The Philly Foods Nutritionists Crave

From Osteria’s pizza to South Street’s cheesesteaks and street pretzels, here’s how to eat the Philly fat traps you love without gaining weight

Illustration by Justin Renninger

Philly’s a food town, and we—even our nutritionists—can’t help but be tempted by the seemingly never-ending array of mouthwatering burgers, pizza good enough to dream about, and perfectly seasoned fries. Which is why we got the low down on the local indulgences Philly’s nutritionists can’t live without—and how to enjoy them without hurting your health. — Kelly O’Shea

Emily Rubin, RD, Jefferson Digestive Disease Institute, 132 South 10th Street Suite 480, 215-955-8900.
The norm: “I eat fruit in the morning, a wrap with low-fat cheese for lunch. Dinner is often grilled chicken or lean burgers, but my specialties are a fresh turkey breast, baked lean meatballs, and lean beef stew in the winter.”
Her fave Philly indulgences: Tastykake’s Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes and Butterscotch Krimpets (“brings back childhood memories from my school lunch box”); Chickie’s and Pete’s crab fries with a side of cheese (“I can’t turn down the Old Bay seasoning”); Cheesesteaks from Jim’s, Pat’s, and Geno’s (“even Oprah indulged on a cheesesteak when she came to Philly on one of her many diets!”), and Philly water ice (“it’s refreshing on that hot summer day”).
How she does it: “If I do indulge, it’s when I’m out to dinner and I eat less the next day and try to increase exercise. I run one to two times a week, but my main activity is running after my very active, 5-year-old twin boys.”

Chickie’s and Pete’s, 1526 Packer Avenue, 215-218-0500; Jim’s Steaks, 400 South Street, 215-928-1911; Pat’s King of Steaks, 1237 East Passyunk Avenue, 215-468-1546; Geno’s Steaks, 1219 9th Street, 215-389-0659; Philadelphia Water Ice Factory, 2651 South 15th Street, 1301 North 25th Street.

Andrea Spivack, MA, RD, LDN, Stunkard Weight Management Program/Penn Behavioral Health, 3535 Market Street, 215-746-4100.
The norm: “I like the guidelines of the Food Guide Pyramid: a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains.”
Her fave Philly indulgences: Soft pretzels from street vendors (“little bit of mustard, not a lot of salt, and I save the knot for last!”); cheesesteaks from South Street; and the dark chocolate Tastykake.
How she does it: “The last time I had a Philly pretzel I decided to make those carbohydrates a part of my lunch as opposed to an extra in my lunch. I cut the pretzel long ways, added spicy mustard and some turkey, and it was the best sandwich ever! If an item is a regular part of one’s diet and you are trying to manage your weight, it’s important to know the nutritional information for solid planning. Many people underestimate their caloric intake—by a lot—so it’s good to have the actual data to take out the guesswork. Have a plan, give yourself permission, make sure to savor it, and move forward.”

Katie Cavuto-Boyle, MS, RD, Healthy Bites, 2521 Christian Street, 877-667-6495.
The norm: “I control my portion sizes and I balance my meals with lean proteins, wholesome carbohydrates, and lots of local fruits and veggies. I also eat regularly—three meals and a few snacks—to fuel my metabolism.”
Her fave Philly indulgences: Pizza at Osteria (the Lombarda with sausage and egg); the lobster mac ’n’ cheese from Continental Mid-town; Sabrina’s cornmeal-encrusted chicken cutlet sandwich; Scoop DeVille’s chocolate ice cream with bananas, peanut butter, and pretzels; tater tots from Village Whiskey; and the burgers at Sidecar (“with caramelized onions and mushrooms, plus the fries—dipped in Dijon mustard!”).
How she does it: “I treat myself a few times a week in the sense that when I go out I don’t put limitations on the foods I order. The key is I am still mindful of my portion sizes and I share plates with my husband or friends so I can enjoy more variety.”

