(Philadelphia, PA) On our final day in Philadelphia, we have a late afternoon flight out, so plenty of time to squeeze in one last review. Our friend and guide, Nattie, had suggested Garces Trading Company on an earlier jaunt. Might be time to give it a try! After checking out of the hotel, we walked leisurely a few blocks away on a windy but sunny Sunday, hoping to enjoy Iron Chef quality charcuterie...
Amazingly, despite our last-minute decision to hit Garces Trading Company for a late lunch, OpenTable got us a spot (and points)! The first thing we notice are the patio chairs and tables (mostly empty) out on the sidewalk. If it had been an hour earlier, the weather would have been too chilly to sit outside; now, though, the sun blasts down and nothing sounds better than some outdoors action. We are about 20 minutes early for our reservation, the hostess informs us, so it’ll be about a 20 minute wait for a table. How about outside? Sure, she says. No wait for a patio table. Right this way!
Wow, it is nice out. Soon, though, we find that the service is slightly confused. We wait...and wait...and wait, until the hostess notices my look of strained patience. She promises to get our waitress, but then we’re handed off to another waiter. He is nice but about as rattled as any of the other servers. The manager has to deliver some of our drinks and food later as well. Fortunately, the balm of soaking in the sun and people-watching goes a long way to forgiving the unforgivable service.
I start with a generously-poured mimosa (which is about as close to brunch as I want to get) and we jointly opt for the chef’s selection of meats and cheeses. Charcuterie includes a dry prosciutto that is nutty but otherwise pretty standard; house-made salami (thinly sliced, mild and greasy); and Sobresada, a chorizo-style salami (spicy, like pepperoni). Cheese plate includes a cheddar, some kind of sheep’s milk cheese, and a stinky, awful blue cheese that is perhaps the worst I’ve ever tasted. Ugh!
Once the mimosas are dispatched, we move on to a pitcher of Marseilles, their signature white sangria infused with roasted red apples and cinnamon. On a hot day, it hits the spot! And what better to pair than a flatbread pizza with sourdough made with duck fat? Um...nothing? We go for the Paleta Ibérico with cured Ibérico pork shoulder, agrodolce figs, and Idiazabal sheep milk cheese from Navarre, Spain. The crust is light, crispy with the trademark sourdough tang and a little something extra rich and buttery underneath. The duck fat? Possibly. That tang—combined with the sweet fig, salty pork, nutty cheese, and the surprisingly spicy greenery sprinkled on top—makes for an amazing last meal. We nearly fight over the last piece.
Juliet makes a last stab at dessert by ordering a Fraise, which turns out to be a glorified strawberry Little Debbie rollup. I am so glad I decline dessert so as not to ruin the meat-and-cheese glow I’m experiencing.
Even though the service left a lot to be desired, the food (and the prime sidewalk placement) hit most of the marks. Once the bill is paid, we toddle off to our waiting plane, already planning to head back to Philadelphia sometime again this year.
The weather is magnificent, sunny and warm with blue skies boasting puffy bright white clouds. It finally feels like spring and we yearn for one last leisurely walk before we fly home tonight. As with other walks through Philly, we pass one adorable brownstone after another. Despite some casual sightseeing along the way, we end up arriving at Garces early. Inside it's loud and raucous and we're told there's going to be at least a 20 minute wait for a table, unless we want to sit outside (where it's quiet and sunny), in which case, they can seat us now. We eagerly take an outdoor table.
I begin with a glass of Prosecco while we read the menu. Unfortunately, we have to order drinks twice, as our waitress forgot to put in the order. Something's definitely off with the service; during our 90 minute visit, we are served by two waitstaff, the hostess, and a manager. They seem to be short-staffed and slightly frenzied. At one point our second server begins to confide to us about a bothersome table he's been assigned inside. When they leave, he actually points them out to us and whispers, "That's the table I was telling you about. Thank god they're leaving." It's all a bit weird and slightly uncomfortable. Luckily, we are distracted by the good food, sunny weather and fabulous Sunday afternoon of people watching. Families with strollers, marrieds walking arm in arm, singletons comparing notes from the previous night.
We decide to share a carafe of the white sangria as well as the chef's selections of cheese and charcuterie. The sangria is refreshing, slightly tart and not at all overly syrupy like so many sangrias I've had before. The firm sheep's milk cheese with crunchy crystals and an aged cheddar with toffee undertones are both wonderful. But the pungent crumbly blue cheese slaps my tastebuds around and shows me who's boss. I happen to like that in a cheese, but it's not for everyone, including Jeremy.
The meats are also tasty. Our platter has a prosciutto di parma, a chorizo-style salami and a housemade salami. The paprika in the chorizo is addictive and I keep going back to it. Jeremy suggests we split one of their thin crust pizzas. He lets me choose and I go for the one with cured Iberico pork and agrodolce (Italian for sweet and sour) figs. We finish up our sangria over the pizza which is sweet and salty with a hint of sourdough in the crust.
I decide to go out with a bang and order a dessert listed as "strawberry jam, mascarpone cream and vanila sponge cake". It sounds light and summery, but what is delivered looks slightly manufactured, dare I say "Twinkie-like" and has almost no flavor to it. I should have quite while I was ahead. The sidewalk cafe atmosphere, chacuterie and cheese platters and sangria are worthy of another visit, despite the awkward service and mediocre dessert.