Headed to Philadelphia and craving the city’s best burgers? One of first people you should ask for advice is Drew Lazor, a freelance writer who has been covering the local food scene for eight years. Here, he puts his exquisite burger knowledge on display, and when it comes to Philly’s best burgers, he’s not afraid to name names.
Describe the burger scene in Philadelphia. Do you feel it’s underrated? Overshadowed by other foodstuffs like, say, the cheesesteak?
The cheesesteak earns us the bulk of our sandwich attention, but I don’t think it’d be accurate to describe the Philly burger “scene” as underrated. The options are plentiful, and burgers are a part of the nerdy local food discourse as much as anything else. A conversation about Philly’s best burger will be just as spirited as your garden-variety cheesesteak, roast pork or Michael Vick–themed argument.
What style of burgers are you seeing?
The style that seems to dominate here is slightly more high-end than what you might expect. Many pubs and restaurants noted for their burgers go the 8-plus ounce, mid-rare, fancy/fun toppings of shiny brioche bun route. Among the most high-profile in this lane are the dry-aged burger at Butcher & Singer (a steakhouse’s take), the ridic “Whiskey King” at Village Whiskey (it is foie-ified and costs $26) and Good Dog’s burger, the patty stuffed with molten roquefort that plumes out of the meat in a chaotic Dead Alive sort of way the first time you bite it. On the more affordable side of this fatty coin, Grace Tavern’s bacon-and-cheddar Kelly’s Burger is very dear to me, and the quirky and friendly Sketch kicks out the jams with consistency, too.
What do you look for in a burger? Do you have a favorite “burger blend” or bun style?
I will rip into any burger of any provenance with great appreciation, but I definitely prefer the slighter, griddle-cooked “fast food” burger style to its more substantial and expensive cousin. Thin and cheap and on a Martin’s potato roll, please.The best place to start if you’re like me is Charlie’s, an old lunch counter in Delaware County, about 20 minutes outside the city. So goddamn good. Back in the city, the excellent South Philly beer bar Fountain Porter does a $5 burger that tastes like a summertime backyard cookout, minus the citronella and ever-looming threat of drunken grill burns.
One place that really bridges the two aforementioned schools of burgerdom is Pub & Kitchen. Theirs is a double, with thin, fully cooked patties, lettuce, pickle, onion and American cheese. Appealingly simple from a kitchen that offers impressive cooking elsewhere on the menu.
What about a favorite condiment?
Real mayo with cracked black pepper.
Are there any Philadelphia-only condiments out there? Have you ever seen Cheese Whiz incorporated?
Many of the regional condiments in these parts are relegated to hot dogs, not burgers — PA Dutch pepper hash, a crunchy chopped slaw, for example. But there are definitely burger makers who make local ingredients essential to the approach. The Lucky Old Souls truck uses Lancaster County beef — their Breakfast Burger, with a fried egg, spicy cheese, house-cured bacon and sweet berry jam, is a triumphant hangover blaster of a first meal. SPOT Burger, another mobile operation I love, does it all from scratch, including grinding top sirloin for the patties and mixing secret SPOT Sauce (all I know is that it has nine ingredients).
I have witnessed Whiz incorporation first-hand — where else but PYT, the high-energy burger maniacs who always seem to be at the forefront of national food memes. I recently did a piece about their infamous Lasagna Bun Burger — patty was meatballs, top and bottom buns were breaded and deep-fried slices of beef-and-cheese lasagna.
Have you ever tried the Burgamo from Vetri?
The Burgamo — that’s chef Marc Vetri’s Big Mac tribute at Alla Spina. (Still think they should’ve called it the Big Marc.) I have had it. Whole lotta burger there. Definitely splittable with a friend.
Do you mess with veggie burgers?
I’m certainly open to the idea of veggie burgers, but I can’t remember the last time I had one I liked. It’s a texture thing, I think.
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