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The Eagle Has Landed

Manayunk is a great neighborhood in Philadelphia for eating and drinking. In fact, the word Manayunk itself comes from the Lenape Indian word for river – Manaiung – which literally means “a place to drink”. Most people only associate Manayunk with the long stretch of restaurants and bars lining Main Street, but there are lots of hidden gems up in the hills as well if you’re willing to make the trek. Luckily, I live at the top of the hill, so navigating my way to the Old Eagle Tavern this week wasn’t so hard on the knees. While from the outside it may look like your typical neighborhood “Old Man Bar”, inside it – well, ok, it kind of looks like your typical neighborhood Old Man Bar – but without the musty smell or smoke-filled air. The draft list and menu are also a far cry from what your Uncle in the suburbs is probably sitting around looking at as well, as the place is owned & operated by the same folks who run Devil’s Den and the Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery. Since I’d given the burger at Devil’s Den a try before, I figured I’d see what the Old Eagle Tavern had to offer.

The burger was a simple, no-frills bar burger, topped with cheddar, red onion, bibb lettuce, a HUGE slice of a beefsteak tomato & pickle slices. I ordered the burger medium & it was cooked perfectly pink all the way through, with a nice grilled char on the outside. The patty was a little on the small side, so I was worried that I would run out of meat before I ran out of bun, but I somehow managed to make it through to the end with a good burger to bun ratio left. I think it may have had to do with the bun being super light and airy. I got a lot of bread in the first few bites, but it wasn’t as bread-heavy as some other buns so it didn’t make me feel too full; I was happy about that. All in all, it was a really nice, solid bar burger. Paired with a beer list that includes gems like Weyerbacher’s Heresy & Barren Hill’s own Biere de Extra, this definitely ain’t your Uncle’s local watering hole. I’m just upset that this place has been in my neighborhood all this time and I only just found out about it!

Burger Rating: “B”

Out on a Limb

This winter was brutal but thankfully, Spring has finally sprung! Thanks to this weather warmup, I can finally venture further out in the city once more – or perhaps I should say “branch out” – as this week’s adventure took me to Bourbon & Branch in Northern Liberties. Formerly an old neighborhood bar called Liberties, the space has been slightly updated while also keeping a kitschy & old timey feel (ie. bartenders with curled mustaches, cocktail menus pasted into the pages children’s books). The menu is pretty meat-heavy, as bar food can tend to be. I opted for a make-your-own burger option, upgraded to two 5 oz. patties instead of one, and topped with cheddar.

The menu states that the burger comes with lettuce, tomato & onion but my burger came out completely bare. I was really disappointed. I mean, look how sad all that meat looks alone on the bun! Even though I was asked my temperature preference, because I knew the patties would be so small I wasn’t expecting them to be medium/pink inside. They were still moist & flavorful, but I think I would have enjoyed the burger more with some kind of vegetable buffer. Normally, I would have felt food shame eating such a pile of meat by itself, but my dining companion had me beat; he ordered a 4-piece fried chicken platter with bacon mac & cheese! (We’re convinced a busser came by & asked if he could wrap up the rest of the food because he wanted to prevent my friend from having a heart attack.) The bun was soft and slightly buttery, and since there wasn’t any drippage from the meat, I didn’t have to worry about a soggy bottom.

Speaking of bottoms, Bourbon & Branch also plays host every first Wednesday of the month to the Beauty & Brains Burlesque & Variety show! The food may not have been so hot, but the lovely ladies (and gent!) performing upstairs certainly were!

Burger rating: “C-”

Fishing for a Good Burger

Very rarely do I find myself in South Jersey, but on a particular adventure one Friday night to Wegman’s, we decided to stop at recently opened Cherry Hill outpost of The Farm & Fisherman. The Philly spot is a small BYOB, while this suburban destination boasts both a Tavern and Marketplace. We opted to sit at the bar since we just wanted something quick, and obviously I had to try their Colonial Burger: a blend of Wyebrook grass-fed beef and Heritage pork belly, topped with Jersey cheese and malt mayo.

