Two year anniversary meeting at 10 Arts Bistro

Last month’s burger club meeting at 10 Arts Bistro (10 S. Broad St.) was very special because it was our two year anniversary meeting! We decided to go back to where we had our very first meeting. So much has happened in the past two years. We had an amazing article written about us in the Daily News. Jim and I did a live burger tasting on WXPN with Dan Reed. The club joined forces with the ladies of Two Eat Philly and often have them on our blog as contributors. We made tshirts, buttons and even a calendar! If you asked me two years ago what would become of this club I would have never been able to imagine any of these things in a million years.

The most important aspect of the club that has developed over the years are all the people who come to the meetings. Some only come every once in a while, others come every month. No matter the number of meetings attended – you, the members, are what make this club possible. It’s always fun to see who’s going to show up every month. I love seeing both new and old faces! So long as you keep coming, I’ll keep setting up the meetings – deal?

Now on to the details of our meeting last month. If you’ve never been – the inside of 10 Arts is just plain stunning. Their main foyer area is HUGE with a nice bar, it’s really quite a grand place. They set up a large portion of their dining room for us, with lit candles and custom-made menus.  I always love it when a restaurant makes us a custom menu with our logo on it. I think Smokin Betty’s was the first to do it . We gathered at the bar and around 7pm decided to make our way to the tables. We were quickly greeted by our server who took our drink orders. The service was pretty great throughout the entire meal, we didn’t wait long for anything.

The burgers paraded to our tables shortly after we ordered. This burger wasn’t much different from the one we sampled two years ago. The only thing that was different from the burger of yesteryear was the “house made” ketchup. Members at both tables debated throughout the entire meal if the ketchup was actually made in house or Heinz. I’m no ketchup expert so I’ll leave that debate on the table. Since the burgers we’re no different than before, the reactions weren’t very different either.

My burger, said to be cooked medium was an even brown throughout. It was a pretty salty, dry patty that was sat upon a giant dry bun. The burger was topped with only a little cheese and a giant lettuce concoction with pickle slices. It’s one of those burgers that I always call a “skyscraper” burger that is too tall to fit into your mouth for a good clean bite – so you get one bite of bun and lettuce then another with burger and a little bun – not a cohesive sandwich. The whole thing just wasn’t anything to write home about. My guess is that burgers really aren’t their specialty. This is the Ritz after all – you don’t pay a boat-load for a room at this place to order a burger off their menu. I’m sure their steak or some other fancy meal would be much better. Not to say that we didn’t have a good time though! The atmosphere is unbeatable, the service is fantastic, the drinks are unique and delicious. Even the French fries were seasoned to perfection (a little spicy – delicious!).

Our friends from Matthew Vlahos Public Relations were excellent to set up the whole event. They even were able to get us some sweet gifts to raffle off! I think the coolest thing we were able to give away was a signed copy of Rachael Ray’s burger cook book – HOW COOL! All in all we had a great time. I would like to thank everyone who made this meeting, and all meetings fun and enjoyable. See you next month!

April burger club meeting at Eulogy ..err.. I mean Bierstube!

Our group!

Our April burger club meeting was to be at Eulogy (136 Chestnut St) but due to an organizational misunderstanding we went to Eulogy’s sister restaurant – Bierstube (206 Market St). We went to Bierstube August of 2012 and had a fine time. This visit was a little different due to the Chef’s special addition of an Elk burger! I was able to try a bite of this burger and I’m HERE TO TELL YOU that it’s awesome. The flavor of the meat is unrivaled by any other burger in the city – in my opinion. The meat is just plain flavorful, I can’t think of another way to describe it. It’s not gamey or tough, just delicious! One burger club member (Megan) had this to say “I liked the meat in particular. It was very tender. I’m glad I tried the elk. Normally, I can’t hunt an elk myself so I am glad someone did it for me”. Truth. If you’re looking for something different (and a little daring) I would definitely tell you to hurry yourself over to Bierstube.

