What does nostalgia taste like?
For folks in the Philly suburbs, today it tasted like the idealized version of the Gino Giant they have been dreaming of since the regional chain named for one of pro football’s earliest off-field entrepreneurs, Gino Marchetti, ceased to exist in the early ’80s.
For those who braved the opening day crowds it must have truly seemed like “Everybody Goes To Gino’s”. Others, like me, benefited from the benevolence of co-workers who are lucky enough to have offices within Whopper-throwing distance of the new location on Rt 202 in King of Prussia (across from the King of Prussia Mall – either the Court or the Plaza, I can never remember which is which…the one I’m talking about has the Apple Store).
Is it possible that the Gino Giant would still taste the same after all those years? Like Lou Reed crooning in the Velvet Underground classic Sweet Jane “Those were different times” and indeed they were. The fast food landscape in 1982 bears little resemblance to today. Oh sure, many of the same players are at the top of the charts, but what is offered up now on their plastic trays is worlds apart. While the market leaders have continued to hone their successful strategy of peddling highly processed foods “designed” to ensure unwavering consistency of taste (while severely minimizing any possibility of food borne illness and/or human error requiring dumping of the product), upstarts like Five Guys and Elevation Burger have blazed a new trail with hand-formed patties cooked fresh (and with accompanying doneness variations). Where my memory, and this commercial, remind me that Gino’s originally strove to be in the first category, the modern day version aims to compete head-on in the new, more “upscale” genre.
The Giant is still the Giant, a pre-Big Mac era “Big Mac” (not sure if they beat Wright’s Dairy-Rite to the punch, or the countless other joints that back in the day slapped secret Thousand Island-style sauce on top of twin patties, shredded lettuce and double cheese) and I have to say that despite a 20 minute journey in the car, mine held up well. The meat itself was very tasty (two 1/4 lb beef patties), the sauce perfectly piquant, the shredded lettuce acted as unobtrusive roughage and the American cheese was extra-gooey. The Giant is served up nicely on a sesame seeded squishy roll and wrapped in paper (hallelujah!). Visually, it looks identical to a Five Guys cheeseburger , but I’d give Gino’s a bit of a nod because the burger didn’t come with that side order of meat coma which Five Guys always tends to bring on because of the amped up grease quotient (this isn’t necessarily a knock, because as we all know Vitamin-G is an essential part of every growing boy’s diet). The car ride and the fact that the place was mobbed and required workers to do everything in double-time meant it was less than photogenic by the time it arrived, but taste trumps all in this game. I am eager to sneak over in the near future to test out another and also try their fries and the item besides the Giant that they are most fondly remembered for, their fried chicken.
Welcome back, Gino’s. We honestly couldn’t have expected you not to change, but in this case change might be a good thing.
It bugs the heck out of me that the sandwich is called the “Gino Giant” and not the “Gino’s Giant,” yet the chicken version is called the “Gino’s Chicken Giant.” I am not grammaratarian (should be a word if it isn’t), but man it hurts my brain to type it without the “‘s.”
This 1971 commercial paints a terrifying picture of the effect drinking soda can have on children. The winded kid at the end telling us to hurry up and get to a store before all of the kites are gone seems ripe for Michael Pollan’s picking. Bonus at no additional cost to you – awesome mid-Atlantic region accents on the twins at the :10 second mark (love how they say “to go.”). And for those that might ask, that is not a younger me at the :21 second mark, though I do have those glasses and (before it began to recede) I had that hair.
The Commodore 64 was released in 1982, the year the Gino’s chain was sold to the Marriott Corporation and folded into their Roy Rogers’ business.Gino’s Burgers & Chicken 611 West DeKalb Pike (Route 202) King of Prussia, PA 610.265.5900
Well before Carl’s Jr. introduced their “foot long cheeseburger,” and certainly centuries before our bodies will have evolved to the point where we actually need a foot long cheeseburger, the folks at Joe Beez in Kingston, NY have been serving up these stunners to the joy and wonderment of locals and bleary-eyed burger blogging tourists alike.
“Conveniently” located amidst one of Kingston’s many commercial districts (Have metal fabrication needs or perhaps you are looking for a cap for your pickup truck? You can scratch that itch and more all within a stone’s throw of this joint), Joe Beez is a throwback to another time and place where manly men who bend metal with their bare hands (see above reference to nearby metal fabricator) would come each day for their requisite hectares of lunch meats.
