Volume 2:  

Downtown Media, as American as Meatloaf and Micro-brews

When the old time trolley pulls into Media, we expect to see Jimmy Stewart or
Donna Reed get off at the corner of State and Orange. This little burg of Mom-and-Pop shops, tree-lined sidewalks and ice cream parlors has traditional Americana written all over it.

But beneath the nostalgic surface is a modern, independent and delicious little renaissance town worth a good long stroll. You’ll wanna bring a couple of sturdy tote bags and an appetite. Because Media is a sweet little shopping excursion fueled by soul-feeding meatloaf, a scoop or two of rum raisin, fresh fiddlehead ferns, Italian micro-brews and homemade gnocchi served by aria-singing waiters.

The first thing we notice is what’s missing. There’s no Restoration Pottery, no Cold Stone Applebee’s, No Cheesecake Gap, none of the me-too shopping mall staples that make one American town look just like the next. Media is all charm with very few chains. More than likely, in any downtown shop or eatery, you’re one degree from the proprietor. And everyone’s got a smile to share and a story to tell.

Best of all, virtually every downtown business in Media has embraced the concept of Fair Trade. Which means the stuff we buy in so many of the unique boutiques – coffee, handbags, scarves, jewelry, sporting goods, housewares – comes from companies that shun child labor, pay living wages and practice sustainable production techniques.

Here’s a list of the places and people that make a couple of days in Media pretty special for us. There’s no particular order to this itinerary. We hope you’ll be inspired to make Media, the self-proclaimed “First Fair Trade Town in the Western Hemisphere,” a top stop when you tune your GPS to Destination Delco.


1. Kuta



Because you’re one of a kind, and because we are too, we fall in love with just about everything inside Kuta, a very groovy, galley-sized, indie boutique. We love calling Kuta indie, because it’s very independently operated (family-owned since 1988) and because so many of the unique accessories in the store are hand-made in Indonesia. (Some things are made by local artisans, too.)

The intricate jewelry is fascinating and every piece a conversation starter. The scarves are silky and shear. Batik bags are colorful patchwork cotton. And handbags, messenger bags and overnighters are leather and canvass and all manner of hand stitching. We do a double take at the prices – in a good way. Everything’s probably a third of what they get in center city fancy-pants places. Now this is what we call fair trade.







2. Deals


So they gotta be tired of hearing that this place is the real deals. But it is. For those who never set foot in a G.C. Murphy or an F.W. Woolworth, Deal’s is as close to the classic five-and-dime as you can get. From the hardwood floors to the pressed tin ceiling, the place smells like wide variety. With dollar-sized smiles, we troll aisle after aisle of big-time bargains: birdhouses, wrapping paper, lawn seed, Brazil nuts and bolts and WD-40. Yep, those are lavender mothballs and off-brand corn flakes. Here’s your hand cream, hair gel, catnip, claw hammer, pudding mix and pom-poms. (Actually, it’s kinda like the amazon.com of Delco.) In the words of one wise shopper, “If Deal’s don’t have it, you don’t need it.” 
 



3. Standing Room Only on State Street

 

Wowee, we can smell the glory of the greasepaint and hear the roar of the crowd the minute we walk inside the marvelous Media Theater. This Golden Era gem is restored to full Roarin’ Twenties elegance, and packs ‘em in with boldface names like Andrea McCardle, Betty Buckley and funny lady (and Media resident) Wanda Sykes.

Jesse Cline’s the artistic director, and has led this troupe for 20 years of standing-room-only. Young Austin Sterchele (rhymes with Churchill) Connors works the front of the house. He gives us the fifty-cent tour, backstage to balcony, and it’s clear he loves this place “My mother used to sew the costumes for the big productions here,” Austin says. “I’ve got this theater in my blood.”

People come from far and wide to holler bravo and give standing o’s inside this 700-seat jewel box. And they applaud some of the best performers in the world. A magnet for the Media renaissance, the old theater is now the second largest employer in town – second only to the county courthouse a few blocks downtown. And believe us, the show’s a lot better on stage than it is in court. 




4. Home, Sweet Home

 

Among the unique boutiques along State Street, Media’s main shopping drag, are those for the home. If you want the oddball music globe or puzzle for the den, poke around inside One Or Two Of A Kind. Feeling oriental? Roll around on the rugs over on Baltimore Avenue. If you’re a vintage kind of guy or gal Media’s Consignment Shoppe is a regular browse-a-rama. Our junk drawer is full of buffalo nickels, so we dig the coins at Pennies, Pounds & Pesos.

We fall for a sweet little local home store conveniently called Local Home + Gifts. That’s where we spy a great new cocktail shaker, a little rose-patterned hammer with screwdrivers and other tools hidden in the handle (perfect for the missus) and some cool mix-and-match jewelry.

