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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+”

Paradise By The Neon Light

“Though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark night…”

Nestled just a few blocks off East Passyunk’s main strip lies a storefront with twin neon signs like glowing beacons enticing you to come inside. That place is Fountain Porter, home of the $5 burger. That’s right, folks. Five bucks. One Abe Lincoln. There are no frills and no gimmicks. If you want a burger, you come here (and hopefully you do, because other than some bar snacks, that’s the only item on the menu).

The burger comes on a soft potato roll topped with lettuce, tomato and American cheese (pickles on the side, ribbed for your snacking pleasure). Standard. Simple. Perfect char on the outside, delicious and juicy on the inside, just the way a good bar burger should be. Pair this bad boy with a side of crispy, hand-cut fries and you’re “gonna go all the way tonight“.

Burger rating: “B”

Keeping It Local

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally made it out to West Philly to try the final link in the “chain” of amazing beer bar/restaurants from the people who brought you Strangelove’s, Resurrection Ale House and Memphis TaproomLocal 44. So far, all three have had pretty solid and delicious burgers. Would Local 44’s burger – topped with house-made American cheese, pickles, BBQ 1000 island, and lettuce – hold up to the others?

The pickles were more sour than I’d prefer, but the smokey tang of the BBQ thousand island helped mellow them out. Unfortunately, my burger was cooked past medium to medium-well. While lamenting my overcooked burger, a nearby table was seen sending their burger with a warm, pink center back to the kitchen. Alas, someone else had gotten my perfectly cooked burger and had the nerve to reject it! But despite the inaccurate temperature, the burger was still rather tasty. The only other downside was the burger to bun ratio was way off. The picture above is hiding the empty space of the bottom bun, but just know that I eventually gave up on the excess bun altogether. I tore the rest of the bread off and finished the burger without it, instead of trying to eat my way around to compensate for the lack of bun. It might not have been the “golden child” of the burger family, but it was still a treat.

And speaking of treats, don’t leave Local 44 without getting an order of their amazing hush puppies – Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Burger rating: “B”

Burgers On Tap

From their kick ass $5 happy hour to their “Sunday School” specials, Tria is one of my favorite spots in Philly. And while I was devastated when their University City location closed (even though it made way for The Fat Ham), I was excited when they announced they would open Tria Taproom, featuring beer, wine and cider all on tap with upscale bar snacks. Add to that excitement the fact that they’ve just added a burger to their menu: a whopping half-pound patty topped with Chimay cheese, beer pickles and a beer-naise sauce on a soft, toasted potato roll.

While our waitress didn’t ask how we wanted our burgers cooked, she informed us that they had been cooking them to medium-rare, which was ok with me. My burger actually came out more medium than medium-rare, which was even more ok with me! The burger patty was HUGE, but still proportional to the bun. The meat had a nice flavor, pairing well with the Chimay cheese and the sourness of the beer pickles. Every bite was just more and more enjoyable. For having just added this to their menu, Tria sure knocked it out of the park on the first try.

Burger rating: “A-“

a.Pretty Good Burger

A few weeks ago, some friends & I stopped into High Street on Market for brunch where the menu is crafted by one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs, Eli Kulp. We loved the sandwiches and pastries there so much that we made this month’s brunch stop at a.Kitchen, where Chef Kulp recently took over the menu this past spring. Naturally I was excited to try the burger on the brunch menu: a Creekstone Farms Black Angus patty topped with cave-aged cheddar, mayo and pickles on a house-made sesame bun.

The presentation looked amazing. I almost asked for ketchup for the potatoes, but they were so soft and perfectly seasoned, I didn’t even need it. The burger patty was thick and proportional to the bun. My only complaint was that when I picked the burger up, the bottom of the bun was very soggy (luckily, the bottom bun was also pretty thick so it didn’t fall apart). The meat was juicy and flavorful, despite being cooked slightly more medium-well than medium (one of my friends also ordered the burger & got hers prepared medium-rare, and it was plenty red inside). The cave-aged cheddar paired well with the house mayo, giving the burger a good, tangy flavor, and the pickles added some sweetness and crunch. The quality of the meat and freshness of the ingredients definitely made it a solid brunch selection. Even though the patty was a pretty hefty size, it didn’t leave me feeling super stuffed or weighed down like some bar burgers tend to do – which means you’ll have plenty of room for some of their delicious, house-baked pastries as well.

Chef Kulp just added a more bar-esque version of the burger to the menu next door at a.Bar, so I will definitely have to go back and check that one out, too!

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+”

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!

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