(UPDATED, 4/11/12) I’m a big fan of lists, especially ones that have rankings or otherwise note the best of a particular category. It’s not too difficult to find countless roundups and surveys that espouse Philadelphia’s best restaurants, hoagies, pizza, hot sandwiches and, of course, cheesesteaks.
But you know what category of food in Philadelphia has not had much in the way of rankings or listings? One of my favorite snacks: the chocolate chip cookie. Sure, chocolate chip cookies are not exactly the first thing people think of in terms of Philadelphia food, but the great thing about them is that they’re so widespread. Bakeries, coffee shops and even fast food restaurants all make chocolate chip cookies, with some more notable than others.
To say which cookie is the best in the city isn’t an easy task. Everyone has different qualities they enjoy in a cookie, and there’s not really one perfect cookie. Similarly, a cookie may be absolutely phenomenal but may also be prohibitively expensive.
So, after some research, word of mouth, personal experience and some aimless wandering, I tried out cookies from
sixteen seventeen spots (a Sweet Sixteen (with one play-in) , if you will) within the Philadelphia downtown area with the potential for being among the best chocolate chip cookies in the city. Just like the NCAA Basketball Tournament, I’m not guaranteeing that these selections are the fifteen best cookies in the city, but I can tell you that some or many of the best, along with my personal favorites in the city, are among them. I tried to stick to mostly local spots, but truthfully, some chain locations had some great cookies I couldn’t ignore.
The additional superlative rankings are relatively self-explanatory and very scientific.
The Upper Echelon
Famous 4th Street – 700 S. 4th St., 38 S. 19th St. and available at DiBruno Bros. (Best Flavor)
Cost: $1.35 (which includes the tax)
Size and Appearance: Famous 4th Street makes a medium to larger sized cookie. It’s relatively thick, though not enormous. The surface is slight darker, and it’s clearly well-baked.
Taste: It’s not the absolute softest cookie, though it’s definitely not hard. The inside is just filled with chunks of chocolate that are incredibly soft and moist. I would describe the middle of the cookie as just an epicenter of chocolate chips. It’s a very good cookie, with a lingering aftertaste.
Hope’s Cookies – Available at Pennsylvania General Store in Reading Terminal Market
Cost: about $1.37 (by weight)
Size and appearance: The cookie has a good size and thickness. There’s a lighter texture, which makes the chips stand out more.
Taste: My first impression was, “Wow.” It’s a very soft cookie, with the chocolate flavor just immediately making an impression upon you. The chips, which are similarly soft and chewy, are pretty big. Hope’s just makes outstanding cookies.
Sweet Freedom Bakery – 1424 South St. (Softest)
Cost: $1.57 (includes the tax)
Size and Appearance: It’s a wide and thin cookie. The surface is also much darker than others.
Taste: It’s so incredibly soft that it even breaks apart in your hand. There are also the mini chocolate chips, which are plentiful. The cookie is so chewy and so good.
Le Bus – 135 S. 18th St.
Cost: $1.50 (.25 off on Wednesdays)
Size and Appearance:Quite large. It’s relatively thick as well. There’s a lighter to medium texture.
Taste: Big, big chunks of chocolate. Everything about cookie is big. It’s not particularly soft and not moist. The cookie is somewhat crunchy, but the chocolate flavor is terrific.
NEW – Insomnia Cookies – 108 S. 16th St. (Warmest and Newcomer Favorite)
Size and Appearance: Large and relatively thick cookie. It’s not chips; rather, it’s big chunks of chocolate. Relatively light looking appearance.
Taste: The big draw of this Center City newcomer is that the cookies are served warm, straight out of the oven. As a result, they are oh so soft. The chocolate flavor is terrific. In fact, the only negative is that the chocolate chunk is sometimes too soft and melted, causing it to possibly drip on your shirt. The dry cleaning bill is worth it.
Morris’ – 30 S. 17th St. (Best Bang for the Buck)
Size and Appearance: Morris’ bakes, on its premises, a medium sized cookie that’s quite thick. The surface exhibits a lot of chocolate chips.
