Maury Z. Levy

The Best of Philly. And the Worst: In the Beginning

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980) on January 24, 2010 at 10:53 am

By Maury Z. Levy

God couldn’t be here tonight, so we’ve taken this opportunity to fill in for Him. This of course is the ultimate arrogance, presenting a list of the best and worst of anything. Who are we, you might ask, to make such judgments? Well, this list represents the input of a lot of 
people.

The job of compiling it was not unlike building the Holland Tunnel. We had our share of casualties. People washed away in a foamy sea of milkshakes. People whose 
clothes were torn to shreds by bad cleaners. People who had their ears pierced three and four times. People who had their hair cut beyond recognition.

We did all of this for you, of course. And we certainly hope you appreciate it. We’ve saved you the trouble of trying every greasy spoon in town the next time you’re in the mood for a pizza or a steak sandwich. We’d like to thank the people who make Maalox for making this all 
possible.

We’ve saved you the trouble of shopping around for clothes or standing on the wrong corner waiting for a cab. And we offer you the best place to pick up a backgammon 
game. And the best place to pick up a secretary. And a lot more.

We surely don’t expect you to agree with all of our choices. Of course you’ll have your own expert opinions on a lot of these items. And you’ll think your opinions are 
better than ours. Well, you’re certainly entitled to that. That’s why they make ice milk.

FOOD

Ice cream

Best: Bassett’s in the Reading Terminal Market has the purest flavorings and the highest butterfat content around. Great if you love ice cream. A little hairy if you’ve got a heart condition.

Worst: Greenwood Dairies on Route I just north of Penndel. Used to be a pig’s paradise. Somehow, they’ve eliminated the paradise part.

Soft pretzels

Best: Twist and Bake at 2 1/2 North 13th Street has them big and hot and fresh and cheap. Worst: Spectrum after a 76ers game. They’re small and cold and expensive. And lonely.

Steak sandwiches

Best: Pat’s in South Philly. If the peppers arc still good enough for the Mummers, then some things never change.

Worst: Pat’s in the Northeast. You can take the name out of South Philly, but the quality just doesn’t travel well. Even the bread’s soggy.

Pizza

Best: Fonzo’s at 48th and Chestnut, in the heart of ethnic West Philly. Crust is crisp and consistent. Ask Dom to give you the works. Tell him Jack McKinney sent you.

Worst: Shakey’s. Tastes like an American cheese sandwich with ketchup.

Steak

Best: Arthur’s on Walnut Street, an obvious choice that’s 
tough to top.

Worst: Emerson’s Ltd. in the Plymouth Meeting Mall. 
They’re not called limited for nothing. No matter how you 
order it, it seems to come out the same. Burned.

Chocolate cake

Best: Rindelaub’s on 18th Street. You don’t have to be Aryan to enjoy the moist sweetness of the German delight.

Worst: The Tastykake trio. It gets smaller as the prices get bigger.

Meal under $1

Best: Gino’s. If it’s good enough for the cops. . . .

Worst: Bain’s. They’ve tried to clean up their act, but it’s just not worth it.

Meal under $2

Best: Sabina’s in Port Richmond. The best Polish food around. No joke. Try the kielbasa.

Worst: Seafood Unlimited on South 20th Street. Don’t let the name fool you.

Meal over $25

Best: Le Bee Fin, the head of the class.

Worst: Cobblestones, unless you order steak.

Hoagies

Best: The unnamed luncheonette at 10th and Fitzwater. One of the few places around still using old original Italian ingredients. The ham’s enough to let you make a pig 
of yourself.

Worst: Blimpy’s. How onomatopoetic can you get?

Brunch

Best: Lautrec. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and the New York Times too.

Worst: The Marriott, where the creamed chipped beef wouldn’t exactly make you re-enlist. Orange juice is extra. So is warmth.

Cheesecake

Best: Aunt Sylvia’s, upstairs at 123 South 18th Street. It’s rich and creamy and light. A memorable experience that won’t lay on you for a week.

Worst: The yellow peril at Horn & Hardart, unless you’re 
a sawdust freak.

Candy

Best: Bayard’s on Route 70 in Cherry Hill. They roll their own, but it’s legal and fattening.

Worst: Fannie Mae, anywhere. Cheap in more ways than one. The box is tastier.

Milkshake

Best: The Cosmic Kitchen on Germantown Avenue. Only natural ingredients and fresh fruit are used. It’s called a smoothie. It’s also a cheapie.

Worst: Roy Rogers. Someone should teach them to pull 
the trigger on the mixing machines.

Coffee

Best: Taylor’s Country Store on Sansom Street. The kind you’d grind at home. And you can keep going back for 
more.

Worst: Any machine owned by ARA.

Scrapple

Best: Habersett’s, cooked at home.

Worst: Horn & Hardart again. Tastes like burned oatmeal.

Breakfast

Best: Ponzio’s on the Ellisburg Circle in Cherry Hill. Big, hot tasty portions. Quick and clean.

Worst: Dewey’s, where you’re bound to get a cold shoulder with your cold toast.

Deli

Best: The Famous at 4th and Bainbridge, where you can 
still get it while it’s hot. Fresh, not fatty. Corned beef is 
excellent. Your mouth could water driving by.

Worst: Day’s at 18th and Spruce. The cold cuts are certainly better than the 7-11. But you can’t say that for the 
price, the service and the portions.

Salad bar

Best: Wildflowers. it’s just unending. You even get assorted cheese, warm bread and tomatoes. Remember tomatoes?

Worst: Victoria Station on Route 202 in Valley Forge. It’s great if you’re a rabbit. Otherwise, the unrelenting lettuce wears a bit thin.

Cheese shop

Best: The Blueberry Barn on Main Street in Marlton, N.J. It’s hard to figure out what a place with such a selection is doing so far in the sticks, but the natives aren’t asking questions, just enjoying.

Worst: The deli counter at Pantry Pride.

Hamburgers

Best: H.A.Winston’s. Burgers with an accent (not MSG) 
of international flavor. A large menu goes well with the large portions.

Worst: Marbett’s on Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden. Can you find the hidden hamburger in this sandwich?

Hot dog

Best: Deitz and Watson. Buy some and cook them at home. Those little men on the street corners are still Greek

Worst: At a Phillies’ game. They go well with a losing team.

French fries

Best: Zern’s in Gilbertsville (on Route 73 right past Boyertown). Made right in front of your eyes. Thick and rich and crisp. Served in a cone with vinegar or mayonnaise. A 
super tasty bargain.

Worst: The Paper Plate on 15th Street. A real fast food place, so fast they sometimes forget to cook them.

Crabs

Best: The Crab Shack, Wilmington. Great food. funky atmosphere.

Worst: Kelly’s on Ludlow Street. No crab like an old crab.

Onion soup

Best: Bistro Déjà Vu. Super-secret recipe. The only thing we can reveal is the Swiss cheese on top.

Worst: Pavio’s. Try to find the onions at three convenient locations.

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  1. […] Levy, who helped shepherd the magazine through a pretty amazing era. Maury has struck gold again by re-posting the first-ever “Best & Worst” issue of Philadelphia Magazine, originally…. To view the O.G. “Best & Worst” now and “Best Of Philly” is to […]

  2. I remember the first Best & Worst in Philly because I made the list. I kept it preserved like a important document. Years later it helped me get a job when I desperately needed one.
    Thanks to Maury without whom I would have just been one more waitress in a city full of wonderful restaurants.

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