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Konnichiwa, Burgers!

I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in the past few years. While most of them have been in Philadelphia, I’ve also taken my burger adventures to Seattle, Vegas, Portland, NYC, Nashville and Louisville. That’s some pretty good domestic coverage! Well, I figured it was time to take my skills (aka my burger loving palate) overseas on a vacation – to Japan!

Now I know when you think Japan, burgers aren’t the first thing to come to mind, but the Japanese have a pretty big obsession with burgers, too. Remember Burger King Japan‘s Windows 7 promotion of 7 burger patties on one bun?

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Or their all-black burger (which, once it made it stateside gave everyone green poop!)?

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A Tokyo boutique burger shop, J.S. Burgers Cafe, is even doing Ghostbusters themed burgers as a promotion for the upcoming film:

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I traveled all over Japan while I was there, so I’ll be showcasing three burgers from three different regions. The first burger is from Ishigaki, an island located in Okinawa Prefecture that is part of the Yaeyama island chain. The island is famous for it’s free range cows that provide excellent quality beef. Located near the downtown ferry terminal is Kitauchi Farm Hamburger Shop, a small, unassuming food stand in front of a large souvenir store. I ordered the Kiwami Burger (instead of going for the nearly $25 filet steak burger), topped with lettuce, red onion,”ratatouille” (which was really just pickle & onion relish), dauphinoise and possible some kind of mayo or cream sauce, on a brioche bun. The burger was very juicy (although cooked completely through for Japanese food safety reasons) and the meat was like nothing I’d ever had before. It didn’t leave me feeling heavy like certain ground chuck or beef blends can be in America.  It was cooked smashed-style and was very fresh and delicious. It paired nicely with a can of Orion, a local Okinawan beer!

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The next place I traveled to was Hakodate, located on the north most island of Japan known as Hokkaido. It is home to a local burger chain known as Lucky Pierrot, which has a very unfortunate & creepy clown mascot. Also: Their most popular burger isn’t even an actual hamburger! It’s a fried chicken sandwich known as the “Chinese Chicken Burger”, which comes topped with lettuce and Japanese mayo. They love it so much, there’s a giant replica of one inside of of the shops.

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It’s also the only “burger” you can order as a meal set, which includes an iced tea & a mug of french fries topped with a cheese sauce & has chili underneath them (which was a pleasant surprise when I was eating them). The chicken was juicy and had a crispy breading on the outside; the glaze on them was also not too sweet or sticky. Hakodate was very cold & rainy, so this was the perfect meal for that weather. It warmed me right up!

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Finally at the end of my trip, I arrived in Tokyo where I dined at Blacows. All the burgers here are made with 100% Japanese black wagyu beef. I opted for the Avocado Cheeseburger, which was roughly $15; kind of on the high end price-wise for burgers in America, yet considering what this type of beef would cost in the U.S., it was practically a steal!

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The burger came topped with tartar sauce, marinated onion, Colby Jack cheese & slices of fresh avocado on a seeded, shiny brioche bun. There were also a few potato wedges & cornichons on the side. It took a long time for the burger to come out since they cook them all the way through, but it was still surprisingly juicy and delicious. Wagyu beef is so moist and tender; it truly is better than every other beef patty I’ve ever had. I’ll be sad to have to return to 80/20 blends and ground chuck or shortrib, but don’t worry, Japan – I’ll be back to eat more of your delicious burgers again soon!

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N3rd Burger

Don’t be alarmed by the “leetspeak” title of this post. I haven’t been hacked; just paying tribute to this week’s burger from North Third (or N.3rd), tucked away in the Northern Liberties neighborhood on – where else? – North 3rd street. This is another one of those “been meaning to get here forever” places, but every time I’ve tried to go on the weekend, it’s always packed! A dreary, rainy night granted me some luck and I was able to snag a table in the bar area to check out their burger: a Black Angus patty accompanied by your requisite lettuce, tomato and onion on a brioche bun. I opted to add a slice of Vermont cheddar for $1.25.

The burger came out perfectly medium as requested; maybe even a little on the medium-rare side as the center was bright pink but not bloody. The burger to bun ratio was perfect and the burger itself tasted fresh and delicious. The cheddar cheese covered the patty completely and was nice and gooey. It was a great, simple, no-frills bar burger. And at only $11, you won’t break the bank piling on a plethora of cheeses and other toppings for a few bucks more each to customize it the way you want.

Burger rating: “B+”

Beast of the Northeast

I know you guys like burgers, but do you LOVE burgers? Well, Zagat does and to show that love, last week they partnered with restaurants all over the U.S. to create special burgers in honor of #ZagatLovesBurgers week. Representing Philadelphia was two-time Burger Brawl Champion, The Blue Duck, with their “Beast of the Northeast (Philly)” burger: a wild boar and beef patty, topped with smoked Gouda, sweet tomato jam, duck bacon, and crispy Sriracha onions on a brioche bun.

