Larry Mendte’s Best (and Worst) of Philly

Chase Utley shines, Buzz Bissinger falls, and the Republican Party fails

EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of the release of our annual Best of Philly issue (on newsstands now), we’ve asked Philly Post contributors to name their own personal Bests and Worsts of Philly.

Best Local Sports Star: In a city packed with sports stars, Chase Utley shines brightest. He has pushed himself so hard over the years that his body seems to wearing down, but not his heart. When I was putting together a documentary on Alex’s Lemonade Stand I met Andrew Accardi, a little boy with a rare form of cancer and a love of baseball. I called the Phillies and asked if I could bring Andrew onto the field before a game, and they were more than happy to oblige. We were standing by the dugout as the Phillies were taking batting practice and Chase Utley walked over. “Are you Andrew?” he said, “I have something for you.” He handed the little boy a Phillies jersey with “Accardi” on the back. Andrew was in a state of euphoric shock when Utley said, “Hey do you mind if I take a picture with you?” I was taken by how kind and gentle Chase Utley was with the young boy. One of the Phillies front office staff told me, “That’s Chase. He’s like this all of the time.” (Andrew is in remission now and an annual golf outing in his name has raised more than $300,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.)

Worst Bang for Your Buck: Simply by being a resident of Philadelphia, you give up a greater percentage of your income to the government than those living in any other municipality in the United States. Philadelphia’s hidden fees and charges are the worst. I leased a car recently from a suburban dealer and when the price was higher than the original quote, the salesman said, “Sorry, you live in Philly. The city wants its cut.” I live a few blocks from the Montgomery County line, and whenever it snows I have to slip and slide for a block until I hit the border crossing where all the roads are clear. We have the worst government deal in America. We pay the city Neiman Marcus prices for dollar-store services.

Best Sandwich: The Dickens at McNally’s in Chestnut Hill. I know, I know, McNally’s is known for the Schmitter, a cheesesteak on steroids. But the Dickens is Thanksgiving Dinner on a kaiser roll—a roll that tries, but fails, to hold the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce in between. A large turkey is roasted and carved daily to fill the Dickens orders, so the whole place even smells like Thanksgiving dinner. My only complaint about McNally’s is the cramped space. With such great food, isn’t it time to expand?

Worst Excuse for a Political Party: The Republican Party of Philadelphia bears as much responsibility for the problems of the city as the Democrats who run it. By rolling over and playing dead, the Philadelphia Republicans have given their opposition the keys to the city. In return for taking a dive every election the Republicans get a few patronage jobs to hand out and a handful of party cronies get to hold on to some power. And Philadelphia voters are given no real alternatives.

Best Hike in the City: Step onto the part of Forbidden Drive that runs along the Wissahickon Creek from Lafayette Hill to Manayunk, and you are on the kind of country road that James Taylor sings about. The road, the forest and its trails are not just a peaceful retreat from the city, but a glimpse at what the area looked like before overdevelopment. Thanks to the Friends of the Wissahickon for protecting this natural treasure.

Worst Columnist/Talking Head: Remember when Buzz Bissinger used to be Buzz Bissinger? Remember when he wrote those rich books about personal ambition and drive in high school sports and city politics? Now he has become what he must have once loathed: a writer who uses a story to get attention for himself rather than the other way around. Give Buzz a buck and he will write or say anything these days, not on Meet the Press or even cable news, but on WIP and Fox 29 and in the Daily News. In full disclosure, Buzz did write a column attacking me. But it was so over the top and so full of elementary school taunts (lizard lips?), that I wasn’t as offended as I was sad for Buzz. My sister Kathy sent an email to Bissinger complaining about the article. In a bizarre response, Bissinger told my sister that the Daily News job is just a pittance of his total income. I am happy he is wealthy. Maybe he can buy his talent back.

The Very Best of Philadelphia: For most of his adult life Bob Salerno has been trying to help kids make the right choices in life. As the site manager for the Abington Police Athletic League, Bob deals directly with teenagers who have but two options on a Friday and Saturday night: to get into trouble or to come to PAL. Every weekend, every year, all year round, Bob and a handful of other volunteers are there for these kids. The kids come for the basketball, baseball, video games, bowling and field trips, but they also get the life counseling that Bob and the other volunteers offer. I single out Bob because I got to know him when I volunteered at PAL. There are thousands just like him, all over the area, who volunteer their time for children, the sick, the elderly and the community. Most will never see their picture or read their name in Philadelphia magazine. But Bob Salerno and the thousands of volunteers he represents truly are the real Best of Philadelphia.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to