Photo: Courtesy of Young American
Erwin has lived in Germantown for more than 40 years — and she knows food

Valerie Erwin
Valerie Erwin ’79
Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

I’ve lived in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood for more than 40 years, so I know the area. I also know food. I learned to cook at 8 years old and spent most of my career in the kitchen — from working as a line cook to owning my own restaurant, Geechee Girl, for 12 years. For those unfamiliar with Philly, leafy Germantown serves as a buffer between hardscrabble Nicetown, to the south, and upscale Mount Airy, to the north. Farther north lies even tonier Chestnut Hill. The entire distance is about four miles, but in Philadelphia, that’s a whole lot of neighborhood. Outside of the usual touristy spots like the Liberty Bell, here are a few unusual stops I’d recommend for alums who visit the City of Brotherly Love.

Material Culture
Photo: Courtesy of Material Culture

Material Culture

4700 Wissahickon Ave.

Material Culture sits on the Nicetown/Germantown border in a former industrial complex. Owner George Jevremovic began by importing and then commissioning rugs from Turkey. He soon realized that there were other artisan crafts that he loved, and an entire world to buy them from. The result is this international emporium that I visit when I want a museum experience without admission fees and all the rules. The vast warehouse is filled with paintings, furniture, crafts, and, of course, rugs. Material Culture also has small wares that allow me to indulge my desire to buy.

Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books

5445 Germantown Ave.

Uncle Bobbie’s exemplifies the warmest — and coolest — parts of Germantown. The store was started in 2017 by professor Marc Lamont Hill with the intention of creating a community hub. Community hub it certainly is. Uncle Bobbie’s lives up to its motto of “Cool People. Dope Books. Great Coffee.” It’s the place that made me break my resolution to stop buying new books. In addition to delicious coffee and an impressive inventory of books, Uncle Bobbie’s has a nice selection of local pastries, including a killer sweet potato pie.

Wyck rose
Photo: Wyck Historic House

Wyck Historic House, Garden, and Farm

6026 Germantown Ave.

As a friend says, you can’t swing a dead cat in Germantown without hitting a historic house. Wyck is the best of the lot. The house, built in 1690, has remained virtually unchanged since 1824. Wyck was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and soon thereafter became a house museum.

What sets Wyck apart from similar sites is that all of the 10,000-plus objects belonged to the original owners, the Haines/Wistar family. Wyck’s beautiful grounds include the country’s oldest rose garden, containing over 50 rose cultivars. You can visit the house with its centuries of possessions from the notoriously thrifty Quaker family, see the exquisite rose garden, and observe — and even work in — Wyck’s revitalized community farm. Full disclosure: I sit on Wyck’s board, but joined it because I love Wyck, and not the other way around.

Cider house interior
Young American Hard Cider & Tasting Room opened in 2020 and serves a selection of (alcoholic and nonalcoholic) drinks, and food from a small menu. It has a cozy indoor dining room that pays homage to historic Germantown and also an open-air pavilion.
Photo: Courtesy of Young American

Young American Hard Cider & Tasting Room

6350 Germantown Ave.

Sculptor Kate Kaman wanted to add a community-minded use to the 19th century building that houses her studio. She enlisted fellow artist Stephanie Cole and farmer and beverage maker Jesse Bilger to open Young American Hard Cider & Tasting Room. The 2020 opening was unfortunate timing for the partners, but a boon to nearby neighbors like me.

Young American offers a selection of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages and a small but carefully executed food menu. Kate creates the hard cider, Jesse makes rotating flavors of kombucha (it will change your mind about kombucha), and Stephanie bakes the hand pies. I haven’t eaten a cheesesteak in more than 40 years, but even I eat Young American’s Route 23 beef and cheese hand pie. There’s a cozy indoor tasting room plus a lovely roofed patio. If you’re lucky, you can hear one of Young American’s revolving slate of local musicians.

Morris Arboretum Rail
Photo: Morris Arboretum

Morris Arboretum & Gardens

100 E. Northwestern Ave.

Philadelphia’s founder William Penn envisioned the city as a “greene country towne.” Chestnut Hill’s Morris Arboretum was probably what he had in mind. Morris lies within the city but has a definite country feel. The $10 to $20 admission gains you access to this 92-acre arboretum and garden. There are trails that go throughout the grounds and several discrete gardens. Much of the arboretum is accessible, and mobility scooters are available for use. If trees, plants, and flowers don’t float your boat, there is a miniature (G gauge) railroad, complete with buildings, signposts, and curiosities. Morris hosts various public events through the entire year.

Tiger Travel Logo
Illustration: Nishant Choksi

Tiger Travels

Editor’s note: This is a preview of a new feature called “Tiger Travels” in which PAW calls on Princetonians to share their experiences and expertise with food, travel, and adventures. Keep an eye on PAW and for the launch this summer.