July 13, 2017

Philadelphia's French Connections

Visitors To Philly Discover America's Century-Old Champs-Élysées & Much More

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Rittenhouse Square, one of French-born architect Paul Philippe Cret’s many contributions to the cityscape. Photo by R. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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The Barnes Foundation houses Dr. Albert Barnes’ 4,000-piece art collection of French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, American and African art. Photo by R. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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The Thinker outside of the Rodin Museum, one of the greatest collections of the French artist's work outside of Paris. Photo by VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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The Benjamin Franklin Parkway turns 100 this year, returning one of Philadelphia’s many French connections to the limelight. Paul Philippe Cret and Jacques Gréber planned the museum-lined boulevard to emulate Paris’ Champs-Élysées. A century later, a 14-month-long birthday fête Parkway 100 (September 8, 2017-November 16, 2018) includes major public art installations and cultural events. The Parkway itself is a rich repository of French art—from the Barnes Foundation to the Rodin Museum to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s also one of the region’s many French cultural, gastronomic and fashion influences.

Here’s a look at the many ways Philadelphia feels French:

Louvre-worthy Art:

  • Barnes Foundation – Dr. Albert Barnes’ esteemed collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings, African sculpture and more are easily accessible in their Benjamin Franklin Parkway home. The Barnes has the largest collection of Renoir works (181) in the world, along with plenty of Cézannes (69) and Matisses (59). In the current special exhibition, Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders (open through October 2, 2017), African-American horseback riders in North Philadelphia are inspiration for the French-Algerian artist and his Philadelphia artist-collaborators. Reservations are highly suggested. 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 278-7000, barnesfoundation.org
  • Joan of Arc – Emmanuel Frémiet sculpted the gleaming, gilded bronze statue of the young French saint and heroine of the Hundred Years War that stands along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 1890. Two other versions of the statue stand—one in the Place des Pyramides in Paris; the other, in Nancy, France. Kelly Drive at 25th Street, associationforpublicart.org
  • La Salle University Art Museum – An impressive number of 18th-, 19th– and 20th-century French paintings—both portraits and landscapes—from artists such as Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Eugène Fromentin and Albert Gleizes fill the gallery at this North Philadelphia university named for Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle. La Salle is the only university in the Philadelphia area to own a permanent display of paintings, drawings and sculptures from the Renaissance to the present. 1900 W. Olney Avenue, (215) 951-1221, lasalle.edu/museum
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art – Significant works by French masters reside among the more than 227,000-piece collection in Philadelphia’s largest art museum. Visitors discover lush paintings by Renoir, iconic works by Matisse, groundbreaking pieces by Marcel Duchamp and Monet’s many scenes set in the French countryside. French decorative arts also appear among the works. Currently on special exhibit through December 3, 2017: Marcel Duchamp and the Fountain Scandal, an examination of the artist’s controversial work that changed the course of modern art. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100, philamuseum.org
  • Rodin Museum – One of the greatest collections of Rodin’s work outside of Paris—sculptures, studies, books, drawings and prints—is another jewel of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Rodin’s galleries and grounds, restored to the site’s original vision, include sculptures in the museum’s exquisite French garden. 2151 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100, rodinmuseum.org
  • The Rosenbach – An 1860s brownstone tucked on a quiet residential block near Rittenhouse Square serves as a museum and library. The attractions here: a vast collection of rare books and letters, including drawings by 18th-century French masters Françcois Boucher and Hubert Gravelot, an illuminated manuscript of Guillaume de Deguileville’s Pèlerinages acrostics (1437) and manuscripts by Emile Zola and Anatole France. 2008-2010 Delancey Place, (215) 732-1600, rosenbach.org

French Restaurants In Philly:

