fanned out a hundred miles in every direction. They carried pictures of Petrone’s black Dodge Dakota truck, knew its license plate — YFH-2319 — and the image of its NASCAR decal by heart. John paid $1,200 to get a Camden police officer to take him up in a helicopter to search. But in the end, they all found nothing — no truck off the road, no hulking shadow flickering beneath the water. A police officer tried to prepare John: “No one,” he said, “is ever going to find anything.”

“What do you mean?” John replied.

“It’s too clean,” the cop said.

The Last Days of Bill Conlin

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Illustration by Eduardo Recife

A year and a half ago, I flew down to Largo, Florida, and knocked on Bill Conlin’s door. It was early evening, and I couldn’t tell if he was home or not. Nobody came to the door. I thought I heard a TV, though. I knocked again.

Conlin had been the baseball beat writer for the Philadelphia Daily News for two decades, starting in 1966, then wrote a regular column for the DN for an even longer stretch, until the end of 2011. He was the city’s most-read sportswriter, and was nationally known via a long stint on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters as the fat guy waving his coffee cup in high-volume arguments that were often brilliant, or at least amusing. In the summer of 2011, he was inducted into the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But that December, the life he’d built for half a century collapsed, via a devastating article published in the Inquirer: A niece of Conlin’s and three other people (including one man) came forward to accuse him of sexually molesting them back in the 1970s, when they were children. They were speaking out after so many years, they said, because the recent allegations against Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky had reignited their pain, and because it was time to end what amounted to a conspiracy of silence among Conlin’s family and friends covering up his horrible deeds. The alleged abuse happened far too long ago for charges to be brought. But the accusers were finally determined, they said, to tell their stories.

Conlin resigned from the Daily News immediately and wasn’t heard from again. Eventually, word got out that he was holed up in his condo in Largo. Where I stood, on an October evening at dusk, almost a year later. I knocked on his door a third time. I was sure I heard a TV.

Finally, I could hear someone coming.

“Yeah?” Conlin yelled — it was unmistakably his blistering foghorn voice — on the other side of the door. He didn’t open it.

I told him who I was, that I wanted to talk. Conlin and I knew each other a bit, having emailed occasionally as fellow journalists over the years. After the allegations hit, I’d emailed asking if he’d talk to me. He’d written back that he’d had a nervous breakdown and wasn’t ready to talk. He didn’t answer subsequent emails. I decided that getting face-to-face was the only chance I’d have. Though he still didn’t open his door.

Instead he yelled, “I’m not talking to anybody!”

So that was that — or so it seemed. I went back to my motel in Largo and called him. I got voicemail, and left a message: Would you have dinner with me? Just a dinner. A conversation.

I got an email back: You took a certain liberty coming down here without a prior head’s-up …

After venting a bit on the hell he’d been through, Conlin agreed in the email to have lunch the next day. But it would be, he said, on his terms.

THERE WAS A TIME when he was no mere sportswriter, but the most important journalist in Philadelphia. If that seems like a stretch, we’re forgetting the impact of the daily missives he would deliver from all over the country, all summer long, on our baseball team, in the halcyon days pre-Internet. As king of the sporting scribes here, Conlin shared with a few hundred thousand locals not only hardball derring-do, but his take on the world at large. Here is Conlin beginning a piece on the riots in Watts in August 1965, during a Phillies road trip to play the Dodgers:

This is a city at war with itself. The looters and the rioters are holed up, guerrilla-like, in a section of Los Angeles as big as Northeast Philadelphia. They have Molotov cocktails and whiskey and whiskey-courage enough to burn and pillage and rape and plunder. …

There are 13,000 National Guard troops here and the trucks whine through the freeway night bearing puzzled-looking kids from all over the state. Yesterday they were pumping gas and growing avocados. Today they are getting shot at. It is Vietnam in Southern California.

More often, Conlin’s style exhibited a sort of grand goofiness. One of his passions was weather. On a deadly summer day at the ballpark in South Philly in 1995:

Hot town, summer in the city. … The epicenter of the heat island this town becomes in central July is the molten turf of Veterans Stadium. Heat waves shimmer in the mid-afternoon sun like a scene from Lawrence of Arabia. … Yesterday was one of those brain-poachers where any inning I expected public address announcer Dan Baker to intone, “Now pitching for the Phillies … Omar Sharif.” I didn’t know if Ahmed Ben-Fregosi was trying to win a ball game or reach Damascus before Lord Kitchener.

