Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Burger Challenge Round 10: Hickory Lane

Round 10 takes us to the new Hickory Lane in the suddenly bustling restaurant scene of the Fairmount/Art Museum neighborhood. Chef/owner Matt Zagorski is the mad scientist behind the burger that put Rouge on the map. One of the most awe inspiring creations between two buns - officially kicking off a ground beef renaissance in the city. He's broken out on his own now, bringing that incredible burger legacy with him, and an impressive accompanying menu to boot. 

Interestingly enough, we stopped in at Rouge on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks back for the Challenge, and they are clearly missing Chef's magic burger touch. A stale role fell to bits. A burger ordered medium rare was delivered well done. They might have started the burger trend in Philadelphia, but they've clearly lost their way. Kind of like watching the 2012 Phillies - probably best to give it up and re-tool for next season.
chilled melon soup with fresh mint
Hickory Lane is much more than a burger joint. In fact the burger is listed way down on the menu, almost like they don't want you to find it. There are plenty of other equally tasty items to choose from. On this particular 97° day, a chilled melon soup with fresh mint leaves was the perfect starter. 
steamed mussels 
A steaming plate of mussels was both beautifully presented and brightly flavored. Steamed in a bath of white wine, rosemary, fennel & garlic, the mussels are tender and luscious, with just a hint of the salty ocean waves. Slices of toasted baguette rest atop, waiting to be dunked into that exquisite broth. It's the next best thing to actually being on the coast of southern France. 

day boat sea scallops
Enormous scallops sit atop a bed of duck confit, red grapes (sounds odd, but strangely appealing), sliced apple, shallot confit and foi gras butter. This is more French than Pepe-Le-Pew in a beret drinking champagne. Incredibly soft scallops, scooped up with bits of the robustly smokey duck and richly flavored butter is a fork full of everything-that-is-bad-for-you-is-delicious. Trรจs bien.   

bacon braised brussels sprouts
The only disappointment of the night were the brussels spouts. The menu description reads that they are braised in bacon. Our serving seem to have been blanched and then tossed with some chopped rashers. Brussels sprouts really need that salt and texture of crunchy bacon. The rashers tasted more like christmas ham, and the sprouts were just soggy. Bummer. 

hickory burger
The burger. Gorgeous. Simple. Unnecessarily large. Beautiful rounded challah roll on top like a bowler hat.  A 10oz MPZ beef grind*, aged cheddar melting lovingly down the side, garlic aioli, tomato, crisp bibb lettuce, a pickle spear & pommes frites. The burger glistens with fat like Prop Joe on a hot summer day, the juices kept inside by a crazy hot sear in a cast iron pan. The custom blended patty was one of the best we've had. Far superior to anything at Rouge. The roll held up to the heft of the burger, and the toppings were there only to enhance, not make up for any lack of flavor. That aged cheddar offering a slightly smokey and sharp contrast to the wonderfully sweet and savory beef. One of the top five burgers in the city. No debate. 

*Mark Phillip Zagurski - a blend of brisket, filet tips, and marbled deckle (a cut that lies on top of the beef ribs, looking like a cross between flank & skirt steak). 

bathroom vanity lights...creepy
Fat and happy after our burgers, all four of us with a proper food baby working. To a man (and woman) we all declared that we wanted to revisit Hickory Lane for a proper meal. This is not just a burger joint. It's a cozy neighborhood BYO. But it's more than that too. There's a feeling of sophistication in the room. Urbane service. An American/French bistro kind of place with a menu that is refined but built on classic pairings. This could quickly turn into a destination restaurant. Brunch with the parents. A graduation lunch. Anniversary dinner. Just leave that burger on the menu.

Food Baby Rating: Triplets! 

Hickory Lane
2025 Fairmount Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Brick American Eatery

Blah. That's the best word to describe the food here. Nothing was particularly terrible, but nothing was very good either. Thank goodness we had a groupon. I would not have been happy about paying full price here. On the positive side, the server and bartender were both friendly and attentive for the most part. But when the kitchen is sending out consistently uninspired food, it's hard to bring the average up very far. 