  • Beau Monde – This now veteran of the city’s dining scene keeps regulars returning for sweet and savory Breton crepes, ciders and more, served in a charming, Beaux Arts-style bistro. Patrons can head upstairs to L’Etage for dancing, music and cocktails. 624 S. 6th Street, (215) 592-0656, creperie-beaumonde.com
  • Bibou – Chef Pierre Calmels, with a pedigree that includes stints at New York’s Daniel and Philadelphia’s legendary, now shuttered Le Bec-Fin is the brilliant mind behind the seven-course tasting menu at this coveted Bella Vista bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) spot. Star ingredients on the weekly French rotation: foie gras, snail cocotte, domestic lamb and New Jersey-grown blueberries. 1009 S. 8th Street, (215) 965-8290, biboubyob.com
  • Bistrot La Minette – Chef Peter Woolsey studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris; his wife Peggy hails from Dijon. Together, they preside over a twinkling Queen Village bistro that, thanks to traditional dishes such as Burgundy snails, mustard-braised rabbit and tarte Tatin, feels very Right Bank. 623 S. 6th Street, (215) 925-8000, bistrotlaminette.com
  • Caribou Café – Chef Olivier Desaintmartin, a native of Champagne, heads up this classic Washington Square West brasserie, serving French comfort food such as mussels frites, warm frisée salad with a poached egg and le hamburger. The menu draws influence from the regions of Burgundy, Brittany and Lyon and changes seasonally. 1126 Walnut Street, (215) 625-9535, cariboucafe.com
  • Laurel – “Top Chef” winner Nicholas Elmi filters French cooking through an American spectrum—to much acclaim. The chef’s seven-course tasting menu comes with or without wine pairings and has included duck confit with duck egg vinaigrette, koji-glazed tautog, sea urchin with sunflower truffle vinaigrette and miso-fermented local bamboo. 1617 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 271-8299, restaurantlaurel.com
  • Le Chéri – The Calmels’ Rittenhouse Square destination occupies a piece of the elegant Art Alliance building and serves lunch, dinner and weekend brunch (seafood quenelle, kale and chevre chaud salad and a crab cake using the classic recipe by Chef Georges Perrier), complemented by a full menu of French and Swiss wines. 215 S. 18th Street, (215) 546-7700, lecheriphilly.com
  • Parc – Prolific restaurateur Stephen Starr created this ode to the bustling French brasserie, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily across the street from Rittenhouse Square. Popular menu items: warm shrimp salad, roast chicken, cheese omelets, trout amandine and anything from the house bread basket—enjoyed indoors or, when weather permits, at cafe tables along the sidewalk. For dessert: profiteroles. 227 S. 18th Street, (215) 545-2262, parc-restaurant.com
  • Paris Wine Bar – Pennsylvania-produced wines in a charming setting that is distinctly French are the hallmark of the bar portion of Fairmount’s stalwart London Grill. In addition to a rotating selection of “draught” wines, the menu features French-inspired dishes created by Chef Michael McNally. 2303 Fairmount Avenue, (215) 978-4545, londongrill.com/paris-wine-bar
  • Townsend – Part of Philadelphia’s neo-French restaurant revival, this upscale South Philadelphia eatery deftly transforms classics into haute cuisine: beef tartare with grilled Manchego tartine; foie gras mousse with orange-ginger kumquat and dry-aged côte de boeuf for two. 1623 E. Passyunk Avenue, (267) 639-3203, townsendrestaurant.com
  • The Good King Tavern – This bustling corner spot gives the neighborhood wine bar a decidedly fresh, rustic and French read. Count on socca with ratatouille, croque monsieur and madame sandwiches, and steak tartare. 614 S. 7th Street, (215) 625-3700, thegoodkingtavern.com
  • Will – Chef Christopher Kearse composes delicate, perfectly seasonal, locally sourced dishes in modern French style at his petite BYOB bistro on the southern portion of East Passyunk Avenue. Will serves an a la carte menu—Parisian gnocchi, Barnegat Light scallops, Burgundy snails, milk-fed poularde—Wednesday through Saturday and a prixe-fixe menu on Sunday. 1911 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 271-7683, willbyob.com
  • Zinc – This Romantic New French eatery in Washington Square West specializes in seafood from chef and owner Olivier Desaintmartin. Locals love the restaurant for its intimate vibe, creative cuisine and sexy bar. 246 S. 11th Street, (215) 351-9901, zincbarphilly.com

French Dining In The Region:

  • A la Maison – This Old World country-style BYOB bistro in suburban Philadelphia focuses on French comfort food, including boeuf bourguignon, seafood bouillabaisse and brunch-time crepes. 53 W. Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, (484) 412-8009, alamaisonbistro.com
  • Le Petit Mitron – Patrick and Isabelle Rurange’s traditional patisserie stands across from the train station in Narberth—and serves extra-fine croissants, pastries and tortes. In true French fashion, this eatery closes the entire month of August. 207 Haverford Avenue, Narberth, (484) 562-0500, lepetitmitronpa.com
  • Spring Mill Café – Tucked away in Conshohocken, this charming, romantic spot serves seasonal Provençal specialties—like carré d’agneau (lamb with mint bordelaise), daube Provençcale (short ribs with tomato, garlic carrots and corn bread pudding)—by Touraine native chef Michele Haines. 164 Barren Hill Road, Conshohocken, (610) 828-2550, springmill.com

Boulangeries, Patisseries & Cafes:

  • Artisan Boulanger Patisser – Born in Cambodia, apprenticed in Paris, Andre Chin—with much support from wife Amanda Eap—draws lines out the door of his East Passyunk bakery for crusty baguettes, note-perfect chocolate croissants, delicious beignets, Vietnamese iced coffee and savory banh mi. 1218 Mifflin Street, (215) 271-4688
  • Aux Petits Delices – Since 1982, Chef Patrick Gauthron has whipped up the finest of cakes, chocolates, sorbets and other sweet delicacies at this Main Line bakery. Specialties include wintertime Yule logs, dramatic croquembouches, cream puffs, eclairs, operas, fruit tarts and more. 162 Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, (610) 971-0300, auxpetits.com
  • Bakers on Broad – Frenchman Raphael de Bussy and his wife Linda bake more than a dozen types of artisan breads, along with pastries, pies, tarts and more. 503 E. Broad Street, Souderton, (215) 703-0518, bakersonbroad.com
  • Café Lutecia – A tree-shaded block of Fitler Square is home to this quaint coffee shop, a longtime hangout for neighborhood types and French expats, known for quiches, omelets, lengthy brunches and tapas-style suppers. 2301 Lombard Street, (215) 790-9557
  • La Colombe – Inspired by La Colombe d’Or in Saint-Paul de Vence, founded in Rittenhouse Square, this artisan coffee roaster and pourer has developed into an international sensation, with new cafes opening across and beyond the United States. The business now includes a rum distillery, with must-visit headquarters in Fishtown. 1335 Frankford Avenue, (267) 479-1600; other locations, lacolombe.com
  • Miel Patisserie – Gourmet desserts and artisan chocolates line the cases of this pristine Rittenhouse pastry shop, chocolatier and cafe. Patrons indulge in everything from chocolate-covered caramels to decadent Marjolaine, a cake layered with flavors like chocolate, vanilla Bavarian, praline buttercream, hazelnut-almond meringue and/or chocolate ganache. 204 S. 17th Street, (215) 731-9191, mielpatisserie.com
  • So Crêpe – The original French fast food is the mainstay at this Graduate Hospital area café with inventive combinations (So Chevre with honey and walnuts; So Cocotte with grilled chicken; So Washington with caramelized apple and vanilla ice cream). 1506 South Street, (267) 761-9310, socrepe.com

Très Chic: Shops & Spas:

  • Architectural Antiques Exchange – Shoppers seeking French, Art Nouveau and Art Deco relics head to this 30,000-square-foot warehouse stocked with pieces dating from the 1700s to the 1930s. The inventory here includes an evolving selection of reclaimed décor from historic churches, castles and restaurants. 715 N. 2nd Street, (215) 922-3669, architecturalantiques.com
  • Calderwood Gallery – Janet and Gary Calderwood’s gallery first attracted an international clientele with French Art Deco (1910-50) furniture by names such as Ruhlmann, Arbus, Leleu, Dominique, Jallot, Dufrene, Follot, Subes. Today, the couple also includes classic (and future classic) pieces from the mid-century through the 1980s, along with photography. 242 Geiger Road, (215) 546-5357, calderwoodgallery.com
  • Contessa’s French Linens – Laura DiFrancesco stocks a stall in the always-packed Reading Terminal Market with French jacquards and Provençal tablecloths. 12th & Arch Streets, (610) 306-4507, contessasfrenchlinens.com
  • Hope Chest – Two petite boutiques in Haverford and Rittenhouse sell (and fit) elegant underthings from French brands such as Simone Perele, Marie Jo L’Aventure and Aubade that make modern women feel sexy and sophisticated. 379 W. Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, (610) 642-4222; 1937 Chestnut Street, (215) 665-9169, hopechestshop.com
  • Kellijane – By appointment, shoppers peruse and invest in luxe bed linens, dazzling tablecloths and sumptuous bath towels, many imported from and infused with the colors of the south of France, at this Old City destination. 148 N. 3rd Street, (215) 790-0233, kellijane.com
  • Rescue Spa Philadelphia – One of the city’s most acclaimed day spas is inspired by the philosophies of skincare expert Danuta Mieloch, who studied in Paris under innovator Dr. Yvan Allouche, creator of Biologique Recherche products. Rescue also stocks Valmont, Institut Esthederm, Chantecaille and more. 1601 Walnut Street, 3rd floor, (215) 772-2766, rescuespa.net

