Philadelphia: Sketch Burger is Anything but Sketch
413 East Girard Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19125 (map); 215-634-3466; sketch-burger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Deliciously large burgers that'll put you in a food coma
Want Fries with That? Get them, if for no other reason than to sample the sauces, but they're not bad by themselves
Price: Sirloin Beef Burger, $6.50; Smashed Onion Burger, $7.50, Truffle Butter Burger, $8.50; add cheese, $1; Belgian Hand Cut Fries, $3
Sorry Shake Shack, it's not you...it's me. I feel like we've grown apart (physically), and I have a new love in my life. Once upon a time, I declared you my burger joint of choice, my favorite, but my heart has recently been swayed by the eccentric Philly spot known as Sketch Burger. I find everything about the place charming. The storefront with its gaudy fluorescent neon paint scheme, the tables plastered with customers' artwork, the blackboards with rotating weekly specials—everything about it just feels so cozy and welcoming. Let's not even talk about the burgers there. I don't want to hurt you anymore than I have to.
But I will. As shown by the anatomy diagram on their homepage, the basic burger is a country white bun, sourced from nearby LeBus Bakery, sandwiching an 8-ounce hand-formed patty made with either ground beef, Kobe beef, turkey, or veggies (they are vegan friendly), and topped with shredded lettuce, fresh tomato, and your choice of sauce. Once you add in the choice of cheese, you're left with a dizzying array of configurations for how you want your burger served.
In addition to the standard burger options, there are also slightly more custom burgers like the Cyclops Burger (topped with bacon and a fried egg), the Truffle Butter Burger, and the Smashed Onion Burger. If I had a larger stomach capacity, I would gladly have sampled them all, but alas, you'll have to settle for three.
The Sirloin Beef Burger is an exercise in simplicity. It is their version of a no-frills buildup. With cheese selection up to you, I defaulted to the classic selection of American, requested medium rare.
While the beef is somewhat overcooked, surely due to the immensity of the patty, the overall quality of the burger didn't suffer the pitfalls normally associated with it. The very sparingly seasoned patty is slightly crusted, yet juicy, tender, and abundantly flavorful, characterized most clearly by the pungent flavor of beef. The cheese becomes a backdrop, adding a hint of saltiness and a touch of textural nuance. The lettuce and tomatoes are truly an afterthought, as they should be, while the bun works admirably well in sopping up the inevitable run of juices spilling out. Despite the seemingly simple construction, this is a burger worth lusting after.
The Truffle Butter Burger is built on the same platform, but replacing the lettuce and tomatoes with onions and mushrooms sautéed in truffle butter. As decadent as it sounds, the combination actually isn't overwhelming from a taste standpoint. The mushrooms and onions have a brilliant fragrance, but are balanced perfectly by the cheese and the depth of the beef. All in all, it's a fun variant on the standard burger, but probably not for frequent consumption.
As for the Smashed Onion Burger, it's basically what you'd get if you took the Sirloin Beef Burger and smashed caramelized onions onto the underside during cooking. The end result is the hybridization of beautifully sweet onions merged onto the boundary of lightly charred beef. Onions and burgers already go hand-in-hand, but Sketch Burger's execution is spot on.
Burgers aside, their menu also sports a few notable sides. The skin-on fries are above average offerings by themselves, but paired with any of the number of house sauces (which you can also have added to your burger), they become a must-have attraction. While it's awful tempting to request a bit of every sauce, the ones I found particularly notable were the harissa aioli, the wasabi, and the tahini sauces. In addition, their milkshakes are truly delicious, amazingly thick, and available in whatever devious flavor combinations your mind can dream up. For the record, chocolate and cheesecake works very well together.
When you add up the fact that Sketch serves up a variety of incredible burgers, top-notch sides and desserts, and a quirky personal atmosphere, it's fairly easy to see the appeal. It is definitely a burger joint worth making a detour to visit.
About the author: Nicholas Chen knows what kinds of burgers you want to read about because he backtraced it. When he was given the opportunity to write about them, he realized that the consequences will never be the same. You done goofed if you don't visit his blog, My Inner Fatty. End of conversation.