Philadelphia’s City Tavern’s Basil Shrimp

Have you been to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the United States of America? Should you have plans for a visit (or maybe you live near by) be sure to dine at The City Tavern located just a few blocks from the Delaware River.

The tavern lays claim to  be the birthplace of Colonial haute cuisine where you can eat the food our Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington enjoyed. Colonial wait staff round out the atmosphere along with authentic furniture, dishes and historical pictures throughout.

These famous men spent numerous nights discussing the future of our great nation in this tavern as it was the social, political and economic center of late 18th century Philadelphia. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and signed in this colonial city.  It was also the nation’s capital for 10 years while Washington, D.C. was being built.

Here is a short timeline: 1) December, 1773 the City Tavern opens for business; 2) the first Fourth of July was held here in 1777;  March, 1834 the tavern’s roof catches fire and is heavily damaged; 1854 the surviving structure is razed; 1975 the tavern is rebuilt and is an historically accurate replication of the original; 1994 Chef Walter Staib wins congressional approval as operator of the tavern featuring 18th century style gourmet cuisine. His restaurant earned a Five Star Diamond Award with his hearty dishes of American cuisine and authentic beverages and desserts of 18th century Philadelphia.

This recent visit to Philadelphia was for a family reunion. Harlans (almost 300) from across the country attended this 4 day affair. My immediate family included 19 members and one night we had the pleasure of eating at this historical establishment in one of the private dining rooms on the second floor.  Thank you Aunt Annette and Uncle John! Food brought us together and we all left with some wonderful memories – our group was the last to leave that night!

Shrimp was in abundance in the New World and could be found in the many rivers and the nearby Atlantic Ocean. The Delaware River, which is a major river on the Atlantic coast, is just a couple of blocks away from the Tavern. Grilling over an open fire was the frequent method of cooking back then. I love to grill shrimp, especially these jumbo beauties. They make a great appetizer or served as a light dinner with fresh fruit or a green salad.

A funny story about me and one of my sisters concerning our first taste of oysters, which were possibly the greatest staple of the 18th century diet.  She has always been allergic to seafood and I do not like slimy oysters. We were unaware one of the appetizers besides this wonderful shrimp was Cornmeal Fried Oysters.

At first we thought it was probably chicken and we both tried it, not thinking we were eating something neither of us liked. Later in the evening we found out the truth. My sister did not get sick and I only ate one as it certainly was not as delicious as the shrimp and it did taste kind of funny. In conclusion – maybe my sister is no longer allergic to seafood and anything that is breaded and deep fried is going to be good!

Linking to Fiesta Friday.


Philadelphia's City Tavern's Basil Shrimp, Adapted

Instead of deep frying the shrimps I grilled them;  I also used prosciutto instead of bacon and I used green basil instead of purple basil.

  • 16 jumbo shrimp (thawed if frozen) peeled and deveined (I also like to remove the tails)
  • 16 fresh green basil leaves plus more to garnish (be generous)
  • 16 slices prosciutto, trimmed
  • 16 flavorless toothpicks
  • 12 oz. of your favorite homemade or bottled barbecue sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s original)
  • 4 tsp. horseradish (or to taste – I love this ingredient)
  • 2 dashes or more of your favorite hot sauce (I used Sriracha)
  • lemon wedges to garnish

Heat your grill to high, then turn down to medium-high and cook for about 8 minutes, turning once. The prosciutto crisps up nicely and the shrimp are perfectly cooked.

Combine the barbecue sauce, horseradish and hot sauce in a small saucepan. Add the shrimp and toss gently to coat each one. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the shrimps are heated through. Pull out the charred toothpicks and place a decorative toothpick in each shrimp.

Serve on a platter and garnish with lemon wedges and basil leaves.

Recipe by

24 thoughts on “Philadelphia’s City Tavern’s Basil Shrimp

  1. Great Judi – I’m going to have to look up this city tavern in Philly. We live about half an hour from Philly airport and perhaps 40 mins to the city center itself. We just had family from England visit and Philly is always one of our stops for exactly the reasons you mention above. Now we will have to search this tavern by the river. Sounds amazing! We actually took them to a baseball game, as that is what they had requested, so we went to see the Phillies play – it was my first Major League baseball game too 🙂 The shrimp look wonderful and the oyster story is quite funny! I love oysters myself, you can disguise them in so many ways 🙂


    • Thanks Loretta – The City Tavern is definitely worth a visit, not just for the culinary heritage (the food is excellent) but the historical significance. Chef Staib not only renovated this colonial tavern but brought to life the times of our Founding Fathers. That’s funny about a baseball game – I went to one once and that was enough. We need to experience as much as we can in life, don’t we? Of course I never would have ordered oysters off the menu but because it was a special dinner I did not know what all of the appetizers were – from now on I will certainly ask 🙂


  2. Judi,
    My husband and I went to The Chart House in Boston last Saturday The Chart House is located on the wharf in a historic building that was John Hancock’s accounting house. The brick building is simply awesome and the seafood was amazing. I had the local scrod stuffed with lobster.
    I like your idea of grilling the shrimp. I am crazy about the horseradish too 🙂


    • Thanks Sandhya – I liked the idea of grilling shrimp (a favorite way to cook those big shrimps) versus deep frying (especially in this hot weather) and the horseradish always adds some great flavor. The East Coast is full of history and I never tire of visiting. Boston is a great town to visit – loved the cobblestone streets and the aquarium. We went to a huge party there 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Liz – we are all glad she did not get sick. They (I only had one) tasted funny, rather chewy. I could eat shrimp every day – no thanks to oysters though 🙂 The barbecue sauce with the horseradish added some great flavor – using prosciutto versus bacon was a good idea too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t visited Philadelphia in a long time, but plan to go back at some point, so it’s great to have your recommendation.
    Love the flavoring of this dish. especially the addition of basil. Will keep this in mind to try soon. 🙂


  4. I’ve eaten there before in 1976 – the bicentennial – but so long ago that I don’t remember what I had. I DO remember the experience!! 🙂 What a fun time you must have had and those shrimp look absolutely scrumptious! I don’t know that I’ve ever grilled shrimp now that I think about it, and the prosciutto sounds like the right call! And by the way, I’m a huge horseradish fan. I love it. When I was pregnant with my son I’d stand by the fridge door and using a butter knife (we had those narrow jars) I’d just dip it and eat it…No one else cared for horseradish, so I didn’t worry about “double dipping.”


    • Thanks Mollie – you ate there when the restaurant was managed by a large food service company. No comparison – the entire evening (we closed the restaurant at 11:00 p.m.) was a fun place to visit. LOL – I love horseradish but not that much 🙂 I guess it’s okay since you were pregnant and pregnant women always have cravings for strange things 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I live 30 some miles from Philadelphia and believe I’ve been to City Tavern. Do they dress in period time? It is a great place to have lunch on a tour of Philadelphia historical district.
    This recipe looks great. I love shrimp.


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