Also on their menu is the dragon burger (which is what I ordered) – drachen, a spicy meat blend stuffed with blue cheese, breathes fire from this burger on a kaiser roll. This burger packs a punch, the spicy sausage-blended meat patty is simply delicious. It’s not too spicy if you’re worried – just right. The blue cheese, which is actually stuffed INTO the burger, cools things out for a delightful overall taste. The bun holds things together well but isn’t much to write home about. I learned only after my meal that any burger can be requested on the pretzel roll (that the German burger comes on). In the future I would request to have that. I love pretzel rolls so much – I wish I could just buy a dozen of them and use them for every sandwich.

I was also lucky enough to have a bite of the aforementioned German burger. The German burger is topped w/fried knockwurst, sauerkraut and muenster cheese on a pretzel roll. For the love of all that is not sauerkraut-loving, put that stuff on the side! I think kraut is an acquired taste that I have not yet developed – maybe one day. Burger Club Member Megan said “I thought that the toppings were great with the exception of the sauerkraut on the German burger. Just because Gushers are American, doesn’t mean I put that on my fried chicken”. I wholeheartedly agree. This burger is pretty dang good and I would definitely bring an out-of-towner to sample it. Similar to the Elk burger, you’re just not going to find this anywhere else. It’s like two meals in one with a burger patty topped with a knockwurst. The muenster cheese is too subtle for this burger – it really gets lost in the shuffle. No matter though, the pretzel roll makes up for any slight problems with its salty delicious, egg washed hardiness. All burgers come with delicious thick-cut French fries that I just couldn’t get enough of.

The only major downside of our visit (despite the location mix-up) was the lack of staff in the restaurant. The one lone waitress was responsible for the entire restaurant (a packed house with our party). It took us maybe 45 minutes just to get our drinks! Despite being completely overwhelmed she really kept her composure and was a true professional. After the first taste of our liter mugs everything was just fine. Our burgers came out quickly after our drinks did and everything was cooked to perfection.

Overall we had a great time, despite some start-up problems. I haven’t had a bad meal from Bierstube yet and I don’t think I ever will. Definitely a rare spot in old city that isn’t filled with jerks. Would definitely recommend a trip here! If I haven’t been able to convince you to visit this establishment by now, you should probably go for the full liters of beer. Please see the picture below (with dollar for size reference) for a visual aid.

March 2013: Bainbridge St. Barrel House

The March edition of the Burger Club was hosted by Bainbridge Street Barrel House, a relatively new gastropub in Queen Village.  Our visit was timely, as Craig LaBan just released his own opinion of the place- unfortunately, a “hit or miss” review.  However, he did have one relevant point: “…the message was clear: The best bets here come on a bun.”  Lucky for us, burgers come on a bun.

Source

The new (or rather, rehabbed) space is definitely beer-centric, with a long bar and equally long beer list.  However, members of the Club were given plenty of tables to fit our small crowd- a comfortable and well-lit, spacious neighborhood restaurant.


We also had plenty of options: four specialty burgers, one pork burger, and one veggie burger (falafel).  While I usually make choices based on adventurous toppings, I was in the mood for a simple burger done right… probably an after-effect of the extreme uniqueness of last month’s burger at Ela.  Thankfully, BSBH offers the “purists’ burger,” a simple sandwich of the house ground beef (8 oz patty), a melted layer of cheddar cheese, and a smear of mayo on a brioche bun ($10).

The bun was a tad on the “bready” side, but it held up well to its fillings and had that shiny, seeded surface for which I will continue to express lots of love. The meat itself was certainly the star, a thick but loosely packed patty with lots of flavor from both seasonings and a little char from the grill.  My medium-rare request came out a little closer to medium (the house temperature of choice), but it was still juicy without being greasy.  The mayo helped counter the dryness of the brioche.  I also loved being able to swap out my fries for a side salad- a mix of romaine, red peppers, crunchy cukes and an avocado based dressing.

The eponymous “Barrel House Burger” is much more of a beast- they really load on the toppings here. This signature burger starts out with the same patty + bun (which is appreciated here to hold everything together!) but adds the following: Muenster cheese, bacon, grilled onions, a house-made IPA-infused mustard, and a super chunky Habanero/cucumber relish.  At $12, this is really on the lower end of the price-range for outrageous burgers in Philly.  They’re very generous with the bacon and cheese, but we found the cucumber relish to be a little.. weird. Cucumbers on a burger? I get that it’s a “relish” but… smaller pieces at least, please.

