Most visitors may not be expecting to bring their appetites along to the Philadelphia Flower show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
After all, their thoughts are on the intricate arrangements of hydrangeas, marigolds and the like, not burgers and chicken wings.
But hunger can strike at any time, and the Flower Show folks are prepared to nourish that hunger with sustenance that goes well beyond burgers and chicken wings.
Instead, think bison burgers, sweet endings like Death by Chocolate and even a Pop Up Beer Garden.
“The people that come to the show are expecting to see what the food will look like, and certainly what it will taste like, and quite honestly, everything we provide is great because we have some magnificent culinary talent here,” noted Gene Donato, general manager with Aramark, the Pennsylvania Convention Center’s culinary partner. “I’m very proud of our team and the things we’re able to accomplish. Whenever we come up with a menu, it’s not just our chef; we have a whole creative team that comes up with these menus and then we’ll experiment with them.”
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s venerable event has collaborated this year with the National Park Service, in honor of its centennial, resulting in the theme “Explore America,” Donato explained.
“Every year there’s a theme and we work very closely with the Horticultural Society to come up with some unique and very interesting concepts that we know will appeal to a lot of folks coming to the show. The attendees love it and are looking for what’s on the menu that they haven’t seen before, and we make sure we work with the mainstream and the folks who want to be adventurous and try things that they’re not able to get at other locations, and we provide that.”
The adventure-themed food court spinoffs include the Denali Café, featuring such comfort food as roasted turkey and sage stuffing; the Smokey Mountain Café, with free-range bison burgers and corn on the cob, which Aramark is hoping will have folks “yearning for the Great Outdoors”; the Trail Mix Bar, where guests can create their own “grub bag” of healthy treats, ranging from nuts and raisins to chocolate and granola; the Declaration of Cheesesteaks, with its signature offering, The Franklin, a twist on Philadelphia’s most iconic sandwich, the cheesesteak; and Glacier Trading Post, where guests can satisfy a sweet tooth with ice cream and candy.
“We come up with a lot of ideas and then sort of develop the flavor profiles and work them out as far as what the final version will be with all of our partners, and the menus are approved by Aramark,” Donato said. “We make sure everything coincides with what our vision is.”
The noble cheesesteak, a simple but sacred concept to many folks around here, may or may not get a “flowery” tweak, Donato noted.
“Sometimes we’ll just leave it alone. People like cheesesteaks. When you’re trying to make a cheesesteak for a large group of people, unless you know how to handle that product, you’re not going to do it well. That’s one of those areas where something as simple as a cheesesteak could be a flop if you’re not doing it right. So we make sure whatever we’re offering is top quality, and it has to taste great.”
Donato said he hopes the culinary aspect of the Philadelphia Flower Show reflects the seamless efforts behind the scenes that connect all segments of the production.
“In the Convention Center we have world-class talent in the front of the house and with our culinary talent, and our sales team as well to make it the best possible experience for attendees. We want repeat business and we want folks to come to the city of Philadlephia and have great experiences in the Convention Center. We want them to go back and talk about us in a good light.”
A perennial favorite with showgoers, the Garden Tea is like an oasis within an oasis, offering a light, high end menu of petit sandwiches, delicate pastries and fine teas — this year prepared by Flower Show newcomer, Seedling & Sage, a farm-to-table catering company.
Giving patrons a true taste of a “high tea” with all the elegant, highly stylized trimmings is an art that Seedling & Sage is accustomed to providing, whether it’s a brunch, bridal shower or some other event, noted Melissa McDevitt, who co-owns the company with Laura Kidwell.
“Because we’re a new company, we’re really honored to be asked to do the Garden Tea,” she said. “The whole mission of the Flower Show, with getting back to nature, is a concept that we embrace, taking any food and making it look beautiful and bringing out the true essence of the food, locally sourced with no chemicals or additives.”
Amid a resplendent background of flowers, tea aficionados will dine on Seedling & Sage’s artisan sandwiches, vegetable rollups and fruit and cheese crustinis, on fine china
“This will be a really beautiful, exclusive event for 125 people during each of two seatings,” McDevitt said. “The menu we’re offering gives the guests a real taste of what we can do and a nice sampling of our favorite things to do. On the seventh day we’re having a Teddy Bear Tea, with sandwiches and plates that we come up with that will be really fun and geared toward children. Parents and grandparents can make their reservations now.”
To make reservations for the Garden Tea or for other information, visit theflowershow.com.
For information about Seedling & Sage, visit seedlingandsage.com.