Nearly 100 different sandwich options literally scream for your attention, leaping off handwritten, multi-colored construction paper signs tacked to the joint’s walls. They’ve adopted Carnegie Deli’s schtick of paying homage to celebrities by naming subs after them – Jerry Garcia, Bobby Flay, Heavy D, Winnie The Pooh and Dustin Pedroia are just a few of the notables. Whittling down the list of burgers wasn’t easy, but if they are going to make a claim with one called the “Real Burger King” then I felt I should see for myself how they hoped to ride to the title.
The bar stool-lined dining room is small and crowds up quickly during lunch time so we took our sandwiches to-go and cracked them open at a picnic pavilion outside the Kingston Zoo (which was surprisingly good and free to boot!). Splayed out on the table with it’s wrappings torn asunder, the R.B.K. revealed its true self – a gloriously freakish lovefest of burgers, bacon, “veggies” and cheese, all served on a darn nice sub/hoagie roll (which I didn’t expect outside of Philly) – without guilt or remorse.
Here is your shopping list if you care to to recreate this one at home:(2) 1/4 lb. beef patties, each patty sliced in half (cooked up perfectly on a flat top by the way) Cheddar cheese, blue cheese and Swiss cheese A rasher of bacon
Grilled onions Grilled peppers Frank’s style hot sauce Hot peppers
And, if you are in Philly you might want to try and grab a Wawa foot long sub roll. The Joe Beez version, produced by Kingston’s own Deising’s Bakery, is squishy just like Wawa’s hoagie rolls.
Slap all of that together and you’ve got yourself a mammoth sandwich which, weighing in at well over a pound. The drive to the zoo took just long enough for all of the ingredients to truly combine and congeal and the heat trapped inside the wrapper actually steamed the roll a bit, meaning all parts of the sandwich were texturally similar – more harmonious than homogeneous. After several days of near forced vegetarianism on our vacation to Woodstock, NY, this sandwich satisfied all of my meat cravings and actually proved too much to eat, at least in the presence of my children who may (or may not) wish for me to be present at their future graduations and weddings.
So does it deserve the title of “The Real Burger King?” Probably not. That bar is just way too high and at a minimum would require a more focused approach to the burgers, which when separated from the pack and eaten alone were only about pub grade, due I think more to cooking skill than quality or heritage of the beef. Where this burger does excel though is in delivering a heaping amount of food without sacrificing taste. This is no easy task and maybe there should be some title in the monarchy reserved for the rare few that can achieve this feat. If I lived in Upstate New York this would be a routine stop (mercifully they do offer smaller versions of their sandwiches, too) and it is easy to see why Joe Beez consistently earns rave reviews for being way more than your average sub shop.
Joe Beez stands staunchly counter to the whims of popular opinion in our country by continuing to offer a burger called the “Big Ben Rothlisberger” (ingredients roll call: burgers, ham, bacon, capicola, 4 kinds of cheese, peppers, onions, ad infinitum). This absolute clusterf**k of a sandwich seems even more fitting now as its impact on your body is akin to crashing a motorcycle if not clearly identifying yourself as someone with incredibly poor judgment (nutritional or, ahem – otherwise).
Now here is the dilemma…under what possible circumstances would you ever find yourself in Kingston, NY (if going to Joe Beez is not enough to convince your wife)? Let me offer you some suggestions torn straight from our recent vacation itinerary. The Saugerties Lighthouse is incredibly cool and the 1/2 mile hike through the marshlands is the perfect balance of effort and payoff. Bard College, just across the very bridge that breathes life into Kingston, has a Frank Gehry designed theater and a huge piece of modern art by Olafur Eliasson called “The Parliament of Reality” which alone may be worth the trip upstate. Big Pink, the namesake of The Band’s 1968 debut album “Music From Big Pink” is less than 1/2 hour from Joe Beez and with the benefit of GPS and a favorable tail wind you may actually find this house. Stop by and spend a moment wondering how Bob Dylan and the boys ever found this place while even mildly impaired.Click here for additional pictures Joe Beez 40 South Manor Avenue
Kingston, NY 12401-3628 (845) 334-9501
Flushing, NY 11354-5429
The three sweetest words in the English language may just be “Free Bacon Upgrade” and that is exactly what I encountered at Joe’s BestBurger in bustling Flushing (Queens), NY last week. Until the end of April (hurry!) they are offering free bacon with your double cheeseburger combo and the perfectly cooked pork planks gild the lily on what has to be one of the best fast-food style burgers you can grab on the East Coast.