A bit of a step-down from the Barrel House, but still a whopping sandwich, is the Sally Smothers ($13).  I have no ideas regarding the origin of the name, but I can only imagine it has something to do with the fact that the patty here is smothered with sharp provolone, crispy fried pancetta, fried shallots, and the most precariously perched over-easy egg yolk I’ve ever seen.  Seriously, this thing was hanging onto the edge of oblivion.  One bite and this Yelp-er describes it well- “your plate looks like a crime scene.”



 Another notch down the “crazy scale” brings us to the Burger Meister ($13).  This guy simplifies life a little while still providing a few knock-out punches of flavor.  Crumbled blue cheese and a “raisin himbeer mostarda”– a fancy name for a mixture of caramelized raisins, a raspberry liqueur, and a mustard-flavored syrup– pair excellently, while a handful of spinach provides necessary freshness.

 

Spinach on the side.The not-really-a-burger category has one member- the Porkenstein ($15).  This is a SERIOUS sandwich, not for the fainthearted.  A 7 oz patty of ground pork starts us off, topped by a slab of pork belly and house cured ham.  Melted Monterey Jack cheese help separate the layers of pork, and the whole pile of pig is topped with a slightly radioactive-looking “secret sauce.”  I personally can not imagine consuming this, but I’m sure plenty of pork-lovers are rejoicing.  Our new Burger Club friend finished off the whole thing (and loved it!), so folks, it’s possible.

Our experience at Bainbridge St. Barrel House was pretty great.  We did have a long wait for our burgers, but we understand that there are space limitations in a kitchen, and chefs typically don’t need to make 25+ burgers all at once.  The staff was apologetic (head chef even tweeted a personal apology for the wait) and took good care of us while we waited.  Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal (burgers were super solid!) and of course we always love catching up with the Burger Club crew.  See you guys in a few weeks!

625 S. 6th St

February 2013: Ela

February’s meeting seemed to come up extra fast due to the short month- something we certainly weren’t going to complain about since we were looking forward to our first encounter with Ela.  A bit different than our typical Burger Club meeting spots (which tend to be large, bar-centric spots since these can fit a large group and usually have a solid burger), Ela is more upscale and gourmet.

Located in prime real estate right off of South Street in Queen Village, the restaurant is actually much larger than I imagined.  The regular menu has a concise list of appetizers and entrees, which doesn’t include the burger.  Actually, the burger is a special item on the bar menu, and is produced in a very limited quantity each night.  Nothing like making your burger a bit exclusive to drum up some attention.  However, Ela agreed to produce more burgers just for us.  Or, more than the typical ten, at least.

Unfortunately, the hostess and waiters didn’t seem thrilled to have us for the evening, and relegated us to either the back room (with only four tables) or the bar area.  Since they knew we would have 30+ attendees, it seemed a bit odd.  Even worse, once our group reached 29 (yes, 29), the hostess refused to allow any more burger-seekers.  She would “allow” us to eat from the regular menu in the dining room, but obviously that’s not what we wanted.  We were sad to see several small groups turned away (please come back next month!).

The waitresses were slow to take drink orders and even slower to ask our meat temperature preference. But, the wait for the kitchen was almost unbearable.  We typically meet at 7PM and are wrapping up by 8PM- it’s just a bunch of burgers (well, and good company!).  However, we waited until almost 8PM just to be served- by which time I think there was a good deal of hanger abounding.

Apologies for the pictures- I accidentally grabbed the macro lens.

On arrival the burger looked great- a decent sized patty, an adorable bun and some good melty cheese.  However, there were a LOT of grumbles about the “tots” served on the side- averaging about ten fried potato cubes.  Didn’t matter much to me- I’m there for the burger not the sides- but many in our group weren’t thrilled.  I actually can’t even comment on their tastiness as I donated all to my sad hungry husband.

