Off the Cuff: August 2011

Now that I’ve taken a month off for navel-gazing on the Margate beach, I’m back, and my timing couldn’t be better: I’ll slip right into our Best of Philly issue to champion just a few of the local things that I like. And vent about a few that drive me absolutely crazy. (I’ve had a lot of time to think.) Here are the good, bad and ugly:

Best Italian Cuisine:
The Sena family opened La Famiglia in 1976, and continues to serve the city’s most elegant Italian dishes. It’s about as far as you can get from another Abruzzi-style red-sauce restaurant (8 South Front Street).

Best Example of a Bureaucrat Out of Control: Tom Hiltner, the city clerk and tax collector of Margate, seems to run the town like a family business. Is it just a coincidence that six Hiltner family members are on the city’s payroll full-time?

Best Custom Shirts: Barton & Donaldson. Hong Kong, New York, Paris—I’ve tried them all. Barton & Donaldson is still the best (1635 Chancellor Street).

Best Custom Tailor: No one in the city still tailors suits the way Raymond
Partito does (1845 Walnut Street).

Best Bar: The Prime Rib. Long and sleek and gorgeous, with a leopard rug, it reminds me of the old El Morocco in New York. (When Garth Weldon, the owner, tried to impose a modest dress code, it didn’t fly—it’s Philly, after all.) (1701 Locust Street)

Worst Service: Are there worse cabs in the civilized world? Filthy, unfriendly, and drivers speaking many languages, though not usually English.

Best Cheese Shop: Di Bruno Bros. The selection is enormous, and the staff really knows their stuff (1730 Chestnut Street).

Best Proof That Philadelphia Schools Are Really Lousy: Is it any surprise that a system that cheats on test results still has a majority of kids who can’t read and write?

Best Mystery: What’s that new building at the corner of 5th and Market, and when will it be finished?

Best Concentration of Great Shopping: King of Prussia mall—and it’s only 20 miles out of town.

Best News: We’re about to break through the PC barrier! Time columnist Joe Klein has announced that the venerable federal school program Head Start doesn’t work.

Best Biting the Bullet: Governor Tom Corbett cut the school budget, and all the liberals went nuts. Finally, a break in throwing good money after bad.

Best Giver: George Ross, an investment banker who recently died, had a hand in everything: developing the Kimmel Center, expanding Drexel University (he was chairman of the board in the ’90s), raising $154 million for the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Worst Public Servant: Perhaps Arlene Ackerman will spend her $100,000 bonus while vacationing in Paris, as her school system keeps right on going down the tubes.

Worst Way to Handle the Airport Boondoggle: In Philly, we propose throwing dirt in the Delaware in a misguided attempt to expand. Meanwhile, we ignore the Atlantic City airport—an hour away, with all the room in the world.

Best Medical Center: A tip of the cap to retiring Penn Med executive Arthur Rubenstein, who oversaw the system as it evolved from near-bankruptcy to become the next Mayo Clinic.