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
Truffle Butter? In Fishtown? Oh how the neighborhood has changed.
Ok, the neighborhood hasn’t changed that much, but Sketch has raised the bar when it comes to decadent ingredients with their Truffle Butter Burger. Served on a Le Bus bun (spread with said butter), atop a bed of caramelized onions (with more truffle butter) and slathered with a dollop more truffle butter for good measure, this burger pretty much glistened with flavor. The patty itself is 8 oz. of 80/20 ground beef cooked ideally just shy of medium ensuring that it was super-moist even beyond the butter’s assistance. All told, this was a superb burger from a place we’ve been meaning to hit for some time since missing FWTS’s Burger Club meeting back in September.
Sketch calls itself a Vegan-Friendly Burger & Shake Shack and although we didn’t have anything Vegan, we did order up some of their homemade mac & cheese for our daughter. With 4 cheeses and a secret spice or two, the mac was a hit and would stand up well on any menu. We also ordered one of the daily specials, a dish called Hong Kong Style Pulled Pork, which was a mix of supremely tender pork and Hoisin sauce served in an Asian bun (yeast rolls). Served three to an order and looking like mini tacos, these were completely unexpected and would probably warrant a burger-less return trip. The Belgian-style frites are served with a choice of dipping sauces and we chose the traditional Aioli. Crispy on the outside and mashed potato smooth on the inside, they rank high among fries in the city.
Sketch itself is a pretty funky spot on Girard not too far from Johnny Brenda’s and Kung Fu Necktie, which will certainly come in handy the next time I can sneak out to a show. The place is beyond child friendly, with crayons and paper on the table and ample wall space to hang your burger-related artwork as you are waiting for your food to arrive. Boylan’s Cane Sugar Cola in the self-serve fridge was a pleasant surprise and next time we’ll be certain to check out the shakes, including a Vegan shake option, and there certainly will be a next time. The Burger Club knocked it for being pricey and it was ($8.50 for the truffle burger), but it is only fair to add that the value was pretty high, too. Each dish was clearly created from scratch with tons of creativity and attention to detail. Yes, $30 for a Sunday family lunch is above our norm, but we left feeling as if we had gotten our money’s worth.
For the DIY set, here is a recipe for truffle butter which shouldn’t be too difficult to make at home.
For more information on Fishtown visit fishtown.com.
If you follow the Philly foodie scene you are no doubt well aware of Foobooz. Site proprietor Art Etchells does an incredible job of tracking all of the openings, closings, hot deals and need to know info in and around the Philly restaurant scene. He was drafted by the folks at First Person Arts to host a “Burger Cruise” on November 3rd and if you are a burger fan you have the rare opportunity to hit up 4 great spots for burgers, beers and conversation.
The restaurants are Good Dog, Barclay Prime, Pub & Kitchen and Noble. I asked the folks at First Person Arts what you can expect for the price of admission and here is what they said:
…this will be more like a tasting tour—a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Maybe a slider or two from each place, with a sampling of a few different beers.
If this sounds good to you, buy tickets sooner than later as the trip is limited to 35 participants. In advance: $45 (First Person Arts members) / $50 (general public) $50/$55 after 10/25
Burgatory readers can take advantage of a discount!! Get the member price even if you aren't a member by simply adding "Burgatory" to your last name when you register. So if your name is John Smith, type John Smith Burgatory. If your name happens to be Meredith Baxter Birney write your name as Meredith Baxter Birney Burgatory.
Disclosure: I receive no compensation if you buy your ticket via the above link or by using the discount code. I do not get a free ticket to the event for posting this either. Proceeds support First Person Arts programming.
Now you can try to authentically recreate this baby at home. Still no sign of the mysterious 11th ingredient (only available in Portuguese). Enjoy!
The Piazza at Schmidt’s
1050 N Hancock St
Philadelphia, PA 19123 (215) 268-7825
A few people are talking about this place online…just a few – read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here (the rest of the world still has Crystal Pepsi? Seriously? Damn!), here, here, here, here and oh, here. Holy word of mouth! Well, if there is one thing legendary Philly party-promoter Tommy Up knows how to do it is get people talking and with his latest venture, the uber-hip restaurant/lounge P.Y.T., it is clear another thing Up can do really well is run a burger joint.
