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A Real “Tree-t”

It seemed like I’d all but exhausted the burger options around my job, especially those that only serve burgers during lunch. That is, until a few weeks ago when The Treemont announced that they would start a lunch service and that they would be adding a burger to that menu! So I threw my soggy salad in the trash and headed over to check out the Treemont burger, topped with short rib, smoked onion jam & Comte cheese. The burger comes with your choice of a salad or potato skins; I felt guilty over my tossed packed lunch, so I chose the salad option.

I wasn’t asked how I wanted the burger cooked, but it came out almost well done. Luckily, it was salvaged by the delicious short rib on top, which was tender and juicy. The cheese was thick and gooey. The onion jam gave the burger a nice, savory flavor without being too sweet. My favorite part might have been the bun; it had the flavor & consistency of a pretzel bun, but without the salt on top. It was well proportioned to the patty, although I did find myself with one final bite where there was only bun remaining. It was thick and helped to soak up all the runoff from the short  rib, the jam, the cheese, and what appears to be some kind of aioli smeared on the bottom bun. If this bad boy had been cooked perfectly to medium temp, it might just have gotten an A!

Burger rating: “B”

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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”

Burger Throwdown: Battle of the ‘Villes

Fresh off my trip from Nashville & Louisville and ready to recap some of my burger eating action. My two competitors are Burger Up (Nashville) and Harvest (Louisville). Both restaurants focus on local farming, community and sustainability, but Burger Up’s primary focus is burgers (duh) while Harvest encompasses all aspects of farm goods & seasonal ingredients.

First up, Burger up: Since I was in the South, I opted for a burger topped with one of their classic staples, pimento cheese. The “Ramsey Pimento burger” comes topped with house made pimento cheese, pickles, red onion, and bibb lettuce. I ordered and wasn’t asked how I wanted my burger cooked; it came out on the medium-well side, slightly juicy but without any pink. I’d never had pimento cheese before because it looked gross, but it had a nice flavor. The bun was a plain hamburger bun and had a good ratio to the burger patty. There were a lot of pickles on the bottom of the burger and it came with a pickle spear. I love pickles so this was perfect! Burger Up also makes their own ketchup in house, so putting some of that on the burger gave it a good sweetness. Some house made ketchup winds up tasting too much like marinara sauce, but this was perfect.

 

Next, Harvest: Their burger was topped with chevre, hog jowl bacon jam, and lettuce and it was on a pretzel bun! I love pretzel buns, so I just had to have it. I ordered my burger medium; it came out somewhere between medium & medium-well (half of the burger was more pink than the other). The burger was juicy and delicious. The bun was nice and soft. The chevre paired really well, giving it a cool, fresh flavor. I’d never thought to put goat cheese on a burger before, but I really enjoyed it. The hog jowl bacon jam was tasty as well. One of our appetizers had beer cheese, so I also saved some of that and put it on the burger (because what goes better with pretzels than cheese?); it gave it a little extra cheesiness which I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

So, who was the winner? It was a tough call, but in the end neither of them won because I also ate a burger at Husk in Nashville which trumped them both and was quite possibly the best burger I’ve had all year! The burger is two thin patties of Double H Farms Beef, topped with gooey American cheese under a delicious house-made sesame bun. Despite the thinness of the patties, they were cooked perfectly medium. Between the cheese, the juiciness of the patties and the softness of the bun, this trumps any double stacked fast food burger you’ve ever had. It was so amazing, I seriously thought about ordering another.

If you find yourself in Nashville (or even at Husk’s sister restaurant in Charleston), make sure you stop in to Husk during lunch time, as this is the only time the burger is offered. It may quite possibly ruin any other burger you ever eat.

Burger ratings:

Burger Up: “C”

Harvest: “B-”

Husk: “A+”

The Splatty Awards!

Welcome all to our 100th post! In honor of this milestone, I bring you a little something I like to call “The Splatty Awards!”: recapping the best things I have been eating, drinking & doing for the past year or so.

