Philadelphia: Doughnuts, Pretzels, Cheesesteaks, and Burgers at PYT

AHT: Philadelphia

Burger reviews in the Philadelphia area.

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[Photograph: Nicholas Chen]

PYT Philly

1050 North Hancock Street Philadelphia, PA 19123 (map); 215-964-9009; pytphilly.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A West Coast minimalist burger done right
Want Fries With That? Nothing spectacular, but a decent complement to a great burger
Price: Classic cheeseburger w/chips and spicy pickle, $6; fries, $3; onion rings, $4

In what seems to be a recurring theme, yet another fantastic burger joint is hidden far away from the busy streets of Center City. Located in Northern Liberties, PYT is a restaurant/lounge that is well beloved by burger aficionados of Philadelphia, but definitely deserves more recognition from non-residents. As for the name, I'm still not entirely sure what the initials stand for (founder Tommy Up gracefully tiptoed around answering this particular question, although I do know it is not an ode to the song by the former King of Pop), but honestly, it doesn't really matter when you're serving up burgers as good as they are.

Founded by one of Philadelphia's most well known party promoters, Tommy Up, PYT is a restaurant that aims to replicate the same West Coast-style burger taste in The City of Brotherly Love. The feel it gives off is similar to a Shake Shack-type institution, but with a cozier and less commercialized feel. Their menu, a collective effort between Tommy and chef Josh McCollough, is as extensive as it is creative. It has sections of "traditional' burgers" (for the purists), veggie burgers, baby burgers (described as "like sliders, but cuter"), and "Hall of Fame" burgers, including some which will leave your cardiologist in tears. Basically, there's something for everyone on their menu, even if you're, gasp, not a fan of beef.

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Amongst the numerous options found on their menu, there is one that stands out in particular. It's a combination of two of Philly's most iconic food staples, the pretzel and the cheesesteak. By taking a regular cheddar cheeseburger, topping that with the contents of a steak sandwich (wiz wit), and replacing the bun with an oversized pretzel roll baked specially by the Philly Pretzel Factory, the unthinkable becomes a reality: a cheesesteak pretzel roll burger.

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The burger itself is quite a behemoth, most certainly deserving of its place on the PYT "Hall of Fame." The bun is soft and pliable, but at the same time, retains the dense elasticity you would expect from a good pretzel. The steak kind of gets lost in the mix, but the cheese wiz and the mayo sauce lend a quirky tanginess to the taste. The patty becomes kind of an afterthought in the big picture, but at the very least, it doesn't detract from the overall flavor profile, and it adds a nice plumpness to the texture. I feel like this is an interesting combination of components, but it might be a tad too much for someone just looking for a good burger.

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Of course, when I heard their burger of the week was a Luther burger-type offering, I knew I had to try it. Starting with the requisite Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut bun, they double the standard configuration with two patties of meat, and finish it off with two strips of chocolate-covered bacon. This burger clearly isn't for everyone, and there's a distinct possibility I will be flamed for even writing about it, but it is what it is: a gut bomb of sugary decadence. As if using doughnuts for buns wasn't blasphemous enough, the chocolate-covered bacon pushes this "burger" over the top. Surprisingly well assembled, the burger can only be described as overwhelmingly sweet with a side of sweet. For the naysayers, you'll be happy to know that this is not part of the standard menu.

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Despite the wealth of options on their menu when it comes to funky burger combinations, the star of the show is actually their plain cheeseburger. In an equation dominated by simplicity, the burger starts with a plain Martin's potato roll. Soft and airy, the bun is far from haute, more so accessible and familiar. On top of this, they add a 5-ounce patty, formed from a custom blend of George Wells' meat (sourced locally), a slice of sharp cheddar, fresh lettuce, and tomatoes.

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Cooked to a perfect medium-rare, the lightly seasoned patty was absolutely scintillating. Light pink in hue, crusted and juicy, but at the same time not messy, cutting through this burger almost felt wrong. The toasted bun did its job admirably, soaking up all the remnant juices from the cooking process. The cheese was distinct in flavor, but not overwhelmingly so. The lettuce and tomatoes both retained a crispness found only with fresh ingredients. Every part of this burger was well thought out, and the end product reflects that.

Of course, no self-respecting burger joint would be complete without a full option of sides, and PYT is no different. The choices include beer-battered onion rings, hand-cut french fries, cheese fries, and chili cheese fries (the sweet potato fries included with the Krispy Kreme burger are not part of their standard rotation).

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Their beer-battered onion rings were decent, not phenomenal. As far as size goes, these things are pretty massive, with wide ribbons of onion being fried in a surprisingly light batter. I would have liked these way more if they weren't as oily, as the skin lost much of the associated crunchiness, but as far as taste goes, they are certainly passable.

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The fries, on the other hand, did not suffer from the same problem. These are thin cut fries seasoned properly and fried to a deep golden brown. The taste is fine, and the crunch is definitely there. As far as comparisons go, they're similar to a McDonald's fry with a much crispier outer shell. They're worth adding to any order, but they probably aren't life changers.

So what's the final conclusion on PYT? I'm a big fan. I realize a lot of the draw comes from the breadth of menu choices, especially those specialty burgers found on the "Hall of Fame" list, and the burger of the week selections, but the area in which they truly shine is actually their classic burger. In what easily ranks amongst my all-time favorites, their plain cheeseburger is just proper execution of simplicity. It truly is a burger worth salivating over.