Kicking off alumni reunion weekend with cookies and French toast, courtesy family chefs at Cornerstone Bed & Breakfast, Philly

Even though my last couple of posts have been totally NYC-centric, the real purpose behind my visit to the US is not, contrary to what most of you may think, excessive gorging at as many new places in NYC as I can reasonably squeeze into any one single day, but instead, my alumni reunion weekend in Philadephia.  Philly – the land of the cheesesteaks, soft pretzels with yellow mustard, and in the heart of University City where I spent five glorious years of my college life, every ethnic food cart imaginable, including the BEST egg and cheese sandwich I’ve had to-date, on the corner of 38th and Spruce at a truck called Bui’s. Fellow Bui-zealots and I would wake up on many a drowsy, red-eyed morning only to hear the Bui guy remember exactly how we each wanted our sandwiches: ‘One egg and chee! Sal, peppa, kecha! Hot Sau!’ Memories…

For reunion weekend, I decided to try a more true-to-Philly brownstone house experience, rather than the bland Hilton or Sheraton (which sets off a strange nausea-inducing recoil reaction in me after many months of travelling and living out of hotels as a consultant). My place of choice was Cornerstone Bed & Breakfast, a two-storied brownstone that from its website, looked like something in between a charming country-side inn and red- green Santa and elves cottage.

The picture of Cornerstone Bed & Breakfast that shows up on their website

I loved everything about it – the homey feel of the place, the friendly and super-helpful hosts, and especially the fact that I didn’t have to wait in some long impersonal line to get checked in at the reception or get locked out of my room because of a deactivated room key card. But most of all, I loved their breakfast concoctions.

While I couldn’t stay for a sit-down breakfast on day one of my stay (seriously, reunion weekend was a whirlwind of events, I didn’t even get to pay a pilgrimage to my beloved Bui’s!), Liz, the hostess, offered to give me some of her freshly-baked blueberry scones in a little to-go bag. Now who can say no to scones? As I walked out the door, taking a little nibble of the scones in their plastic baggy, I stopped. These were no ordinary scones to be consumed like a Dunkin Donut’s breakfast on-the-run. No, no – these were expertly-baked homemade wonders deserving of a photo opportunity and a momentary pause on all the many events that you’re already late for that morning.

The blueberry cookie-scones that Liz had baked at Cornerstone. Washed down with a mug of their home-brewed coffee, these baked babies were divine.

The scones were actually more like cookies, that while being fully-baked, had retained the soft chewy consistency of raw cookie dough. Each little nibble of this cookie-scone was bursting with bits of juicy squished blueberry and melted white chocolate, arousing that heady, naughty feeling of having dessert at 8am in the wholesome guise of something fresh and fruity.

That night, the hosts – by now realizing my food fetish, after watching me caress and photograph their cookie-scones like they were long-lost pets that morning – gave me a heads-up on breakfast the next day: pecan French toast. Homemade of course. Bui’s, I hope you forgive my treachery for not having your egg-and-chee that morning– but there is no conceivable way in which I could have woken up in that house and walked out knowing that there was a thick slice of freshly-baked French toast in the kitchen, just begging for me to douse it in syrup and plunge my fork through its warm doughy core. I learned that the hosts had soaked the bread in the egg mixture overnight, and baked it up first thing in the morning, thereby creating French toast with a supremely crunchy pecan and streusel-studded crust on the outside, and moist chambers of cinnamon-scented dough on the inside.

Work of breakfast art – Pecan French bread topped with streusel and powdered sugar
Crunchy pecan and streusel-studded crust under a sheath of snowy sugar

There’s nothing like having a phenomenal food experience, especially when you didn’t see it coming and it smacks you out of left field with full flavourful surprise. Folks at Cornerstone, for adding an unexpected but delightful gastronomic twist to my alumni weekend, thank you!

Cornerstone Bed & Breakfast
Phone: +1 (215) 387-6065
3300 Baring Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

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