Now, on to the burger critique.  A housemade black sesame bun was wonderful- soft on the inside but a crispy exterior, with a smooth, shiny (eggwash?) glaze.  It was really perfect in containing the meat, holding up well to the thick patty.  The accompaniments include a small pile of watercress, some melty sharp Cabot cheddar, a few sauteed shiitakes, and “sauce.”  Yup, just sauce.  According to Chef Jason Cichonski, it’s made with “like, 400,000 ingredients.”  We can tell you one thing- it has a very Asian profile.

The meat– I can only say I’m still stumped about both the color and the texture.  Half of our group was panicking because of the color– almost bright red, regardless of what the cooking temperature request.  The rawer the better, in my opinion, but some of us are scared of raw ground beef (for good reason), and weren’t up for eating a patty of beef tartare.  However, apparently the “sauce” is mixed into the house ground beef, providing this coloring that doesn’t disappear with more time on the grill.

After eating half the burger, I finally put my finger on the patty texture.  Hot dogs.  Chopped up hot dogs.  Sort of chewy.. with a slight rubberiness.  After proclaiming this to my table, I think I ruined their next few bites.  Sorry!  It didn’t necessarily detract from the overall experience, but it was just weird.  Should this burger be on everyone’s must eat list?  No.  Was it different from anything else we’ve had?  Definitely.  However, our overall experience with the staff at Ela, along with the sad limit of 29 burgers, has most of us hesitant to return to try the regular menu.  Looking forward to a more accommodating meeting next month at Bainbridge Barrel House (and hopefully some great specials– c’mon Steph!).

 

December meeting: Red Owl Tavern

Story by Alyssa and Julianne of two eat philly

This month’s Burger Club “meeting” was held at Red Owl Tavern, the newbie restaurant in the also-newbie Hotel Monaco in Old City.  The Monaco is the second Philadelphia area hotel in the Kimpton line, following just a few years after one of my personal favorites, the Hotel Palomar near Rittenhouse.  Executive Chef Guillermo Tellez formerly worked at Square 1682 at the Hotel Palomar, and has created an “indie steakhouse” while maintaining the basic tenets of a tavern.  You may have read a scathing review of Red Owl from Phyllis Stein-Novack at South Philly Review– we hoped her negative comments didn’t shine through in the burger!

Source

The restaurant spans a long corner slot at 5th and Chestnut (nobody from our group could come up with the previous use of this building) with the hotel entrance immediately adjacent.  The pastry chef works in a tiny kitchen near the entrance, enticing us all with a display of pies and cookies before we even ate dinner.  We had a space reserved upstairs, in a loft complete with all the loft-y accoutrements: lots of dark wood and black metal and a few uplights (Mrs. Stein-Novack’s complaints of lack of light are certainly founded).

Source

Unlike some of the other restaurants we’ve convened at, Red Owl only has a single burger, the “Big Red Owl Burger”- the waiters simply had to ask us how we wanted our meat cooked.  Thankfully we had a delicious distraction while we waited- housemade truffled popcorn.  This stuff was insanely good and super addictive.  Our table of ten went through several buckets of it in half an hour- warm, salty, buttery with a kick of truffle oil.

The burgers all arrived almost simultaneously- impressive for a group of 20+.  Of course, this means that there were probably a few mix-ups and a few overdone burgers, but that’s pretty much par for the course.  The burger is described (on the online menu) as topped with crispy bacon, cheddar, herb sauce and onion marmalade, and is a hefty serving living up to it’s $15 price tag.

In examining the burger upon its arrival, it’s clear there are a few changes from the menu description.  Shredded lettuce and tomato are little extras (fine by me but not by all others) and the “onion marmalade” clearly had raisins within.  I don’t like raisins, and I definitely don’t want them on my burger next to lettuce and bacon.  That’s just weird.  Thankfully, the mix consists primarily of  caramelized onions which were easy to remove.

The bun was a good fit for the meat, with a floury surface and a light texture.  The bacon and cheddar added the necessary salt and grease to the well seasoned lean beef.  The patty isn’t monstrously thick, making it that much harder for the chef to reach the requested medium-rare.  The lack of pink didn’t kill this burger, though- a definite sign of a well prepared sandwich made with quality ingredients.