Self-described as a California style burger bar, P.Y.T. as a concept is well thought out and its location in the middle of Bart Blatstein’s Piazza At Schmidt’s is both ideal and logical. Indoor seating in stylish booths and at the sleek bar will be more popular in colder months, but on a gorgeous day like we had (a rare example of the idea that it is “Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) the piazza-side tables with lime green umbrellas were the place to be.
I modified my P.Y.T. Burger (toppings are key here) and was able to snap a few pics before eagerly diving in to devour the 1/3 lb.(ish) of beef blanketed (but not buried or overpowered) with a fried egg (preparation nailed – just the slightest bit of yolk ooze), bacon, lettuce, tomato (bright red!), onions, cheese (great melt) and a devilishly sweet onion & mayo secret sauce (note to Colgate – this would make the perfect toothpaste flavor). The burger was heavily seasoned and cooked around the range I requested, not pegged, but to the rarer which is a 1000 times better than going too far. The completed burger stacked pretty high, but everything squished together well and was pretty manageable to eat in mixed company.
As good as the burgers are, the P.Y.T. sign also promotes two other strengths of the restaurant. If the “T: thing” is the burger and the “Y:young” is the music (djs, Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” was playing as we were leaving – probably not stereotypical but it worked for a Sunday), then “P: pretty” is a really great way to describe the drinks.
50 E Wynnewood Rd
Wynnewood, PA 19096-2013
I first posted about Elevation Burger way back in February so needless to say the anticipation has been building for a while on this one…and I am happy to report that Elevation Burger did not disappoint.
With a mantra of “Ingredients Matter,” what many have dubbed the “healthy Five Guys” opened their first store here on the outskirts of Philly over the 4th of July weekend. It took me a whole 2 days to get down there thanks to holiday festivities but lunchtime Monday was destined to be all about Elevation Burger.
Four of us from work headed over and I was not surprised to run into another burger-loving friend already waiting in the short queue ahead of us. Word seems to have spread fast as they had a decent lunchtime crowd already for their first work-day service.
I opted for the Cheeseburger, as opposed to the Elevation Burger (1 patty vs 2 patties) and was presented with one of the best upsell attempts I have ever heard…”We find men are more satisfied with the Elevation burger (double) as opposed to just the single.” Ah-hem. Innuendo aside, I still stuck with the single burger (a rare show of restraint) in order to justify getting a side of fries and a soda.
As you can see from the picture, the burger itself is aesthetically pleasing. It is clear that they spend a lot of time training their staff to present the product well and I appreciate when a burger joint does that (ex: Shake Shack or In-N-Out) as opposed to just slapping together ingredients. I ordered my burger with lettuce, tomato and “Elevation Sauce” which I was told was a creamy, light tomato sauce. Either an homage to INO or even Big Mac sauce, I found that the sauce really didn’t add too much flavor to the package. It didn’t distract or ruin the taste, just didn’t add that much. To be honest, that is my only complaint. The burgers at Elevation are 100% organic, grass-fed and free range and you definitely can tell that something is different about the patties. Well seasoned and served on a squishy bun with a nice hunk of cheddar cheese (non-processed!) my cheeseburger was a winner. The best part may have been the complete lack of that icky, weighed down feeling (strangely enough this was a negative factor for my co-workers). The absence of greasiness meant no strong desire for an afternoon nap which could help productivity back at the ranch.
As good as the burger was, I have to say the fries are even better. Fresh cut shoestring style and crisped up perfectly in 100% olive oil (no trans or saturated fats), these were probably the best fries I’ve had in a long time and everyone in the group agreed they were the highlight of the meal. A side order was enough for 2 of us to split, though in the future I’d easily order one side just for me because they were that good (perfectly salted, each one tasted like that idealized vision of a McDonald’s fry we conjure up but have only ever experienced maybe once or twice in our lives).
Bonus points for Pibb Xtra as a fountain selection. Having spent time growing up in the south, seeing Pibb Xtra, which is the “new” name for “Mr. Pibb,” triggered lots of nostalgic memories. And despite Mitch Hedberg famously maligning Pibb’s lack of advanced education (“Mr. Pibb is a poor imitation of Dr. Pepper. Dude didn’t even get his degree.”) I’d choose it every time over the much fizzier Pepper.
The menu also features fresh-scooped ice cream milk shakes made with Blue Bunny ice cream. I didn’t have one, but they were hand-dipping a lot of them and I am sure I’ll get around to that at some point (maybe Jess @ Fries With That Shake will beat me to it).