I am going to consciously try to avoid the name of the West Coast place that has the same “keep it simple” style and coy “secret” menu because I think at the end of the day it is a frustrating and fruitless comparison. Let’s face it, as much as those of us on the right side of the continent can opine about…oh heck, I’ll just use their initials…INO, we just can’t get it. Every so often some of us can hop on planes and head westward to get our fix, but the majority of the time we have to search out reasonable facsimiles and Joe’s completely nails it for me.
I have a satellite office just a few yards from Joe’s (just passed the guy selling lamb on a stick for $1 – well worth it, too – ask for it spicy) and I always make it a point to drop in for a burger when I am in town. Freshness is a mantra at Joe’s which is initially confounding because the place looks like a cookie cutter fast food joint. Our subsconcious has been trained to expect our meals in 30 seconds flat, piping hot from below pink-ish hued heat lamps, when we encounter this much formica and a battalion of uniformed cashiers and cooks. What Joe’s does is take the best parts from the fast food concept (uniform product, consistent branding and competitive pricing to name a few) and then delivers a hell of a product.
Burgers go on the griddle after you order them and baskets of fresh cut fries wait to dip in the bubbling oil pools until you’ve made up your mind between them and the equally worthy onion rings. The made-to-order cooking means it takes about 3-5 minutes to get your food, but that is time well spent loading up on frothy chocolate soda from one of two soda dispensers (a name brand cola dispenser and another one offering a variety of Joe’s own branded soda).
Burger construction isn’t an afterthought at Joe’s. For my bacon double cheeseburger, the cook prepared the cold bottom bun with a thousand-island style burger sauce, then rests a bright red tomato on top which is then flanked with a piece of lettuce. Each wide and thin (1/4 lb-ish patty) is topped with yellow cheese and a slice of bacon, then one is stacked on the other and carefully balanced with the top bun. The gooey meat stack is then lifted off the griddle with a nice supply of glistening grease still hanging on for the trip to meet its cold cousins before being wrapped up in wax paper and placed on the tray. With the aforementioned fries this is a burger worth driving a couple hundred miles for.
I know what you’re saying, “If this place is so good, why aren’t people raving about it 24/7?” I think this place is under-hyped because quite frankly there are thousands of better things to eat in Flushing. No knock on Joe’s, it is top-notch, but the variety of authentic and exotic Asian food available in a relatively small footprint is mind boggling. Choosing to eat a burger, even for a burger lover like me, means wasting a limited opportunity to eat something else amazing. That said, I encourage you to try Joe’s (or at least engage in some major league gluttony to take in a few of the other offerings in the neighborhood – both above ground and below ground) if only because they aren’t opening an In-N-Out on the east coast anytime soon.
Hungry for more? Read A Hamburger Today’s take on Joe’s from 2005.
Phillies fans take note, Joe’s is maybe a mile away from Citi Field, home of the Mets. Two Sunday day games are scheduled for later in the season (8/15 and 9/12), both 1:10 starts, which means it is perfectly reasonable to sneak up for the day to catch a game and some burgers.
A champagne burger on a beer budget?
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.
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.
I’m not a huge fan of college basketball, but tourney time lights a little spark in just about everyone. Living here in the burbs outside Philadelphia, I annually adopt a small rooting interest for the Villanova Wildcats as they march towards the Final Four. Since I can’t talk X’s and O’s when it comes to hoops, I’ll offer the only advice I can for those interested in the tourney- a recommendation for a good burger spot to catch the ‘Cats opening round game against Robert Morris on Thursday. Game time is 12:30pm which means you can probably time your office escape perfectly to catch a good chunk of the game and grab a bite to eat. For those who feel the need to be close to the hub of activity (and can’t make it to Providence, RI), for my money, the best place to go close to Nova is The BRGR Joint in Bryn Mawr.
