South Philadelphia Tap Room
1509 Mifflin Street, Philadelphia PA 19145 (map); 215-271-7787; southphiladelphiataproom.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: An innovative burger with an infusion of flavor from beer
Want Fries With That? Probably not... but the ketchup is to die for
Price: Beer Braised Bacon Cheeseburger (w/your choice of a side), $10
Notes: An excellent selection of beer accompanied by a somewhat unorthodox menu
Tucked away far from the bustling heart of Center City, South Philadelphia Tap Room, (more recognizable by their four-letter acronym of SPTR), is basically a beer lover's paradise. A throwback to yesteryear, the Tap Room elicits a feeling that is downright cozy, from the circular booths to the mini-chalkboards labeling the taps. It's a place where you can stumble in Sunday morning and hangout until you finally come to grips with the fact that you have work the next day. With a spectacular selection of beers on-tap and countless bottled beers on hand, alcohol is truly their area of expertise. Unbeknownst to most though, aside from being masters of beer, SPTR also serves up a burger that's gained quite a reputation as one of Philly's hidden gems.
While most people undoubtedly go to get their drink on, the food menu at Tap Room definitely deserves some highlighting. Recently overhauled by head chef Scott Schroeder, the current incarnation sports options like "Wild Boar Tacos," "Dry Rubbed Rib Eye Cheesesteak Sliders," and "Fried PB&J." But the one that gets the highest praise is probably their bacon cheeseburger.
Described as being made from 100% local grass-fed beef with beer braised bacon, Lancaster smoked cheddar, shaved red onions, and Sly Fox Beer mustard, what it lacks in simplicity, it certainly makes up for with ingenuity. Indeed, they take their beer seriously, even in assembling a burger. Given the option of a burger served rare, medium, or well (I was told that, given the size of the 6-ounce free formed patty, anything in between would be difficult to control), I chose rare, for fear of overcooking.
While there was a fair amount of waiting for the food, the patty was beautifully cooked, with the requisite markings to prove the time spent on the grill. The center was a beautiful shade of pink, clearly closer to medium rare than true rare, and was appropriately supple and juicy despite its flat profile. Unfortunately, it was woefully underseasoned, leaving a lot of the flavor responsibilities to the toppings. Luckily the delightfully crunchy red onions, sharp cheddar, distinctive beer mustard, and savory beer braised bacon all added elements of flavor to make up for some of the shortcomings of the beef.
Along with the burger, they pile your plate with (an over the top amount of) pickles and your choice of a side (steak fries, salad, or pasta salad). Going with the default, I ended up trying their steak fries. Neither disappointing nor overwhelming, their fries are nothing more than potato wedges that suffer from the same problem as the burger: properly cooked, but yet again underseasoned. There is a saving grace here: Their ketchup is made from scratch (with hints of cinnamon and clove), and is absolutely phenomenal, capable of making the fries somewhat palatable.
What's the bottom line? I'm sincerely torn on the SPTR bacon cheeseburger. It's most definitely an above average burger, and an excellent idea in practice, but because there are some flaws in execution (and because Tap Room's located deep in South Philly), I would say it's worth trying if your main priority is to have a pint, but not if you're looking for a burger to remember.