Fabulous Façades: Architecture:

  • Benjamin Franklin Parkway – Architect Paul Philippe Cret (1876-1945), an émigré from Lyon, was one of the first to plan what is often called Philadelphia’s Champs-Elysées. Cret envisioned the boulevard as lined with statuary, trees and museums. A few years on, French landscape architect Jacques Greber (1882-1962) designed the Parkway, which was constructed from 1917 until the 1930s, and is now home to the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Franklin Institute, Academy of Natural Sciences, Free Library of Philadelphia, Sister Cities Park, Swann Fountain and more. parkwaymuseumsdistrictphiladelphia.org
  • City Hall – French Second Empire style is apparent in City Hall, the seat of Philadelphia government and National Historic Landmark, with architectural inspiration by the Louvre and Palais des Tuileries. Visitors can tour City Hall by meeting at room 121, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Broad Street & John F. Kennedy Boulevard, (215) 686-2840, phila.gov/virtualch
  • Free Library of Philadelphia – Just off the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, across from Logan Circle, this active main branch of the city’s library and neighboring Family Court building (slated to become a hotel) are reminiscent of the twin palaces on Paris’ Place de la Concorde. 1901 Vine Street, (215) 686-5322, freelibrary.org
  • Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks – This organization offers guided walking tours highlighting noteworthy buildings and architecture styles. Beaux-Arts and Art Deco tours show off gems like the flamboyant WCAU Building, now home to the Art Institute of Philadelphia, and the intimate residences along Rittenhouse Square. Tour locations vary. (215) 925-2251, philalandmarks.org
  • Rittenhouse Square – Originally a wild tangle of trees and brush, this city block park was gradually fine-tuned by Paul Philippe Cret in 1913. The central plaza of the park holds the dramatic Lion Crushing a Serpent by French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye. Originally created in 1832 as an allegory of the French Revolution, with the power of good (the lion) conquering evil (the serpent), this bronze cast dates back to 1890. Today, the square is the centerpiece of an inviting neighborhood filled with a mixture of brownstones, offices, shops, hotels, restaurants and cultural institutions. Between Walnut & Locust Streets and 18th & 20th Streets


  • Le Méridien Philadelphia – Starwood’s European-inspired brand redeveloped an old, elegant YMCA into this chic boutique spot across the street from City Hall. Le Méridien is home to the newly revived Amuse, a brasserie and bar featuring lusty French fare such as steak frites, onion soup gratinée and crème brûlée. 1421 Arch Street, (215) 422-8200, starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien
  • Rittenhouse Hotel – This luxury AAA Five Diamond property overlooking Rittenhouse Square includes Lacroix at the Rittenhouse, an elegant international restaurant with park views. The Impressionist-themed Mary Cassatt Tea Room, a tranquil setting once painted by the Philadelphia-born and French-inspired painter, offers the perfect atmosphere to relax over afternoon tea. 210 W. Rittenhouse Square, (215) 546-9000, rittenhousehotel.com
  • Sofitel Philadelphia – The Philadelphia outpost of the French-owned hotel chain blends elegance with American amenities and convenience. The hotel’s restaurant Chez Colette is a charming brasserie serving French cuisine in a 1920s-style atmosphere, and Liberté Urban Chic Lounge is a stylish lobby bar for meeting friends and colleagues. 120 S. 17th Street, (215) 569-8300, sofitel.com

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