Best food item that comes in a jar: Tomato Conserva at In Riva 

Briefly removed from their winter menu for a few weeks in December (in which I cried into my pillow every night), the Tomato Conserva is back in action!

This sweet bruschetta will have you licking the jar clean & begging for more!

Best New York City to Philly transplant (other then myself): Shake Shack

Danny Meyer’s fast-casual burger joint quickly gained a fandom on Sansom Street in the summer of 2012, and expanded this year with outposts in University City & King of Prussia.

The Smoke Shack was initially conceived for the Philadelphia location, but has expanded to all Shacks globally.

Best food I used to be terrified of but now can’t stop eating: Oysters

Yeah, they’re slimy and salty and weird and jiggly, but they’re also delicious!

I’ve been making it my mission to hit every buck a shuck & half price oyster night in town.

Best pop-up: Lucky Old Souls’ Patty Melt Pop-up at Kennett

 When the LOS truck’s engine went kaput this fall, the team at Kennett lent them a hand – and their kitchen – for the evening to raise money for a new one.

And maybe I’m a little bit biased because it was my suggestion to turn out patty melts; a once in a blue moon burger special they were serving up on East Passyunk last spring.

Best Beer Drinking Event: Philly Beer Week Opening Tap

I’ve been partaking in Opening Tap for the past two years now, and seriously, if you’re not making this a priority during PBW, you’re missing out.

Opening Tap showcases the best and brightest of the local Philadelphia beer scene under one roof (the Independence Visitors Center, to be exact). But remember, it’s a marathon – not a sprint!

Best Beer Drinking Event Involving Animals: Summer Ale Fest at the Philadelphia Zoo

Great Beer + Local Food + Adorable Animals = One of the most awesome times you will ever have. Don’t forget to take a selfie of yourself “drinking a beer” with a tiger!

Most of the animals are actually awake compared to a day trip, and zoo docents are on hand to provide detailed information on your favorite critters.

Best Happy Hour (tie): Sampan and Alla Spina

Sampan gets the advantage as they have happy hour 7 days a week from 4-7 PM, but Alla Spina offers some great bar bites and their Victory Brewing beer collab, Novello, for only $3!

Don’t miss Sampan’s edamame dumplings or the pretzel bites with beer cheese at Alla Spina (they come in an adorable wooden piggy)!

Best Brunch: Jerry’s Bar

The Brunch crowd mourned the loss of Cafe Estelle for many months, but Marshall Green’s famous & delicious sticky buns have finally found a new home in Northern Liberties.

I hated Bloody Marys until I tried the one at Jerry’s and now I’m hooked. Seriously – best Bloody Mary ever!

Best Restaurant: Spot Burger

But isn’t Spot Burger a food truck?”, you’re probably asking yourself. Well, who says a restaurant needs to be defined by four brick walls?

 SpOt Owner/Grillmaster Josh Kim is the hardest working man in these streets right now, and he proves it on a weekly basis with his innovative specials (like a $10 Lobster Roll this summer), as well as his philanthropic efforts. He supports dozens of college organizations and local charities, frequently running specials and donating portions of his proceeds to these causes. He’s been a champion for food truck rights in Philadelphia, residing on the board of the Philly Mobile Food Association, and turned the corner of 33rd and Arch St into the “Food Truck Mecca”. So next time you see his yellow cart around, grab some grub; you won’t be disappointed! Spot serves up one of the best burgers in town.

And that concludes our awards ceremony! I hope you’ll at least check out some of the places and foods I love, in addition to the delicious burgers I recap for you guys each week. Got any great places and foods you think I should try? Post em up in the comments section and maybe they’ll wind up on my “best of” list next year!

