Philadelphia is known for its nighttime music scene, but our underground brunch beats deserve some recognition as well.
The fact that fans can spend all night at a concert and then stumble out of bed the next morning and still have an appetite for more music by brunch is a mark of just how seriously we love our bands.
Take Johnny Brenda’s: The Fishtown bar and music venue is one of the best places in the city to see indie shows, but it’s also rocking early in the day on weekends with its outstanding brunch-time events.
The bar usually has DJs spinning tunes from different genres while the patrons eat brunch. Don’t worry: You’ll still be able to have a decent conversation with your brunch partner and won’t have to yell over the music, since the songs are played at a level just shy of loud, but it definitely won’t be the muted background strains that you’ll hear in less musically-inclined restaurants.
There’s a First Saturday brunch, a First Sunday brunch, a Second Sunday brunch, and some miscellaneous dates as well. Past soundtracks have featured gospel (Gospel Brunch with DJ DNA, who has hosted “Roots of Rhythm & Blues” and “The Gospel Train” for 20 years on Hatboro’s WRDV-FM), 1930s folk music (Hot Jazz Brunch), and 80’s New Wave and synthpop (The Breakfast Club brunch).
The DJ and type of music vary each week, and so does the menu. A sibling restaurant to the legendary Standard Tap, Johnny Brenda’s food doesn’t take a back seat to the tunes. No matter what’s on the menu for the day, everything will be made with fresh, local ingredients, in the style of the bar’s usual homegrown philosophy.
Meanwhile, Milkcrate Café (a coffee shop/record store located just down the street from Johnny Brenda’s) serves up a different kind of morning music menu.
The all-day breakfast menu is music to my ears, but the best part is that all of the menu items have cute music-themed titles.
Case in point: When I went, I ordered the Flying Breakfast Burrito Brother and my friend ordered the Notorious E.G.G. breakfast sandwich. On another visit, I sampled what Milkcrate Café calls the Chocolate Elvis (a toasted croissant stuffed with Nutella and bananas) as well as the Bagella Fitzgerald (bagel with cream cheese, tomato, and cucumber). Other dishes include the Run B.L.T., A Tribe Called Quesadilla and the De La Salad.
And if you’re thinking nothing can top that, brace yourself: Everything on the menu is less than $5. It’s café food at food truck prices inside a top-notch record store. What more could you ask for?
You can buy a couple used records and a hot breakfast and not break the bank.
Milkcrate Café never lets you forget you’re in a record store. Upstairs, in the main area, the album art lines the walls, featuring bands from the ’60s and ‘70s: Dylan, Beatles, Bowie, Hendrix, Sex Pistols. I was surprised by the variety of their ‘60s records, and was excited to see Eric Burdon & the Animals, the Kingsmen of “Louie Louie” fame, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and Frank Zappa’s 200 Motel soundtrack. There were a couple funk records mixed in, and some jazz and punk. The few albums that were new releases were all from actual bands, rather than humans with computers: The Black Keys’ El Camino, Dr. John’s Locked Down, the Shin’s Port of Morrow.
Downstairs, in the record store space, Milkcrate shows its affinity for all things oldie. Each section is organized by genre, and while the largest section is dedicated to rock, overall selection was pretty expansive. There were more classic funk records than contemporary records, a rare find in a modern record store. There was also an entire section dedicated to local artists on the experimental Fishtown record label Fedora Corpse Recordings, adding a “support local musicians” stance to the “support local record stores” vibe Milkcrate Café was already supplying.
I always judge a record store by how much Bowie they carry, and Milkcrate Café passed my test with flying colors (or, more specifically, a RCA Japanese reissue of Aladdin Sane; a promo LP single release of “Star” with “What in the World” and “Breaking Glass” as the B-side; and ChangesTwoBowie, the less-seen brother of the compilation album ChangesBowie.
No matter how delicious the brunch is, you’re not really going to these places just for the food. It’s music first, then food, right? Anyone can go to a café, but can they pick up a record with their latte there? Or, anyone can go to a bar, but can they eat breakfast there, and if they can, can they eat breakfast while a DJ plays his set?
It’s the best of both worlds, in my opinion. Good food, good music, good morning.