Featured Friend of Grub: Marilyn Johnson

Our Featured Friends series will be an interview style post where we highlight some of the dope people we’ve met since starting our foodie journey. This weeks Featured Friend is Marilyn Johnson the founder of PhillyGrub.com, Philadelphia’s & South Jersey’s #1 food & drink blog. Check out our interview with Marilyn below!

1. First and foremost….how excited are you to join our random nonsense and try your first Gaetanos Cheesesteak on air with us on the Just Grubbin Podcast?

I’m ready to try these “legendary” cheesesteaks and see how good they are. John Howard-Fusco better not be lying.

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Marilyn Johnson with Shlomo Kaufman of Catahoula
2. I think one of my favorite fun facts about you that most people don’t know is that you actually used to be a DJ, how did that come about and what was your favorite genre to spin?
I was a college radio DJ in the early and mid-90s. I also hung out at all of the big clubs in Philly at the time (The Bank, Egypt, Revival, etc.) Long before I was a food blogger, I was the publisher of a website where I wrote about alternative music. There was a social element to it as well. I managed a mailing list of a few hundred people. Long story short, I met all kind of people into music including nightclub DJs. In 1999, one of my close friends at the time was doing a DJ party at the old Fluid Nightclub and he invited me to spin. The rest is history. I spun all kinds of genres, but I was known for being an 80s/new wave/alternative dance DJ. I spun at over 25 clubs in Philly and also in other cities in PA, NJ, and even Washington DC. I retired from the nightlife scene in 2013 to focus on my food blog. No regrets. 15 years as a DJ was a good run!

3. When did you decide to officially get into the Philadelphia foodie scene and start up one of the best food blogs in the area?

I dabbled in food writing before starting Philly Grub. I created two personal blogs in North Jersey that were about exploring when I lived up there (2006-2008). I loved checking out new restaurants, so I tended to write a lot of restaurant reviews and report on openings and closings. Those blogs built a small following and readership and, as a result, I got hooked on food writing. When I moved back to Philadelphia in 2008, I wanted to continue writing about food so Philly Grub was born. Hard to believe I’ve been doing it for 10 years. But then again, not so hard to believe. I love Philly. I love food. I love writing. I’ll keep doing it until it’s not fun anymore.
4. I’ve been noticing that the Philadelphia food scene is starting to get a lot more attention and blow up more than ever. I think people are finally starting to realize we have a lot more to offer than cheesesteaks, have you noticed this as well?
Oh absolutely. It’s always been a great food town, but it has exploded like crazy over the past 5-10 years. From Iron Chefs to Top Chefs, from bringing home James Beard Awards to being ranked 11th on Zagat’s Most Exciting Food Cities in America 2017, it’s a very exciting time to be a food lover in Philadelphia. We have world-class restaurants and chefs and just about every cuisine you can imagine. There are a lot of restaurants that started here and are growing in other cities – like honeygrow. We have our fair share of chains and outsiders looking to cash in on the scene, too. We’ve got it all. We’re not just a cheesesteak town anymore. It’s almost impossible to cover it all, but I try my best. 😉
5. Are you originally from Philadelphia or the surrounding areas?
Nope, I grew up in NEPA (Northeastern Pennsylvania). I left at 18 and made my way closer to Philadelphia, eventually moving to Philly proper in 2002.

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I love this city! #philly

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 6. So the former athlete in me likes to look at the calendar foodie year as “seasons”, what was one of your favorite events from the 2017 season?
There are a TON of food events and food festivals that take place in Philly every year so it is very difficult to pick just one. I missed the Night Market events last year, but they are always great! I highly recommend you go to at least one of them in your lifetime. FEASTival is always a favorite, though.
7. Follow up to that, you were asked to be a judge at Burger Brawl this year at Xfinity right? That sounds like awesomely delicious experience! How was it and what burger really stood out to you?
That was a lot of fun, but also harder than you would think. There were a lot of tasty burgers, but I loved Blue Duck’s burger the best. I may judge again this year, too. We’ll see as I have three other food judging duties this year — Let Them Eat Cake, Dish It Up, and more.

 8. Anyone that follows you on Instagram at Phillygrub knows that not only do you know the food hot spots but you also know where to grab a great cocktail. Where’s one of your favorite places to go in the city for happy hour?
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Marilyn Enjoying Aloha Mr. Burg at Burgs Hideaway
Yeah, it’s no secret I like my cocktails. I don’t really do Happy Hours in the city anymore, but I’m a big fan of Friday Saturday Sunday, The Franklin Bar/Upstairs Bar, Hop Sing Laundromat, and Southwark because they (still) have the best cocktail programs in the city. I will also drink wherever Katie Loeb and Amanda Juner are mixing it up. Also, Nicholas Brozek is making amazing cocktails at Dim Sum House, too. My all-time favorite bar in the city is Tattooed Mom, though. I’ve been going there for nearly 20 years! 
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9. I love going to the small almost hole in the wall spots that get overlooked, too me they always have some of the best food. Give me a hidden gem in the South Jersey/ Philly area that most people don’t know about but is always on point in your opinion?
I would say Hardena/Waroeng Surabaya Restaurant which is an Indonesian restaurant in Point Breeze South Philly, but since Ena Widjojo, Maylia Widjojo, and Diana Widjojo are semifinalists for James Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic this year… I don’t think it will be a hidden gem anymore. I lived 2 blocks away in 2008-2009 and went many times.
10. What are you looking forward to the most for the 2018 season? and is there anything else you’d like to leave us with?

Looking forward to continuing reporting on the Philly food scene, eating great food and drinking great drinks and writing about it. And hopefully getting closer to making it my full-time gig (yep, I still have a day job).


If you enjoyed this, check out more posts from the Just Grubbin team here! Also make sure to listen to The Just Grubbin podcast to hear us go into further detail about this and to hear all of our random irreverent takes on food, drink and whatever else.


  1. Marilyn

    I love how most of the pictures you used for this article include lots of alcoholic drinks. LOL! Thanks for the feature. It was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to being on the show soon!

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