Philadelphia, PA: “The 500″ Cheeseburger from 500 Degrees

The 500

1504 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA
215.568.5000

A champagne burger on a beer budget?

Rouge-lite?

Whatever you call it, 500 Degrees offers a truly decadent burger experience, quick-service style, at a price point that should guarantee many happy return visits.

No shortage of great reviews already (unbreaded –  yelpfat kids approve) so I’ll limit my comments to some of the areas that have received perhaps a bit less acclaim.

1. All burgers are ostensibly served to-go, but that doesn’t mean they are carelessly tossed into a bag.  My burger was accompanied by 3 small containers, 1 was “special sauce”, 1 was fry sauce (even though I didn’t order fries, let’s consider this a happy accident as the sauce was stellar) and 1 was packed with pickles.  The special sauce seemed to me to be a riff on an In-N-Out/Shake Shack style sauce, but with a subtle, smokey chipotle taste at the very end.   It played nicely off of the well-seasoned, almost perfectly medium-rare burger.  Not overpowering in any way, the sauce is a nice compliment to the top-quality meat.  The aioli-ish fry sauce had to fly solo with no fries and it did well eaten off fingertips or sopped up by edges of the bun.  Will definitely get fries next time. The 3rd container in the bag included pickles and I have to give them extra credit for this.  If you were really taking the burger back to your office (or in my case – back to the ‘burbs) and the pickles were already in place on the burger, the juices would seep out (pickle seepage?) and impact the flavor of the burger.  Keeping them sealed up and on the side so you can put them on yourself right before you eat the burger couldn’t have been an afterthought for owner Rob Wasserman and his head chef Matt Zagorski.  That is true burger-geek stuff, my friends, and I for one appreciate that these guys thought it through that far (then again they could have been trying to streamline the burger construction time – you have your reality and I’ll have mine).*

2. Kudos for wrapping the burger in paper, not aluminum foil.  Sure you may argue heat retention, but most people are going to bust into their burgers in mere moments, not hours.  Wrapping them in paper is not only aesthetically pleasing but it is also a sign of the care taken in every step of the process.  Not that we are talking major league origami here, but wrapping a burger in paper takes time and thought.  I am fairly certain my 11 month old could wrap a burger in foil…not a chance he could master the flips and folds needed to put one in paper.  It is these “little things” that make 500 Degrees stand out from the pack for me.

3. The price is more than fair.  $5.75 for the signature “500” burger with lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese, bacon and special sauce served on a locally-sourced, top quality bun.  Add $2.50 for fries (3 styles – plain, spicy and truffle – I had none this trip) and $1.50 for a soda (pre-City soda sin tax) if you bundle it all up as the #5 combo.  It adds up quickly, but not outrageously, to $9.75.  A worthwhile splurge.

Though success is never a certainty (especially in the restaurant biz), Wasserman’s thinking here seems to be spot on.  Offer more people access to his already highly acclaimed and sought-after Rouge burger by porting it to a more high-traffic neighborhood and shrinking it to a size allowing him to slot it into a decent price point.   I don’t necessarily think Wasserman is going to cannibalize business from Rouge with 500.  I think they are two distinct experiences, targeting two different demos.  15th & Sansom isn’t Rittenhouse.  500 Degrees is comfortable and well-designed but the average person will be in and out in under 15 minutes. A trip to Rouge warrants no less than an hour to soak in the atmosphere and menu, which is voluminous in comparison to 500’s strategically spartan offerings.

Additional notes…Vegi-terrestrial wife ate half of my burger and then lamented the fact that I didn’t bring home two burgers.  Might need to make picking these up a habit to ward off her slow descent toward a raw foods diet…Despite what the Inquirer wrote earlier this week, I am a fan of the new parking meter kiosks.  With one just outside 500 Degrees, if the parking gods are with you, you can make a quick stop without having to pay outrageous parking garage prices.  Plus, you can pay with a credit card!…I have a satellite work location about 2 minutes from 500 Degrees, and despite the hit I would take with City wage taxes I might need to put in for a transfer.

*Will anyone else back me up on the pickle seepage thing?  It is a cross platform pet peeve for me, too. I may hate it even worse on a Chik-Fil-A Chicken sandwich where you get that odd green halo on the chicken patty when you open up the bun to douse it with that cracktastic “Polynesian” sauce.

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