Gem of a Burger

It seems like everyone is putting food on pretzel buns these days: Wendy’s, Sonic, Dunkin Donuts. So when I heard Ruby Tuesday was launching a series of burgers on pretzel buns (and running a social media campaign entitled #FunBetweenTheBuns), I was skeptical. I haven’t exactly had the best experience with burgers on pretzel buns in the past, but they offered a $3 off coupon and I decided to give it a shot. I opted for the Bacon Cheddar Pretzel Burger, topped with applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, and bacon mustard mayonnaise.

I was asked how I wanted my burger cooked, but already prepared myself for it to not come out medium (and honestly, I haven’t eaten at a ‘fast-casual’ chain in so long that I didn’t even remember if they ever asked for a temperature request before). The presentation was great. The bun was certainly more street vendor soft pretzel-like and less pretzel bun-y like the other chains are using. It was soft and didn’t have a flavor that overpowered the burger. The burger itself was topped with a lot of bacon, and while tasty, seemed kind of awkward to eat as it didn’t really snap in half when I bit into it, and so I wound up just sucking in giant strips of bacon with my mouthful. I was actually impressed with the quality of the meat in the burger itself and could actually taste it, rather than it  tasting like some dry, frozen patty they just slapped on a grill. (There was an ample amount of juice that dripped onto my plate when I first picked it up.) The bacon mustard mayonnaise didn’t really have a flavor. I may have picked up a dijon note once, but otherwise, it was just lubrication for the bun.

Verdict? It definitely exceeded my expectations for a chain restaurant burger. Honestly, I would probably eat again (if I were the type that frequented Ruby Tuesday, or if I was stuck in an airport on a layover and this was my only option). So if you happen to find yourself in a Ruby Tuesday as well, check this pretzel burger or one of the other 3 “fun” varieties out.

The Fast and The Curious

A few months ago, I’d been tipped off to the fact that Wendy’s was testing a new cheeseburger on a pretzel bun. I love cheeseburgers and I love pretzel buns; it was a match made in heaven! So with fingers crossed and bated breath, I waited and it was finally revealed that the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger would be a getting a national roll out. And to a city like Philadelphia which prides itself on the pretzel, we hoped that it would not be a disaster like Burger King’s ill-fated “Philly Chicken Sandwich“.

The Un-Boxing:

The bun looked more squished than the fancy advertising shots. The tomato, clearly on the less ripe side. Cheese slice, not completely melted. One lone spinach leaf peaking out of a garnish. But hey, let’s be realistic! This is fast food, not the Four Seasons. You have to go into this with lowered expectations.

“Under the hood” shot

Cross-examination

The bun was buttery smooth and soft; not too salty or dry, which was probably the ideal consistency for this type of burger. The website touts the burger as being topped with melted cheese. Mine appeared to have not only a partially melted cheese slice, but some type of cheez-wiz concoction as well. Mixed greens to top the burger were very minimal, as you can see. There was also supposed to be a “sweet & smokey honey mustard sauce” topping the burger; I did not detect any of these notes. Applewood bacon slices neither added to nor took away from the overall burger flavor.

Verdict? Try it once just to say you ate it, but I wouldn’t recommend making it your fast food “go-to”.

Make Plan B Burger your Plan A

Every now and again when I’m visiting my parents, I’m able to convince them that we should go out to eat – and they never go out to eat (eating out was pretty much a luxury when I was growing up). We’d been wanting to check out this burger place that had opened near their house last year, Plan B Burger Bar, which currently has six locations in Connecticut but are planning on expanding to Atlanta, DC, Chicago & Boston according to their website. On top of having an array of fancy burgers on the menu, there’s also a pretty extensive beer list (including big bottles and mini kegs) and bourbon list (Pappy Van Winkle 20 year for only $29.50! I was totally tempted to get some, but my parents would have flipped at a drink that cost half of our entire meal).

