Philadelphia's Founding Fathers Revival

By Kae Lani Kennedy, Foodable Contributor

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In Philadelphia locals and tourists alike enjoy walking in the footsteps of our nation’s Founding Fathers. Visitors can stroll the same cobblestone streets as George Washington, sit in Franklin Court where Benjamin Franklin once lived and even stand in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed. But another way Philadelphia brings this rich history to life is through recreating the favorite recipes of the America Revolution’s most prominent statesmen.

Eating History

City Tavern, located in Old City, offers an experience that will immerse guests in 18th century culture. In the early 1770’s, City Tavern served as the meeting place for revolutionaries to talk about issues and plan a new nation. Though it is rebuilt, the City Tavern stands where the older building once stood, and is reconstructed to look exactly like the original, while including modern facilities.  

Chef Walter Staib, host of A Taste of History and author of several cookbooks about colonial foods, delivers an authentic colonial dining experience. The cuisine is inspired by the recipes written in letters, 18th century cooking methods and ingredients that were available during that time period.  Even the staff is dressed for the occasion in clothes that were the tradition outfits of 18th century waiters who worked at City Tavern.

Crab Cakes at City Tavern | YELP, Dianah M. 

Crab Cakes at City Tavern | YELP, Dianah M. 

At first glance of the menu, you can see how bountiful the Philadelphia region is through the wide variety of ingredients.  Seafood dishes include crab cakes, basil shrimp with apple-smoked bacon, and a Philadelphia colonial favorite, giant cornmeal fried oysters.  As Philadelphia had a very strong German influence during the Revolutionary War, Staib was sure to include a few Pennsylvania Dutch style dishes including veal sausages, and a wiener schnitzel. The menu also includes an authentic vegetarian option; a tofu dish found in a letter from Benjamin Franklin to John Bartram.

Drinking History

Working closely with City Tavern, Philadelphia’s own Yards Brewery has revived a few colonial favorites in a line of beers called the "Ales of the Revolution". Referring to original recipes and brewing techniques from Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, Yards Brewery brings to life three 18th century brews with broad range of styles and flavors.  All of these are available throughout the year at local beer distributors, as well as served at City Tavern.

Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale

Classified as a strong golden ale, Jefferson’s recipe uses ingredients that he would find around his garden at Monticello; rye and wheat like traditional beers, but included a touch of honey for a bit of sweetness. Since it has an ABV of 8.0%, it is paired nicely with a robust, fatty dish like roast duck, pork chops and any type of charcuterie.

Beer tasting flight of the different Founding Father's beer at City Tavern | YELP, Lily L. 

Beer tasting flight of the different Founding Father's beer at City Tavern | YELP, Lily L. 

George Washington’s Tavern Porter

In a letter to one of his officers during the Revolutionary War, Washington detailed instructions on how to brew a porter, rich in the caramel flavors of a traditional porter, but not as heavy as the original. Instead, it is considered a Philadelphia-style porter, which is characterized by its dark, robust flavor, while maintaining a smooth texture.  Because it is malty, it can be paired nicely with any chocolate or vanilla dessert.

Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce

Carrying the name of his famed almanac, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce has an interesting history. Some believe that during the Revolutionary War, malts and hops were hard to come by, forcing American colonists to resort to brewing with things like pumpkins and spruce. Though the history is not clear, it is a fact that colonists were experimenting with brewing non-traditional ingredients and Benjamin Franklin was among those experimental brew masters.

The original recipe features barley, molasses and essence of spruce.  Because it has a stronger flavor than the other two beers in the “Ales of the Revolution,” it can be used as a marinade or enjoyed with herby dishes with earthy notes.

City Tavern- 138 S 2nd Street Philadelphia, PA 19106