Other club members decided the onion marmalade/raisins really made the burger- a hint of cinnamon and sweetness was reminiscent of an empanada.  I’m still not convinced that either cinnamon or raisins belong in a burger, but to each their own- and again, a nod to the chef for making such an odd topping a hit with many in our group.  The crispy fries lightly coated in shaved pepper jack cheese were a good complement to the meal – a special touch to an otherwise normal side.  The ratings are all in, and Red Owl has earned the #6 spot in Burger Club history- a solid placement for such a new establishment.

Red Owl Tavern

433 Chestnut Street

Philly’s Burger Palooza 2012 @ Yards Brewery


Story by: Joelen Pastva
Photos by: Madhuri Kaul

For a little bit of context, let’s travel back in time a couple of weeks to Wednesday night, Thanksgiving Eve. If you were unlucky, you were stuck in the traffic snarl of people trying to get out of Philadelphia after work. Or if you were lucky you’d already secured a table at the bar for drinks with old friends and family on what is always the busiest bar night of the year.

We considered ourselves among the really lucky as our train soared past the standstill I-95 traffic on our way to the Yards Brewery for its first annual Burger Palooza. As the word “palooza” would imply, this was to be a night of excessive burger consumption to rival the turkey feast planned for the next day. Four area food trucks – Street Food Philly and Spot from the Drexel area, Chewy’s from University City, and The Moo Truck from Bucks County – were on hand to serve up three rounds of gourmet burgers, which could optionally be accompanied with fries from Say Cheese Philadelphia or cupcakes from Cupcake Carnival. Once burgers from the first round were up, chefs launched right into round two, and so forth. And of course, since this event was held at Yards, admission also included two drink tickets, which could be redeemed for either beer or delicious house-made root beer.

We arrived early and managed to grab some of the first burgers from round one. I’d heard a lot about Spot, what with their in-house butchering (wow!), so was eager to see what they had to offer. The “drunken spot” was infused with Yards Brawler and topped with gouda, fried onions, mustard, and Spot sauce. I was impressed with how well the burger was cooked (all palooza patties were apparently ¼ pound in weight), and the meat seemed to really take on a good flavor from the Brawler. I did find the bun to be a bit too bready, which somewhat overwhelmed the rest of the burger. For round two, they served the Cochise burger, made with a bison blend, horseradish mayo, swiss, and crispy sage. The toppings were phenomenal, but again the bun softened their punch. Overall, with such creative toppings and fresh, expertly cooked meat, I definitely plan to visit the Spot truck again in the near future.

Chewy’s put out a really fun burger for round one, which featured spicy tomato sauce, Cajun fried onions, mozzarella cheese, and basil, easily knocking the socks off of most meatball subs I’ve ever had. Street Food Philly, which uses local dry-aged beef, served a “Porky von Egg” for the first round, topped with ham and hollandaise sauce. Maybe it’s because this was already burger #3 in less than 30 minutes, but we found this to burger to be underwhelming and greasy.

Our favorite truck of the evening was Moo. They kept things simple, but this is partly due to truck owner Evan Asoudegan’s decision to get all of his ingredients locally, so he only cooks what’s available. Round one was the Moo burger, with your standard lettuce, onion, pickle, and cheese toppings on a grass-fed patty. Despite its simplicity, the Moo burger is what every burger should strive to be. The beef was delicately seasoned, had just the right about of chew, and was perfectly in harmony with its bun and toppings. Round two was basically the same burger, but with the addition of bacon, and I will say without a doubt that this was the best bacon I have ever eaten in my life. Go get this burger right now! This burger tied for the top of the night, along with the Lone Ranger from Chewy’s, which had applewood smoked beef topped with George Washington porter mushrooms that were outta this world.

After all this burger merriment, we simply could not make it to round three and had to hit the road for our own Thanksgiving travel. Fortunately the traffic had cleared, and we were now fortified with bellies full of fantastic burgers. Maybe there’s room for a new Thanksgiving ritual, even if it does have the word palooza in it.

