Monday, November 7, 2011

Off the Map: Sorry Philadelphia, We're Not From Here

Cyprus Breakfast -- Kanella, Philadelphia, PA

Okay, Philadelphia, we confess: we don't quite know what to do with you.

We are in Philly under the guise of attending our college's homecoming.  In truth, our primary purpose is to dine at as many of the Philadelphia Best Thing I Ever Ate locations as possible in what Ginger has taken to calling a "continuum of eating."  In our world, there is no such thing as breakfast, lunch, or dinner; instead, our guide for the day is our trusty itinerary, which tells us to do one thing: don't stop.
And Don't Skip Brunch or Linner, Either
As we make our way to our first stop, Kanella, featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate for Ryan D'Agostino's chosen SALTY GOODNESS dish, the cyrprus breakfast, Ginger is regaling Vodka with what she has determined is her overall life philosophy: "I almost care."  About most things, it seems Ginger is not quite apathetic, but not exactly passionate either.  Shades of gray rule her days, and as it happens, this is just about the exact attitude we have towards Philly: We almost care.  Part of us likes the place, even quite a bit at times, if only for the nostalgia of our college years.

The other part of us finds Philadelphia infuriating.
Philadelphia, Our Greatest Frenemy
In this mindset, we enter Kanella and are instantly thrown off balance.  One hostess greets us, checks us in, and then disappears to "set up the table."  No less than thirty seconds later, another hostess comes by and goes through the exact same process, explaining that the first one had sent her over because she is the "real" hostess. 

Apparently, the first lady was the hostess's doppelganger....

One of the many hostesses eventually escorts us to our table, and we order one cyprus breakfast (if we are to eat for 12 hours straight, we best share everything), one coffee, one tea, and two orange juices.  The orange juices are especially important, in this case, as Kanella is a BYOB establishment.  Not willing to haul a bottle of champagne all the way from Manhattan, Vodka has come up with the next-best solution:

She has filled a miniature water bottle with vodka and has traveled with it tucked securely in her handbag.  The slightly-less-sane version of a flask, if you will.
Perhaps Poland Spring Would Like to Sponsor Our Classy Ways
Ginger is unsure as to how this procedure of making our screwdrivers is going to work, so she asks Vodka incredulously, "But how are we going to get the vodka into the orange juice?"

"I'm going to pour it," Vodka answers without affect.  And when our large glasses of juice arrive, not only does Vodka pour the alcohol from the water bottle into the glasses, but she makes us even more conspicuous by forcing Ginger to take pictures of the transfer.
This Year's Candidate for World's Best Bartender
"Do you think they'll put this on ice for us?"  Vodka gestures around the room at the ice buckets tucked next to all of the rest of the tables, each holding a less-ghetto actual bottle of booze.

As we're in the midst of Bring-Your-Own-Vodka-Gate, our tea and coffee arrive.  Ginger explains that she has taken to chugging green tea at all hours of the day because "It cures everything that ails me," making her sound like a less spry version of Rose Nyland.  Meanwhile, Vodka has ordered coffee, and it has been presented in its own French press.

A device neither of us have a clue how to use.
What Is This New-Fangled Contraption?
The waiter places the instrument on our table and tells Vodka to wait a few minutes before completing the process.  He then tries to skedaddle away, but Ginger stops him with a clueless "So we're supposed to push it down?!"  It seems neither of us have ever used a French press before, and the whole thing is beyond our comprehension.  The waiter, sizing us up as the ding-dongs we are, demonstrates the procedure, to which Ginger explains, "We're not from here."

We're from that far-off nation of Manhattan where our coffee is handed to us, pre-made, in a cup.

(Though as Ginger points out with glee later on, Vodka, hailing from the Philadelphia suburbs, actually is from here, but this ancestry does not translate to one's ability to use a French press).

Finally, onto the object of our desires, the cyprus breakfast.
Thank Goodness They Didn't Try to Stack This
A platter of various Mediterranean specialties is presented to us, containing two eggs fried in olive oil, a slice of lountza (which looks like thick Canadian bacon), a small loaf of whole wheat bread, two fried balls of halloumi cheese, and a cucumber, red onion, and pepper salad.
Philadelphia Fabulousness
We divide the plate onto our respective saucers and dive in.  And we are reminded why we sometimes love Philadelphia.
Because Philadelphia Knows the Importance of Fried Cheese
The stand-out feature of this dish is far and away the cheese, which tastes like a more classy, less goopy version of a mozzarella stick.  It is so good, in fact, that after taking one bite, we both decide to eat the remainder of our portion last so that this can be the final flavor that we taste.
Is Your Figure Less Than Greek?
The lountza features diagonal grill marks and is cooked to a perfect non-chewy consistency, and as Ryan D'Agostino had promised, it is just as full of salt as the cheese had been (needless to say, Vodka is in sodium heaven).  We break into our eggs (Ginger, in this case, is "willing to forgive" the runny yolk, which she usually despises) and lop up the yolk with the provided bread.  As the eggs have been fried in olive oil, the white portions are crispy and so crunchy that we almost fear we're chewing through egg shells, but they taste too delicious for us to care ("we almost care").  And finally, the salad adds a refreshing bite of coolness to the plate, and we mop it up happily.
Olive Oil Makes Everything Better
Indeed, even though we still have eleven hours of eating in front us, our plates are completely empty, save for a lone olive.  So much for pacing ourselves.
Would Anyone Like to Buy Our Olive? We Can Offer You a Swig of "Water"
"Can you imagine if we were eating on Daylight Savings Time day?" Ginger ponders.  "A whole extra hour...."

Instead of such fantasies of overconsumption, we should be focusing on our bill, as neither of us, in what becomes a running theme of the day, is capable of figuring it out ("I feel like I'm getting dumber," Ginger confesses).  Finally, we slap down our cash, Vodka stuffs her still half-full "water bottle" back in her handbag, and we head out.
Visions of the Mediterranean Dancing in our Heads
We leave Kanella on such a high note that we are sheepish of all our past criticisms of Philadelphia.  The place is, after all, where we met, in no less than the esteemed cult of popularity, the college marching band.  And with dishes like the cyprus breakfast within its domain, we should give Philly more credit than we do.

This rose-colored view of the city sustains us for all of twelve blocks when, as if like clockwork, Philadelphia slaps us back to its own unique reality.

Kanella's Cyprus Breakfast: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

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