You’re only given two options for how you want your burger done: some pink or no pink, as their burgers are made from 100% fresh, wet-aged ground chuck that is hand-ground daily. I ordered my with some pink, and opted for the Baja burger – which comes topped with avocado, tomato, jack cheese, lettuce, jalapenos and a chipotle spread. I asked for no jalapenos because I am a big wimp when it comes to hot/spicy things. My dad got “The Squeeler” – which only comes “no pink”, as the meat is a mixture of 1/2 pork, 1/2 beef, and my mom opted for the 3 Shrooms, topped with sauteed mushrooms and a portabella spread. They also opted to upgrade to a pretzel bun, while I stuck with a standard, kaiser-style roll.

The burger came with a side of fries and a pickle, but there were also almost a dozen other sides you could choose from for an extra charge, ranging from onion rings to disco fries. (The table next to us got onion rings; they came stacked like a tower and looked so amazing!) The burger itself was pretty tasty, nice and fresh. And you could tell the meat had just been hand ground – the patty was kind of misshaped, and grilled what seems similar to Smashburger style as it wasn’t hand-formed and packed like most patties. This also meant that as I kept eating, pieces of my burger would fall off onto my plate, but the bun kept everything else inside nice and intact.

Just as I was nearing the end of my delicious burger adventure, I took a bite and my mouth was on fire! Yes, they’d held the jalapenos but I’d forgotten about the chipotle spread. I guess I had just assumed it would be some kind of zesty, chipotle mayo kind of topping but I was wrong! I chugged my water and my beer, trying to ease the pain. My poor tongue was burning up!  However, this gave me an opportunity to try some of my dad’s burger (which was very tasty and reminded me of the bacon burger at Royal Tavern that I had a few months back, and the pretzel bun was nice and soft) and I let my mom have the final bite of my “inferno meat” since she’d been upset that she couldn’t add “something with heat” to her burger as a topping (She definitely enjoyed the chipotle spread much more than I did).

The rest of the menu features a variety of beef, veggie and chicken burgers and even a burger flight with salmon, beef and chicken sliders.  There’s so many great combinations that it makes me want to find excuses to go home again and try them all! And you should too if you ever find yourself in the Nutmeg State!

Burger Rating: “B”

Ommegang Presents: Hop Chef

Last night was the Second Annual Hop Chef competition in Philadelphia, hosted by Ommegang, where six local chefs go head to head creating dishes that incorporate and pair with various beers from the brewery. Competitions are held in various cities, with the winners from each city being granted the opportunity to compete at the brewery’s annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown beerfest. (Last year, Philly’s own George Sabatino took home the crown!) This year’s competitors were Mike Deganis of Alla Spina, Lucio Palazzo from La Calaca Feliz, Nick Macri of Southwark, Pat Szoke from The Industry, Eli Kulp of Fork and Yun Fuentes from JG Domestic.

Look at all those handsome dudes!

So let’s take a look at the dishes:

The first one I tried was Yun Fuentes’ dish: A duck arepa with duck confit, jamon, a cherry-fig marmalade and a glaze incorporating the beer, Rare Vos – which was pairing for the dish. I thought the duck was succulent, and the marmalade gave it just the right amount of sweetness. The Rare Vos glaze definitely brought everything together as well; it was definitely the most balanced dish I had all night. (I liked this dish so much, I snuck seconds!)

Next up, Mike from Alla Spina’s BPA braised lamb neck with fava bean, mint fregola (a tiny round Italian pasta similar to couscous), topped with a BPA vinaigrette. While I did enjoy the lamb, the fava beans and pasta didn’t really add anything special to the dish (but it sure looked nice on the plate!)

Third was a Foie Gras hot dog, topped with kimchee relish & Abbey Ale mustard on an Abbey Ale potato roll, paired with an Abbey Ale pretzel topped with Cracker Jack & mustard powder and a potato wedge seasoned with Old Bay – “Crab Fries” style – from Eli Kulp of Fork. Having just been to Fork on Saturday, I thought this dish was quite a contrast to the upscale items on the restaurant’s menu (but that’s part of the challenge when having to incorporate beer and have it pair well with the beer as well, right?). I really enjoyed the Foie dog, but the solo potato wedge just seemed like it was just thrown in and didn’t complement anything else on the plate.  I got that it was supposed to be a ballpark tribute since Cooperstown is where the Baseball Hall of Fame is, but maybe sometimes less is more.