Located half-way between my work and home I am going to have to try hard to avoid filling up one of their “7 Club” cards each week. Congrats to the team that has been working so hard on getting this location open and good luck to them keeping the steady stream of people coming. Keep delivering a good product and they will (and the demos of this area seem ideal with a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in short driving distance the health-concious bent should play well).
1725 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Had a meeting with one of our customers the other day that went particularly well and during the walk back to the car we passed goodburger (is it always lower-case?) and their strategically placed placard touting their contribution to the recession busting craze – the $4.99 burger and soda special. Agreement on going in was almost non-verbal (scary) and as usual, goodburger delivered.
The special is for the small version of their regular 7 oz burger, but at 5.5 oz it is considerably larger than many competitors and comparable to the offerings at Five Guys in the same neighborhood (price-wise). The burger-to-bun ratio was way off though and really the only downer. The stock art they chose for the ad shows your typical white squishy bun that might have been sized better, but the kaiser roll that this came on was too wide leaving a few too many hollow bites. Minor hiccups though.
The toppings were stellar. Surprising to see such a deep red tomato this early in the year (most likely not a NJ grown fruit, but that’s ok) with such great flavor. Great crispy raw onions and a nice flap of iceberg lettuce rounded out the healthy bits.
I ordered mine medium and it was done to a “t.” My co-worker ordered one medium-rare and after a minimal attempt to talk her out of it (might be standard operating procedure) they delivered her burger exactly as requested.
All told complete happiness. $4.99 is more than fair for the quality (including soda w/refills – basically the soda is free if you use their normal menu as a guide since they do offer a 5.5 oz burger at that price point – so more packaging then huge savings, but heck I’m a sucker for a good marketing ploy). It was listed as a limited time special, but they actually had some printed materials which leads me to believe this one may last a while. Here’s to hoping we have more clients downtown eager to discuss the wonders of cash management and remote deposit capture technologies.
ps: This special was offered at the goodburger in Philadelphia. Not certain if they are offering a similar special in NYC.
A new burger joint is opening soon in the Philly Burbs and this one has an interesting hook sure to pique the interest of the local Whole Foods/Trade Joe’s set.
Elevation Burger is described on their website as:
… a quick and casual restaurant offering 100% organic, grass-fed, free-range beef burgers.
Ok, count me as excited because of one important adjective in that description: grass-fed. Organic is great and sure I’d love to know that the cows lived a nice life on the range, but the fact that they were grass-fed is key. When it comes down to it, cows that eat grass just taste better. Time Magazine wrote about it in’06.
From a recent Elevation Burger press release:
Elevation Burger is a rapidly growing, fast casual concept serving 100% USDA-certified organic beef burgers and fresh-cut fries cooked in heart-healthy 100% olive oil. Founded by husband and wife entrepreneurs Hans and April Hess in 2002, the chain prides itself on an “elevated” experience and an organic, fresh approach that puts people and product ahead of profit. The first location opened in 2005, offering Northern Virginia a health-conscious menu bursting with flavor. Hans and April’s belief that “Ingredients Matter” has brought the restaurant rapid success and popularity. Driven by their passion for delicious food that’s organic, sustainable and fresh, Elevation Burger began franchising in 2008. Restaurants are 1,500-2,000 square feet and seat 50 to 150 guests with outdoor seating.
Outdoor seating is probably unlikely at the Wynnewood location, which fills the spot once occupied by Alex Long Chinese Cuisine in the front retail row of the Wynnewood Shopping Center (your typical suburban strip plaza with an Old Navy, BB&B, Genuardi’s and Borders).
Having never been to one, Elevation Burger sounds to me like a mix between Five Guys and Chipotle, which should play well in my flexitarian household. The fact that they even have two varieties of veggie burgers on their menu has me pretty excited (though the two pattied + cheese “Elevation Burger” would still probably win out most times). Editors Note: One of these days I’m going to have to write about the wealth of great veggie burgers in this area…the ones at the Penn Valley Pub in Narberth are actually better than the beef burgers (which is pretty darn good, too).
If you are interested/motivated maybe you can apply to be the General Manager? According to the monster.com posting, this is one of five locations coming to the area.
No idea on the opening date or further details but I will update if/when I learn more. Until then, here are a few reviews of the Falls Church, Va location.
via Menupages (D.C.)
Bittman rains slightly on the grass-fed parade in his NYT Blog here.
One more thing – the folks that created this place seem to truly understand the nuances of a good burger…check out this graphic from their website on the crucial topic of burger-to-bun ratio!