By Steve Herte
A Philadelphia Movie Tour
Over the past week I vacationed in Philadelphia and hoped to view some movies on the On-Demand channel in my hotel in my spare time between touring and dinner. But the gods of electronics were not smiling upon me and that particular feature of my television hook-up was a mixture of “audio only,” “no signal,” blank screen, or worse, multicolored pixels that froze on the screen changing occasionally to reveal a different pattern. Though complaints were made and electricians reported for duty, it was never resolved. But weren’t there a lot of movies situated in this town that could be remembered just by touring?
Arriving in Philadelphia via Amtrak at the 30th Street Station I couldn’t help but remember the scene from Witness (1985) where a young Amish boy witnesses a murder there. Independence Hall had a brief scene in National Treasure (2004) when Nicholas Cage discovered a coded message on the back of the Declaration of Independence. And who could forget the zombies of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) at one point shambling along the streets of Philadelphia?
Unlike Rocky Balboa, whose triumphant statue stands at the bottom of the 72 steps to the plaza facing the Art Museum, I finished the remaining 28 steps and actually roamed the fantastic halls and galleries within. This museum is not just about painting and sculpture. There are rooms of period furniture, suits of armor and medieval weaponry, an entire Hindu temple and a complete Japanese Teahouse. The collection is so enormous that the Annex was opened a block away to house more of the vast collection. The 1980 movie Dressed to Kill used interior scenes from the Art Museum as well.
The double-decker bus tour took me to the University of Pennsylvania (started by Ben Franklin himself to ensure that anyone could attend college, not just the wealthy) where the opening scenes of Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen (2009) were shot. Also a stop on this tour was the Eastern State Penitentiary - started using Quakers principles to achieve “penitence” in the inmates through solitary confinement - where further scenes from Transformers were filmed as well as scenes from 12 Monkeys (1995).
The largest City Hall building in America was featured most often in movies - being the most prominent feature of center city - in 12 Monkeys, Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia (1993), and most notably in Trading Places (1983), particularly the view from the giant clothespin statue at 15th Street and Market, where Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy performed their antics. Also in that same area, is the Macy’s department store where I shopped, previously Lord and Taylor and originally, Wanamaker’s, the first department store. It was into one of Wanamaker’s store-front windows that a car chase ended in the 1981 movie Blow Out.
Lastly, the charm and quaintness of Old Town near Penn’s Landing become strangely sinister when I thought of the Sixth Sense (1999), where several scenes were filmed. And of course, the ever-present murals bring back Detective Rush and the Cold Case team from television. Even though I saw no movies per se, I felt as if I was directly involved in the making of many by being there.
Union Trust Steakhouse
717 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
The last dinner of a vacation is always so bittersweet and somehow needs to be special. When I planned all my reservations, this slot was meant to be the only restaurant to be a re-visitation. The Prime Rib is not only an excellent steakhouse but a second home for me in Philadelphia. Not for lack of trying however, a reservation was not to be had, being the height of tourism season for this restaurant in particular. Union Trust Steakhouse had big shoes to fill indeed.
The name suggests its previous incarnation and once you see the building looming in front of you, you are sure this was a major bank at one time. The heavy-burnished iron doors lead you into the cavernous, arched-ceilinged interior, built when people paid special attention to the ornamentation and artistry of architecture. The eight soaring arched windows cast pastel lighting on the deep-red velvet plush booths and the long, slender, mesh-encased light bulbs hanging from the ceiling add to the grandeur and romance of Union Trust.
While I sat awestruck, the waiter arrived, all smiles and cordiality, took my martini order, explained the menu and listed the specials assuring me that anything that could possibly be done for me would be. The martini was exactly as I would have made it at home. His description of the Latin Smoked Oysters hooked me. Served on the half-shell with a touch of avocado and a light vinegary taste bordering on ceviché, they were delightful.
Another server brought the bread basket containing three different bread items. A sour-dough biscuit, Date-nut Bread and Pretzels! “I love this place,” I told the waiter. I’ve been in town all week and haven’t had a Philly pretzel (though I was seriously tempted at the zoo), and here they are. After the two in the basket were gone, I ordered two more.
Below the list of steaks on the menu are the lists of toppings, crusts, and rubs available to ameliorate the dining experience. I chose the Rib-Eye Filet Mignon with an Espresso Rub and topped with a Seared Foie Gras cooked “Black and Blue” (crispy on the outside, rare on the inside). For a side dish, there was only one I haven’t had before. It was Patty pan Squash sautéed in garlic and oil with Baby Zucchini. A 2008 “Quivira” Zinfandel from Dry Creek California was the perfect accompaniment.
Once I traded in my dull steak knife for a sharp one I was in carnivore heaven. The Filet Mignon was cooked to my tastes and temperature, the rub gave the steak a breathy, coffee flavor and the foie gras was the sweet icing on top. The side dish was also amazing (I think I’ll try growing Patty Pan Squash next year).
I only had to glance at the dessert menu to know what I wanted, so I turned the menu face-down, asked my waiter to guess. He answered, “S’Mores.” Absolutely correct! After devouring the slightly frozen marshmallow/chocolate/graham cracker confection the only thing left for me to cap a perfect evening meal was a double espresso and fine glass of Sassicaia Grappa and I was ready for karaoke at the Crowne Plaza hotel. Union Trust not only filled those big shoes, they overflowed them.
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