Nick “Meat Man” Macri of Southwark cooked up a dish of Hennepin cured coppa, pickled chilies, “Ballpark” nuts with grains of Paradise bread crumbs and an orange & coriander sauce. Because you can’t win friends with salad, but you can win friends with a meat salad!

Pat Szoke of The Industry created a “slider” of Three Philosophers braised beef short ribs with pickled long hots and a Three Philosophers cheddar sauce. I thought this was the worst dish at the event. I think the cheddar sauce completely drowned out the flavor of the short ribs ( it was just kind of slathered on top). It just seemed very sloppy and I thought that a better job could have been done given the quality of the food at the restaurant itself (I mean, they have buffalo sweetbreads on their menu, for crying out loud!)

Lastly was a lamb barbacoa taco on a hominy tortilla topped with watercress, radishes and a Witte consommé, made by Lucio Palazzo of La Calaca Feliz. Again, this is another one of those dishes where I felt there was a lot of reaching going on. I wasn’t sure how the consommé was supposed to work with the taco (because honestly, who is eating consommé with a taco?) And I get that tacos are pretty easy to make and for people to eat when they have to walk around a giant room sampling a bunch of other finger foods, but seeing as the taco was the main part of the dish and it didn’t even incorporate the beer, that was kind of disappointing. (I was also disappointed because this was the only dish that I had to wait on line for a long time for and I wish I hadn’t.)

So, drumroll please…. The People’s Choice winner was Yun Fuentes of JG Domestic and the Judges’ pick was Nick Macri of Southwark! Overall, I had a great time at the event and can’t wait to check it out again next year!

National Food Day

Yesterday was National Food Day, and as part of promoting well, food, the Philly Mobile Food Association hosted a pop-up inside the courtyard of City Hall. Usually relegated to the space across the street in LOVE Park, this was the first time Food Trucks actually set up shop on City Hall’s property in what vendors hope will be a new spot where they can serve the public and hopefully bring attention to the growing popularity of food trucks in order to get Philly’s archaic mobile vending laws changed.

I decided to check out the Street Food Philly truck because they’re kind of elusive (They don’t even have a Twitter account, guys!). They post their location on Facebook and are usually set up around Drexel/U-City, which is hard for me to get to for lunch during the week. Their menu also changes daily so there’s always something new to try.

I decided to go with the Local Dry Aged Burger and the Sea Salt fries, obviously.

The burger took a while to cook, but that gave me time to check out what everyone else was getting. The brisket cheesesteak tacos didn’t really look so hot but they’re were flying out the window, along with the lentils & braised pork. Finally, my burger was done and I took a seat in the courtyard to enjoy my meal.

The burger came on a pretzel bun (because, Philadelphia) and was topped with white american cheese & a housemade mayo. I was really excited about the bun at first, but it kind of made everything too salty. Once I isolated the burger itself, it was actually pretty tasty. I tried putting some of the homemade ketchup on it but it was a fail. My big problem with some homemade ketchups is that they can either taste really good or taste like marinara sauce; this one was the latter. Since I’m not into putting Ragu on my burgers, I ate it sans my favorite condiment.

There was a lot of bun left in the end since it was so big, but I appreciated that the bun was kind of woven like a braided pretzel as opposed to some other pretzel buns that are just a roll and split. It fell apart in the right places and it’s thickness helped hold in all the juicy goodness from the meat.

The sea salt fries were ok but they were obviously frozen, cafeteria style fries. (I’m sure my cholesterol was through the roof with all the sodium I had that day!) And paired with the house ketchup, I could barely even finish eating them. I think my other problem with the ketchup was that it was cold. If it had been room temp and maybe a little sweeter, it might have been better. Either way, I think Street Food Philly is a solid addition to the Food Truck scene here and I hope to get the chance to try some more of their stuff in the future.

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