Oh how I missed this place and South Street. Let me take you for a quick down memory lane. I grew up in South Philly at 12th and Dickinson. I didn’t have the typical South Philly experience that one might envision from a kid growing up in an Italian neighborhood. Yes, I am 100% Italian (although Ancestry may disagree), but I was always a square peg in a round hole when it came to clothes, music...well, you name it.
I took a 10-mile subway ride up and back to Philadelphia High School for Girls (aka GHS or Girls High, as I prefer) where I was exposed to a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures creating the best experience of my life, making lasting friendships that most people can only dream of. During that time, I discovered my love for South Street in Philly. Skins, Rockerhead, Zipperhead, Eyes Gallery, and Garland of Letters, to name a few of my favorite spots.
Side note: I met both Daryl Hall and John Oats from Hall & Oats outside of Garland of Letters back in the day. I need to find those autographs.
After starting college at Temple University, I discovered that I needed to work to keep myself there. I worked at the hippie store, Imagine, then Benjamin Lovell Shoes, where I worked for a long time. Both of those places were on the same block and boy, did I love everything that block had to offer. Lorenzo' gigantic pizza slices, the TLA Theater, Café Nola and the place I frequented most, Ishkabible's.
When it came to their menu, I loved everything, especially their name! What's an Ishkabibble, you may ask? Do I look like I care? Visit their website to see the answer and to understand why I even said that. There was always something special about ordering from the walk up window and getting a few minutes to myself while I waited on the sidewalk for my lunch. My three stand out favorites were the veggie hoagie, their cheese fries (with the nice puddle of Cheez Whiz at the bottom of the massive cup) and gremlins (more on that later).
Now, I am not known to be a veggie fanatic nor have I ever tried being a vegetarian. Instead, I try to eat healthy, but veggies are usually carrying some kind of chicken or meat to my belly. That said, I need to amplify how etched this veggie hoagie is in my memory, and to now seek it out to write about it. No salami. No gabagool. No stinky cheese. Here's my review of my return to Ishkabibble's on South Street, with some added color from my walk down memory lane with my brother.
Let me set the stage.
My brother and I started in South Philly on Passyunk Avenue, which is just three blocks from our childhood home. I know this, and you might too, but Passyunk is a far cry from what it was when I was a kid back in the glorious 80's (and maybe I remember the 70's?). Today, there is an eclectic mix of restaurants and shopping. Frankly, I am bummed to not live there anymore.
We started with coffee at Black and Brew where I had a beautiful and tasty latte. In my desperation for caffeine, I forgot to take a picture. We then made a pit stop at Urban Jungle to check out their awesome plant selection where I always find something new. Here are a few other memorable sites on the Avenue:
After getting a parking ticket, which seems like my new jam, we drove through the Italian Market to South Street. Awe the memories but we were getting hungry. We parked and walked to Ishkabibble's where I was hoping to enter veggie hoagie heaven.
Ishkabibble's opened in 1979, and is known for their cheesesteaks, fries and gremlins. What the heck is a gremlin besides a cute but creepy creature from the 80's or an odd shaped car from the 70's? A proper gremlin is a soda that mixes half grape "drink" and half lemonade. Could you make this at home? Maybe…but no, you have to get one at Ishkabibble's alongside their awesome grub. If you eat your food on the sidewalk with your gremlin on the ground, you are doing it right.
I am no historian, but I also think Ishkabibble's was the first place to make a chicken cheesesteak.
CONFIRMED: See their website. If they say it online, it must be true, especially because it jives with my statement.
Their website is simple, and you can check out their menu. I was excited to see the veggie hoagie was still on there.
HoagieLOVE Pro Tip: Most sites like Yelp take you to a dead website, so be sure to bookmark the one above, which does not come up first in an internet search.
With COVID and winter, we decided to visit the "newer" location (Ishkabibble's II) at 517 South Street instead of the original which is right down the block at 337 South Street. The original has the walk up window with limited inside seating, while the newer location has a very large dining room with a decent social distancing arrangement.
Ordering was easy and efficient plus they take credit cards. You can select any table and wait for your number to be called. The wait time was short and I barely noticed that I was getting hangry.
Unwrapping / Tray appeal: We ate-in for this review which means there was nothing to unwrap. Our food came out on a tray, and it looked very enticing. See for yourself.
Bread: Crusty goodness with a sturdy vessel to hold in all of the ingredients. This is key, especially for a veggie hoagie. The veggies are nicely chopped into small pieces that can easily escape, becoming a nightmare to eat. I did grab a fork, just in case.
Condiments: Besides the oil the veggies were cooked in plus spices (salt and pepper, maybe?), the only other condiment was the cup of marinara sauce served on the side. I decided to dip my hoagie into it and it really adds to the overall experience and flavor.
Meats & Cheese: No meats, but I did order with American Cheese. American seemed like the right choice, but I am sure this hoagie would be fantastic with provolone or even swiss (yummmy swiss…).
Veggies: I hope I don’t forget anything but this hoagie came with mushrooms, onion, broccoli, spinach, and carrots. When I was eating one or two of these a week, sometimes there would be variations in the veggie mix based on availability. This current combo worked well for me but I am always open to variation.
Reorganization Rating: I didn’t rearrange anything because everything was perfectly mixed together. I did take a fork and push everything in so it wouldn’t be a complete mess, and it did the trick without busting open the bread.
Eating Experience: Let's start with the cheese. It was placed directly on the bread so it could melt perfectly to hold in the veggies and distribute evenly on the abundance of veggies. The veggies were chopped into small pieces which made it easy to eat. Occasionally, a few escaped when I dipped into the marinara, but that's where the fork came in. A smarter person would have just placed the marinara directly on the hoagie, but I don’t usually take the normal, logical route.
Now, it is imperative that you get their cheese fries and a gremlin to complete the experience. The cheese fries are super thin, shoe string fries covered in glorious Cheez Whiz. They were not in the cup as I remembered them, but I let that slide. The gremlin was the perfect complement to my meal, nostalgic and tasty as ever.
Bonus Hoagie: My brother had the tuna hoagie. He is an actual vegetarian, so there was no meat for me to try. I tried his tuna and it was great. The right amount of mayo, thinly sliced tomato and onion with lettuce and peppers galore. It was great, but the show stopper and reason to drive to South Street is the veggie hoagie, for certain. I think most people can conquer a decent tuna hoagie at home.
Next meal survival rate: Insufficient information. I ate it all. I even ate some of my brother's tuna hoagie. I fit so much!
Overall happiness rating: Nostalgia rating is two thumbs way
up, especially to have the chance to visit South Street after a long time away. The Ishkabibble's veggie hoagie was just as I remembered - pure bliss. I was concerned because it has been a while (no comment on how long "a while" is for me). Plus, this was not the original location. Happily, it will continue to live on as my favorite veggie hoagie, and it was worth the wait and the drive. My only regret was not getting a chicken cheese steak for the road. Oh, and maybe getting the parking ticket.