Safely within stumbling distance for the college crowd on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, daytime finds the place exceedingly quick and not overly crowded – with two ridiculously huge TVs normally pegged to a news channel, though I’d be willing to bet they’ll be airing the game. The burgers are akin to Five Guys, though thankfully much lower on the grease scale. I usually order mine with a fried egg on top, but can vouch for the quality of most of their topping combinations (tons of toppings like 5G or Elevation Burger). They’ve recently introduced two new burger/fries/soda combos (a one patty “lil” cheeseburger with fries and a drink is $5.99 and a two patty “regular” cheeseburger with fries and drink is $6.99 – with egg or bacon an additional $0.99) making things even easier on the wallet. Special kudos for the fries at BRGR Joint. They are on par with the burgers taste-wise and come in regular and sweet potato varieties. If you are coming with a friend you’d be wise to order one of each (and maybe a third order with their chili ladled on top).
The tattoo motif of the dining room belies the true demeanor of the place, which is exceedingly friendly. These are true burger folks who know their stuff and are sincerely interested in delivering a great burger experience every time you stop in. Each time I go I try to bring a new person with me and I know others are doing the same – this is the kind of place you really want to see succeed because they seem to have their hearts in the right place.
So plan your excuses now and I’ll probably see you at BRGR Joint around 12:30 Thursday, just in time for tip-off.
The BRGR Joint
1011 W Lancaster Ave
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
A few months back my brother-in-law began raving about a new burger joint that had opened out his way in West Chester. I have a lot of faith in his recommendations for other things so I was definitely looking forward to checking out Buddy’s Burgers, Breasts and Fries (double entendre intended?) as soon as we could and on a recent Saturday I finally got my chance as our families met up for lunch.
I won’t be the first (or last) person to compare them to Five Guys, but I’ll say a comparison to them is only fair in menu configuration (little buddy = 1 patty, buddy = 2 patties) and in the offering of a myriad of toppings. Anything further would be a slap in the face to Buddy’s as everything they do is superior to the ever growing chain – from the burgers to the fries.
Their toppings menu is slightly more extensive than at Five Guys and opened up the opportunity for me to concoct a slightly Mexican themed burger to satisfy my spicy tooth. Pepper Jack cheese, avocados, jalapenos and caramelized onions worked perfectly on the more than generous griddle cooked single patty that I ordered. Served up on an over-sized sesame seed specked bun, the meat-to-toppings-to-bun ratio was perfect without going overboard (I can’t imagine having the second patty would add too much besides bulk – on me).
The fresh cut fries are perfect, too. A small is more than enough for two people but you probably won’t want to share them. Huge flecks of salt set up camp on most of the fries giving you that great crunch when your teeth meet up with them.
One of the interesting features of Buddy’s is that it is actually two restaurants in one, though both have separate entrances. The adjoining restaurant? The Salad Stop. You could see the tumbleweeds rolling down through the dining room while at the same time Buddy’s was bustling. It is an interesting combo that forces a pretty serious gut check as a look to the left towards the salads reveals perhaps how we should be eating, while a look to the right towards the burgers reveals how we really want to eat. My inner Michael Pollan was conflicted for about 2 seconds.
West Chester is off the beaten path for Philly folks, but Buddy’s is worth the drive out one weekend. Two doors down is an Iron Hill outpost and a bunch of other top-notch watering holes line Gay Street. Baldwin’s Book Barn isn’t too far away and provides hours of entertainment searching for a rare book or quiet nook to read, and perhaps providing enough time to build up your hunger again to head back for another burger or a quick stop at West Chester’s legendary hot dog stand Jimmy John’s.
Cast in the eerie shadows of the twin towers of the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant lies the Philadelphia Premium Outlet Mall, a mecca for consumers that in just a few days will cast its siren song southward to lure Black Friday shoppers and welcome their efforts to spur the economy through ritualistic spending at Nike, Adidas, Jockey, Le Creuset and the thankfully curable Perfumania (not to mention food offerings such as the painfully punny Chinese stand called Asian Chao).
What was even just a few months ago a barren field now teems with activity, forever in the present with today’s hottest fashions and modern trends. At the exit ramp off of Route 422 drivers are offered barely the chance to turn away from the mall, almost by centripetal force their cars are willed to turn left and ease into the acres of available free parking. But for those who can fight the potent inertia of drastically reduced prices on factory seconds and previous year’s stock (or perhaps more realistically forestall their entry into the maelstrom for a few moments) there is a reward for steering your car to the right at the end of the ramp – The Hilltop Drive-In.
In stark contrast to the not so accurately named outlet mall (anyone from these parts will know they are nowhere near Philadelphia, Google Maps pegs it at just over 29 miles from City Hall to the Wilson’s Leather Outlet), the Hilltop sits as a pink-hued reminder of a bygone era and the simple pleasures of a pre-fast food chain dominated burger landscape.