November meeting at Spiga

Photos by Kit Farman: http://www.kitfphoto.com

This month’s burger club event was hosted by Spiga (1305 Locust St)! Spiga is a newish place not too far from broad street located in center city. The first thing you’ll notice about this place is that you need to enter through a door that goes through a hallway on the side of the restaurant. I kept thinking how silly that whole thing was, who approved that design? It makes for a cool image from the street though, all you see is people eating inside, no hostess station or anything like that. The interior is very warm and welcoming with exposed brick and reclaimed wood all over the place. It has a very cabin-in-the-woods feel to it – excellent for a chilly fall night.

Shortly after everyone arrived (on time!!) we ordered. It didn’t take too long for the parade of burgers to reach our table. This isn’t one of those skyscraper burgers, it sits quite comfortably on a little rectangular plate accompanied by a handful of shoestring fries. Topped with bacon and goat cheese, this is not your average burger. It might take a few bites to get a good taste of the goat cheese but when you do you’ll be in heaven. The fries were really hot and good. I know this probably isn’t the best thing to say but the fries tasted like those from McDonalds (and that’s NOT a bad thing at all, IMO).

The burger can only be described as “sweet” which is a really unusual thing for a burger. The sweetness is mostly due to the Onion Mostarda. I didn’t even know what a “Mostarda” was until I got into a conversation about it with someone. Turns out it’s an “Italian condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard flavored syrup” (Wikipedia) it doesn’t really taste like mustard and I would go so far as to say you don’t even really taste it all that much. The Mostarda subtly adds a beautiful sweetness that pairs perfectly with the goat cheese and bacon. It’s pretty evident that someone took some good time in dreaming up this combo.

The staff was very friendly and the burgers were all delicious. I ordered mine medium rare and while I understand it’s VERY hard to deliver 20 burgers at the same time at exactly the right temperature, mine was a little overdone. I really like that red juiciness, it’s the only way to really evaluate the quality of the meat. Otherwise my complaints are minimal. The burger club members similarly loved their time here. The only thing many people wanted was MORE, more fries, more cheese, more “oomph” if you know what I mean! This is definitely not a burger to miss. I wish more restaurants would try to put goat cheese on burgers, I know it’s a pretty expensive cheese but people LOVE it!

Thanks to everyone who came, can’t wait for next month! Stay tuned on the facebook group to see where we’re going!! See you then!

October (November?) Meeting: Hickory Lane

Another month, another Burger Club meeting report from Two Eat Philly.  This meeting was supposed to take place at the tail end of October, but- maybe you heard?- we were hit by a hurricane.  However, burger eaters prevailed (in the first few days of November), and we gathered at Hickory Lane, a small restaurant in Fairmount with great views of Eastern State Penitentiary, and just a few blocks from recently-visited Lemon Hill (shameless self promotion here).

We were greeted by personalized menus made just for us- Hickory Lane created a deal that combined a burger and a drink for $18.  The burger alone ran us $15- definitely on the expensive side for this city!  In comparison to many of the other places Burger Club has congregated, Hickory Lane offers a single signature burger- aptly named the “Hickory Burger.” Executive Chef Matt Zagorski spent many years at Rouge, so he certainly has some solid burger-making experience.

The fact that there was only one option made ordering easy.  Our waiter informed us that the patties were being cooked to a medium rare-medium based on chef preference. Fine by us!  It took a little while before plates started coming out of the kitchen, but we understand the art of burger making is a serious one.

the self-described “bad boy”

The thick meat patty is sandwiched between a challah roll, creating some significant height to this sandwich.  Closer inspection revealed a few light char marks on the outside.  A large pile of pommes frites (why does an “American bistro” insist on using the pretentious French name for fries?) came alongside the burger- I had to clear a few from my plate to make room for burger-tackling.  Super fresh and crispy with plenty of peppery skin- the garlic aioli was a fantastic dipping sauce, if not a little on the greasy side.

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Another thing we noticed right away was the thickness of the cheese.  Melted over the burger, an extra-sharp aged white cheddar added a significant amount of flavor and texture.  I know I’m talking about the cheese before I even talk about the meat, but that’s just how good it was.  It was definitely what everyone was exclaiming about the most- the fact that such a high-quality, flavorful cheese is used here, and so much of it!- really created a unique burger experience.