While the presentation was nice, I was very disappointed. The ciabatta bun was nice and soft, but way too big for the size of the burger patty. The burger was requested medium and completely overcooked. I had hoped that the blend of beef and pork would give it a nice, succulent flavor and be really juicy, but it was totally dry and almost painful to eat without lots of mayo and ketchup. The shredded iceberg lettuce topping also seemed really awkward and too fast-food like for this venue.

I had originally wanted to try their other burger, The Industrial, which is a dry-aged brisket patty topped with cheddar cheese and onion jam, but thought the pork belly blend would be interesting. Next time, I’ll stick with my gut.

Burger Rating: “C”

Feel the Beet

So here it is: my final veggie burger post to wrap up Meatless March. It’s been a long, strange 31 days and appropriately enough, today’s veggie burger comes from Strangelove’s. I’ve already had one of their regular burgers before and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was really interested in trying their veggie burger, which is made with beets & lentils. I understand that beets are not for everyone (they’re gross, they taste like dirt, etc), but beets are another one of those foods I’ve eaten in the past year that I never liked before (oysters being the other) & have learned to love; it’s all about preparation (like the AMAZING beet tartare I had at Zahav)!

The veggie burger comes topped with a cucumber slaw & harissa mayo. It’s also super reddish-pink (because of the beets, duh)! Since I was eating brunch with a group, I was worried I was going to wind up with “toddler syndrome” (where whatever your eating winds up all over your face beyond your control) and just have a mouth covered in pinkish-reddish blotches (Thankfully, that’s what napkins are for!). The cucumber slaw added a great crispy texture to balance with the softness of the veggie patty, as well as a little bit of sweetness. The patty was moist and perfectly proportional to the bun, and the mayo gave it just enough of a spicy kick to dull down the “dirt” flavor, but not overpower it. Just a great overall array of flavors; I enjoyed it tremendously.

So which of the four veggie burgers I ate this month was my favorite? Honestly, I loved all of them! From the quick, no frills patty at HipCityVeg to the farm to table creation at Kennett, I sampled a pretty wide spectrum of veggie burgers, each with their own unique qualities. And just like snowflakes, no two veggie burgers were alike; each one was a perfect representation of the establishment that created it. I’m glad that I was able to show that you don’t have to just eat at some boring, organic, Portlandia-esque hipster vegan place to get a meal that tastes great (and also that veggie options can still fill you up the same as meat based ones) Hopefully my little meatless experiment inspired some of you to go on your own veggie burger expeditions. We’ll be back to eating meat again next week – and I’m drooling already just thinking about my first bite of a juicy, medium cheeseburger in over a month!

How Kennett Be So Good?

I’m now more then halfway through my Meatless March experiment and I’m starting to get a little worried. I have been eating some pretty amazing veggie burgers and LOVING them! Every time I try one, I think “This is pretty great”, and then I go somewhere else and try another one and it’s even better than the last. Forget the stereotypes of boring, brown, pre-formed hockey puck looking patties – these are juicy, handmade, healthy, and come with as many topping options and in as many variations as a regular meat burger.

This week, I headed to Kennett. Last time I was here, I was enjoying a delicious patty melt & fries. This time? Much lighter fare: the veggie burger, made of wheat berries, red bean, walnuts, sunflower seeds and topped with onion marmalade & spicy 1,000 island dressing, paired with Savoie Farms braised greens.

Holy moly! Look at that thing! The patty was huge – about the size of a 1/2 lb burger! And just like with a regular burger of that magnitude, I found myself running out of bottom bun pretty quickly and had to compensate by focusing more on the top bun. The bun was soft and fresh. I loved the little pickles on top; it reminded me of the old Parliament burger at Pub & Kitchen. The flavors of the red beans and the onion marmalade worked perfectly together (although once again, just like its meat counterpart, some of the patty did start to fall apart towards the end), and the spicy 1000 island dressing gave it a nice little kick. The braised greens had an amazing flavor as well. Looking back, I should have put some of them on top of the burger (maybe next time).

