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Meatless March: The Sequel!

Since last year’s Meatless March experiment was such a success (or maybe I’m just trying to torture myself), I’ve decided to embark upon the adventure once again. It was a lot of fun trying different meatless burgers around town. They totally made me rethink the stereotype of a veggie burger being a boring, bland, dry-looking circle of fake meat. There were veggie-infused patties in all sizes, shapes and colors. Kicking things off this month is the “Bonzo Burger” at Taproom on 19th – a veggie patty consisting of Garbanzo beans, black quinoa, feta & cumin topped with cilantro yogurt on a Conshohocken Bakery roll.

The patty came with a char on the outside, reminiscent of your favorite backyard burger minus that burnt meat smell. The overall flavor of the burger was great but I felt that the texture of the patty itself was a little too soft, especially paired with the super soft bun. I added some of my salad to the top of the burger to give it a better mouth feel & add a little bit of crunch. It’s definitely worth checking out – especially on Monday nights when all burgers are 1/2 price!

NB: Just like last year, I won’t be doing individual ratings for the veggie burgers. At the end of the month I’ll do a recap of all the burgers I tried and let you know which one was my favorite! So be sure to tell all your veggie/herbivore or Lent following friends to check this series out!

A Burger Education

Full disclosure: I’ve eaten the burger at The Institute before but I didn’t write about it. Why? Because when I did, it was a sad, overcooked, double-pattied mess that I struggled through and barely finished (which disappointed the hangover I was trying to feed).

Looks great, right? Appearances can be deceiving!

But hey, everyone has their bad days! Which is why I decided to give them a second chance nearly two years later. Checking back in this week, the burger is down to a solo 6 oz patty and comes topped with your choice of cheese. I went with cheddar, as per usual. Lettuce, tomato, onion & pickles on the side and of course, The Institute’s signature side of tots.

The burger was cooked perfectly medium; bright pink in the middle and full of juicy deliciousness. The bun was a soft brioche. Everything was perfect and no-frills, just the way a good bar burger should be. I’m glad I decided to give them a second chance. It was an extreme improvement over my first visit & might just be my new favorite burger! And if you’re checking out the Craft Beer Express this year (Saturday, March 14th), you’ll need fuel for all that drinking, so order up one of these bad boys when the bus makes it’s stop here – you won’t be disappointed.

Burger rating: “B+”

Fresh From The Farm

Being conscious of where your food comes from these days is becoming more and more important to lots of people. It’s not just about some hippie-dippie Portlandia crap, it’s about supporting small, local businesses; farmers who have been operating farms for generations. Here in Pennsylvania, that’s one of our biggest points of pride – just look at Lancaster County! And lots of restaurants these days are making it a point to partner with local farms and markets to get the best and freshest ingredients. Case in point: South Philly Taproom, who partners with Rineer Family Farms (part of the Lancaster Farmland Trust) for several items on their menu, including their burger! I’ve tried their breakfast burger before, but came back this week for the regular burger as part of an event sponsored by Daryl Rineer to showcase the farm’s products and educate patrons.

Everything about the burger was great. Even though I ordered mine medium (they only give you 3 options – rare, medium, or well), it came out on the medium-well side. Understandable as there were many people there for this particular event so cooking up a lot of burgers at once can be a challenge. I loved the thick-cut bacon on top (my dining partner didn’t even eat all of his so I had to steal more, it was so good) and the smoked cheddar. It was just an all together, tasty and well-rounded burger. And it tasted even better since I knew that the meat was coming from some place nearby and not sitting in a warehouse in god-knows-where after being pumped full of hormones and preservatives!

In addition to the burger, the chicken used for the Southern Fried Chicken, Brussels sprouts, and even the jam for the Taproom’s infamous Fried PB&J all come from Rineer Family Farms! I was also excited to learn that Rineer does a CSA, which can be picked up at several locations around the city including 12th Street Gym and the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market. Now I can enjoy these delicious burgers right at home!

Burger rating: “B+”

Have a Heart

I headed back home recently to celebrate my birthday with my parents. And celebrate I did by eating a burger in the heart of New York City: Times Square. We decided to check out Heartland Brewery’s HB Burger which touts itself as “the only full-service burger-oriented restaurant in the Times Square area”. I opted for their standard HB burger which uses fresh ground Pat LaFreida patties and tops them with aged NY cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato, an onion ring (!) and garlic aioli all on a brioche bun.