Since the meat was a boar/beef blend, I didn’t expect to be asked how I wanted it cooked, but it came out on the medium-medium well side; the patty pocketed with pink spots where the beef blend was located. The tomato jam gave the burger a nice sweetness to counteract the smokey gouda. The bacon was nice and crispy. But they forgot the Sriracha onions! (Probably for the best – you guys know by now I’m a wimp for hot/spicy stuff.) Despite the ingredients & the “beastly” nickname, the burger itself was much lighter than I expected, meaning I didn’t feel heavy and grossly full afterward. Which meant that I had room for their signature Blue Duck Fries: hand-cut fries that are tossed in duck fat, then topped with smoked gouda cheese sauce & shredded duck confit. Seriously. Don’t leave without getting these fries or you’ll be sad like the guy sitting next to me was!

The Blue Duck is a bit off the beaten path from downtown Philadelphia, but definitely worth the trip. I can’t wait to come back and try their regular burger – and to crush some more duck fries!

Burger rating: “A”

Like A Phoenix

Hawthornes Cafe is a Philly brunch & beer mainstay. Unfortunately about a year and a half ago, a devastating fire put them out of commission and left the Bella Vista neighborhood without one of their favorite bottle shops for almost a year. But like a phoenix, Hawthornes rose from the ashes and reopened better then ever this past spring – even becoming one of the first places in town to launch beer delivery! I stopped in on an unseasonably cold fall evening to warm up with a dark beer and one of their burgers. They have two options: the House burger, which is just your standard Angus beef patty topped with three-year aged Gouda and LTO, and the Hawthornes burger, topped with crumbled danish blue cheese, over easy egg, avocado & chipotle aioli. A fried egg AND avocado? Um yeah, I wanted that one!

The burger came out topped with a jiggly egg yolk just waiting to be cracked open. I smeared a little ketchup on the top of my brioche bun, pressed down and POP! Out oozed all that delicious yellow yolk. The patty was cooked perfectly to medium, the avocado was bright green and fresh, the chipotle aioli creamy with a kick, and the blue cheese crumbles gave the burger a nice, salty flavor without being overpowering like some blue cheese topped burgers I’ve had in the past. I used the bulk of the burger to sop up all the delicious yolk with every bite. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a burger that was so good I wanted to eat it again immediately afterwards. Everything about this burger was just perfection; a great treat on a chilly evening.

I’m glad to see that Hawthornes is back and thriving. You should check it out for yourself on Saturday, November 7th when they host their annual Fall Block Party. It’s a free event with fire pits, hay bales and of course – Beer! But make sure you hit the ATM beforehand as the event is cash only! Hope to see you guys there!

Burger rating: “A+”

Heavenly Burger

Hi there, burger loving friends! I apologize for the gap in posting but September has been a super-busy month between Labor Day, weddings, a vacation (to New Orleans! I’ll be sharing some of the delicious food I ate there in an upcoming post) and of course – the historic visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia! And keeping with the (holy) spirit of the weekend, I checked out the burger at Pub on Passyunk East, better known as the P.O.P.E. of South Philadelphia.

They were having a big party all week long leading up to the event with special themed beers like Philadelphia Brewing’s Holy Wooder & Manayunk Brewing’s Papal Ale, which I both tried. The burger itself is an 8 oz. patty, topped with cheddar cheese, a fried green tomato, grilled red onion and basil mayo on a buttery brioche bun.

The burger came out perfectly medium as requested and was flavorful and juicy. The cheddar cheese was gooey and the grilled onions were delicious (even if there were a few too many of them). The fried green tomato was tasty, but eventually popped out of it’s breading. However, the tomato remained crisp & not hot or soggy like fried tomatoes can sometimes be. The breading that was left behind also remained crispy, giving a little crunch to the burger. The flavor of the basil mayo was nice and I alternated between dipping my fries and my burger into it. The burger-to-bun ratio was proportional as well, although the patty did shift a bit throughout my meal so I had to eat my way around it a bit. Despite having been to POPE on several occasions, this was my first time sitting down to a meal here and I really enjoyed it. They also have lots of vegan options as well for your non-meat eating friends. I bet the real Pope would have blessed this burger – it was fit to be canonized!

Burger rating: “A”

Summer Beer Garden Series: La Peg

I had every intention of spending a beautiful, warm, sunny July 4th evening outside imbibing on alcoholic beverages & eating grilled meat. However, Mother Nature had other plans so I was forced to eat inside at the bar of La Peg – one of the newest restaurants on the Delaware waterfront, brought to you by FringeArts. I opted for the namesake Fringe Burger, topped with bacon and caramelized onion marmalade, red wine reduction, pickles, a smear of delice de bourgogne, and corn shoots on a house-baked brioche bun.

So, while the burger to bun ratio was perfect, it was maybe a little too perfect. The burger was on the small side & the size of the house-made bun plus all the negative space on the plate made it seem comically small (especially considering it was $9). While the burger was tasty, juicy and cooked to medium as requested, I just couldn’t get over the (metaphorical) bad taste this was leaving in my mouth. Then again, this is probably my own fault for eating at a French restaurant on America’s birthday! I should have opted for The Americaine: a baguette topped with cheeseburger, lettuce, tomato, onion, cornichons, ketchup, mayonnaise, french fries (stuffed in the sandwich). French fries stuffed in the sandwich?! If that doesn’t scream ‘MURICA!, I don’t know what else does. I’ll be sure to come back another day when the weather is better to try it – and maybe even catch one of the movies showing this summer as part of the FringeArts Outdoor Movie Series!

Burger rating: “C”

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”

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