Living in the largest and most prosperous port in North America, colonial Philadelphians enjoyed access to a tremendous range of cuisines and ingredients from across the Atlantic and the surrounding countryside. In the City’s central market and in the storehouses of its merchant traders, a variety of fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, spices, wines, and liquors could be found. With a diverse population that included English and Scots, Irish and Welsh, Swedes and Dutch, Africans, Finns, Germans, Swiss, Spaniards, Native Americans and others, it is not hard to imagine the rich and sophisticated culinary delights of 18th century Philadelphia.
In 1772, 53 prominent citizens commissioned the building of City Tavern to be “a large and commodious tavern” that would reflect Philadelphia’s standing as the largest, most prosperous city in the colonies. When Massachusetts lawyer John Adams arrived in Philadelphia as a delegate to the First Continental Congress on Monday, August 29, 1774, he was ushered to the newly constructed City Tavern (the “Tavern”). After retiring to his chamber following a hearty meal, he noted in his diary that the tavern was “the most genteel one in America.” The original City Tavern was partially destroyed by fire in 1834, and was finally razed two decades later. Once the favorite meeting place of the nation’s Founding Fathers, City Tavern was reconstructed by the National Park Service in 1975.
In 1994, Chef Walter Staib, a highly acclaimed chef, restaurateur, and author with more than four decades of culinary experience, was approved by Congress to operate the Tavern. Working closely with the National Park Service, Chef Staib undertook extensive renovations to bring the Tavern back to its original elegance. His culinary philosophy mirrors that of the 18th century—“from the farm to the table, as fresh as possible.” Eighteenth century techniques are applied in the food preparation and the restaurant is critically acclaimed as the premier location to enjoy 18th century cuisine in a period setting.
Chef Staib also explores 18th century American life and cuisine as host of A Taste of History, a popular PBS program. In each episode, Chef Staib prepares an 18th-century recipe in a manner that can be replicated in modern-day kitchens, visits a historic site, and discusses American history with historians and curators. The American Revolution Center is featured in several episodes. For a selection of recipes from Chef Staib’s award-winning cookbook, click here.