The burger came out medium as requested (and I should hope so if burgers are your business!). In typical LaFrieda fashion, the meat was juicy and delicious. Bacon was smoky and crisp, pairing nicely with the aged cheddar. My only complaint would be the bun. It’s no secret that brioche buns aren’t my first choice, but when done well they can be excellent. This bun was overly dry which totally threw off the great taste of all the other burger components. Oh sure, it came in handy sopping up all the meat juices, but having to take extra sips of my beer in between bites became tiresome. My mom order the crab cake burger and had the same complaint, eventually giving up on the bun entirely. Some of the other burgers are served on a potato bun, which I would have preferred but obviously wouldn’t have been able to contain all the toppings. In any case, this was still a solid burger that you can enjoy right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of NYC (without any creepy costumed characters trying to steal your fries).

Burger rating: “B”

 

Need A Lift?

Over the holiday break, I finally got to try Cafe Lift for the first time, hitting it up mid-week to avoid the weekend brunch crowds. While I had my heart set on a delicious frittata that day, a burger special on their board caught my eye and I knew that I’d immediately have to come back to try it (especially since I really enjoyed the burger at their neighbor/sibling restaurant across the street, Prohibition Taproom). So I did! Their burger consists of two smashed & stacked Kensington Quarters grass-fed beef burgers topped with a fried egg, caramelized onions, provolone and a whole grain mustard aioli.

The burger came paired with a healthy, mixed green salad (I know you guys love your fries, but this is a mostly breakfast place, after all). The fried egg covered almost the entire burger, so I only managed to get this peek-a-boo picture. The runny egg yolk tasted delicious and created a beautiful mess all over my plate – and myself. The shiny, buttery brioche helped soak up all the yellow runoff. The caramelized onions & provolone pairing were great. The provolone wasn’t too sharp or overpowering, and the mustard aioli gave it a little extra kick. The burger patties themselves were cooked to well (and continued to cook while I was eating so that they were slightly too dry when I reached the last few bites) but you could taste the freshness in the grass-fed beef. I get the whole “smash” style, but they could have come off the grill a little sooner and been a little bit juicier – and then this burger would have been amazing!

If you’re going to come in and check it out (ain’t no shame in eating a burger at 10 AM), don’t forget your piggy banks – Cafe Lift is CASH ONLY! (and BYOB, so bring your flask, too).

Burger rating: “B”

Pour Me Another

Just mere steps away from last week’s stop sits The Pour House in Collingswood, another great craft beer bar in South Jersey. They’ve got a plethora of burgers to choose from – 14 to be exact – including their winning burger from the 2013 Battle of the Burger, “The Second Coming“. I almost couldn’t decide which burger I wanted because they all sounded great, but I finally settled on the pretzel burger since I’m a sucker for pretzel buns. The burger comes topped with Vermont white cheddar, sherry onions, chipotle aioli, and bacon.

The burger came out cooked medium as requested, but was extremely juicy and had lots of runoff. Luckily that pretzel bun soaked up a lot of the juices without getting a soggy bottom bun. There was a perfect burger to bun ratio and the bacon was nice and crispy. I loved the flavor of the sherry onions since I’m also a sucker for any kind of caramelized onions on a burger. And of course, the Pièce de résistance: that buttery, salty, delicious pretzel bun. One burger down, 13 more to go!

Burger rating: “B”

Heisen-burger

I’ll admit I’ve never seen “Breaking Bad“, but it’s on my list of resolutions for the year. In the meantime, I ate the Breaking Bad burger at Keg & Kitchen in Collingswood which comes topped with 2 patties, bacon, onion, jalapeño (which I picked off because I’m a wimp), tomato, iceberg lettuce, BBQ sauce, mayo, and yellow american cheese on a seeded bun.

I wasn’t asked how I wanted my burger cooked (probably because of the size of the double patties), but they were cooked to well; still juicy but with no pink inside. All the flavors were really great, with a slight, char-broiled taste that reminded me of a fancy whopper (although it certainly doesn’t compare to this whopper wannabe). The patties were on the small side, causing me to have to over compensate by eating more bun than burger so that I could maintain a good burger to bun ratio.

The only downside overall was the price point – $13, which I thought was rather high for a burger so simple. If you want to save a few bucks, they offer the burger for $10 on Mondays. Or balance it out by taking advantage of their Friday happy hour when all craft drafts are $4.

Burger rating: “B”

The Vulgar Chef

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