However, I certainly do need to acknowledge the meat.  A “proprietary” blend of three different cuts of beef are exclusively ground by Philadelphia Meat Purveyor Exceptional Foods just for this burger.  I’d say LaFrieda should be watching their backs- they’ve got some serious competition!  The patty was cooked perfectly to create a nice, thin crust surrounding some seriously pink ground beef.  The grind is still recognizable- these guys are getting treated pretty gently on the grill, providing a nice crumble with each bite.  The meat was underseasoned, allowing the slightly sweet and seriously fluffy challah and salty, aged cheese to play recognizable supporting roles.

Overall, this was definitely a five-star burger.  I’d even go so far to put it amongst the ranks of the Supper burger.  With the ratings coming in, it’s currently scored at a 4.68- good enough for first place on the Leaderboard!

Steph has also announced our meeting place for next (this? Sandy has made this all so confusing) month– but we’ll let her tell you all about it!

September burger club meeting at Smokin’ Betty’s

Story and Photos by Julianne Huegel (of two eat philly)

I’ve missed the past few Burger Club meetings thanks to the brilliant decision to take a class this summer, so I knew I needed to make it this month! This month’s burger venue of choice was BBQ joint Smokin’ Betty’s (116 S. 11th Street), located directly across from Jefferson Hospital. I’ve been here several times for pretty average BBQ, salads, and sandwiches but had somehow never tried any of the burgers. For our meeting, Smokin’ Betty’s cordoned off a section of their upstairs dining room for us burger eaters, and even printed out special menus with our logo- so fancy! Contrary to what my photo depicts, there are five burger options at Smokin’ Betty’s- standard Angus, turkey, or veggie burgers plus a couple of spruced up, unique sandwiches.

Before my food arrived, I snapped a pic of Megan’s housemade veggie burger ($9.95), which I thought looked representative of a really well-formed meat-free patty- nothing too crumbly or wet. The patty appeared to include quinoa, carrots, lots of herbs, and possibly peas- a good mix of ingredients typically lends a more flavorful hand. Decorated with poblano relish, sprouts, and the requisite lettuce and tomato, the burger also comes with a side of decent hand-cut fries.

I was feeling particularly adventurous (nothing new there) and opted for the Tur-Duck-En Burger ($12.50). I have to preempt my description with my opinion that this doesn’t qualify as a burger- it was actually a Thanksgiving sandwich. Reminiscent of a solid day-after-Thanksgiving lunch of leftovers, the patty is a mix of turkey, duck, and chicken. Juicy and flavorful, though the second patty slipped underneath the meat demanded it’s share of tastebud attention. Homemade stuffing full of sage and thyme is shaped into a smaller disc and crisped up a bit, distributing its flavors through each bite.

A chunky cranberry sauce adds sweet and tart elements and replaces any moistness that you might typically get from ketchup or other condiments. The menu advertised southern style gravy, but I didn’t notice any. The last element was curly ribbons of sweet potato- slightly chewy and without much flavor, but they did add a bit of textural interest to an otherwise all-soft sandwich.

The other jazzed up option is the Betty Burger ($12.95), based around a hefty 1/2 pound sirloin patty. Perfectly formed and cooked exactly to order, the meat set a delicious tone for the rest of the sandwich. The Betty tries to do it all- a thick layer of melted white cheddar, a few pieces of shredded confit pork belly, slices of ripe avocado, roasted garlic aioli, AND a runny fried egg, all on top of the usual lettuce and tomato.

I thought that the overall flavor combination was superb, but my more minimalist boyfriend was a bit overwhelmed by this admittedly somewhat ridiculous conglomeration. The avocado and egg made the burger lopsided, making for a bit of a mess as the bun tilted precariously after a few bites. Speaking of the bun, the one’s they use are unoffensive- not distracting in taste, texture, or density.

The two sandwiches were drastically different, but I enjoyed both- though the Tur-Duck-En alone isn’t going to quench any burger cravings. Overall I thought Smokin’ Betty’s was a great choice for Burger Club- the open space easily fit our larger group and the range of choices meant everyone left happy. Smokin’ Betty’s is actually currently holding the second place overall rating amongst our club’s rated burgers!

