Classic Comfort Food in Center City (Philly Burger Round Up – Week 4)

Photo May 20, 7 49 58 PMSmokin’ Betty’s
116 South 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Photo May 20, 7 49 30 PM

Photo May 20, 7 49 46 PMIn the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there is an entry for comfort food. Comfort food, according to Webster, is defined as “food that is satisfying because it is prepared in a simple or traditional way and reminds you of home, family, or friends.” There is nothing quite like dipping some ooey-gooey grilled cheese into some velvety tomato soup, or having a spoonful of creamy, decadent mac n’ cheese, or a big bowl of chocolate ice cream. Eating comfort food somehow taps into our sense of nostalgia and makes is us feel warm all over. Burgers—at least for me—are one of the biggest comforting foods around. So for the next stop on my Philly Burger Round Up, I’m heading to Smokin’ Betty’s located in Midtown. Smokin’ Betty’s is a haven for comforting sandwiches, saucy barbecue, meaty burgers with lots of delicious twists on classic American food.

Photo May 20, 6 56 29 PMLuckily we had gotten to the restaurant in time for the tail end of Happy Hour, so were able to have some cocktails for only $5. They also have some of their signature appetizers available for 1/2 price as well. The Berry Lemonade ($5) is available everyday at happy hour and was made with Citron vodka, and came in a decent sized tumbler. It wasn’t too sweet, but nice and tart. It had a good amount of alcohol so it had a bite and there was enough to know it was there in the background. It was delicious with the burger to come!

We started with the Black Angus Beef Cheesesteak Eggrolls ($9), served with smoked tomato jam. I mean, come on, this is Philly–what’s more comforting than a cheesesteak? Fried cheesesteak eggrolls! The sweet dipping sauce is a nice alternative to ketchup. The super crispy wrapper was tightly wrapped so the filling did not go all over the place, and it was easy to eat. The filling was not too heavy from the meat and had a slightly smoky taste inside—it was probably cooked near the BBQ meats. The portion size was a bit on the smaller side since there were only 4 of them, but it was a perfect size plate for two people to share.

Photo May 20, 7 18 59 PMI was feeling like a more traditional burger, and my dining partner wanted to try something a little more “out there,” so we each ordered a different dish. The Betty Burger ($13.95) is a classic burger, but made special from the delicious toppings and garnishes. The patty is made with 1/2 pound of quality ground sirloin. It’s then topped with some super tender confit pork belly—confit is just a fancy way of saying it’s cooked in fat, usually its own. Pork belly has a very, very high fat content, so as you cook it the fat cooks down and bastes the meat to keep it moist, chewy and melt in your mouth soft. Next up is some creamy avocado, sharp cheddar, crunchy lettuce, slightly acidic tomato, and a slightly runny sunny side up egg. The bun is slathered with a house made roasted garlic aioli to finish it off. The meat is cooked to temperature (medium-rare) and so juicy, and though the cheese was kind of lost in the shuffle, but the rest of the garnishes make up for it. As you bite into the burger you get that hit of meaty goodness, the pork belly is salty and chewy, the avocado is creamy, the lettuce and tomato give crunch and cooling effect, then egg yolk breaks open and coats your palette to add another level of richness to this burger. The juice starts to run down your hands and it’s basically an orgasmic experience. Yum!

Photo May 20, 7 18 44 PMThe Tur-Duck-En Burger ($12.95) is, on the other hand, unique from the get-go. The meat is smoky and slightly gamey with a nice crust. The poultry patty stayed moist, which might have been from the gravy—it was hard to pinpoint, but was definitely felt. The layer of stuffing was soft inside and crisp on the outside—my favorite part of thanksgiving. The cranberry sauce wasn’t too sweet, but had a nice tartness, and the sweet potato ribbons gave the sandwich a velvety softness. This burger basically is Thanksgiving on a plate, but much more handheld.

Photo May 20, 7 19 04 PMThough the burgers usually come with regular french fries, we decided to switch things up and order Sweet Potato Fries (extra $1) with our burgers, which were on point. The potatoes were rustically cut thick and clearly homemade. They were meaty on the inside, but also slightly crisp on the outside—probably from a double frying technique. The regular fries are great here as well, but this time the sweet potato were the right choice this time and played well with the other dishes. They complemented the slight sweetness of the cocktails, and definitely matched the holiday theme of the Tur-Duck-En burger. Plus, they serve you a jumbo sized portion of fries with your burger.

