Last week (October 2003), we found ourselves in old Philadelphia, hungry and "Liberty Belled"-out. We asked at the tourist office for recommendations for a restaurant (our main priority being proximity to said tourist office) and among the places they mentioned was City Tavern. They told us that this was a place where the wait-staff dressed in period clothing and they gave us a "buy one entree-get one free" coupon. The coupon was very restrictive vis-a-vis days and times, but it was actually good for that day. So we figured "why not?" and headed that way.
Our expectations of City Tavern weren't very high - we knew it was both gimmicky and aimed at tourists, but hey, we were tourists after all. We were quite pleasantly surprised.
The large restaurant (it has 10 separate dining rooms on several floors), sees itself as the heir of the old City Tavern (apparently located on the same lot) that functioned as the "unofficial meeting place for the First Constitutional Congress." It serves 18th-century American high-end food, served by staff in 18th-century dress. The building itself is very nice, and the dining rooms are cozy while austere. We chose to eat on the veranda as it was a beautiful day, and it was very pleasant there.
The lunch menu is not very extensive but had many appetizing choices. The prices seemed a bit high for lunch, but the coupon made it a bargain. We both skipped the appetizers, as we weren't that hungry and instead went directly for the entrees. I ordered the braised rabbit ($13) and when that wasn't available, the roasted duck ($18). Mike had the "Martha Washington Style Colonial Turkey Pot Pie" ($14).
City Tavern seems to take pride in their breads (they are for sale at their store, and they've just published a baking cookbook) and the meal started with slices of three different breads. We particularly liked the sweet-potato and pecan biscuits; we could see why they were Thomas Jefferson's favorite. The other two types of bread (I forget what they were) were fine too, though not as good. The bread portion was quite generous and we didn't have to ask for more.
The food came promptly (too promptly; it must have already been prepared and either kept hot or re-heated before serving) and was quite good. My duck, which had a honey glaze, was very tasty, though it had too much fat (yes, duck is a fatty bird, but some of the fat here could have been removed). The accompanying barley was OK, but I don't know how much you can do with barley.
Mike really, really liked the turkey pot pie he had. In his words "it rocked." I may get the City Tavern cookbook just so I can make it for him - though we both cringe at the amount of fat it likely contained. Still, it made him happy.
We decided against having dessert because we were going to the Hershey chocolate factory that afternoon and figured we'd have enough sweets over there (as it turned out, we didn't). If we ever go back to Philadelphia again (stranger things have happened) we're likely to try City Tavern again and this time we won't skip the desserts.
138 South 2nd Street at Walnut Street