Philadelphia: Burgers, Tastykakes, and Poutine at Adsum
700 South 5th Street, Philadelphia PA 19147 (map)
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A 10-ounce behemoth topped with a decadent pancetta-onion fondue.
Want Fries With That? Sure. The duck fat fries that come with it are solid if unremarkable.
Price: Adsum Burger, $12; Tastykake Sliders, $11
Tucked neatly away in the neighborhood of Queen Village, far from the noisy confines of Center City, is the quiet neighborhood eatery Adsum. The brainchild of former Lacroix head chef Matt Levin-Adsum that opened this past July aims to be a self-described "refined neighborhood bistro." The concept at play is a relatively simple one. Adsum aims to serve up classical American dishes with infusions of other flavors, dishes that are comforting yet unfamiliar at the same time, dishes that cater to locals and visitors alike. While mixing flavor profiles works out for them more times than not, I'm normally not overly enthused by non-traditional burgers. There's something to be said about simplicity over gaudiness, and admittedly I wasn't too enamored about trying the Adsum burger.
That is, before I found out they were pushing out "sliders" [sic] made with Tastykakes. Whether you're a fan of combining desserts with burgers or not, the idea is surely intoxicating. I could feel my arteries constricting as soon as I read the description of the burger: miniature beef patties topped with miniature slices of American cheese and Sriracha-cherry jam sandwich in between Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. Too cute. Yes, I said it.
But chocolate-covered cake bun "sliders" (don't kill the messenger) can't constitute a full meal. That's ludicrous. Enter the Adsum burger.
The Adsum burger is a monstrosity of beef. There's no other way to appropriately describe it. The patty itself is a 10-ounce heart stopper that looks like a giant meatball flattened and seared on the griddle. Topped with cheddar, a pancetta-onion fondue, and capped with a hefty challah bun from Wild Flour Bakery, this sandwich is literally too much to digest.
After staring at the absurdity of the construction for several minutes, I was apprehensive about cutting the burger to expose the center. I feared that with such a thick cross-section, the innards would either be woefully underdone or cooked past oblivion, but incredibly the burger arrived medium rare as ordered. The patty is phenomenally beefy, the pancetta-onion fondue adds a subtle sweetness to the savory flavors, and the bun sops up the overflow of juices. As far as how the whole equation fits together the burger itself is decently good—not overwhelming or incredibly memorable, but certainly worth its caloric weight.
The real reason I went though...
Tastykake sliders. Tastykakes aren't just a food product; they're a Philadelphia icon. In response to the company's recent economic troubles, Adsum began churning out Tastykake sliders to support the Pennsylvania institution. But how does it taste?
To be honest, somewhat gimmicky. These are kind of hard to eat in a practical sense since the stack height is far greater than any normal person's mouth—it becomes a fork and knife affair. Past that, the flavors are a bit confusing. There's a slight tartness from the cherry jam (although it doesn't have a discernible spiciness that would normally be associated with Sriracha), the cheese is lost somewhere in the sandwich, and the burger, chocolate frosting, and vanilla cake combination tastes exactly as you'd expect: sweet and beefy. The sliders themselves aren't awful to eat, but they're certainly not something I'd seek out repeatedly. They are what they are: a fusion burger meant to be more of a story piece than a meal.
As for the sides, duck fat fries rarely disappoint. They're usually extraordinarily crispy and, as best as I can describe it, have a flavor that almost mimics fried chicken. Adsum's aren't the greatest, and I surely wouldn't say that they're even great fries, but as a complement to the burger, they are certainly adequate. Of course they pale in comparison to...
Poutine. I was momentarily tempted by the mention of "Super Poutine" on the menu, but decided that the addition of bacon and a fried duck egg was probably going to kill me prior to the end of the meal. Adsum's poutine is built on the very same duck fat fries, but covered with brown gravy, mozzarella curds, and a glistening piece of foie gras. Decadence on a plate.
What's the final score on Adsum? It's a place that does everything two steps past normal. Regular poutine? Not good enough—throw some foie gras on it. Normal sized burger? Not big enough—make it 10-ounces and put pancetta in it. Normal sliders? Not deadly enough—replace buns with Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. But in the end it all works out pretty well. Is it one of the best burgers I've had in my life? Thankfully no. Is it gut-bustingly satisfying? Definitely.
About the author: Nicholas is your average Chinese engineering student, who doubles as a food writer. When he's not eating, you can usually find him in the engineering library talking loudly on his cellphone, asking his parents when they're coming to help him with his laundry. You can read about all this on his blog...My Inner Fatty.
P.S.: If you have any burger suggestions for Philly that you're absolutely dying to see, leave a comment. I only have three months left here!