Photo May 20, 7 49 27 PMAfter our meal, I was definitely feeling comforted—and maybe a little stuffed lol. Everything on the menu at Smokin’ Betty’s tastes delicious, and the service is pretty great too. If you want a night of comfort food that’s going to make you reminisce about wonderful experiences in the past, or an amazing delicious weekend brunch, come eat here any day of the week!

Photo May 20, 7 19 07 PMBetty Burger: A
Tur-Duck-En Burger: A-

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Philly Burger Round Up: Week 3 – Marathon Grill

I’m back with the third installment of the amazingly delicious Philly Burger Round Up. I took a break for a couple of weeks for Passover, and burgers just don’t taste the same on matzah. 😁  

Last week, I had just finished volunteering and decided to go out  to dinner with a friend, but we didn’t want anyplace too fancy or fussy, and settled on Marathon Grill. Marathon is a local favorite with a few locations around Philadelphia, with good food, a nice amour of space and decent prices–it often reminds me of a modern, upscale diner. In fact, Marathon is often a brunch spot for me since their brunch quesadilla with chorizo is big and delicious!
  
For dinner, I opted for the Marathon Burger ($11.50). They also have the option of customizing your burger, but I went with the pre-customized menu version. The temperature of the burger was good, just a hair over medium rare, and it was amazingly juicy, greasy and messy in the best way possible–all burgers should be a little messy! For their beef, Marathon uses a blend of short rib, sirloin and chuck. The party tasted very gourmet, and because there was a blend of cuts, it had a nice amount of fat that kept the burger incredibly moist.
The tomato wasn’t sliced too thick, and the lettuce was easy to take off as I don’t usually like lettuce on my burgers. The applewood smoked bacon was cooked through, but still a kept some chewiness, which I love. I hate when bacon is super crisp and it’s lost all of its porkiness and meatiness. On the other hand, the bacon wasn’t flabby, and had a subtle smoky taste.
 

 

The BBQ sauce was slathered on the bottom half of the bread and also helped keep the sandwich moist–and wet. The sauce itself was spicy and had a nice bite to it–interesting, but in a good way. The cheese didn’t have a very bold flavor, but helped the sandwich keep a creamy consistency. The sweet, caramelized onions were on point and played well with the spicy BBQ sauce, especially since there was a generous portion of them on the burger. The burger was served on a country, brioche bun that was strong enough to stand up to the heavy burger. It had a slight, pleasant sweetness to it.
I wasn’t in the mood for fries, or for the other side choice of Caesar salad on the menu, so I substituted some spinach for the fries. The spinach was served in a small bowl on the burger plate and was cooked with a nice amount of garlic, though perked up a lot with some salt.
  
My friend ordered the Grilled Salmon ($15.50), which was glazed with a whole grain honey mustard sauce. The fish was cooked well, and stayed moist. The mustard wasn’t too strong as to overpower the salmon. The mashed potatoes were super creamy and absorbed some of the juice and sauce from the salmon. The accompanying asparagus was a smaller portion, but tasted delicious. The stalks weren’t mushy, and still had great texture. 
The restaurant staff was very friendly, and the servers were enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the menu. Marathon Grill was a solid weekday dinner option with a tasty, comforting old school burger.
Grade: A-
They only lost a few points because the cheese for a little lost in the shuffle. I wish it was a bit more forthright. The meat blend and onions were fantastic though.