Make no mistake, this is not the best burger you will ever eat, but the overall experience makes it well worth the effort and miles. Add equal parts classic architecture, hand-spun milkshakes and malts, black and white photographs and retro signage and you’ve got yourself the ideal destination for a lazy Sunday drive to the far reaches of the suburban Philly telephone area code.
On this my second trip to the joint I ordered the California Cheeseburger, so-named for the appearance of (gasp!) vegetables which, at a time in our country, must have been viewed as exotic and otherworldly, just like the Golden State. Two perfectly acceptable fast food size and style beef patties were joined on the white, squishy burger bun by a piece of American cheese, sliced raw onions, tomato, shredded lettuce and mayo. (I substituted the kaiser roll which this sandwich is usually served on for a regular burger bun due to my long held belief that a kaiser roll has no business being near a burger.)
I had forgotten the pure pleasure of eating a burger with heaps of mayo on it. Despite the results of A Hamburger Today’s “Favorite Condiment” poll back in August, far too few of the burgers we eat have mayonnaise on them. Why not? Adding more fat to a burger seems like a no-brainer, and at the Hilltop, which uses some brand that bridges the chasm between Hellman’s egginess and the sweetness of its arch enemy Miracle Whip, the gooey-ness continuum that is created with the inevitable mingling of the white American cheese and mayo is pure perfection. That moment of self-questioning “was that the cheese or the mayo?” works well in the burger as grease delivery vehicle equation.
The Hilltop’s roots reach back to the 1950′s when it was a Carvel outpost and the shakes and malts served today are legit. I had a chocolate malt on my first trip and it was perfect, deeply chocolaty with flecks of slightly bitter malt powder. Soft-serve cones and sundaes are available as well and I can imagine in the summer time they do a fare bit of business cooling off the locals with these treats.
One of the great surprises of The Hilltop is that they serve Good’s Potato Chips from nearby Adamstown, PA. An old-school producer of no-frills, fried in lard chips, Good’s have become a strictly rationed treat in our house (Philly area folks can get them closer to home at The Head Nut in Ardmore) and as served here are the perfect accompaniment to your burger. They also offer pretty good french fries, McDonald’s style thin cuts fried up crisp and tasty, but when presented with the chip option they slip into second place.
Special mention must be given of their crab bisque soup. With our proximity to Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay, decent crab doesn’t seem like it would be too hard to come across, but it certainly wasn’t expected in this kind of setting and truly stole the show on our first visit.
Huge thanks to ModBetty of Retro Roadmap for bringing The Hilltop to my attention via her great post and pictures (special notice should be given of the early ’50′s black and white image she shares of the Hilltop as a Carvel -complete with a rogues gallery of patrons straight out of central casting). Her site is packed with other great info and she is the rare Keystone state resident with actual duckpin bowling experience.
Quick dinner from a few weeks back when a 1/2 day at work gave me the opportunity to hit up two different farmers markets for ingredients. A Le Bus Whole Wheat Burger bun was the perfect foundation for our burger mix of natural, (primarily) grass-fed beef and chopped bacon ends (oddly shaped, wildly fatty slabs of deliciousness from the Lancaster County Farmers Market in Wayne, PA). Add blue cheese, a fire-engine red tomato and some extra whole bacon ends on top and the urge to go out to a restaurant and spend $15 for a fancy burger is officially curbed. When possible serve your burgers on plates with pictures of surgeons on them – its a karma thing and it fights off the bad cholesterol.
Not too much to offer by way of recipe on this one, more along the lines of advice…we find the beef available at farm stands tends towards the lean side, so chopping up bacon and adding it to the mix prior to forming your patties keeps the burgers moist (in addition to adding flavor). We tested a new (and cheap) cast iron skillet from Ikea and were happy with the results.
Beef from Hillacres Pride
Bacon Ends from S. Clyde Weaver
Tomato from Good Harvest Farms
Now you can try to authentically recreate this baby at home. Still no sign of the mysterious 11th ingredient (only available in Portuguese). Enjoy!
