City Tavern creates meals of founding fathers

PHILADELPHIA - July 4, 2013

After their historic act on that July 4th, they went back to the tavern and dined. The building where they stayed was lost in a mid-19th century fire. But the National Park Service operates a faithful recreation on its site at 2nd and Walnut Streets.

Chef Walter Staib, the "proprietor" under contract with the NPS, must allow them to "vet" his entire menu. But the upside is that he gets access to federal archives including the tavern's menus.

Food was served in generous rounds we might call family-style today. A typical evening meal would have been spread out over several hours...perhaps three servings of 15 to 20 dishes each, followed by a spread of desserts.

Because the food was served this way, it isn't possible to know what each founder ate the night after independence was declared. But Staib can tell ou exactly which foods they had to choose from.

Located a block off the Delaware River and within a day's ride of Pennsylvania farms, the tavern's menu groaned with what we would call seasonal farm-to-table delicacies. Not only had that, but the tavern's public rooms often served as a center of commerce in which merchants might bring a sample of a shipment of produce.

The chefs had first crack at what they were selling, so the place became Philadelphia's premier dining location of its day. Chef Staib says his predecessors of the 18th century would have pleased the food critics of today, using all-natural products like beans and cabbage to give their dishes dramatic color.

He and his staff re-create their menus as accurately as possible, right down to breads and desserts. Some of the selections might surprise you.

While visiting Britain when were still a colony, Ben Franklin tasted a cheese-like creation made from soybeans. He liked it, and wrote Philadelphia botanist John Bartram about his experience. History documents that the two of them brought tofu to North American...first in Philadelphia.

The National Park service also has ale recipes of several founders, including Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

These are brewed by a local company and sold at the tavern by the bottle or glass. In addition to sit-down dining by reservation, City Tavern hosts an annual "bash" in its side yard July 4th where passers-by can grab casual food and cold beverages...these not vetted by the park service.

Even the tavern's existence today has a Philadelphia story behind it. In 1948, three political parties held their national conventions in Philadelphia, and President Harry Truman, seeking a term of his own after succeeding Franklin Roosevelt in office, was nominated by the Democrats.

Truman was distressed that the historic district had fallen into disrepair and a movement he started led to reconstructing the tavern.

It opened as part of the bicentennial in 1976.

For more information or reservations find the City Tavern online or phone



Chef Staib has a line of cookbooks and cookware, which will be available as part of the outdoor festivities. An he promises a new book, all about colonial-era desserts, due out this fall.

Copyright © 2023 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.