Good Dog Bar & Restaurant
224 South 15th Street, Philadelphia PA 19102 (map); 215-985-9600; gooddogbar.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Their duo of 8-ounce pub burgers (one of which is stuffed with Roquefort cheese) just fall short of being amazing
Want Fries with That? Mixed sweet potato and regular potato fries, glistening in beef juices, served with a chipotle aioli? Yes please
Prices: 8-ounce Traditional Burger, $10; Good Dog Burger, $11; (both served w/fries)
When probed about his favorite cheeseburgers, the Philadelphia Inquirer's food critic Craig Laban was so enthusiastic about Good Dog's cheeseburgers that he not only endorsed them in writing, but also in song. This is a man whose entire career is built on eating things and judging them. If he thought enough of their cheeseburger, logic would dictate that it's probably all sorts of incredible. Naturally, given the amount of praise lavished upon their duo of cheeseburgers, I obediently listened to their slogan to "come, sit, and stay."
When you enter Good Dog on the first floor, you immediately notice it has a certain sort of utilitarian charm. Dominated by a long stretching bar and tiny wooden booths, it is a quintessential Philadelphia bar scene. Walking up the narrow flight of stairs to the second floor reveals a dining area in complete contrast with that. The walls are littered with more photos of cute puppies than you could wag a tail at, emanating a certain kind of homely charm, welcoming not only to hardcore drinkers, but to families as well. It's a modern day gastropub for the whole family, catering to everyone's needs.
Good Dog's menu is anything but one-dimensional, with offerings ranging from "small bites" like pork belly salad, to "big bites" like duck pot pie, but let's be honest—the main reason to visit is for their burgers. To fully appreciate their mastery of the burger cooking craft, I decided that the Traditional burger was the way to go. An 8-ounce patty comprised of ground sirloin is topped by your cheese of choice (sharp cheddar in this case), lettuce, and tomatoes, and sandwiched inside a hefty brioche bun from Wild Flour Bakery.
I requested my burger medium rare, and this is what I got. The tepid and soft center registered closer to rare than I was expecting. Given the size of the burger, it's more than understandable that such a request might be difficult, which is a shame because every other part of the burger was spot-on and drool worthy. The outer shell of the patty retained the characteristic char from the grilling, which yielded to a second layer that was saturated in beef juices, all before running into the problematic undercooked center. The flavor profile of a sharp cheddar with the subtle flavoring of the beef was terrific, the produce was clearly fresh and did nothing to detract from the experience, and the bun was undeniably solid in doing its job of holding the burger together. The cheeseburger at Good Dog clearly had flashes of potential—it definitely "works."
Most of the elements present in the traditional cheeseburger are also found in the Good Dog burger. Sandwiched inside the slightly undercooked beef is a cavernous pocket filled with melted pungent Roquefort cheese. The sweetness of the caramelized onions sing beautifully in contrast with the savory combination of beef and cheese, while the brioche bun soaks up the overflow. Unfortunately, the method of the burger's construction seems to be its undoing. To fully melt the cheese would require a more thoroughly cooked patty, but to achieve medium-rare, like I ordered, would yield slightly under-melted cheese. All in all, despite the shortcomings, I enjoyed it a fair amount, though not nearly as much as the traditional cheeseburger.
The fries, however, were absolutely fantastic. Each of the burgers came with a healthy platter of mixed sweet potato and regular fries served with an aioli sauce flavored with chipotle and sun-dried tomatoes. Coated in a sheer layer of beef oil from the burgers, the fries were less than crunchy, and only describable as supple. Counterintuitively, this works amazingly well. The flavor profile of beef combined with a slightly thicker cross-section yields a rather unique combination, one that is rarely achieved with simple salting and double frying. Furthermore, the contrast between sweet and savory was refreshing, as it left the mouth wanting and awaiting each following bite. If anything, the fries stole the show on this trip.
My take on Good Dog is this: The traditional cheeseburger and the Roquefort Good Dog burger were both on the brink of being truly special, but both suffered from slight undercooking, most likely due to size of the patties. Despite the slight letdown, I could also see the potential for a phenomenal burger experience. I'm guessing a burger ordered cooked to medium would work better, but might result in overcooked edges. Did it live up to the hype of Philadelphia's best cheeseburger? Not this time. Would I give it another chance? Most definitely.
About the author: When he's not working on problem sets for grad school, Nicholas can usually be found climbing in your windows, and snatching your burgers up, trying to gauge them, so y'all need to hide your buns, hide your knives, hide your beef, hide your Heinz... and hide your mustard, because he's judging every burger out there. You don't have to confess, that you're curious about the things he eats... just visit his blog, My Inner Fatty, then run and tell that. Homeboy...