Philly Burger Round Up: Week 2 – Good Dog Bar and Restaurant

 For the second installment of my Philly Burger Round Up, I decided to visit the location of one of my first burger experiences in Philadelphia, Good Dog Bar and Restaurant. Good Dog Bar is a casual gastropub located on 15th Street in Center City that has been around for over 10 years. It has a decent selection of craft beers, creative cocktails, but most importantly, decidedly delicious food. This place is no frills in the best possible way, and the food is what matters in the end. The menu is made up of mostly modern comfort foods like burgers, Buffalo Shrimp, truffled cheesesteak empanadas, and one of my personal favorites, duck pot pie.   IMG_1726-0I went with a classic, the Good Dog ($12.50) burger, which consists of 1/2 lb. of beef—ground in house—stuffed with Roquefort cheese, and topped with caramelized onions. It’s served on a brioche bun. I ordered my burger medium rare, and it was cooked nicely—the temperature was spot on! The blue cheese inside the burger not only kept it moist, but also oozed out when I cut my burger in half. The onions weren’t too sweet, but gave the sandwich a nice change in texture. They were soft, but still chewy. The bun was a bit dense, but absorbed a lot of the burger juice. The sandwich didn’t need any ketchup since the burger was so juicy.

IMG_1728The burger came with a large side of mixed regular potato and sweet potato fries, which accompanies all of Good Dog’s sandwiches, as well as their signatures fry sauce—a homemade garlic aioli—for dipping. Aioli is similar to mayonnaise, but made with garlic and does not always have vinegar, and it is not as thick as mayo. The fries were fresh-cut and crisp, and the aioli helped cut through the heaviness of the burger and fries.

Overall, the Good Dog burger was delicious, and was everything a bar burger should be; it was comforting, juicy, meaty, no frills with great gourmet touches. It was a stick to your ribs kind of burger, and unique enough that it earns high marks. Always a classic, and all it needs is a good beer to help wash it down. Good Dog Bar has plenty of drinks and other tasty dishes to help complete your meal!

Grade: A-

Philly Burger Round Up – Week 1: Shake Shack

Shake Shack – Center City
2000 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103FullSizeRender-17

Shake Shack is a burger chain that’s modeled on a traditional drive-in. All of its locations have tasty burgers, hot dogs, frozen custards, milkshakes, and Shack brand beer. I came here the other day with some friends and left very full after a great meal.

FullSizeRender-19The Shack Stack ($9.49)* is my go to pick when I visit Shake Shack. There’s just something about the combination of mushrooms, cheese and meat that calls out to me. Specifically, the Shack Stack consists of a cheeseburger patty, topped with a ‘shroom burger, lettuce, tomato and shack sauce. They toast the inside of their hamburger buns, which are buttery potato buns of course. The buns are nice and sought in the outside, and ready to absorb juice on the inside with a great mouthfeel as you bite in. In addition, Shake Shack uses their own customized Angus beef blend from famous butcher, Pat LaFrieda, though the specific cuts and meat-to-fat ratio is a closely guarded secret. This fat is important because they cook their burgers on a wide griddle; as soon as it hits the flat top, the patties are mashed thin, and the fat not only greases the griddle, but helps the outside of the meat caramelize and develop a delicious crust. Plus, they use a cold patty, which makes sure that the burger juices stay inside as the fat starts to rapidly melt from the heat of the griddle. They let the crust develop before flipping too—so much flavor! The ‘shroom burger is their version of a veggie burger; it has a whole Portobello mushroom, which is filled with muenster and cheddar cheeses, breaded and fried until crispy.

Speaking of flavor, this sandwich is delicious! As you take your first bite of the burger you go through the fluffy bun and your teeth sink into the seared meat and break open the mushroom patty. You get a little bit of crunch from the lettuce, the ‘shroom patty starts to ooze cheese, the burger juices begin to run down your hands, you get the creaminess of the shack sauce and the buttery goodness of the bun. Thank god the tomato is there to provide a burse of freshness and cut through the decadence, lol. This burger should be saved for special occasions every day. In fact, this burger is its own special occasion! Just bring a lot of napkins to your table. 

FullSizeRender-18The ShackMeister Dog ($4.00) also made an appearance in my stomach on my most recent Shake Shack visit. Shake Shack actually started out as a hot dog cart in New York City’s Madison Square Park in 2000. This hot dog comes topped with a cheese sauce made from Shack cheddar and American cheeses, and crispy ShackMeister Ale marinated shallots. The dog was split and griddles so it had a nice snap, and also meaty chew. The shallots have a subtle onion flavor that doesn’t overpower the dog, and the cheesesauce is velvety and coats your tongue as you take a bite. This hot dog is rich and satisfying—not your ordinary cookout dog—and could be a meal on its own. Mustard isn’t necessary, but gives it a nice tang and a sharp bite that helps elevate the aromatic flavor of the fried shallots.

