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2016 Burger Brawl

Hello again! I know it’s been a while, but I came out of retirement this weekend and put my burger eatin’ pants on to check out the 6th annual Philadelphia Burger Brawl. I last attended the event back in 2013, but was glad to see it has gotten bigger (moving down to Xfinity Live!) and better since then – this year adding both the “Taco Takedown” and a cocktail competition.

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Out of the 29 burger competitors, I think I tried all but 5 due to a combination of the heat, some of the burgers not being ready yet during the VIP hour & simply being way too full. Here are some of my favorites (You can also check out more pictures from the event on our Facebook page):

The N’duja Jawn from Taproom on 19th – a Pat LaFrieda patty topped with N’duja spreadable salami, fresh mozzarella & tomato conserva on a Conshohocken Bakery potato roll. Definitely giving you lots of South Philly Italian flavors!:

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The Dandelion’s burger – A house blend beef burger topped with parmesan cheese, Brooklyn brine pickles, roasted shallot vinaigrette, lemon truffle dressing & watercress.

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Valley Beach’s (At Valley Forge Casino) Wipe Out burger topped with bacon, nacho cheese sauce, pico de gallo & a spicy cilantro aioli:

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So who were the winners? In the Judge’s Choice category… Pineville Tavern with their Million Dollar Bacon Burger!

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And the People’s Choice… Lucky’s Last Chance with their PB&J bacon burger! They also won People’s Choice in 2013!

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My only issues were the heat (which can’t be helped, obviously. It’s June) & that many burgers were past my preferred temperature of medium, due to health dept restrictions. Also: I was too full of burgers to try any of the tacos! Otherwise, everything about this event was fantastic. I love that they moved it to a bigger venue to give people more space to move around and spread out (and loosen up those waistbands). The former venue was a school parking lot that was very small & cramped & there wasn’t any seating. VIP Burger Brawl attendees got access to a covered outdoor bar at Xfinity Live & other attendees also had access to several patio areas with ample seating & tables to sit, relax & play some games like giant Jenga & cornhole. I’m definitely looking forward to attending again next year!

I’m also looking forward to posting more burger deliciousness for you! It may not be as regular (ie: weekly) as before since I’ve pretty much eaten almost every burger in Philly, but what’s summer without some good burgers? I’m planning to do a few burger “field trips” to showcase stuff outside the Philly area, as well as a special post about the burgers I ate on my recent trip to Japan, so stay tuned!

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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+”

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”

Whet Your Whistle

The restaurant space at the corner of 5th & Bainbridge has seen a lot of changes throughout the years. With various openings and closings and being vacant for extended periods of time, residents in the Queen Village neighborhood worried they might never have a steady hot-spot in the hood. Hoping to “reverse the curse” (so to speak), the owners of Brauhaus Schmitz have recently opened  Whetstone Tavern and crafted a menu of classic American cuisine using fresh, seasonal and local ingredients. As you can probably already guess, I headed straight for the bar & ordered the Dad’s Burger – a LaFrieda blend patty on a Martin’s potato roll, topped with cooper sharp cheese, iceberg lettuce slaw, heirloom tomato, diced onion, and pickles. You can opt for a single or a double patty; I went with just one to give it a good baseline. You can pair it with fries, chips or a half salad – I chose fries.

I wasn’t asked how I wanted the burger cooked but it was on the medium-well side. It didn’t matter because I knew the quality of the La Frieda meat would ensure that my burger was moist, flavorful & delicious. Also, it was on a soft Martin’s potato roll, which automatically makes any burger taste amazing. It was on the small side, but still tasty. I loved seeing the little yellow sliver of the heirloom tomato after I took my first bite. The burger also comes topped with a house burger sauce (probably some kind of in-house thousand island variation). I failed to notice that the ketchup listed on the menu was sriracha ketchup so after my first bite, my mouth was on fire! Luckily, I was able to dip the fries in the burger sauce/meat juice run off, which made them extra tasty. The fries were kind of under-salted, so the drippings helped alleviate some of the blandness as well. Next time I will definitely opt for the double decker burger & chips! Also be sure to save room for  one of Pastry Chef Jessica Nolen’s amazing desserts – or you can wait until her new, standalone bakery The Little Bird opens just a few blocks away!

Burger rating: “B”

Pick Me Up

People have been telling me for years how the burger at New Wave Cafe in Queen Village is a hidden gem. However, it just never comes up on my radar while I’m out and about. This weekend though, I had to drop some delicious bourbon off to my friends over at Home Speakeasy/Rock or Neat who live only a few blocks away, so I was ready to indulge in some burger deliciousness. But you know how things go when it comes to friends and whiskey. You decide to stick around and try a little bit, and then a little more, and then before you know it you’re watching YouTube videos and you can’t quite muster the stamina to go to a bar. Well, thank goodness for take-out! Usually I’m skeptical when it comes to ordering burgers for delivery: you never know if they’ll get the order right, toppings could be missing and the burger keeps cooking on the way & you open a styrofoam container and everything’s moist and limp and sad. Since we were only minutes away from the bar, I figured that going to pick it up would be a much safer bet than relying on Grubhub. New Wave’s burgers are 9 oz patties served with lettuce, tomato & onion. There’s also a bunch of other various cheese & topping combinations, but I just kept it simple ordering my standard medium temperature patty topped with cheddar cheese.

My friend retrieved the burger safely and the presentation looked great for a carry-out container. It was on a soft, seeded bun and the burger was perfectly proportional. On first bite, I saw a pink center and was extremely relieved. The burger itself was tasty and flavorful (even after the 3 or 4 bourbons I’d had that evening). All the toppings were fresh and the cheddar cheese nice and gooey. I was also impressed by how well the fries held up in transit. Still had a little bit of crispy to them and tasted freshly hand-cut. It was a great, fancy bar burger – even if I didn’t eat it in a bar. My only 2 regrets are 1) not having tried this burger sooner and 2) not taking advantage of the variety of toppings. I’ll definitely have to get to the actual bar to check out another burger soon!

Burger rating: “B+”

Stepping Stone

If you were watching FYI Philly Saturday night, you might have seen a little piece about Brick & Mortar, a new restaurant and cocktail bar in the Loft District (Or Callowhill. Or the Eraserhood – whatever we’re calling the area just north of Chinatown this week). Well, I just so happened to be at Brick & Mortar Saturday night when they were showing their small screen debut on a big, pull down screen! It was pretty cool to see all the staff and other guests get excited about seeing the restaurant showcased on TV. While the menu blends Indian and other spices with rustic American cuisine, I opted for their burger – a patty topped with lettuce, onion, and your choice of cheddar or American cheese underneath a soft, snowflake roll (snowflake rolls are so hot right now!)

The burger came out slightly past my requested medium, but was still flavorful & juicy. It was a very well seasoned, hand-formed patty. The burger to bun ratio was perfect and the snowflake bun nice & soft, soaking up all the runoff. The hand cut fries were good and crispy, but the house-made ketchup was a little too sweet for my taste (it’s always hit or miss for me with house-made ketchup). I could have added a slice of Jersey tomato for an extra dollar (!??!) but I opted to save my pennies and spring for the Old Fashioned that’s tucked away behind the burger. With $10 cocktails, a great wine & beer list, and a super chill vibe with big comfy green mid-century booths, graffiti-ed walls, high ceilings and a long wooden bar – it’s the perfect neighborhood lounge for a “City of Neighborhoods“.

Burger rating: “C+”

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