1516 Sansom Street, Philadelphia PA 19102 (map); 215-567-7683; oysterhousephilly.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A fantastically prepared burger topped with blue cheese and a fried oyster
Want Fries With That? You'll definitely want them to cleanse the palate
Price: OH Burger, $14; fries, $5
Oyster House is a mom and pop type of restaurant that has seemingly been around forever. Opened in 1976 by current owner Sam Mink's father, David, they've been serving up classics like lobster rolls, fried clams, and, of course, fresh oysters for over 30 years. While it might seem counterintuitive to head to a place called "Oyster House" to scratch your metaphorical burger itch, the only non-seafood (sort of) option on their menu has gained quite a fan base in Philadelphia.
Weighing in at six and a half ounces, this welterweight of beef can be considered neither meager nor hefty, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in substance. Built on (yet another) brioche is a blend of dry-aged chuck and brisket, a generous coating of blue cheese, and sweet grilled onions. Oh, and a fried oyster, can't forget that. Fried things are awesome and oysters are generally no exception.
The meat is cut fine with steel blades instead of being ground—to preserve the purity of beef flavor, or so they say. I'm not sure how much that contributed to the final product, but the patty is undoubtedly top-notch. My burger was ordered medium-rare and what arrived was as fantastic an interpretation of that as I've had in a while. Hidden beneath a slightly browned exterior is a micro-porous lattice of brilliant pink beef, filled with a literal explosion of beef juices and oil. However, the amount of meat belies the amount of flavor.
Surely based on the beef alone, the juice was worth the squeeze, right? Sadly, no. A really good burger is one that surpasses the sum of its parts. While the brioche is passable, if not great, the addition of the fried oyster feels superficial and extraneous. Its presence in the burger is nothing more than a slightly mushy mass of fried batter. On top of that, the blue cheese easily overwhelms all of the other flavors in the sandwich. That gorgeous pink patty you saw before gets shamelessly lost in the fray. Those sweet grilled onions are little more than garnishes. Given the opportunity, I would wager that their plain beef and bun burger would rival some of the best in Philly.
The fries are above average. Characterized by a thin profile and an abundantly crispy outer shell, they were a welcome addition to the plate—either to cleanse the palette or to eat plain. Embarrassingly enough, I found myself saving them for last so that I wouldn't retain a mouthful of blue cheese particles for the rest of the day.
Oyster House is definitely confusing for me. I love certain components in the burger, namely the beef and the bun, but I hate the construction. If it were possible to omit the cheese and fried oyster, the sandwich would be infinitely more appealing to me, but it would also completely destroy the purpose of the burger. I see myself returning to make that experiment, and you probably should too.