Osteria, 640 North Broad Street, 215-763-0920; Continental Midtown Restaurant, 1801 Chestnut Street, 215-567-1800; Sabrina’s, 1804 Callowhill Street, 215-636-9061; Scoop DeVille, 1734 Chestnut Street, 215-988-9992; Village Whiskey, 118 South 20th Street, 215-665-1088; Sidecar, 2201 Christian Street, 215-732-3429.

Kristan Delle, nutritionist, Balance Health Center, 112 South 20th Street, 215-751-0344.
The norm: “I’m on the go, so I eat a couple of small meals. I always pack a light lunch that’s usually some kind of sandwich on whole-grain bread with fresh fruit. I also do all my shopping at farmer’s markets and stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.”
Her fave Philly indulgences: Vanilla gelato from Capogiro; Buttercake from Rilling’s Bakery; Varga Bar’s duck confit chicken wings with pomegranate-molasses-bourbon-chili sauce and house-made bleu cheese.
How she does it: “I am a big fan of indulging, but I don’t believe in [eating too much at one time]. The times I usually cave are during evenings out with friends.”

Capogiro, 117 South 20th Street, 215-636-9250; Rilling’s, 2990 Southampton Road, 215 698-6171; Varga Bar, 941 Spruce Street, 215-627-5200.

Angela Shaw, DTR, “Healthy Weight” Program at Cooper University Hospital, 900 Centennial Boulevard, Voorhees, 856-321-0012.
The norm: “Usually I cook with fish like ahi tuna or a bone-in chicken breast with marsala—they have a great sauce at Wegmans—and I add some steamed veggies, a huge salad, and if I’m doing a starch I’ll use whole-grain rice or baked sweet potatoes. I also get all my produce fresh from Produce Junction on Route 70 in Marlton.”
Her fave Philly indulgences: Capellini Positano with jumbo lump crabmeat from Aldo Lamberti’s; Pizza from Bertucci’s or Mack and Manco (“plain or with veggies”); and peanut butter (“the creamy kind by Peter Pan, I love it”).
How she does it: “My husband and I go out to dinner every Saturday night in the summer, so I indulge at least once a week. Of course, if I’m going to indulge I have to burn extra calories after the meal. It’s calories in and calories out. I run about 7 miles everyday.”

Aldo Lamberti’s, 2011 Route 70 West, Cherry Hill, 856-663-1747; Bertucci’s, 1220 Nixon Drive, Mount Laurel, 856-273-0400; Mack and Manco, 12th and Boardwalk, Ocean City, 609-399-2548.

Maura Manzo, health coach and yoga teacher, Ryah Yoga and Health, 424 East Elm Street, Conshohocken, 610-834-1551.
The norm: “I tend to cook a lot on Monday evenings, the night when I have off and have the most time. I make things I can eat multiple times throughout the week. Foods that hold well are quinoa, pico de gallo, and hummus. Then I use them in salads, stir-frys, and wraps throughout the week so all I have to do is add protein and some veggies and I have a great healthy meal in just minutes.”
Her fave Philly indulgences: Fresh-popped popcorn from Edwards Freeman Nut Factory (“seriously, around the office, we call it ‘crack’”); The “Wiseguy” Pizza from Pepperoncini with gorgonzola and spicy salami (“I visit them on Thursdays, when it is $10 off bottles of wine”); and Arancini—a homemade, fried risotto ball stuffed with prosciutto and granna —from Totaro’s (“Great for those really stressful ‘I need my mom’s homemade meatballs’ kinds of days”).
How she does it: “I eat healthy the majority of the time, which leaves room for these indulgences. Granted, I am a yoga teacher, too, so I am constantly moving and exercise whether I want to or not.”

Edwards Freeman Nut Factory, 441 East Hector Street, Conshohocken, 877-448-6887; Pepperoncini, 72 Poplar Street, Conshohocken, 610-941-7783; Totaro’s, 729 East Hector Street, Conshohocken, 610- 828-9341.

