by Jen Lucas, Pack Up + Go Contributor

After a holiday whirlwind which included tons of gift buying and wrapping, family gatherings, too much food and wine, playing Santa, and cleaning up Christmas, I felt the urge to pack up the car and venture due east towards Philadelphia. The purpose of the trip was to visit college friends and a new baby, but, as with every adventure I embark on, I had to check out a local spot or two that I had’t been to before.  I set out with one of our Pack Up + Go Philadelphia itineraries, which provides ample options for restaurants of all flavors, bars, museums, coffee shops, even how to explore like a local.

There were so many interesting places listed that I wanted to explore, but I only had a small window outside of the quality time with friends and cheesesteak indulgences to commit. Two spots, both located in Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood, stuck out. So before heading home, I made a detour to see the sites in the area, specifically Milkcrate Café and Pizza Brain.

Milkcrate Café is a coffee shop/record store in one so I figured I couldn’t go wrong especially since I collect vinyl. Walking in, I first noticed the walls lined in for sale vinyl and immediately recognized the variety of music genres, so I was looking forward to shopping around. The coffee shop, like many others, was a bit small with two floors, and the downstairs housed tables with boxes of records for purchase. First, I needed caffeine!

No longer a coffee drinker, I opted for tea and appreciated the wide variety of options, same for those who prefer coffee, latte, espresso drinks. I was also impressed and amused by the food menu with catchy, music inspired names, including the Smoke on the Water Bagel, Ike and Tina Tuna Sandwich, and A Tribe Called Quesadilla. Breakfast is served all day and lunch starts at 11am. I passed on the food because, although I appreciate a good coffee shop sandwich, I was saving my appetite for the next pit stop and instead ventured downstairs to do some shopping.

Validating my initial observation, the record store had an awesome, wide-spread selection of choices from Jazz to Funk to Rock to Hip Hop, some brand new, some in good/used condition and all very reasonably priced. Personally, I prefer shopping for vinyl this way: rummaging through boxes and finding gems to ordering online. And find gems I did!

After that successful endeavor I moved along to the next stop, Pizza Brain—part pizza shop, part pizza museum. Unable to pass up a good slice, let alone the home of the world’s largest collection of pizza-memorabilia (as certified by Guinness Records), I arrived at a modest looking pizza shop. Walking in changed that impression as all of my senses were heightened.  The pizza smell, the visual stimulation from the pizza-themed toys (mostly from my childhood), an iPad with pictures of celebrities eating pizza, a collection of VHS tapes (all pizza-related of course), an outdoor mural with animated characters… it was anything but modest. Now came the tough decision of choosing a slice.

The whole pies are huge—22 inches is the only size—but they also serve by the slice. The “by the slice” options change daily and are noted on the menu board. They also have a variety of pies with different cheeses, veggies, meats and sauces. Red pies are in red letters on the board and white in white letters. I chose the Leonard Bookman, which is a white pie with mozzarella, fontina, ricotta, black pepper, garlic and, that day, included broccoli.

After a full, happy belly (once again) and two very successful stops on my city tour, it was time to hit the Pennsylvania Turnpike due west. I’m not sure I would’ve otherwise found these great places, but thanks to the Pack Up + Go itinerary I did, and I have even more to check off next time I venture to Philadelphia!