2229 Grays Ferry Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19146 (map); 215-893-9580; gracetavern.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Several simple no-frills pub burgers assembled with toppings that work
Want Fries with That? The fries are solid, but unmemorable. You'll finish them because of the bourbon mayo though.
Prices: All burgers w/fries, $8
The demise of the classic bar is a growing epidemic in Philadelphia. The number of places where the bartender knows your name, your drink, and all about your problems at work are dwindling, quickly being replaced by college bars catering to a newer generation of patrons. Grace Tavern, conceived by well-known Philly bar proprietors Fergie Carey and Tom Peters, is the antithesis to all that. It's an establishment frozen in time. Despite opening less than a decade ago, it oozes with rustic charm, acting as much a second home to its regulars as a place to get a beer.
Operating with a pretty standard bar menu, they're arguably more well known for their selection of sausage dishes, all sourced from Martin's Specialty Sausages. But their burger menu deserves its fair share of praise as well. Despite the seemingly inadequate number of choices, choosing which of the four burgers to get is actually a pretty daunting task. Realistically, there is no wrong choice.
The Grace Burger is Grace Tavern's rendition of a classic cheeseburger. A standard 6- to 8-ounce hand formed patty is grilled to order, capped with melted Swiss cheese, and stacked with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and red onions.
With a request of medium rare, the burger came as ordered. The exterior was marred with beautiful char marks, and the interior revealed a consistent cross-sectional gradient of light pink, with only a shade of red in the center. Paired with a grilled brioche bun brushed lightly with oil, each of the components in this burger worked together marvelously. The Swiss cheese is subtle enough that it allows the beef flavor to come forth, while the red onions brought a certain sweetness to the end result. The onions were a shade too raw, resulting in being more crunchy and pungent than I prefer, but that could be perceived as a positive as well. Despite that one minor flaw, the formula works, resulting in an exemplary burger.
The Kennett Square burger is of similar construction. Sitting atop a beautifully grilled brioche bun is the same juice-laden patty, but this time blanketed with sharp cheddar and a bed of sautéed mushrooms. This burger is far less subtle than the Grace Burger. Where the former emphasizes the taste of unadulterated beef, the Kennett Square burger plays off the distinct flavor of the cheddar and the textural richness of the mushrooms.
As for sides, all burgers come with a handful of fresh cut fries served with a bourbon mayonnaise, the very same that's served at Monk's Café. The fries themselves are twice fried and possess the characteristic crunch associated with the process. Lightly seasoned, they're a fairly good complement to the strong beef flavor found in each of the burgers. What elevates them from average to great is actually the mayonnaise. Slightly boozy with a late kick of spiciness, I actually found myself drowning my fries in mayo simply as a transport vessel for sauce.
What's my take on Grace Tavern? The food is nothing less than spectacular, the people are more than friendly, and the atmosphere is entirely infectious. In my opinion, it's a place worth going to for food, but worth staying at for the experience.