Finally, it’s fall. What do I crave most as we head into sweater weather? No, I’m not talking about pumpkin spice mishigas. I’m talking latkes—delicious potato pancakes—typically eaten around Hanukkah. Unlike the holiday displays at CVS, I believe the consumption of latkes can never come too soon.
Philly has an annual "Latkepalooza" in December, where restaurants like Jones, Circles and Federal Donuts serve gourmet latkes. As a pregame to this event, since December feels too far away, I organized a latke crawl. .
I’ve never been much of a beer-crawl person. As a sedentary life form I’d rather pick a place and stick to it, but the promise of new latkes waiting to be discovered was enough for me to break my rule. I picked four spots within walking distance of each other and designed a scorecard to keep track of my findings (including a spot for a doodle of each latke. Spoiler alert, they’re surprisingly hard to draw.)
I will say upfront that I am not a latke purist. Some people believe that in order to be a true latke the potato must be grated, not mashed. As one friend said so well, “the important thing about latkes is that there’s literally skin in the game” from the tedious and sometimes painful grating process. Generally, I’d like my latke to have onion or seasoning of some kind, and of course sour cream on the side.
I brought with me two of my most gung-ho, pro-potato friends, and we embarked on our deliciously salty journey. Here's how it went:
Schlesinger’s Deli, 1521 Locust St
These were the crispiest. They were very simple, no onion, made with matzo meal instead of flour, and served with your classic sour cream and applesauce. A side order of two was gone too soon.
Rooster Soup Co., 1526 Sansom St
The “breakfast potatoes” at Rooster Soup Co. are a halfway point between a latke and a hashbrown patty, served with brunch fare. The potato pieces were grated and held together delicately, like a birds nest. They were crispy on the outside, softer on the inside and chives were sprinkled on top. Not sure I would call them a latke, because they were more ball-like than pancake, but they are certainly latke adjacent.
Tria Taproom, 2005 Walnut St
These had scallion and parsley in the potato mixture and they sat on a sour cream/horseradish spread. The crispy-to-soft ratio was well-executed. There’s a larger appetizer size that comes with salmon, if you’re into that.
Famous 4th Street Delicatessen, 700 S. 4th St
The gold standard, in my opinion. The consistency on the inside was more mashed than grated, which I preferred (don’t @ me) and there was a slight tanginess from onion powder. These were also served with sour cream and applesauce, or as a side to a monstrous sandwich in lieu of slaw or chips. (Always choose the latkes!)
Honey’s Sit & Eat (2101 South St and 800 N 4th St) If you don’t mind waiting.
Abe Fisher (1623 Sansom St) If you’re feeling fancy.
Start later: Best to avoid the brunch crowd. We started around 1pm so that the bulk of the crawling would be done after the brunch rush. You’ll also feel less like a jerk for ordering one menu item before grabbing the check.
Pace yourself: This one was hard. It’s easy to get excited, but remember, you’re in it for the long haul. The delis (Schlesinger’s and Famous) have giant portions, but stick to a half order so you save room. Also, I recommend taking part in the complimentary pickles and slaws as a palate cleanser.
Ask questions: If you grew up eating latkes or making latkes, chances are you have a lot of opinions about what makes a good one. Ask the servers about the house recipe, or chat with the people around you about their latke preferences. I was surprised how candid people were.
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