A learned smart-ass. Vintage Conlin. He was pretty good at the particulars of baseball, too.

The Phillies generally sucked, but no matter: Baseball, in the slow unwinding of a season, offered Conlin the perfect writer’s playground. It was personal as well. He could drink and carouse with the best of them, like, well, a ballplayer; Conlin once told a friend that he put away a quart of vodka a day. And he was full of stories that couldn’t see print. On the road back in the ’70s, a certain Phillies slugger went drinking with his teammates. They met some girls and brought them back to their hotel, and somebody got the bright idea to fill the bathtub with ice water and bet the slugger that if he got in the tub, he wouldn’t be able to perform with said girls afterward.

Conlin also developed a reputation as a bar brawler on the road. A fellow sportswriter who covered Penn State football in the late ’70s says it was a habit on Friday nights at PSU: Conlin would regularly hit the bars, get drunk, then get pummeled. “It happened in bars in National League cities all over as well,” adds Bill Lyon, the longtime Inquirer sportswriter. “We used to kid him: ‘You’re 0-and-5, Bill.’ He did not fare well in fisticuffs.” The fights would be over … baseball? Women? “Probably both,” Lyon says.

Though there was apparently at least one drunken dustup Conlin won: He got into a fight with Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas in a bar on a road trip in the ’70s — nobody remembers what it was about — and Kalas had to do his pre-game bit on TV the next day wearing sunglasses to hide a black eye and stitches. In another instance, it was rumored that Conlin made a pass at then-Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter’s brother’s wife on the team’s charter plane (in those days, sportswriters were invited on board), a move that got him permanently banned from the flights.

To read the full story, please pick up the April 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine at your local newsstand. If you would like to become a subscriber, please click here.

Steel Magnolia

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Furnaces and fireworks for the Fourth of July. Photography by Jonathan Davies

John Callahan, a 44-year-old natural salesman turned preternatural politician, looks down at the small plate of tuna crudo on the table. Fork poised, he considers the unlikelihood that he would be sampling such a dish in a swank new Italian restaurant on the main drag of the traditionally working-class ethnic enclave called the South Side in his hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

“Who’da thunk it,” he says, with a rapid-fire wheezy chuckle. He spears an olive-oil-drenched nubbin of raw fish. “I often tell people: This is not your grandfather’s — hell, it’s not your father’s — town of Bethlehem.”

If he walked out the front door of Molinari Mangia, Callahan, who recently ended a decade as Bethlehem’s mayor, could peer toward the hulking 20-story blast furnaces that were once the hot heart of Bethlehem Steel, a premier industrial powerhouse of the last century. For much of that century, into the 1990s, those belching furnaces — “convoluted structures that look like smoke-stained dinosaurs snorting into the sky,” in the words of one writer — delivered a daily reassuring signal to the city of 75,000. As long as what locals called “The Steel” was working, so was Bethlehem.

But The Steel, reeling from foreign competition, plagued by myopic management and hamstrung by its unions, shut down the furnaces in 1995. The company spiraled into bankruptcy and finally dissolution. The city lost its namesake company, and a fifth of its taxable land devolved into an unused brownfield site, transformed almost overnight into a Rust Belt relic facing an existential crisis: What do you do with a huge plot (picture downtown Philly, Market to Spruce, river to river) of polluted land littered with industrial-era detritus?

More than 10 years after The Steel’s bankruptcy, the emerging answer gives John Callahan a story to tell. One day he showed up at daybreak at those big blast furnaces, which have been preserved and repurposed (complete with a glowing LED light treatment) as the city’s largest art installation. In the shadow of the furnaces now are two sleek modernist glass, steel and concrete cubes. One houses state-of-the-art studios for the Lehigh Valley’s public television station, WLVT; the other is a multi-level visual and performing arts center called ArtsQuest, with several chic performance spaces (one is an amalgam of Philly’s World Cafe Live and New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center) and a two-screen art-house cinema. On a landscaped plot of grass hard against the furnaces is a concert pavilion designed by Philly architecture firm WRT; it looks like an unfolding piece of origami. The whole area is called SteelStacks, and it’s just a short walk from Bethlehem’s real game changer: a nearly $1 billion casino, hotel, shopping mall and events complex that began operating five years ago as the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.