I had no idea a veggie burger could even be as good as a regular burger. What if I stop eating meat burgers altogether!? LOL – Just kidding. That’s never going to happen! But I’ll definitely consider incorporating veggie burgers into my regular burger-eating diet. I may even start pitting a restaurant’s regular burger vs their veggie burger and seeing which one is better (equal opportunity burger exposure). So until then, stick around for my final veggie burger adventure next week. I’ll recap all the ones I’ve eaten so far & announce my favorite!

Grubbin’

Nearly two weeks into Meatless March, I’ve been finding myself bombarded with delicious depictions of meat at every turn. I would probably even eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger right now if one were put in front of me, but I’m standing strong! This week, my tremendous will power led me to Grubhouse, a South Philly luncheonette known for its “Best of Philly” award-winning bacon pancakes and tater tots wrapped in bacon and a burger topped with pork roll and scrapple; basically meat plus meat with a side of meat. I decided to throw the staff for a loop and order a veggie burger (They actually had a veggie burger on their menu?, you ask. Yes Virginia, they have veggie burgers in South Philadelphia).

Look at all those actual vegetables in there! A far cry from the pre-shaped, monochromatic veggie patties I’ve eaten in the past. I was delighted to learn that all the veggie burger patties are made in house with fresh, sauteed vegetables – red onion, carrots, celery, bell pepper – and white beans & panko as binders. The patty was ample sized (they are hand formed, after all) and very proportional to the bun. It came topped with broccoli rabe and had a smear of garlic mayo on the bottom bun to give it a little extra flavor. Some patrons might be skeptical about ordering a veggie burger here at first, but it was surprisingly one of the freshest and moistest veggie burgers I’ve had thus far. (Maybe next time I order their veggie burger, I’ll get a side of those bacon wrapped tots, too!)

While the menu is rather meat-heavy, there’s still a few options for Vegetarians like french toast, waffles, and your requisite breakfast egg dishes. They also offer a $12 prix-fixe weekend brunch menu, which includes dessert, and they’re BYOB. So why wait outside a restaurant for 2 hours on a Sunday morning with the hungover masses? Head on down to Grubhouse and get more bang for your buck instead!

Hip to be Veg

So I’ve decided to partake in Meatless March this year, which means having to steer clear of all my favorite, delicious dead animals for 31 whole days! But on the bright side, it allows me to share with you some of the great veggie burgers that Philadelphia has to offer.

I decided my first stop this month would be HipCityVeg. It’s by no means some snobby, pretentious, hipster vegan place; it has lots of great, healthy foods even for us meat-eaters (Their Arugula Taco Salad is amazing!). I opted for the Ziggy Burger, which is their classic veggie burger topped with smoked Tempeh (kind of like fake bacon) and a special sauce.

It came on a soft, whole grain bun and kind of tasted like a veggie Big Mac. All the vegetables were fresh, crisp and delicious. I also really liked the smoked Tempeh because it gave the burger a little extra spice instead of just being a boring non-meat burger (plus, you could always fantasize that it’s real bacon). The patty itself tastes like a Boca Burger, so at least the flavor profile was familiar territory for me, but it would have been nice to see perhaps a house-made black bean burger, or a corn and rice patty similar to Elevation Burger’s Veggie option. Otherwise, it was pretty great. I would definitely eat one of these again sometime. It satisfied me like a meat burger, but without making me feel sluggish or stuffed afterwards.

FYI – I won’t be doing individual ratings for the veggie burgers, but at the end of the month I’ll do a recap and let you guys know which one was my favorite, so tell your herbivore friends to check us out!

The Vulgar Chef

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