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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!

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Third Time’s A Charm

Since I went to Good Dog during my Meatless March adventure and had a really great veggie burger, I decided it was time to give their regular burger its final chance to impress me. My first trip in 2011 warranted a “D” rating and a revisit in 2013 upgraded that to a “D+”. Would a year & a half between visits finally give their burger rating the boost it deserved? I ordered the burger exactly the same way – topped with cheddar cheese, medium temperature – and kept my fingers crossed until it arrived. To recap, the burger is a 1/2 lb ground sirloin patty topped with lettuce & tomato on a brioche bun.

At first I was concerned because of all the empty space on the bun and the lettuce was a large, limp leaf sticking out from under the bun (which I tucked back in to take this picture). But I took one bite and a smile crept across my face: We had success! The burger was cooked perfectly to medium as requested and was nice and juicy. Once I began eating, the burger to bun ratio eventually evened itself out. It turned out to be a simple, flavorful, no frills bar burger. I was glad that I had enough confidence in it to return and try it for a third time & finally got the version of this burger that so many of my friends had bragged about as being the best in town. I’m proud to upgrade this burger’s rating from a “D+” to a “B”.

Burger rating: “B”

Veggie, Dawg!

So here we are, our very last veggie burger of Meatless March. Since several of the other veggie burgers I tried this month were from places where I’d already had their regular burger, I decided I’d continue that trend and stopped by Good Dog Bar – a bold move considering that on both of my visits there, I was extremely disappointed in their basic beef burger. Could their veggie burger wow me? Or would I leave once again with my tail tucked between my legs?

The veggie burger here is a patty of roasted eggplant, mushrooms, lentils & brown rice topped with lettuce, tomato, crispy shallots & spicy ketchup on onion brioche roll. The patty itself looked great; I love when I’m able to see all the elements together. That way I know they’re not just using some frozen fake meat. All the flavors came together really nicely and the spicy ketchup wasn’t overly spicy. I tried to put some of the accompanying fry sauce on the patty, but it made it kind of bland, cancelling out the veggie flavors. I also liked that they used an onion roll and not a boring brioche. It tasted really fresh and healthy – even if I was also chowing down on their signature kennebec & sweet potato hand-cut fries! I’m a little disappointed that their veggie burger was better than their regular burger, but that just means I’ll have to give the regular burger one last shot after all.

So, which of the four veggie burgers that I ate this month stole my heart? Unlike last year, there was a clear winner – CITY TAP HOUSE! Everything about their veggie burger just clicked for me. The beets, the cheese, the multi-grain roll – it was the kind of veggie burger that makes you forget that you’re not eating meat because it’s so damn delicious. Am I about to give up on meat burgers for good for it? Definitely not! I’m already counting the minutes until April 1st so I can dive right back into some medium-cooked meat!

Beet That!

I’ll admit, even though last year’s Meatless March challenge proved that there’s a definitely great veggie burgers to be had, I’ve been setting my expectations pretty low. Even more so if I’m going to a place whose beef burgers weren’t that great. I’d been to the City Tap House in University City before, but they just opened a new location in Logan Square close to my job so I figured I’d check it out. Their veggie burger is a wild rice, oats, black beans and beet patty topped with aged cheddar, dijonnaisse, roasted tomato, and alfalfa sprouts on a multi-grain bun.

Honestly, a bar or a pub is the last place that I would expect myself to order a veggie burger at and I definitely was not expecting it to taste good. But this one tasted AMAZING! (Yes, I actually used those exact words when the bartender asked how everything was). All the different components – the oats, the beets, the beans – just worked together so beautifully and gave everything a great flavor. The cheese was probably what did it for me the most (I thought it was a pretty bold move to put cheese on a veggie burger since you might normally associate the typical veggie burger eater with being a Vegan). I could barely tell that I was eating a veggie burger at that point, and that’s what had been lacking in a lot of other veggie burgers I had. Also: the dijonnaisse – that gave the burger a little kick, clearing my sinuses right up! The multi-grain roll was a nice, healthy touch; soft but lightly toasted, adding some crunch (which, if you’ll remember from last week, was one of my issues with the super soft bun used at Taproom on 19th).

As my burger arrived, some guy was passing by my table and said, “Well at least the burgers look great!” Well sir, they taste pretty great, too!

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!

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I’ve been on a pretty bad burger streak lately. Even my trip to Vegas didn’t help! (well, ok, In ‘n’ Out burger helped a little) It left me wondering: would I ever be able to break through this burger funk? Or was I destined to let the Polar Vortex infringe on the juicy, delicious treats of months past? Thankfully, the weather thawed out this weekend, and so I ventured forth in search of a tasty burger to lift my winter blues. I decided to check out newly opened spot, The Gaslight, co-owned by Top Chef season 11 contestant and chef at Ela, Jason Cichonski. I’d had the burger at Ela before, but with a new venture comes a new possibility for burger greatness.

The burger at The Gaslight was actually the “polar” opposite of the burger at Ela: an 8oz beef patty topped with aged cheddar, creamy & spicy sauce, smoked pickles, and a seeded brioche bun. I ordered it medium – along with a cleverly named “Bieber” champagne cocktail – and waited. And waited… and waited! I started to sweat a little. The bartender noticed and brought me another drink (The “Miley” this time). A burger shouldn’t take this long, I thought to myself, but this was their opening weekend so I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. I still felt nervous; they couldn’t let me down, they just couldn’t. I needed this to be a great burger after all the previous burger bummers!

My burger arrived and the second I picked it up, juices poured out the back of it. I breathed a sigh of relief. I took a bite and saw just enough pink in the middle to satisfy me (It was more on the medium well side). The meat was tender and flavorful. We were having a burger breakthrough! The spicy cream sauce was delicious; I even dipped my fries in some of the run-off. The pickles were chopped and sprinkled on top of the patty instead of being sliced, which I liked as well. Their smokiness wasn’t overpowering and they gave the burger a nice, briny flavor. And the bun was completely proportional to the patty; I had no issues with sogginess or running out of bun too quickly. Finally, after a dry spell, I’d hit a burger home run.

I’m gearing up to do Meatless March next month (Keep me in your meat-eating prayers, guys), but The Gaslight also has a veggie burger people have been raving about, so I’ll be sure to come back and check it out.

Burger Rating: “B”

In LOVE with Vernalicious

Every week, LOVE Park on 16th and JFK has a rotating lineup of some of the finest food trucks in Philadelphia. (Try saying that last part 5 times fast!) This Tuesday I conveniently forgot my lunch and the very awesome VERNALICIOUS truck was there to save the day!

They’re mostly well known for making an amazing pulled pork grilled cheese and on top of that, they just won the People’s Choice Award at the 2012 Vendy Awards. Once I found out they were parked down the block for lunch, I was really looking forward to one of their other hit menu items: the banh mi.

 

I opted for the tofu banh mi, since I am gearing up for Meatless March (I seriously considered getting  a burger but stopped myself). I’m a big fan of tofu banh mi and was excited to try Vernalicious’ take on the Vietnamese sandwich.

The sandwich was definitely smaller then you would get at a place in Chinatown or on Washington Ave, and it was $6 compared to QT’s $5.50 for a sandwich almost double in size. (I suppose you do have to take into consideration the cost of running a mobile food business compared to brick & mortar, though). The presentation was great and the flavor composition was in the right area. The tofu was nice and moist, and was balanced out well by the crusty bread and crunchy cucumbers.

I would definitely try this again if I was looking for a healthy lunch alternative or sticking to my vegetarian diet post-March. And if you happen to be in the LOVE Park area when Vernalicious is, and the banh mi is on the menu, you should check it out too!

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