7638 Castor Ave Update: now located at 6501 Castor Avenue
The best new burger in Philadelphia is an absolute mess! An ungodly train wreck of ingredients served to you in a location devoid of glitz, glamor, panache or any of the other adjectives our beloved city’s slew of worthy new burger joints can lay claim to. It is primal, carnal, evil and glorious. It is more Ronaldo than Ronald. It is 5 inches tall and a hemisphere of flavor wide. It is the reason I may never have to venture into Newark, NJ again.
I present to you the X-Tudo Hamburger-Hubcap-sized sesame seeded roll – check Beefy grilled patty – check Gooey mozzarella cheese – check Perfectly fried egg – check Leafy green lettuce – check Fire-engine red tomato – check Fried slices of boiled ham – check Crunchy potato sticks – check Juicy corn niblets – check Blasts of mayo and ketchup for good measure – check and check
Game-Set- Match, checkmate, “you sank my battleship“, Yahtzee! and “boom goes the dynamite (as uttered by Cleveland Brown)” all wrapped up in wax paper and delivered piping hot on a plate.
I was first introduced to the concept of Brazilian hamburgers by Jason Perlow’s review of Hamburgao in Newark on his pioneering food/tech site offthebroiler. After that, and thanks to the coincidence of some of my work locations being in that neck of the woods, I trekked to the Ironbound to get my hands on a Cheese Egg as often as possible. And whenever possible I dragged others, first my wife and daughter and then later my boss and some work colleagues. The Brazilian version of a hamburger just rewrites the rules and is guaranteed to be a memorable experience (even if it were bad – and they have never been – it would be memorable for so many reasons including the atmosphere, the language and the ubiquitous pastries). Now to find a location so close to home serving these gems…needless to say I’m a happy happy guy.
The Picanha Grill Lanchonete is the sister restaurant to Picanha Brazilian Grill, which sits further south on Castor Ave towards Oxford Circle and offers all-you-can-eat rodizio style dining. In fact, the Lanchonete will be moving next door to the grill later this year, which is good news for anyone visiting from the City or the ‘burbs because it makes the trip about 10 minutes shorter (just off the Roosevelt Boulevard). It features a long bar with high chairs for eating while watching Brazilian daytime TV and a row of tables for more refined noshing. In the barren wasteland that is this strip of Castor Ave, the inside of this joint yearns for a hipness above what is both expected and probably attainable considering the rivers of asphalt just steps from any seat in the place.
The menu features several different variations on the kitchen sink theme, with your choice of hamburgers, chicken or hot dogs buried underneath. Even if this wasn’t a burger blog I’d insist that this be your point of entry to the cuisine as, in my opinion, it provides the perfect foundation (both in shape and taste) for the bevy of toppings which run the gamut from the mundane (lettuce) and mandatory (bacon) to the ridiculous (bananas) and sublime (yes, potato sticks belong on your sandwich!).
My Portuguese is negligible, despite a short period of time living in Rhode Island (where have you gone Vinny Pazienza?), so I am still a bit lost as to how the description of my burger on the bi-lingual menu has more ingredients in Portuguese than English? (11 items in Portuguese and 10 in English). I’m jut going to assume the real secret to the deliciousness of this concoction is that magical 11th ingredient which us estrangeiro’s are forbidden to possess (like bikes in the United Arab Emirates or that Goethe quote about “…what we cannot understand”).
Eating this burger gracefully is impossible. Even after cutting it in half (a tactic both to increase one’s ability to grip the darn thing and to cause me to pause long enough to weigh the downside of consuming the whole thing in one sitting) didn’t render it manageable. An ample supply of napkins were key as were the polite pauses in conversation offered by the server who told me about his family in Sao Paolo and his impressions of Philadelphia after having only been here a short time.
In a year where so many great burger joints have opened in the City, the arrival of Picanha Gill Lanchonete has gone completely unheralded. Nary a tweet, yelp or peep from a chowhound has tipped off the masses to this joint, and that is a shame. I hope you’ll stray from your comfort zone at least once to test this place out (or their new location when it opens) because your perception of what makes a great burger will be changed forever.
Additional thoughts…Fries With That Shake‘s friend girlscantell needs to diagram this thing for her next set of placemats….the roll at Hamburgao in Newark is a bit different and much better, but it is about an hour and a half away and will set you back $20 in tolls to get there so I am willing to forgive…I was in the area for business and to test out the kosher burger at Holy Land Grill (located just a few doors down). Not sure if I will ever actually make it there…yes, it is called a hamburger but it has cheese on it, I think cheese is just a given.