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Whet Your Whistle

The restaurant space at the corner of 5th & Bainbridge has seen a lot of changes throughout the years. With various openings and closings and being vacant for extended periods of time, residents in the Queen Village neighborhood worried they might never have a steady hot-spot in the hood. Hoping to “reverse the curse” (so to speak), the owners of Brauhaus Schmitz have recently opened  Whetstone Tavern and crafted a menu of classic American cuisine using fresh, seasonal and local ingredients. As you can probably already guess, I headed straight for the bar & ordered the Dad’s Burger – a LaFrieda blend patty on a Martin’s potato roll, topped with cooper sharp cheese, iceberg lettuce slaw, heirloom tomato, diced onion, and pickles. You can opt for a single or a double patty; I went with just one to give it a good baseline. You can pair it with fries, chips or a half salad – I chose fries.

I wasn’t asked how I wanted the burger cooked but it was on the medium-well side. It didn’t matter because I knew the quality of the La Frieda meat would ensure that my burger was moist, flavorful & delicious. Also, it was on a soft Martin’s potato roll, which automatically makes any burger taste amazing. It was on the small side, but still tasty. I loved seeing the little yellow sliver of the heirloom tomato after I took my first bite. The burger also comes topped with a house burger sauce (probably some kind of in-house thousand island variation). I failed to notice that the ketchup listed on the menu was sriracha ketchup so after my first bite, my mouth was on fire! Luckily, I was able to dip the fries in the burger sauce/meat juice run off, which made them extra tasty. The fries were kind of under-salted, so the drippings helped alleviate some of the blandness as well. Next time I will definitely opt for the double decker burger & chips! Also be sure to save room for  one of Pastry Chef Jessica Nolen’s amazing desserts – or you can wait until her new, standalone bakery The Little Bird opens just a few blocks away!

Burger rating: “B”

Pick Me Up

People have been telling me for years how the burger at New Wave Cafe in Queen Village is a hidden gem. However, it just never comes up on my radar while I’m out and about. This weekend though, I had to drop some delicious bourbon off to my friends over at Home Speakeasy/Rock or Neat who live only a few blocks away, so I was ready to indulge in some burger deliciousness. But you know how things go when it comes to friends and whiskey. You decide to stick around and try a little bit, and then a little more, and then before you know it you’re watching YouTube videos and you can’t quite muster the stamina to go to a bar. Well, thank goodness for take-out! Usually I’m skeptical when it comes to ordering burgers for delivery: you never know if they’ll get the order right, toppings could be missing and the burger keeps cooking on the way & you open a styrofoam container and everything’s moist and limp and sad. Since we were only minutes away from the bar, I figured that going to pick it up would be a much safer bet than relying on Grubhub. New Wave’s burgers are 9 oz patties served with lettuce, tomato & onion. There’s also a bunch of other various cheese & topping combinations, but I just kept it simple ordering my standard medium temperature patty topped with cheddar cheese.

My friend retrieved the burger safely and the presentation looked great for a carry-out container. It was on a soft, seeded bun and the burger was perfectly proportional. On first bite, I saw a pink center and was extremely relieved. The burger itself was tasty and flavorful (even after the 3 or 4 bourbons I’d had that evening). All the toppings were fresh and the cheddar cheese nice and gooey. I was also impressed by how well the fries held up in transit. Still had a little bit of crispy to them and tasted freshly hand-cut. It was a great, fancy bar burger – even if I didn’t eat it in a bar. My only 2 regrets are 1) not having tried this burger sooner and 2) not taking advantage of the variety of toppings. I’ll definitely have to get to the actual bar to check out another burger soon!

Burger rating: “B+”

From All Sides

Long time South Philly bar staple Triangle Tavern recently had new life breathed into it earlier this year after having been closed for over half a decade. Located at the triangular intersection of East Passyunk, Reed & 10th streets, the Triangle has been given an upgrade by the Royal Tavern/Khyber Pass Pub/Cantina team. And keeping with the South Philly flair, they’re serving up spiked water ice (a godsend given that the Rita’s across the street shuttered last year) and Italian classics like spaghetti & meatballs and eggplant parm. There’s also a burger on the menu, topped with bacon, provolone & a long hot. Normally, I’d be remiss to order a burger at a restaurant that caters to a particular ethnic cuisine, but I love the burgers at Royal Tavern & Khyber, so I took my chances.

My burger came out & the first thing I noticed was the lack of fries. I guess at $12, I had wrongly assumed that I would get something on the side other than a giant pickle & pepper? But what the burger lacked in accompaniments, it made up for in size. The patty was massive! At least 10 ounces, cooked perfectly to medium & had an amazing char on the outside. The housemade bun was soft and proportional to the patty and made great work of holding back all the juicy runoff from the meat (having a “lettuce diaper” underneath helped as well). The bacon was nice and crispy and the cheese, gooey with a little bit of sharpness. I didn’t eat the long hot because of my wimpy palette, but I could certainly smell how hot it was! In the end, I was thankful that the burger hadn’t come with fries because the patty was so big, I could barely finish it all! I’ve had burgers that I’ve failed to finish because they were terrible or I ran out of bun, but this guy was just too much meat for me to handle.

If you’re heading to the Triangle for brunch, I strongly suggest ordering a Bloody Mary – it comes with a meatball garnish! And dat’s a spicy meatball!