Taste:The cookie is not necessarily as chewy as others but it’s still relatively soft with some good substance. You don’t get cheated on chips. There’s also a distinct sugar taste. A solid value.
Starbucks – 1528 Walnut St. and many other locations.
Size and Appearance: It’s an enormous cookie yet still light. Big chocolate chunks are all over the surface. The cookie is also thick though not too thick.
Taste:The cookie is lighter and softer than it appears. It’s a little expensive for a cookie but possibly worth it. There’s an airy nature to it. The chocolate also has a nice fudge essence. Yes, it’s not a local cookie, but I’d be remiss to leave it out.
Serafina – 130 S. 18th St.
Size and Appearance: It’s a medium size cookie, with some thickness to it. The surface has a slightly darker texture.
Taste: There are tons of chocolate chips inside it. It’s a very soft cookie and quite tasty. The chocolate definitely stands out.
Schlesinger’s – 1521 Locust St.
Size and Appearance: Schlesinger’s bakes a medium to large cookie. It has a pretty good thickness on it. You can see a lot of good chocolate chips on the surface.
Taste: It’s not super soft, but nor is it hard and crunchy. There are a ton of chocolate chips. The chocolate taste stays with you after you’ve finished it. It’s a very solid cookie.
Sweet Life Bakeshop – 1242 S. 22nd St. and available at OCF Coffee House 1745 South St.
Size and Appearance: It’s a medium size with a lighter color. The cookie is definitely thinner than many others. There are not a lot of chips visible at the surface.
Taste: It is one very soft cookie. What it lacks for chips on the surface, it makes up for having a bunch of big chocolate chips inside. You can really taste the chocolate. Did I mention it’s soft?
Corner Bakery – 1701 Market St.
Size and Appearance: The cookie is large and pretty thick. It’s also darker than other cookies.
Taste: Because of its size, the Corner Bakery cookie isn’t as soft. The chocolate is the focus here. Those chips are tasty. It’s also not too sugary.
Good If You Need a Quick Cookie Fix
Metropolitan Bakery – 262 S. 19th St.
Size and Appearance: It is one large cookie. One particular variety has both big chocolate chips and nuts present all over the cookie.
Taste: It’s not super soft though I wouldn’t characterize it as hard either. There are big chocolate chips, but it wasn’t as well spaced as I hoped.
Potbelly – 1635 Market St.
Cost: $1.15 (plus tax)
Size and Appearance: Potbelly bakes large oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. They’re pretty thick as well.
Taste: The cookie is a lot softer than it looks, despite its large size. It’s not super-filled with chocolate chips (then again, it is a big cookie), but the chips are tasty. There’s more of an oatmeal cookie taste to it.
Scoop DeVille – 1734 Chestnut St.
Size and Appearance – It’s a medium size cookie, with a nice appearance of chips popping out. There’s some good thickness to it as well.
Taste: With the healthy share of chocolate chips inside, you don’t get cheated on chocolate. Also, this place introduced me to the concept of microwaving your chocolate chip cookies for a bit to get them softer and melt the chocolate. It’s not an extremely memorable cookie but it’s not bad.
Flying Monkey – Reading Terminal Market
Size and Appearance: The size is about average and not super thick. By the touch, it even feels somewhat firm.
Taste: The Flying Monkey cookie is definitely not super soft. It’s a little crunchy. The chocolate chunks, which are big, however, are really good. Perhaps my cookie was a little over baked. It’s also somewhat pricey for what you get.
Doubletree – 237 S. Broad St.
Size and Appearance: The infamous Doubletree chocolate chip cookie has a medium to large size. The surface has some very interesting texture to it (not a smooth, uniform look), and the cookie is pretty thick.
Taste: I try and stay at Doubletree hotels solely for the complimentary cookie. There are some nuts in the cookie, and it has an oatmeal taste. The chips are pretty good.
Rachael’s Nosheri – 120 S. 19th St.
Size and Appearance: This is a big, big cookie. There are a lot of chocolate chips all over it.
Taste: The Rachael’s loaded chocolate chip cookie is all about size and the chocolate flavor. It is not at all soft and chewy. Definitely for those who like crunchy cookies.