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Category Archives: sauce

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”

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Hunger No Longer

There’s been a big movement to eat ethically lately, with people are quickly growing conscious of the dangers of growth hormones and GMOs, opting for organic or local products, as well as ensuring that those who are growing and harvesting their foods aren’t being exploited. It’s not just about feeling good physically when going shopping or going out to eat; it’s about feeling good mentally as well. And at Hunger Burger (located in the famous Reading Terminal Market), they’re doing just that. In addition to using only the freshest ingredients and 100% hormone & antibiotic free all natural Black Angus beef, with every burger that is sold, they will donate a burger to feed a child in need – supporting local charities like Philabundance & No Kid Hungry. On my visit, I opted for the Philbert Burger (named for Filbert Street, which is adjacent to the market): topped with American cheese, green leaf lettuce, tomato, smoked bacon and their specialty HB sauce.

The burgers are smashed & griddled in a fashion similar to Smashburger, leaving a bit of a crispy char on the outside of the patty. They’re served on a soft potato bun and are on the smaller side (but don’t worry – you can order the burger as a double if you’re famished!) It was simply seasoned and really tasty. The menu said to ask if you want it topped with pickles, but the cashier asked me if I wanted a pickle and of course I said yes! It was a little bit on the pricey side (about the same range as Burgerfi across the street or Shake Shack), but worth it knowing that my money would be going to benefit someone in need. They serve crinkle cut fries just like Shake Shack as well, but with a lot more crunch! There’s even a variety of dipping sauces you can order for an additional fee ($1.50 – also a little pricey) if you choose. So next time you’re in Reading Terminal, think before you eat and let that tummy rumbling guide you over to Hunger Burger!

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”

Buon Appetito!

My grandmother is Sicilian and the other half of my family is Irish, so I never got the whole big “Sunday Dinner” experience like some of my friends, especially some of them whose parents were immigrants or second-generation Italians here in America (My grandmother also called it sauce and not gravy, but that’s a debate for another time). I always loved Italian food and when I was in college, I worked at an Italian restaurant as a hostess. I sneered at people who ordered chicken parm: like my high school ex-boyfriend who would order it at the diner, or my spanish co-worker who put ketchup on it and then ordered it with a side of french fries at our office holiday party. My go-to dishes were penne vodka or tortellini carbonara; I was never a big red sauce or baked pasta fan. However, when I moved to Philadelphia, these so-called “red sauce joints” in South Philly seemed to be my only option. Plus, they put peas in the penne vodka – what kind of Communist country is this?!

But then, a friend introduced me to Le Virtu on East Passyunk Ave. When I walked in, a beautiful, Mediterranean style dining room welcomed me with low lighting and soft music. I sat at the bar and received a basket of crunchy, Tuscan style bread with a plate of olive oil, ordered up a glass of Pinot Grigio and sunk into the menu. No fried cutlets slathered in sauce and cheese. No kids in high chairs crying while eating spaghetti and meatballs. This was exactly the kind of place I was looking for.

The special salad for the evening was topped with cherry tomatoes, roasted peppers, topped with shaved mozzarella (!) and dressed in a balsamic reduction. I was originally only planning on getting pasta but this sounded amazing. It tasted even better. The fresh mozzarella really made the dish. I know salads are supposed to be “healthy” and all, but to me – the more cheese, the better!

For my main course, I went with the Maccheroni alla mugnaia: A hand-pulled, single-strand of pasta, tossed with garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, hot pepper and sprinkled with pecorino. They also provide a basket of various peppers if you’d like to spice it up even more. I am a baby when it comes to spicy and hot things, so I left it as is (plus, I figured it was better to try it in it’s “virgin” state ). The pasta had a wonderful flavor and consistency. I had heard about this dish – and the uniqueness of the single strand pasta in the Abruzzo region – for quite some time and was excited to finally try it; it exceeded all my expectations.

But wait, there’s more! What Italian dinner wouldn’t be complete without dessert and an espresso? Don’t expect tiramisu or cannoli here, but definitely try the Semifreddo al torrone di cioccolato if you’re looking for something sweet and delicious: It’s a dark chocolate semifreddo, torrone crumble, drizzled with salted caramel sauce. It was so rich and creamy, it’s a good thing I was splitting it with a friend.

Molto bene! È squisito!

Le Virtu immediately reminded me of the the rustic vibe of the osteria that I’d worked at, and when I’d finished my meal, I knew that this would instantly become my favorite dinner spot. It was like finding a lake after so many years scouring the desert. I can’t wait to come back again (my skinny jeans are already quivering in fear!).

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