Burger Toppings

This week I’d like to take a moment to discuss a topic that doesn’t get a lot of attention – burger toppings. We here at the burger club take toppings VERY seriously, it’s one of the main factors that we vote on to determine the value of a burger. Toppings can range from predictable to outrageous and everything in-between. For a restaurant that might want to try out a new burger, trying to decide what kind of toppings to offer may be harder than one might expect. Do you offer a bunch of options like cheeburger cheeburger (pictured below)? Or do YOU determine the combination and theme for the customer? There are almost too many options!

When I’m looking at a menu the burger toppings are what I think of first in my mind (and in my mouth). Am I going for a meat on meat? Do I want a lot of cheese? Would I rather something light and natural to balance out the fatty mcfatterson burger? There are just so many different combinations, it’s important not to get into a rut of only ordering the same toppings all the time.

When I was a bit younger I would exclusively opt for a bacon & blue cheese burger wherever I went. Lately I’ve been much more interested in the variety of toppings that this burger world has to offer. Lately I have seen many places (Spiga, Red Owl, PYT) making VERY sweet topping combinations. The house burger at Red Owl (pictured at left) is so sweet it even has raisins in it. Many folks from the burger club found the sweetness of this burger to be too much, but I think they need to just open their minds (and hearts) a little. The sweet topping from Spiga consists of an onion Mostarda which is so nicely paired with herbed goat cheese and applewood smoked bacon. I found this flavor palette to be near perfect. The sweet, salty, creamy topping paired with the richness of the burger is simply unbeatable, IMO. I see this sweet topping trend to be something we’re going to see a lot more of in the future, but is the American public ready for it??

I studied abroad in Sydney, AU and while they don’t really seem to have a national food or style of cooking (other than BBQ) they did put a little twist on the classic burger that I haven’t found anywhere else. I’m sure other parts of the world do this but I haven’t found it – they put a big slice of beetroot on their burgers. I know what you’re thinking “EWWWWW BEETS????” but let me tell you, once you’ve gotten over the idea of it you’ll want it on every burger ever. The beet has this rich, sweet, subtle flavor that compliments the meat in the best possible way. I wish some American burger joints would try this out.

Lastly I’d like to pass along a little vote from the burger club about toppings. I only proposed the question to the group YESTERDAY but I think their findings are nevertheless important. Apparently everyone likes cheese. Duh.

I hope that in the future we see many more creative burger combinations of toppings. I think this is what will really bring the burger into another category of food. Many posts ago (after a burger & wine tasting event) I prophesized that the burger is becoming the new “it” thing, more of a luxury item than it ever has been – and I think that with the new trend in toppings this is becoming more of a reality. I hope to see more of this and one day the BURGER will rule all! Till then, my burger friends!

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!

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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).

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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