Philadelphia: Inconsistent Burgers and Duck Fat Fries at JG Domestic

AHT: Philadelphia

Burger reviews in the Philadelphia area.

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[Photograph: Nicholas Chen]

JG Domestic

2929 Arch Street, Philadelphia PA 19104 (map); 215-222-2363, jgdomestic.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A 6-ounce burger constructed with ingredients straight from the farm
Want Fries with That? Skip the regular fries, spring for the duck fat fries
Price: JG Domestic Burger, $12; add cheese, $3; house fries, $4; duck fat fries, $5

Jose Garces is considered something of a genius within the culinary circle. Having been awarded the title of "Best Chef Mid-Atlantic" by the James Beard Foundation, as well as having competed and winning on Iron Chef America, his accolades are undoubtedly impressive. The list of his restaurants is equally notable, including Village Whiskey, home of one of Philadelphia's most beloved burgers. There's no denying that the man is insanely talented.

JG Domestic, opened just this past fall, is one of his newest ventures. The premise behind the restaurant is to "highlight the season's best from American growers" and to create an experience that goes straight "from the farm to the table." What this supposedly amounts to is a celebration of the best farmers in the mid-Atlantic, culling together the finest meats, vegetables, and dairy available, and putting together an entirely organic and natural meal.

How does this translate into making burgers? In theory it's an excellent idea, taking the freshest available ingredients and using it to create a simple burger in which the flavor of the components can really shine, not superfluous additions or gimmicky toppings.

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Comprised of 6-ounces of grilled Wolfe's Neck sirloin stacked with tomato, lettuce, Thousand Island, Grafton aged cheddar, all on top of a plain-seeded hamburger bun, the JG Domestic burger is little more than beef, cheese, produce, and bread. Sadly, the downfall is in the execution. It's almost as if they put so much thought into the idea behind a truly "grassroots" burger that they forgot how to cook it.

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Medium rare is my default for ordering, and I am okay with a fair bit of rareness as it should be in the center, but what I don't expect to find is a burger that's hemorrhaging red juices all over the plate upon arrival. If undercooking were a consistent trend at JG Domestic, then the problem would be minor—just order with that in mind—but a second burger that was requested medium arrived beyond well done. It seems that not only do they fail at cooking the patty properly; they seem to suffer from consistency issues as well.

This is truly a shame—the potential for a good burger is certainly there. The seeded hamburger roll is decent, if generic, and would prove to be appropriate for the job had it not been soaked pink by the middle of the meal. The produce is fantastically fresh, the cheddar cheese is bold and flavorful, and the balance is actually quite remarkable. If only the patty were cooked properly, it would be difficult to find any faults at all. As far as flavors go, the sparse seasoning did work to highlight the pure flavor of untainted beef.

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Fortunately the meal wasn't entirely a lost cause. The duck fat fries served at JG Domestic are indeed something special. Skin-on potatoes are sliced moderately thick, fried to a brilliant golden hue, and then coated with a light dusting of salt. In a slightly odd comparison, the flavor is reminiscent of mashed potatoes wrapped in fried chicken skins. If that doesn't sound glorious to you, I don't know what else to say.

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As for my thoughts on JG Domestic? The concept is a good one in theory, but misses big in practice. Using only the finest and freshest ingredients should result in some fantastic food, but only when cooked properly. Sure, their duck fat fries are borderline phenomenal, but unfortunately good fries don't make up for a lackluster burger.

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