Across the street we find the oddly named Quincy Marqueting, one of those candle-scented gift shops with all saccharin “gifty” gifts your great aunt might want balanced out with unexpected shockers like the tea towel set printed gaily with ‘50s housewife types who happen to voice their inner-most homicidal tendencies. (Gotta see ‘em to believe ‘em.) We wind up with a bag of old fashioned Horehound hard candies. At an old wooden cash register the near centenarian shopkeeper warns us, with love: “Don’t break a tooth.”



5. Come Hungry, This is a Tastebud Town

 

Every Wednesday evening in the warm weather, the main drag closes up and the tables come out in a downtown that’s chock-a-block with great restaurants. Folks here call it Dining Under The Stars, and we call it delicious.

With the gamut running from hoagies to haute cuisine, fresh-filled cannolis to creamsicle milkshakes, it’s impossible to be hungry in this town. We tuck our napkins into four widely different menus, just to sample the spectrum.

A good place to start is where some say it all began. Babe D’Ignazio came back from World War II and wanted a place where he could enjoy the blessings of his friends and family. He started with a few taps and tables. Now Babe’s Towne House is a Media stalwart, a unique tavern experience of multiple bars, 4 main dining rooms, 5 banquet rooms, 4 meeting rooms and a sidewalk cafe. With souvenirs, photos, old maps, moose heads, popcorn machines, hanging airplanes, cigar-store Indians, and tchotchkes of every stripe on every shelf and inside the nooks that are inside the crannies of this place.

But don’t let all that keep you from wolfing down clams casino, old-school snapper soup, prime-rib steak-sandwiches and say yes to that scorching lobster Fra Diavlo. Say hey to pretty Laurie behind the bar and crazy Connie, the waitress with the biggest smile in the county.

Next it’s brick-oven happiness at Ariano, a tasty upmarket pizza parlor with serious rustic pies and Italian craft beers rarely seen this side of Sesto San Giovanni. We tuck into a Regina pizza: hot sausage, grilled Portobello and awesome stewed tomatoes. Wash it down with a bottle (to be shared) of L’Ultima Luna, an Italian barley beer that’s aged 9 months in Calvados barrels and rips with 13% alcohol. It drinks like a wine, and Dominick, the helpful barkeep, makes sure we sip carefully. “It’s way stronger than normal beer,” Dominick cautions. “You don’t wanna wake up with your face in that good pizza.”

After the pie, we hear the siren song of Ariano’s gleaming glass case of homemade gelato. And after the barley brew, we’re ready for a little sweet. The dark chocolate and pistachio gelato nails the spot.

Let’s take the Italian theme up a notch over at Fellini Café. We love this little BYOB, where the Bolognese reminds us of mama’s, and, on Monday nights, the wait staff break into opera between courses. And when the weather’s good, ask about a table on the romantic, quieter back deck.

On the other end of the menu spectrum is Lotus, a restaurant poised to take advantage of the bounty of farms that surround this town. The theme is farm-to-table, and they practice what they preach. Spring fiddlehead ferns, wild ramps and grilled trumpet mushrooms blow us away. The grass-fed rib-eye steak is killer. And the fresh kale, turnips, and artisan cheeses make music in our mouth. Exec Chef Ryan Sulikowski shares the credit with the farmers he lists right on the menu. Their farms, our table. Dig in!



6. Front Street Fountain



Ok, this one’s definitely kid friendly. It’s time for root beer floats. And hot chocolate floats. And creamsicle milk shakes. And you bet, egg creams (which feature neither eggs nor cream). And cousins, everywhere cousins!

We meet Patrick Hanway, who opened the wondrous old-time Front Street Fountain a little while ago, and a couple of his cousins who don’t mind being called soda jerks. Lots of family help out here in one way or another. There’s pictures of ‘em all over the walls.

“Used to be 7 or 8 soda fountains in this town,” says Patrick. “My folks grew up

Fountain Street Fountain's
Creamsickle Milkshake
going to all of them, and they each lived within 3 blocks from where we are today.” Patrick believes in comfort food transformation. “Any food can be turned into another food,” he claims. “We love pulled pork and cheese steaks and buffalo wings and grilled cheese. So we make grilled cheese versions of all of ‘em.”

We count 10 kinds of grilled cheese sammies on the menu, with a special new one invented every now and again. And sundaes galore. And all those floats and shakes we hinted at earlier. And even more flavors of ice cream then there are cousins to serve it.

We slurp up the last of a creamsicle shake that takes us back to our childhood, and say goodbye to Patrick Hanway. “You wanna hear something funny?” Patrick drops the ironic bomb: “I’m lactose intolerant. I can’t stand ice cream, and can’t handle a grilled cheese.” 


To learn more about Media, PA visit:  www.visitmediapa.com