By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
While the unluckiness of Friday the 13th loomed in this germaphobe reporter’s background, I boarded an Amtrak to Philadelphia with a promotion on significantly discounted tickets the entire month of November.
It felt fairly safe and clean on the 9:00 a.m. Acela to Philadelphia. The train car, which was assigned with a seat, was practically empty and everyone present wore masks. This reporter also brought a sanitizing spray for the, what seemed to be, clean seats, and peace of mind.
The ride from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia is beautiful. Riding through Joppatowne or sights of the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers, the water along the Amtrak trip from D.C. to Philadelphia is a beautiful sight to see and highlight of the experience, and then in a little over an hour and a half this reporter arrived in the City of Brother Love.
Straight off the train, the first stop in the Philadelphia adventure was checking into Akwaaba Inns in Philadelphia, a Black owned bed and breakfast with locations in New York, New Jersey and the nation’s capital. Although there was a bit of a mixup in check-in times, the innkeeper, Ms. Tonie, called with a welcoming tone and allowed the AFRO to stay in the inn’s library, which featured Awkwaaba swag and wrap around the wall album collection of Black artists from Philadelphia.
After cleaning up and changing the AFRO headed to the Black-woman-owned Booker’s Restaurant and Bar for their daily brunch from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Their buffalo cauliflower was a highlight and their classic selection of soul food brunch items with a twist, such as Fried Chicken, Fried Shrimp and Waffles and a Blueberry Cheesecake French Toast, which was also fried and more than filling (allowing for leftovers).
Booker’s has been located in a gentrifying neighborhood of West Philadelphia and with a soulful, popping playlist and large unapologetically Black mural saying “THE AFRO MARKET”, Booker’s mixes with the classic with a modern twist.
“Here on Baltimore Avenue, which is a historic part of Philadelphia, this is the only American fare… there’s a lot of culture here and this area has been gentrified, and this is a place people can come and get the best of every world. We are a Black-owned business, but first we are a business, and a business that is welcoming to everybody. We set the vibe… we want to have a place that’s welcoming, and we want you to come in, and not so much, be caught in the music, but it needs to be the soundtrack of your life- of your brunch when you come in. What was the soundtrack? What are you going to take away from it,” Booker’s Kitchen Manager Jeremy told the AFRO.
“We care about consistency. We care about a great guest experience. We are the Disney World of Baltimore Avenue,” Jeremy said with passion.
After Booker’s this reporter headed over to Reading Terminal Market, one of the nation’s oldest and largest public markets, for a tour and interview with the market’s General Manager Connor Murphy.
Murphy joked that though it was Friday, the 13th, visiting today with him, gave us the “Luck of the Irish.”
In a fun and engaging interview, Murphy explained the history of Reading Terminal Market, which was opened in 1893 and currently has about 80 merchants. The market also used to be an active train station, where trains would quite literally go over the merchants’ shops, sometimes causing rain water to seep from the tracks to businesses. There are merchants present who can remember the trains passing over the stores, such as the folks at Down Home Diner at Reading Terminal Market, who graciously allowed the AFRO to use the their space for conducting an interview.
In addition to speaking with Murphy, the AFRO spoke to Alejandro, co-owner of A Taste of Spain, who, along with his wife, imports top quality Spanish goods to Philadelphia, and with their online store, all over the nation.
“It’s easy to find Spanish products here and there in Philadelphia, it’s one of the biggest cities in the country, so though it’s possible to find good quality products in the city and other places in the country, it’s very hard to find places all of them in the same spot- and that’s the idea,” Alejandro told the AFRO. “We’re not only just selling the products, we’re trying to allow people to get to know us, to get to know Spain, from its traditional cuisine, and culture aspects from the products that we sell.”
From Reading Terminal Market, the AFRO walked to the Octavius V. Catto Memorial, a 12-foot statue standing at Philadelphia’s City Hall. Catto was a Black educator and activist, who was born free and a founding member of the Banneker Institute in Philadelphia. While there a boisterous and passionate Black man saw this reporter recording the statue and his own testimony regarding Catto:
“Reincarnation two times… Look at me and look at him. He died when he was 32, I live at the age of 32. Let’s go,” the man said standing on the statue before abruptly walking away.
When this reporter got to check into the “Roots Retreat” apartment at the Akwaaba, she was in for a treat. It was a large apartment with three rooms (including an entertainment room), an original bathroom, kitchen and a cupola for relaxing, which is an area on top of a building that was used during wartime as a lookout or means to let in light and air.
The Roots Retreat was a perfect place to chill for a few hours before heading back downtown to The Wayward located in The Canopy by Hilton. While The Wayward is in a hotel, it’s not one’s average “hotel restaurant.” Chef Yun Fuentes said while the restaurant is heavily influenced by elements of the beautiful, modern hotel The Wayward is its own entity.
Opening in August 2020, during the pandemic, there are clear elements of The Wayward’s menu and seating arrangements that shows the chef’s consideration of the unprecedented times. The large appetizers and entrees are cooked, cut and prepared in a manner that allowed for safe sharing, as people could only touch their food and use a clean utensil to serve. The seating is spacious and allows for each table and guest to feel comfortable in their invisible bubbles.
“Dishes that were designed to share at the table, we broke them down… so that the whole table could enjoy it safely,” Chef Fuentes told the AFRO.
The food itself was delicious. An American Brasserie, The Wayward offered French- inspired food with an American twist such as collard au gratin, which were a favorite among those with whom this reporter dined, the corn beignets, chicken with a green peas and cornbread stuffing over a pumpkin, coffee puree and Branzino on top of an almondine green bean.
For more coverage of the AFRO trip to Philadelphia, visit www.facebook./AfroAmercicanNews or for more information on how to enjoy a similar trip from the nation’s capital to the city of brother love, visit www.amtrak.com.