Editor's Note: In West Philadelphia, born and raised, by the food trucks is where he spent most of his days. Piggin out, maxin', eatin all the food, and all gorging on some hamburgers outside of grad school. When a couple of guys, who were up to no good, starting making trouble in his....well, you get the point; please welcome the fresh prince of UPenn, Nicholas Chen. You can read about more of his culinary adventures at My Inner Fatty.
124 South 15th Street, Philadelphia PA 19102 (map); 215-568-5000; 500° on Twitter
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A reinterpretation of a classic upscale burger (Rouge) in a smaller and more accessible form
Want Fries with That? Most definitely, their spicy and truffle fries will both leave you wanting more
Price: Burger, $5.50; cheese, + $.50 (more for additional toppings); fries, $2.50
Philadelphia has a certain quaint charm to it, from all the narrow one-way streets, low buildings, and to the randomly dispersed historical monuments. Naturally, getting lost in Center City is always a fun experience for me. Getting lost at lunchtime is even better, since some of the best small restaurants are actually nestled away, well out of sight. Case in point, 500°.
The brainchild of Maggie and Rob Wasserman (with chef Matt Zagorski in tow), 500° is a small burger joint that serves burgers, burgers, and only burgers. If the proprietors' names look familiar, it's probably because they also double as the owners of Rouge, home of one of the more celebrated burgers in Philadelphia. In essence, 500° is a Rouge-lite, a place where they take all the elements that make their 12-ounce behemoth successful and rescale it in a more affordable package and friendlier setting.
The menu is fully representative of their single focus burger philosophy. Presented with the options of a plain hamburger, cheeseburger, a Classic (cheeseburger with lettuce and tomatoes), Classic with (plus a topping), the 500 (with cheddar, bacon, and house sauce), or the 7th Degree (unlimited toppings), the only choices you really get to make are which burger, how it gets cooked, and if you want sides.
In an effort to fully appreciate their rendition of a burger in its unadulterated form, I chose the Classic with, of course, American cheese. The burger was assembled starting with a locally sourced bun from Wild Flour Bakery, fresh deliveries twice a day, followed by a 7-ounce griddle cooked patty, topped with a slice of melted American cheese, fresh tomatoes, and Bibb lettuce.
They did an excellent job cooking my burger to the medium rare I requested. The patty achieves an appropriate level of crusting while leaving the center a delicate shade of pink. The meat is still fairly juicy while retaining the subtle and random crunches of crust. The bun is no slouch either. Described as a challah roll, it has a crisp outer shell that yields to a soft, but substantial, inner core. What small amount of juice that might escape from the patty is just as quickly soaked up by the pores. The combination of the lightly seasoned patty, fully integrated cheese, and fresh produce all contribute to what I would consider a properly executed burger.
While the burgers are certainly the main attraction, their sides just might be the hidden gems. The fries are thin-cut, and cooked skin-on. Prepared fresh, these arrive to you in a paper bag, piping hot, and perfectly seasoned. While all three of the options (regular, spicy, and truffle fries) were fantastic, the truffle fries were truly remarkable. Drizzled lightly in a layer of truffle oil, the scent of the fries alone was mesmerizing. Even if the burger here were absolutely awful, I'd consider revisiting on the basis of the fries alone. Also worth checking out are their shakes, blended with locally made Bassetts Ice Cream, which I've heard are absolutely sublime.
While I wouldn't call their burger life-changing, the bottom line is, at 500° you get a clearly above average burger and incredible sides, all at a reasonable price. It's a good deal worth checking out.
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