Gastronaut: The Case for Crawling

For all the things Philly is as a food city, one of the things it’s not is the kind of city where people crawl. It’s time to change that.


Illustration by Kagan McLeod

When we were young cooks, none of us could ever stand still.

Work — 12 or 14 or 16 hours. White jackets and checked pants; prep and then more prep and then the first hit, the dinner rush, the long, slow glide toward wipe-down. Crews rolled out the back doors of restaurants, converged on the nearest bars for first drinks, then moved on — looking for salty things and fried things and sushi and pho and flat, floppy slices and weed. We were perpetually unsatisfied, a whole knot of us growing antsy and weird if we spent more than 45 minutes in any one place, because no matter where we were, there was always the chance of something better waiting right next door.

This was how I learned to crawl — as a line cook, rolling with my crew, powering through neighborhoods like a small but extraordinarily profane army.

In Philly, most people don’t crawl. Oh, sure, maybe they’ll get a drink somewhere before dinner or stop off for gelato after, but the core of the dining experience here is the meal at its center — one chair, multiple courses, a two-hour investment, minimum. Which is ridiculous to me, because we live in a city that clusters its best restaurants in bunches like grapes.

I mean, East Passyunk is almost cheating, it’s so easy. Chinatown, the same. And yet for the most part, people in Philly still camp out at their tables, trusting in the kitchen to do not just one thing really well (an app, a dessert), but everything. I think it has something to do with the sense that part of the $28 you just spent on that skate wing was two hours’ rent on the table where you’re sitting. Or maybe it’s just that people in Philly really don’t like to walk.

Still, on East Passyunk you could do soup dumplings at Bing Bing, bitterballen at Noord and the scallops with sunchokes at Fond — a three-stop crawl without walking much more than a block and, for fun, made up of nothing but round foods.

On South Street, Serpico is almost designed for the quick bite, the fast turn, and then jumping out for the next best thing — for deviled eggs and pork belly at Supper, burnt ends at Percy Street and beers at Brauhaus Schmitz. The pickings in Rittenhouse are ridiculously rich. In Midtown Village, you can score Spanish tapas, spring rolls, a wood-fired pizza, oxtail flatbread and gyros, all inside a circle with a radius of not much more than a hundred yards.

All you have to do is get comfortable with standing up. With seeing each course as a new opportunity that you’re willing to chase out the door and down the street. This isn’t just the way we could eat in Philadelphia, but the way we should eat — all of us so in love with our restaurants, our chefs, with play-by-playing our dinners on Instagram. They do this in Spain. They do it in New York. So what’s wrong with us?

This city is so full right now, and the number of summer nights we have is so few. Why would you want to waste even a single one of them sitting still?