118 South 20th Street, Philadelphia PA 19103 (map); 215-665-1088; villagewhiskey.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: This super juicy, loosely packed patty is now my favorite burger in Philly.
Want Fries with That? I didn't try the fries. I know; what's wrong with me? I'll explain more in my post. Try their pickles; they have five kinds
Prices: Village Burger, $9; veggie burger, $8; herb cherry tomato pickles, $4; tater tots, $3
Notes: The restaurant's interior space is small, but go on a nice day and you can sit outside. Another plus: It's across the street from a Capogiro, the best gelateria in the city.
The burger from Village Whiskey has gathered plenty of accolades since the restaurant opened last fall. Craig LaBan of the Philadelphia Inquirer called it his favorite burger in the city; Adam Erace of Philadelphia Weekly also called it his favorite; Trey Popp of Philadelphia City Paper said it was among the best in the city; and Jessica Ward of Fries With That Shake praised everything she ate at the restaurant, putting the burger at the top. It also won in Philadelphia magazine's taste test against Rouge's burger, another Philly favorite.
I finally tried it earlier this month—accompanied by the Burger Baroness herself, Jessica Ward, and my vegetarian friend Alex—during a long overdue weekend trip to Philly (the last one was when I reviewed Standard Tap in October—yes, far too long ago). I'm happy to say that I've joined the chorus of fellow Village Whiskey aficionados: The burger is so far my favorite in the city. (Admittedly, I have a lot more Philadelphia burger-eating to do, having only eaten seven burgers in the city.) Here's a closer look at the burger.
I went with the simple Village Burger made of an 8-ounce patty (made of naturally raised grass-fed and grain-finished beef from Pineland Farms in Maine) on a sesame roll with housemade Thousand Island dressing, tomato slice, and Boston bibb lettuce. (It doesn't come with fries, but they do give you a pickle spear.) They offer nine more burger toppings—avocado, caramelized onions, fried egg, horseradish crab salad, marinated mushrooms, smoked bacon, and three kinds of cheese—if that's too boring for you, and for those craving an overly decadent burger, their $24 Whiskey King burger topped with maple bourbon glazed cipollini, rouge bleu cheese, applewood bacon, and foie gras should do the trick. While I usually add cheese to my burgers, this time I kept it cheese-less and didn't miss the extra fat.
The beef scent hit my nose before I took my first bite—generally a good sign. The flavor of the thick well seasoned patty held up as I ate the burger. Even though it was cooked a little more than I'd expect for medium rare, it was plenty juicy, as shown by the puddle left behind. And even better than just being juicy, it had a uniquely light, almost fluffy texture—you can see how loose and well lined up the ground beef strands (or as Josh Ozersky would say, "noodles") are in the cross section. I've had lightly packed burgers before, but this took the texture to a different level. And hell yeah, it was tasty. It reminded me of Heston Blumenthal's Blumenburger, which involves "forming a pile of aligned meat strands about 12 inches long and 5 inches wide," even though I had never eaten one of them.
My Blumenburger suspicion would be confirmed later that night when I visited Garces Trading Company, where some food prep is done for Garces' other restaurants, including Village Whiskey, and where Alex's friend Justin is a baker. Justin said the burger was influenced by Blumenthal's method, and showed me one of the mother meat logs from which many delicious burgers would be born.
But back to the burger. While I was afraid that the overhanging bun would interfere with the bun-to-beef ratio, it wasn't a distraction at all. The lightly toasted sesame seeded pain au lait bun (or milk bread, which is similar to brioche but, as I understand it, contains more milk and less eggs and butter), which is baked at Garces Trading Company, was soft and light enough not to interfere, but substantial enough to not disintegrate under the patty's juices.
The only part of the burger I didn't love was the amount of sauce. The sauce itself tasted fine, but I felt like the amount overwhelmed the patty. It would've been more necessary if the patty had been drier.
Alex gave the veggie burger a "meh." The black bean and lentil patty had some mush-centric structural issues—admittedly, no surprise for something made of black beans and lentils, but for a more vegetable-filled veggie burger, check out National Mechanics.
A better vegetarian-friendly item is one of their pickle dishes. Out of their selection of cherry tomatoes, local red and golden beets, baby carrots, artichokes, and cipollini with white anchovies, we went with the herb cherry tomatoes pickles accompanied by black olive tapenade, whipped ricotta, and toasted sourdough slices. Bread, spreads, and juicy bite-sized tomatoes are great to share before digging into your burger.
The housemade tater tots were less satisfying. They were good as deep fried mashed potato nubbins with a thin golden crust—imagine bite-sized potato croquettes—but not as craggly, crunch-o-riffic commercial-grade tater tots. Don't mess with the original.
They also make duck fat fries ($5), which we didn't order, although on retrospect I should've tried them for "research" purposes. I originally omitted the fries because I only wanted to order sides that we could share with Alex, but we found out from our waiter that they also make a non-duck-fat version for such situations—anyone can get in on the fried potato action. I don't lament the lack of fries too much since they probably would've tipped our stomachs over the "uncomfortably full/my pants hurt" point, but it was a rare moment in my life where I restrained myself from going overboard.
Since I don't drink alcohol, I didn't partake in the "whiskey" part of the Village Whiskey name, which is well represented by their menu of 142 kinds of whiskey. If you're non-alcoholic like me, they have a small selection of gourmet sodas. I went with a Sprecher Old Time Root Beer—my favorite beverage with the word "beer" in it.
If I lived in Philadelphia, I'd definitely go back to Village Whiskey for the burger and pickles. The food is very reasonably priced, the outdoor seating is comfortable, and as I lack a meat grinder, it's unlikely I'll be tackling the Bluemenburger method anytime soon.