With an hour or less to both shop and eat, something has to give. Usually, that something is digestion.
But lunch during the holiday shopping rush doesn't need to be a hot dog from the sidewalk cart with the shortest line.
At the five Center City establishments below, you can buy a nice gift and enjoy a sit-down meal on just one tab. The staff will ring up your lunch and your purchase together, in some cases even serving your gifts to the table as if they were selections from the a la carte menu.
Sadly, we know of no restaurant where the wait staff offers free shipping. On the other hand, we did find an eat-and-shop spot on Walnut Street with its own drop box for overnight mail.
ING Direct Café, 1636 Walnut St. The e-bank ING Direct runs this bright little lunch spot as place for account holders to check their on-line balances and get live advice. The baristas are trained in both banking and food service.
Anyone can eat here, though. From noon to 2 p.m., a lunch special with a salad or sandwich plus chips and a drink costs a frugal $6. The bank also sells some well-priced gifts, including rugged backpacks ($24.95), stainless-steel travel mugs ($9.95) and discounted Bodum coffee presses and tableware: a classy sugar-and-creamer set, at $19.95, is 33 percent off the manufacturer's suggested retail price.
Many of the gifts have a banking connection, including books on finance and stress balls for riding out market fluctuations. A $9.95 sport bottle for Wall Street types has the motto "Thirsty? Stay Liquid."
In addition to eating and shopping, you can ship overnight mail and small packages at the café's indoor DHL drop box. You'll need your own account number and labels. The scheduled courier pickup time is 6 p.m.
Fork etc., 308 Market St. Hearty soups, sandwiches, salads and quesadillas are the menu highlights here. Expect to pay $4 for a wintry root-vegetable soup and about $7 for a hot pressed sandwich, and set aside another $3.75 for the house-special bread pudding that easily serves two.
Candlesticks ($4 to $18), serving platters ($30 to $80) and a bamboo-handled glass teapot ($45) are among the useful and elegant gifts sold at this casual Fork annex. You can also buy author-signed cookbooks, including Patricia Yeo's "Everyday Asian," Anna Tasca Lanza's "The Flavors of Sicily" and Fork owner Ellen Yin's new "Forklore."
The cashiers who ring up your lunch order and serve it to your table can also put together a gift basket of artisanal vinegars, olive oils, mustards, jams and other gourmet foods, including Yin's mother's candied pecans.
Ideally, you'll give them notice. Without it, plan to allot your full lunch hour for a leisurely meal. By the time you're groaning from the bread pudding, a gift basket can probably be ready.
Academia del Caffé, 1 South Penn Square. Eating lunch at this suave Italian café feels like a European mini-vacation. The hot pressed sandwiches have ingredients like pancetta and spelt, the crowd is urbane and diverse, and because the café is a fixture on the expatriate circuit you'll probably hear Italian being spoken.
There's only one gift for sale, but it's a sublime one: imported Tre Marie panettone ($22 to $25). Each sweet, rich Italian Christmas bread is packed in a beautiful trapezoid-shaped box with a glossy ribbon handle.
You can order your lunch at the counter, ask to have a panettone added to the tab and let the café staff take things from there. "You go sit down, and we bring it out for you," says Chloe Clotilde Ghiselli, a café worker who moved to Philadelphia from Milan seven years ago.
You may want to call ahead to reserve a panettone, as several are already taken. You may also want a good map. The 1 South Penn Square building is tucked in a corner across the street from City Hall where the traffic circle intersects with Juniper Street, near the Crystal Tea Room entrance to the Wanamaker Building.
This being Philly and not Milan, the café entrance is just past the lunch truck and the roll-down parking garage door.
Down Home Diner, Reading Terminal Market. The gift selection here is limited to Down Home Diner souvenirs, but they're hip and locally designed, and they promote local agriculture, so they're a step up from, say, a Betsy Ross bobble-head.
Our favorite: the beefy, 100 percent cotton "I Bacon" baby T-shirts (sizes 3 months to 4T), which are edgy and adorable at the same time — and a bargain at just $10. For adults, you can choose between the bacon design and a Down Home Diner "Eat More Scrapple" shirt (also $10).
The diner's fastest, most comforting lunch is a bowl of homemade soup ($4 to $6) served at the counter. The menu offers at least four soups every day, served with a side of biscuits if you get lucky and the restaurant has some leftover from breakfast.
DiBruno Bros., 1730 Chestnut St. In addition to gift baskets filled with gourmet treats like white truffle oil, DiBruno's Center City store sells cheeseboards, knives and some other kitchenware, including chic Phillyware tea towels ($16.99), pub glasses ($11.99) and tree ornaments ($16.99) decorated with drawings of the Clothespin, the "Rocky" statue, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and other attractions.
This supersized DiBruno's is two stories tall. Housewares are sold on the ground floor and can be rung up at the registers there, along with gourmet cold lunches from the grab-and-go case or panini from the deli. An upscale food court on the second floor is a civilized spot to sit and eat the food you buy downstairs. Its own supercivilized menu includes hot-plated entrées such as escarole and beans ($9) and pine-nut-crusted Ahi tuna ($13).
Technically, you're not supposed to pay for downstairs gift items at the upstairs food court, but the word "no" doesn't seem to exist in the service-oriented DiBruno staff vocabulary. A friendly cashier with Christmas spirit might be persuaded to bend the rules. *