Christine Hurley, RD, LD, CDE, Main Line Health, Bryn Mawr Hospital Health Center, 3855 West Chester Pike Suite 215, Newtown Square, 484 337-6064.
The norm: “I’ll usually grab something light and healthy while I’m out and then go home and have a salad and diet, caffeine-free soda to go with it. I also try to control my portion sizes. An Uno’s opened up recently across from where I work and I had the opportunity to go there for lunch. I tried one of their heart-healty specials, which was chicken, wild rice and broccoli, and everything was just the right portion.”
Her fave Philly indulgences: Baked Alaska from Gilmore’s (“my oldest son, Frank, is the pastry chef at Gilmore’s, so it is my motherly duty to indulge in this incredibly delicious dessert”); nachos at the Brickside Grille (“I get it with cheese, fried beans, tomatoes, a little jalapeno, black olives, guacamole, and no sour cream”); and the chargrilled chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A (“when I need something quick for dinner and I don’t feel like cooking, I’ll stop here. Sometimes I eat the whole roll and other times just the top”).
How she does it: “I am blessed with good health and eat well like most dietitians. I’m also physically active—I walk, bike, or strength-train three to four days a week, although I know I should be [working out] five to six days a week. I do the best I can, one healthy day at a time. Planning, taking the time, and being consistent about lifestyle change are the keys to taking care of yourself.”

Gilmore’s, 133 East Gay Street, West Chester, 610-431-2800; Brickside Grille, 540 Wellington Square, Exton, 610-321-1600; Chick-fil-A, 260 Exton Square Mall, Exton, 610-363-6345.

Joel S. Edman, DSC, FACN, CNS, Media Wellness Center, 55 State Road, Media, 610-742-8880
The norm: “I tend to have hot cereal for breakfast. For lunch I’ll have leftovers or healthy takes outs, like lentils, brown rice, and kale. Dinner usually consists of fish, sweet potatoes, and broccoli rabe.”
His fave Philly indulgences: Homemade peach praline pie from Linvilla Orchards with pecans and caramel; soft ice cream right off the Mister Softee truck; and  pizza from Brookhaven’s Cocco’s with mushrooms and onions.
How he does it: “As a nutritionist I do keep these indulgences extremely limited. But summertime and special occasions are when I might cave—be it out with my wife with for dinner or some kind of birthday celebration—but I allow myself this because my day-to-day diet is very healthy.”

Linvilla Orchards, 137 West Knowlton Road Media, 610-876-7116; Cocco’s, 4619 Edgmont Avenue, Brookhaven, 610-872-7277.

Jillan B. Rowbotham, DO, Rittenhouse Women’s Wellness Center, 1632 Pine Street, 216-735–7992.
The norm: “I try to prepare most of my meals at home as part of my normal, healthy routine. I enjoy cooking and find it to be a great source of stress relief. I like starting with fresh, whole ingredients, and I use a lot of vegetables. I generally shop at Whole Foods and am a regular at the Headhouse Square Farmer’s Market in the summer. Planning meals for the week and doing a bit of prep work ahead of time helps me stick with this and keeps me from ordering takeout at the end of a busy day.”
Her fave Philly indulgences: “Though there aren’t any specific foods I crave, I do find dining out in Philadelphia in general to be exceptionally tempting. Restaurant Week makes it that much more irresistible and it is probably my number one Philly indulgence. What I find so tempting about Restaurant Week and dining out in Philadelphia in general is the variety. It is the allure of always having something new and different to try. I’m really not able to condense it down to a top three!”
How she does it: “Making sure I have healthy snacks on hand prevents me from grabbing the ‘not-so-good-for-you’ snacks my husband insists on keeping in the house. I also try not to “keep score;” I don’t work out more or restrict my eating after having something not particularly healthy.”

For more information regarding the 2010 Philadelphia Restaurant Week, go here.

So, Philly: What are the Philly foods you know aren’t so good for you but you can’t live without?

  • http://www.chiropractorphiladelphiapachiropractorphiladelphiapa.com/ Dr. Michaels

    Philadelphia is a great place to live and the food is fantastic. We have everything from Italian to French, Japanese and Chinese. My approach to wellness is eating lots of vegetables, a little bit of good protein and lots of fresh fruit. The vegetables a fruit are readily available in all sections of Philadelphia, especially at the Italian Market.