Brick has a high bar to live up to - inhabiting a location on 17th and Lombard that was most recently the home of Fish, and before that the institution that was Astral Plane. They didn't do much to change the interior when Fish left for a bigger pond. The menu seems to be the only significant difference. There is still a small bar at the entrance, hardwood floors throughout with the dining area divided up into curious little sections, all at different floor heights. 

grilled caesar
The grilled caesar salad, probably the best of the four dishes we tried. A nice hunk of crispy romaine, grilled ever so slightly, drizzled with caesar dressing, parmesean, and croutons that were tasty but no where near bite size. Ever try to cut a crouton? You're lucky if you end up with anything other than a pile of crumbs. The dressing looked and tasted like it came out of a bottle, and the parmesean was of the pre-grated variety. 

short rib mac & cheese

How could Food Baby turn down a dish like this? Slow roasted beef short-rib, piled on top of homemade mac & cheese? Sounded like a dream I once had. Tasted like stringy beef that hadn't been braised long enough over Kraft macaroni and cheese with extra butter added to the sauce. It's not that I was mad, I was just really disappointed. It shoulda/coulda/woulda been so much better. The kitchen really just phoned it in on this one. 

The wifey is on a scallop tear lately. She's been having them all over the city, and these were not in her top 10. Probably not even the top 25. They were cooked decently with good sear on the outside, but the sundried tomato cream sauce with rosemary was completely overpowering. Why is there a tomato cream sauce on scallops? And why was it served mixed up like a salad with the lettuce, beans and beats? Just a bizarre mish-mosh of flavors that do nothing to help each other. Fail. 

flat iron steak, brussel sprouts, shrooms, taters

How can you mess up a steak right? The flat iron was cooked fine, even if it was a bit tough. But there were too many other ingredients on the plate, and the weird juice/sauce that everything was soaking in wasn't helping things. Who's got two thumbs and likes soggy mushrooms? Not this guy. 

There are so many great places to eat in center city - you have to be putting out something that makes your place unique, or at least do the standards well. Brick is doing neither of those right now. Hopefully they can turn it around and get the kitchen together. Until they do, stop for a drink and then go eat elsewhere. 

Food Baby Rating: Miscarriage

Brick American Eatery
1708 lombard Street 
Philadelphia, PA 19146

Monday, July 9, 2012

Burger Challenge Round 9 - Resurrection Ale House

Oh my sweet Jesus. This Resurrection was nearly as good as the one on the third day, 2000 years ago. The burger nearly knocked off the Royal Tavern as tops on our list. It is so deceptively simple. The only toppings they offer are pickled red onions and swiss cheese. Seriously. That's it. But the ethereal burger and luscious challah bun need very little in the way of enhancement. 

Resurrection Ale House is probably most famous for their fried chicken (which they were sold out of during our visit) that is crunchier than a bowl of dry Kashi on the outside with moltenly hot, uber juicy chicken on the inside. But maybe the burger should get top billing on the marquee. The basic but incredibly complex flavors mixing together in each bite stirs things deep in your carnivorous soul. 

The challah bread roll is my favorite so far on the challenge. Tenderly soft on the inside to cradle the precious cargo within and prevent slippage. Sturdy enough on the outside to hold up to the substantial girth and not be a soaking mess of beef juices by the last few bites. Pickled red onion offering up it's sweet and tangy contrast to the melting swiss and savory beef. The patty is one of the best I've had. A substantial hulk of some of the best beef in city limits that has a certain sweetness, and at once piquant and aromatic. Simple but complex, like the entire burger itself. 

No froo-froo presentations or garnishes. No "burger-of-the-moment" concepts like cheesesteak on top or covered with guacamole and nachos. No need. This is the all-American, manifest destiny, beef is our birthright kind of burger

I wish that I had more to say on the topic. Our table was near-on silent for the 10 minutes or so spent tasting and pondering the perfection that was laid out before us. It's a rare but memorable occurrence when you are left speechless by a meal. Try the burger at Resurrection Ale House and see if you aren't left searching for words.

Food Baby Rating: Triplets

Resurrection Ale House
2425 Grays Ferry Ave (at Catherine St.)
Philadelphia, PA 19146