IMG_1537To round out the meal, I munched on some of my friend’s Fries ($2.95). Shake Shack fries are made from Yukon potatoes and are crinkle cut. They’re seasoned with salt, crispy and delicious. These fries make Nathans’ fries look stupid. The only thing that makes these fries better would be some cheese sauce for an extra $1. The restaurant has ketchup and mustard dispensers in the back with little cups for dipping. If you ask nicely though, they might give you a mini-cup of the Shack Sauce to dip your fries into instead!IMG_1536

Grade: A-
The Shack Stack burger would’ve gotten an A, if not for the price. The burger itself is actually kind of small for the hefty price tag, so it loses a few points. It’s definitely still worth it for the taste, and quality of the ingredients. Overall, delicious and always worth another trip!

* Prices listed are for the Philadelphia – Center City location.

Philly Burger Round Up

Behold the humble burger. Everybody loves a burger, all over the world. Why? One theory–my own–is that a hamburger is a cheap way to crave our carnivorous appetite. We want meat! Having the experience of biting into a meaty burger, chewing through the beef, juices running out of the patty, the texture of the bread, is an (almost) divine experience.

Feeling inspired by my recent gastropub night at home, in which I made a bistro style, French Onion burger, I’ve decided to search for great burgers around the city. Philadelphia might be best known for cheesesteaks and hoagies, but there are plenty of places–hidden or not–that offer a great burger experience. I hope you come with me as I search for the best local burger in my Philly Burger Round Up series.

McDonald's_Hamburger

Gastropub Night at Home

French Onion Burger with “German” Potato Salad

I was inspired to make this burger after a recent trip to Shake Shack (see next post) and thought I should make myself a great burger at home. The idea of the French Onion burger is actually a play on this amazing burger they have at a gastropub chain in the Los Angeles area called Father’s Office. The burger reminded me of French Onion soup, and gave off a very bistro vibe. They paired their burger with shoestring fries, and allowed no substitutions, but I’m pairing mine with potato salad. Mine is a twist on a traditional German potato salad, but incorporates many of the same flavors. Perfect for a picnic since there’s no mayo, but also great to make a whole bowl for yourself. I even use leftover potato salad to mimic a hash and top it with some chunks of avocado, a squirt of sriracha sauce, and a couple of fried eggs for brunch the next day.

Burger Ingredients

2/3 pound of ground beef—I used 75/25, which means the meat blend is 75% beef and 25% fat. I wouldn’t go with anything less than 80/20 because your burger may then dry out. If you do decide to use lean or extra lean ground beef, or something a naturally lean meat like turkey, then I would suggest cutting the meat with some ground bacon, just ask the butcher to do it for you, or pulse in the food processor.

Granulated garlic

Caramelized onions

1 small avocado, ripe

Arugula

2 packets of Laughing Cow Swiss Cheese (French Onion flavor)FullSizeRender-12

Gruyere cheese

1/3 of a French baguette or 1 mini baguette—this would also be good with a seeded Italian roll or Ciabatta. I liked the baguette because the who burger seemed very French to me. If making multiple burgers, feel free to use a whole baguette

Potato Salad Ingredients:

5-6 small red potatoes, halved

5 medium Golden potatoes, cut into chunks—this recipe uses what I had in my pantry, but you can use about 2-3 pounds of any kind of waxy potato (my favorite is Yukon Gold)

1 cup of salt pork or pancetta, cut into cubes

2 medium shallots, chopped fine

3 cloves of garlic, minced

½ cup of apple cider vinegar—traditional recipes usually call for white vinegar, but I feel that the apple cider vinegar is a little sweeter and has a little bit more of sour taste

2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon of sugar

1 heaping tablespoon of whole grain dijon mustard

1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped

3 tablespoons of olive oil

To Make the Potato Salad:

