116 S 11th St, Philadelphia PA 19107 (map); 215-922-6500; smokinbettys.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The sirloin burger is 8-ounces of pure smoky flavor
Want Fries With That? Hit or miss, some are brilliant and some are plain awful
Price: 1/2-pound sirloin burger, $9.95; Tur-duck-en burger, $12.50 (both come with fries)
Smokin' Betty's, owner Susan Schlisman's latest brainchild, was the supposed solution to the problem that there weren't any good barbecue places in Philadelphia. With a name like that, images are conjured up of a place that serves up "American" comfort food—things like hot wings, pulled pork, flame-grilled chicken, and smoked ribs. Except it isn't. Instead of sticking to their original premise, Smokin' Betty's falls prey to the same formula as every other restaurant-bar in the city: an over-expansive menu that lacks a distinct focus on the one thing they're supposed to be experts at. For barbecue lovers, this is a definite tragedy. For burger lovers, this is a blessing in disguise.
Like I said, Betty's menu is slightly confusing, by which I mean their PR person would probably describe it as "diverse." Sure, they have their selection of smoked items per their namesake, but they definitely lean heavily to sandwiches (and salads; who needs those?), which doesn't entirely gel with their barbecuing theme. But if you're reading this post, you probably don't care if they're selling out or not. You just want to know if their burgers are "worth the squeeze," so to say.
Now before I continue and examine Betty's regular sirloin burger, I have a confession. Something I'm slightly ashamed to admit. The only reason I went to Smokin' Betty's was because I saw they had a Tur-duck-en burger on their menu. Say what you will about the Franken-creation of three types of poultry, but the idea is an interesting one.
Except they really shouldn't have called it a burger. Wikipedia says anything comprised of ground meat and sandwiched between bread should be called a burger. Purists will probably tell you otherwise. In any case, this sandwich is comprised of a turkey patty, a chicken patty, and a duck rillette, which is then covered with sweet potato ribbons, homemade stuffing, cranberry sauce, and white gravy. It's a glorious combination of flavors that I can only describe as "tasting like fall." It's received somewhat mixed opinions in the past, but it has an interesting blend of tastes from savory to sweet that I found quite appealing. It's most likely something you either love or hate, but that's something you'd probably know before ordering.
Their sirloin burger is everything the Tur-duck-en burger isn't: simple, understated, and traditional. Built on a rarely encountered sourdough bun (+1 for all you brioche haters out in the world), the burger is nothing more than eight ounces of flame grilled sirloin, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. It doesn't try to impress through gimmicky toppings (though there exists a Betty Burger with pork belly, avocado, roasted garlic aioli, and a fried egg that I chose not to try); it's good because it tastes pure and beefy.
Requested to be cooked medium rare, their variant came back beautifully crusted and a homogeneous shade of pink throughout. As for the patty? It's the union between a brilliantly juicy core and a remarkably smoky exterior. It's a patty that is certainly praiseworthy, one that pairs well with whatever cheese you might choose. By defaulting to a white cheddar, there was a subtle beefiness by a smooth and distinct aspect of dairy. When you combine the meat in the equation with a bready sourdough which is quite adept at soaking up juices and flavor, you get a burger that pushes no boundaries, but meets all the criteria of a good burger.
Good burgers deserve good fries. With that said, Betty should probably up her game. Their fries are kind of hit or miss. Some of them possess a fantastically crunchy outer layer and oh-so-fluffy innards. Some of them are soggy and disappointingly flaccid. The potential is certainly there, but the inconsistency definitely makes it difficult to recommend them with any degree of enthusiasm.
The final count on Smokin' Betty's? I walked in mostly out of curiosity for the gimmicky Tur-duck-en Burger, but I left completely satisfied because I tried their regular burger. Would I say it's something worth going out of your way for? Probably not. Is it a very good lunch option? Definitely. It's no star, but it's also no slouch.