Smokin’ Betty’s
116 S. 11th Street

Georges Deuboeuf Beaujolais Wine And Burgers with Mark Oldman

Earlier in the week I had the privilege of attending a Beaujolais and burger tasting hosted by author and wine expert Mark Oldman. The event was hosted by Alfa (1709 Walnut), a fancy pants establishment that I have only visited a few times. One of those times I visited was specifically to try their deep fried oreos – drop what you’re doing and go over there and try those, you won’t be disappointed. I digress.. while the 15 or so people attending the event gathered we sipped a white wine, I’m not sure what kind it was but it doesn’t matter – this was only to serve as the prerequisite for the education we were about to receive. We all sat down at this long table with more glassware than I’ve ever seen in my life. Shortly thereafter Mark started to introduce himself as the author of Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine and general wine expert. Mark is a relatively young guy, a different sort than those I generally think of as a “wine expert” he was, for a lack of a better word, cool.

Mark walked us through the different wines, from floral and light to the most robust – all part of the Georges Deuboeuf Beaujolais line. The wines we tried were:

– Beaujolais-Villages (fruity and light)

– Chiroubles (still light but less fruity)

– Brouilly (good middle-of-the-road red with subtle flavors of jam)

– Fleurie (a bit more robust wine with floral tones)

– Morgon (dark, heavy red with a lot of body)

– Juliénas Chateuu des Capitans (the richest of all the wines, complex flavors)

All the wines were amazing and as you may (or may not) have thought they paired nicely with the burgers. The wine from the selection that went best with the burgers was, in my opinion, was the Julienas. It was the most robust of all the wines and brought out the richness of the burger. I would highly recommend this.

Ok, enough about wines – this is NOT the “wine club” after all. For me, THE BURGERS were the star of this event. I felt like a kid in a candy store with the amount of burger at my fingertips. They were served “family style” cut into halves. A bite of this, a taste of that oh my word there were so many burgers! We sampled the delicious offerings from Alfa, 500 degrees, Rouge and Spiga. Let me start off by saying that all the burgers had the same dry, average bun except for the Alfa burger – which had a delicious potato type bun (which Julianne said she could have as a meal itself).

I started with the 500 degrees burger that had a well-seasoned patty with an egg (and if you know anything about me and my history with eggs on burgers I say “HELLS YES”). This burger was good but definitely not at the top of my list.

The Alfa burger was great, as I mentioned; that potato bun was fantastic and the meat was good. The burger kept together pretty well and the classic pickles & cheddar combo was nice.

Now on to my two favorites of the evening – the Rouge burger was HUGE both my dining partners, Megan and Julianne (unbeknownst to each other) said that it was like eating meatloaf. It was about a 2 inch patty of pure beef. Some people said that they thought it was “too big” or “too much meat” and I don’t think those words can ever be used to describe a burger – the bigger the better! The Rouge burger was pretty no-nonsense, the toppings were superfluous, the meat was the star, seasoned perfectly and just simply delicious.

My favorite burger of the evening, however, was definitely the Spiga burger. I hadn’t even heard of Spiga before this evening but apparently it’s a new Italian restaurant at 13th and Locust – weird place. The burger was juicy and awesome topped with apple wood bacon and goat cheese, the ultimate burger topping combination – sweet, salty, delicious. While most of the other burgers went best with the Juliénas this burger was great when paired with the Beaujolais-Villages. It’s the lightest and fruitiest of all the wines we tried. I could have sworn that there was some kind of sweet spread on the burger, maybe a fig spread or something like that. There was no such spread so I can only imagine that the fruity wine helped bring out the sweetness in the apple wood bacon (the candy of the meat world).

All-in-all it was a magical evening. It opened my eyes to the notion of pairing burgers with wine – I think I’m going to try that more often. More than anything this evening was able to shed light on the way burgers are creeping their way into a higher echelon of society. Burgers are no longer seen as a last-minute drive through dinner option. People are really starting to take burgers seriously, and you should too. I dream of the day when it’s more common to have a burger with wine than with a shake. Till then burger friends, keep on burgering.