“This one Sunday,” Callahan recalls, “we were having sunrise yoga under what they called an ‘earth harp.’” He lets out his characteristic chuckle. “The harp was these giant bands that came off the ArtsQuest building. Someone was playing it by jumping up and grabbing onto them.

“So I’m kicking off the show, doing a little welcoming speech. And I couldn’t help but imagine a rigger working up on those blast furnaces, looking down and saying, ‘What the fuck kind of nonsense is going on down there?’ How could that kind of person ever imagine a day when there’d be people doing sunrise yoga underneath an earth harp at an arts center called SteelStacks?

“Wow,” he says, “what a change!”

One of Us: Burger Guru Tommy Up

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Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Tommy Up. My real last name is Updegrove, but it’s really difficult for people to spell for some reason. So to eliminate thousands of wasted hours of my life, it’s just Tommy Up.

I was born in … Fishtown, way before it was cool. At Montgomery and Girard, which is about 10 blocks from where PYT is now.

The most famous person I’ve ever met … is Jay Z. I was standing on a chair in the front row at his concert, and he stopped and said, “Insurance requirements for this building say that no one can stand on a chair.” I took out dollar bills and started throwing them at him. He told me to save it for a cab. That is a 100 percent true story.

The last book I read cover to cover was … a classic from the ’90s, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy: Creating Disruption for Fun and Profit.

The thing most people get wrong about me … is that they think I can’t be serious. I do joke around a lot. But I like that. Being taken seriously all the time must be incredibly boring.

Ten years from now, I will be … on my yacht. I will name it The Yachtsman, which is the name of my tiki bar that will open this month.

For my last vacation, I went to … Costa Rica. I went by myself, lost my cell phone on the first day and learned how to surf.

I got my first tattoo … from a Japanese-speaking gentleman who does tattoos for the yakuza. He drew me a very special dragon on my arm, back and shoulder.

The biggest problem with Philadelphia … is that we don’t believe in ourselves enough. We always look to see what New York and other places are doing, but the reality is that we’re influencing the culture of food and drink more than New York is. We’re taking more chances. We don’t have to play it so safe because we’re not as “important.”

The first concert I ever went to … was on the beach in Atlantic City with New Kids on the Block and Debbie Gibson, back when Donnie was the dominant Wahlberg.

The second-best burger in Philadelphia … is at PYT. The first is at Village Whiskey.

My favorite Philadelphian of all time … is Ben Franklin. A classic. He did it all. He was the first American Renaissance man.

When I want to relax … I … oh, I can’t tell you. No comment.

My most prized material possession … is a fine screen print of Biggie Smalls that Shepard Fairey did. An ex-girlfriend left it with me. She didn’t know what it was.

The thing most people don’t understand about this business is … that it’s 99 percent work and no play. But if you’re lucky, sometimes the work can resemble play.

If I were mayor of Philadelphia … I would probably shoot myself.

How to Find the Perfect House in Philadelphia

First appeared in the March, 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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CENTER-HALL COLONIAL

THE LURE: “The colonials are simply indigenous to our area, and it’s the style that most buyers are attracted to,” says Coldwell Banker Preferred Blue Bell’s Nicole Miller-Desantis. “Buyers know they’ll ultimately have resale value.”

KEEP IN MIND: On the Main Line, these houses can have hidden expenses: lot premiums, high utilities, spring and fall landscaping costs. “It can be expensive to ‘live the dream’ in suburbia,” Miller-Desantis warns.
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Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Le Chéri

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Boudin Noir. Photography by Jason Varney

YOU HAVE TO FIGURE that any ingredient is fair game in a menu section labeled “Bizarre.” But Pierre Calmels sure pulled a fast one on me at Le Chéri (which replaced the Rittenhouse Tavern after Nick Elmi left to open Laurel on East Passyunk). The only dish I didn’t like at the Bibou chef’s classically French makeover of the Philadelphia Art Alliance space was his lamb offal pot-au-feu, whose gutty broth occupied that uncanny valley that separates the authentic from the macabre. But oh, the “pistachio fries” floating in it! What culinary jewels, those mild and tender ovals bearing mosaics of crunchy nuts!

Only later did I discover the source of my captivation. “Ah, pistachio fries!” Calmels chuckled over the phone. “This is a way of saying ‘testicles.’”

Culinary jewels indeed.
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