  1. In a large pot, place the potatoes and enough water to cover them with a good amount of salt.
  2. Heat the potato pot on high heat until they start boiling, then reduce heat to medium to medium-high heat and continue on a low boil for at 15 minutes
  3. Test the potatoes with a knife. If the knife slides in easily then they are done. Don’t worry, you can always just taste one if you’re unsure
  4. Drain the potatoes and set aside
  5. In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil on medium heat until hot, but not smokingFullSizeRender-9
  6. Add salt pork to the pan and use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to spread the cubes in a single layer—this will help them brown evenly and prevent burning. Stir every couple of minutesFullSizeRender-11
  7. When all of the pieces are browned all over, remove from the pan, but leave the fat from the pork in the pan—flavor! Drain the pork on a piece of paper towel. While you prepare the rest of the ingredients the pork will crisp up
  8. In the same pan, add the shallots and garlicFullSizeRender-14
  9. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and black pepper each, and 1 teaspoon of sugar
  10. Cook the shallots and garlic until browned and fragrant—your nose will let you know 😉
  11. Once they’re browned, deglaze the pan with the vinegar
  12. Reduce for 1-2 minutes on medium-low heat, then add the mustard and parsley. Stir to incorporate along with another pinch of salt and pepperFullSizeRender-15
  13. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and stir the sauce/vinaigrette
  14. Turn off the heat
  15. Add the potatoes and the pork back to the pan, and toss with the vinaigrette to coat all of the potatoes while they’re still warmFullSizeRender-16
  16. Let the potato salad sit while making the burger—this potato salad could be made a day in advance. Traditionally German potato salad is served warm, but it’s great at room temperature or even cold

To Make Caramelized Onions: 

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees
  2. In an oven-proof pot with a lid, or a dutch oven, coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil and add 2 pats (1/8 tablespoon) of butter
  3. Add the onions and cook, uncovered, on medium heat for a few minutes until they start to sweat
  4. Once the onions start to turn golden, cover and put the pot in the oven
  5. After 20 minutes, stir the onions and add 1 teaspoon each of black pepper and salt
  6. Cover and put onions back in the oven for an additional 20 minutes
  7. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and stir the onions
  8. Cook for an additional 30 minutes
  9. Uncover, stir, and cook for an additional 10 minutes
  10. Take the onions out of the oven, they should be brown and caramelized—leave the oven on for the burger afterwards though
  11. Place the onions in a bowl and set aside to top your burger, or use them in an omelet, in pasta, or in one of my personal favorites—pizzaFullSizeRender-10

To Make the Burger:

  1. Remove the meat from the refrigerator at least 20 minutes before you plan to cook—this will help with even cooking
  2. Shape your burger patty—I went with a long burger in order to fit the bread, but a traditional round patty is always good
  3. Season both sides with a good pinch of salt, black pepper and granulated garlic
  4. Heat your pan on medium heat for a couple of minutes and add the remaining olive oil to the panFullSizeRender-2
  5. Add the meat to the pan—you should hear a nice sizzle when the meat hits the hot pan. Resist the urge to move the burger or squish it down. This way it will form a nice crust and stay juicyFullSizeRender-3
  6. After 2-3 minutes, flip the burger over and cook on the second side for an additional 2 minutesAdd a pat of butter to the pan and place the pan in the preheated oven
  7. In the meantime, take your sliced baguette and spread the Laughing Cow cheese packets on the bread and put into the oven at the same time
  8. Cook for about 5-7 minutes for medium donenessFullSizeRender-7
  9. Remove the bread and burger pan from the oven and let the burger rest for a few minutes
  10. Increase oven to broiler setting
  11. (Optional) I like to add the pan drippings from the burger pan to the potato salad along with another pinch of salt—it makes the potato salad even creamier, and ties the flavors together well. Trust me, it sounds decadent, but you’ll love it!FullSizeRender-1
  12. Add a handful of arugula to the bottom half of the sandwich
  13. To the top half, add the sliced avocado to the top half and a layer of caramelized onionsFullSizeRender-5
  14. Top the bottom half with the burger, then top that with a few slices of Gruyere cheese
  15. Put under the broiler for an another minute just to melt the cheeseFullSizeRender-4
  16. Remove the bottom half of the sandwich from the ovenFullSizeRender-8
  17. Combine the two halves, take a minute to admire the delicious picture, and cut on a bias

Enjoy your amazing gastropub style burger at home with some potato salad on the side – don’t mind the mess. In fact, if your burger isn’t messy, then you’re doing something wrong!