Burger rating: “B”

Stepping Stone

If you were watching FYI Philly Saturday night, you might have seen a little piece about Brick & Mortar, a new restaurant and cocktail bar in the Loft District (Or Callowhill. Or the Eraserhood – whatever we’re calling the area just north of Chinatown this week). Well, I just so happened to be at Brick & Mortar Saturday night when they were showing their small screen debut on a big, pull down screen! It was pretty cool to see all the staff and other guests get excited about seeing the restaurant showcased on TV. While the menu blends Indian and other spices with rustic American cuisine, I opted for their burger – a patty topped with lettuce, onion, and your choice of cheddar or American cheese underneath a soft, snowflake roll (snowflake rolls are so hot right now!)

The burger came out slightly past my requested medium, but was still flavorful & juicy. It was a very well seasoned, hand-formed patty. The burger to bun ratio was perfect and the snowflake bun nice & soft, soaking up all the runoff. The hand cut fries were good and crispy, but the house-made ketchup was a little too sweet for my taste (it’s always hit or miss for me with house-made ketchup). I could have added a slice of Jersey tomato for an extra dollar (!??!) but I opted to save my pennies and spring for the Old Fashioned that’s tucked away behind the burger. With $10 cocktails, a great wine & beer list, and a super chill vibe with big comfy green mid-century booths, graffiti-ed walls, high ceilings and a long wooden bar – it’s the perfect neighborhood lounge for a “City of Neighborhoods“.

Burger rating: “C+”

Cross My Heart

I was starting to run out of places in South Philly to try burgers, but then Fourth & Cross opened in Pennsport a few weeks ago. My friends are constantly there every weekend for brunch, Instagramming all the amazing dishes this farm-to-table dinette has to offer, so I finally broke down and got over there for dinner. The burger is a 6oz patty of pasture-raised beef on a snowflake bun, topped with an herby mayo. You can also opt to add cheddar, goat cheese and Lancaster Bacon for a few bucks more a piece, so I got mine topped with my go-to cheddar.

My burger came out perfectly medium as requested (since I was the only person in the restaurant at the time and they’ve got an open kitchen layout at the dining counter, it would have been really awkward if it hadn’t). The bun was nice and soft, perfectly proportional to the patty which was cooked on a griddle top & simply seasoned with salt & pepper. The herb mayo was super creamy and flavorful – I just wanted more of it to dip my fries in! And the bread & butter pickles were crunchy with the perfect balance of sweet & sour. I even threw a few of them on my burger. As much as I love cheddar cheese, I probably would have skipped it if I’d known how tasty the burger would be with the mayo alone. I can’t wait to come back and check out more of the menu, which contains mostly locally sourced, sustainable ingredients.

Burger Rating: “A-“

Summer Beer Garden Series: Morgan’s Pier

Ok, so technically Morgan’s Pier isn’t a beer garden per se (and technically, I’ve already been there before), but it is outdoors and they do serve beer, so it totally counts! Not to mention, they’ve been changing up the chef lineup every year since it opened in 2012 (this year it’s being helmed by Nick Elmi of Top Chef fame), so it’s a whole new menu to try out. So how does it compare to my last visit? I started with their signature Watermelon Ricky – a 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon poured over lemon juice & watermelon puree. It’s the perfect refreshment for a hot day.

For eats, I went with the backyard burger – topped with lettuce, pickles, sharp American cheese and house sauce. You can add on coleslaw, fries or beans for an extra $3 so I said why not? The burger was only $7 (seems I’m on a bit of a downward sliding scale from my previous beer garden trips thus far).

I wasn’t asked how I wanted the burger cooked, but it came out perfectly medium; bright pink inside and perfectly juicy. It was a simple backyard burger on a potato bun – tasty and no frills. I’ll definitely have to come back with a bigger appetite to try the double stacked Pier burger that comes topped with local bacon made by 1732 meats. I would skip the fries, though. Compared to my last trip where I got a mountain of hand-cut seasoned fries for $3, these were clearly straight from a bag frozen fries (my gut totally said coleslaw, too, which proves that you should always go with your gut).

Morgan’s Pier is open 7 days a week and there’s plenty of room around the pier to hang out with your friends or fly solo and sit by the water watching the boats come in. Plus there’s Quizzo on Tuesdays, brunch on the weekends & live music pretty much every other night of the week. Even better: come on a night when the Camden Riversharks have post-game fireworks and you’ve got an amazing view!

Burger rating: “B-“

Summer Beer Garden Series: Independence Beer Garden

I never made it over to the Independence Beer Garden last season, but I did check out their mobile truck when it was parked over at Festival Pier and had a really solid burger. I was excited to get over to check out the IBG this year and hoping for the same result burger-wise. The burger here comes topped with cheddar, bacon, lettuce & tomato on a potato bun.

Even though this burger is $8 with no sides, the presentation was certainly nicer than the $9 burger I got last week. The patty was also much thicker! It was cooked perfectly to medium as requested and was flavorful & juicy. The bacon was crisp & the cheddar cheese thick & gooey. Plus, burgers just taste better on a potato bun! It was the perfect backyard burger & it pairs great with any one of the amazing Summer beers on tap (I went with a Shiner Ruby Redbird & the Yards IBG Wheat).

Burger rating: “A”

The Vulgar Chef

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