A few years ago, a few friends and I went on a cross-country trip. Amidst our tour of the amazing sights, cities, and people of America’s Midwest, West, and South, we opted to enhance our vacation by adding a nationwide search, where appropriate, for America’s greatest burgers. We found many good ones- The Billy Goat Tavern “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger” in Chicago, Solly’s Butter Burger in Milwaukee, In & Out Burger in San Diego, Bobcat Bite’s Ground Chuck Burger in Santa Fe, and Dyer’s Cheeseburger in Memphis. While it was a nice added twist to an already awesome experience, when I made it home to Philadelphia, I sadly realized we were not known for our cheeseburgers.
In 2010, however, a group of courageous and ambitious Philadelphians set out to prove this perception wrong and find Philadelphia’s best burger(s), one (or two) that could match the national hype of other city’s classic slabs of ground beef. The guys at Burgerdelphia have indulged at numerous eateries throughout Philadelphia, providing detailed, balanced, and humorous assessments of their fare. So, I figured what better source to check with when trying to determine my next stop on The Lunch Break Food Tour. I decided to make it easy on myself and used their “Top Rated” section and chose the one at the top of the list, Village Whiskey. The guys at Burgerdelphia have rated two of Village Whiskey’s burgers- The Village Burger ($11) and The Whiskey King ($26), and both times the food has been declared favorably, rating an 8.5 out of 10 and 9.5 out of 10, respectively. With such praise, I was left with no other option but to venture downtown to 20th and Samson and indulge in what many consider, “The Best Burger” in Philadelphia.
I recruited two friends and we headed down around noon. A easy ride down Chestnut to 19th street, a few right turns, and we were there. Village Whiskey has been around for a few years now, the brain child of Celebrity and Iron Chef, Jose Garces, and the hype has certainly not worn off. Even at 12:30 on a Wednesday, we were forced to wait fifteen minutes before being seated. Once we were, in an incredibly cramped round high-top table barely fit for one man, let alone three, we immediately ordered. Each of us grabbed a Kenzinger beer, an order of the duck fat-fried French fries, and a Village Burger. I decided to get mine with cheddar and sautéed onions, which added a few extra dollars to the already $11 price tag. However, I knew coming into Center City for a cheeseburger from one the country’s top chef’s restaurants wasn’t going to be cheap, and after all, this all about the food.
Our burgers and fries came promptly, our pallets sufficiently prepped with a few sips of our beers. The first impression of the Village Burger is undoubtedly its size. You may be paying $11, but you’re getting at least two regular burgers at any other place, which would probably cost just as much. Surrounded by a beautifully brown bun with a Russian dressing spread and a healthy piece of tomato and lettuce, the burger is very well crafted. After one bite, you know immediately that this is no ordinary burger. There is an incredible succulence to the flavor. Cooked perfectly at medium, the juices of the Angus meat, complemented well with the powerful, but not overpowering, flavors of cheddar cheese and caramelized onions, made for one of the most flavorful burgers I’ve ever enjoyed. But is it the best burger I’ve ever had? Unfortunately, No. Even looking past the ostentatious surroundings, poor seating, and the fact that the burger, bun, and other accessories started to fall apart halfway through, the Village Burger is not the best burger I’ve ever had because it didn’t feel like a burger. It was too excessive, too showy, maybe even too delectable, especially for a lunch outing with a few friends dressed in Phillies gear.
The burger is an interesting piece of American cuisine. Essential to our culinary ethos, it has changed in quality, size, and stature over many decades. It’s been mass produced and fancied up, part of our fast-food and barbeque, but no matter what, it’s always been an American staple. Village Whiskey has tried to corner a piece of this tradition, functioning as a self-described, “classic American bar”, and while they may have very good food, and an excellent tasting burger, it’s not a place I feel any need to indulge in again.
2 out of 4 Lunch Boxes!
Patrick Edmonds is a co-founder, editor, and writer for/of The Lunch Break. His passions include Food, Arts & Entertainment, and Educational News. You can follow Patrick Edmonds on facebook and on Twitter @patrickedmonds1.