Monday, July 18, 2011

Burger Challenge Round 1: Pub & Kitchen

First up in the 2011 Philly Burger Challenge was a place I've heard so much about, it's become like that elusive unicorn of my foodie world. Pub & Kitchen is the kind of neighborhood bar that makes you want to move to that neighborhood - whether you're calling it Gray's Ferry, Graduate Hospital, G-Ho, or Rittenhouse South. They've conjured up a true gastropub that reminds me of Standard Tap when I first moved to the NoLibs 8 years ago. Nothing pretentious, no skinny jean contests, just honestly good beers, excellently mixed cocktails and some of the best food offerings this side of market street. With no visibly sign out front, you'd hardly even know it was there, but for the scattering of outdoor seating and their trademark bunny/pig logo out front - both animals being cute & delicious.

A great manhattan made with Jim Beam rye, Dubonnet rouge & housemade blood orange bitters hit the spot after a long day. This was one of a few drinks that they were aging in small batch whiskey barrels from Tuthilltown at the bar. Very nice touch. For dinner I moved onto a Bell's Oberon - can't pass that up when it's on tap. We splurged a bit and got a big cheese plate, salads, entrees and even dessert. Eating with friends that night, we got to try a nice sized portion of the menu. The cheese plate - a sampler of all 5 on offer that night hit all the right notes for our exceedingly cheese snob palette. A great buttermilk blue was creamy and tangy, and the basque seemed to linger for ages before giving way to a subtle almond flavor. I like cheese more and more each day.  For $24 though, it's getting slightly beyond gastropub prices.
Manhattan w/ Jim Beam, Dubonnet rouge & housemade bitters

Cheese plate - purple haze, hartwell, landaff, basque, & buttermilk blue, 
By the time our appetizers and dinner came, the light was fading so wasn't able to get any good shots after our cheese plate. I hate being "that guy" with the flash on taking pictures in the restaurant. I had a great summer salad with baby arugula, shaved pecorino and local veggies. Our friends had a very tasty sashimi style fish appetizer - unfortunately I can't recall what the fish but it was a special that night and very good. The wifey had a nice piece of branzino that was filleted by the kitchen and perfectly tender.

We were here for the burgers though. After all the hype that I've gotten from friends raving about this place, I have to say that I felt a little underwhelmed. The highly vaunted Churchill Burger, with dry-aged beef custom blended by Pat LaFrieda meats from NY, was cooked as requested and tasty. The optional toppings of bacon and aged cheddar ($1 each) were both very high quality. But for $20 (burger + toppings), I felt like we were paying those NY prices at a local Philly bar. The patty was good, with a complex flavor from the dry aging, but needed a better sear to caramelize the meat. The biggest disappointment was the roll - mine was over-baked and slightly bitter. It was also not nearly as large as some of the other burgers in the city. There is definitely no food baby associated with the Churchill burger. For $20, I want a burger that slaps me in the face with flavor and makes me want to eat like it's a fourth of July hot dog contest.

While the burger did not live up to all my expectations, I did really enjoy the restaurant. The bartenders were friendly and quick with the service. All our food came out promptly and prepared as as requested. The room itself is cozy and inviting. The kind of place that makes you want to hang out for a few hours sampling bar snacks and the myriad of craft beers on tap. The menu changes with the season, so there's reason to go back every few months - which we'll be doing come this fall.


Food Baby rating: One Baby - It's a girl!: decent meal, but something is missing...

Pub & Kitchen
1946 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146-1411
(215) 545-0350

Open Daily 4pm-2am
Saturday & Sunday brunch 11-3pm

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