Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Psst...wanna know a secret?  DiBruno's - the greatest cheese shop in all the land - offers private tasting events to anyone willing to plunk down $40. These are after-hours affairs with a "you see it, you can try it" ethos. They don't actively advertise these, you just have to know about it.  Making the night that much cooler and more exclusive.  Even so, they are booked up for months - so you'll have to wait your turn to get in on the action.

It works like this - you pay $200 for the first 8 people, then $40 per person for each additional person. The tasting events are only in the 9th street location and you can bring as many friends as you like, but more than 25 would probably get cramped.  Two or three of the cheese mongers will stick around after their shifts end to guide you through the various antipasti, meats & cheeses. They'll prepare plates of specific salumi and pairings to pass around (goat cheese & roasted beats, duck prosciutto, pork belly come to mind) and let you sample just about anything that doesn't need to be cooked. The antipasti bar is extensive - every type of stuffed olive and pepper imaginable, roasted veggies, pickled everything, all laid out for you self-service style.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the choices? Here's a good strategy. Camp out in front of the cheese section and just start pointing at things. They will unwrap and let you sample any and all of the cheeses. One of the things that they do best at DiBruno's is steering you in the direction of a cheese that speaks to you. They honestly believe that there is a cheese for everyone and they'll ask you questions about what you like and don't like, and find something for your particular palate.

Oh, did I mention it's BYO? Bring as much wine as you like (and remember to share with the cheese mongers). You've got two hours to ingest as much parma ham, taleggio & stuffed olives as your pants will allow.  I'm sure there's a few cases of gout walking around Philadelphia as a result of these tastings.  You also get 10% off anything you buy at the end of the night. It's not a huge discount, but it sounds really appealing after four glasses of wine. "Sure, get what ever you want honey!"  That pile of cheese became a small pyramid by the time we were being rung up. 

The cheese mongers could not be nicer and more accommodating. Rocco & Mike made sure that everyone was well fed. We had some last minute additions show up - so they were probably a bit short staffed. You wouldn't have known it by the amount of food they sent over the counter though. On top of that, they took the time to explain each of the cheeses, sample a bit themselves, and help find something that each person loved.

This is probably the coolest place in the city to host a get together. Forget bowling. A night at DiBruno's would be the ultimate birthday party. Remember when your parents took you to Chuck-E-Cheese when you turned 7 and you were so excited you thought your head would explode? It's kind of like that, but with better food and minus the creepy animatronic mice. 

930 South 9th Street in the Italian Market
Philadelphia, PA 19147

cheese monger porn

Friday, January 11, 2013

Burger Challenge: Results Show

Finally. We're done. Twelve seriously good burgers and probably a couple extra lbs to show for them. Definitely some surprises along the way. Some old favorites didn't do as well as expected. Some dark horses snuck their way to the top of the list. It was a great experience - taking us to out of the way places, dive bars and white linen tables. Philly has become one of the great burger cities. There is some tough competition out there, and we are all the more fortunate to have it. Capitalism at it's finest. I present to you the findings in our completely scientific analysis of the best burgers in Philadelphia. 

And the winner by a clear margin is........Royal Tavern. Royal Tavern was head and shoulders above the rest. The mix of a great patty, near perfect roll and the best toppings ever concocted rate them as the supreme leader of the Philly burger kingdom. If you haven't been into this hole in the wall yet, get down to Passyunk East and see what all the fuss is about. You can thank me later. 

Ratings (with links to each review):

  1. Royal Tavern - 23
  2. Kennett - 21.25
  3. Resurrection Ale House - 20.8125
  4. Butcher & Singer - 20.25
  5. Village Whiskey - 19.5
  6. Oyster House - 19.4375
  7. Pub & Kitchen - 19.25
  8. Hickory Lane - 17.9375
  9. Rouge  - 17.875
  10. Standard Tap - 17.1875
  11. Good Dog - 17.5
  12. PYT - 15.5625

Honorable mention: 
Best Bun: Butcher & Singer
Best Patty: Hickory Lane
Best Toppings: Royal Tavern
Best Presentation: Royal Tavern

Average Rating per Challenger:
Lee - 19.792
Carly - 19.3542
Kristin - 18.9167
Brian - 18.5208

Ratings done on a scale of 1-5 in the following categories:

Food Baby, Out

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Burger Challenge Round 12: The Butcher Burger

Ah, the end draws nigh to this most epic of challenges. We've laid waste to burgers large and small. Brioche buns shiny with their egg wash. Beers, too many to count. Barely a french fry left to tell the story. It has been an epic adventure - our fellowship never broken.  Over the course of a year and a half we've sampled the best of what Philly's burger world has to offer. Our feet may not be as hairy as a Hobbit's, but we've certainly eaten like them. And now, our final round to declare a winner. One burger to rule them all! Ok enough nerdy Lord of the Rings references.  

Butcher & Singer is a birthday dinner kind of place. Perfectly cooked steaks, dry aged the old school way. Manhattans and martinis expertly mixed and served without any fuss. A throwback to a lost era, Don Draper could walk into this place and feel right at home. They also serve what is rumored to be one of the best burgers in the city. But only at lunch. And only on weekdays. This was certainly the most difficult burger on the challenge, but absolutely worth the effort.

Butcher Burger...with all the fixins
The Butcher Burger is a steal for $10.95. We had burgers for twice the price on the challenge that weren't near as good. It is also a mammothly substantial entry. This thing would tip over Fred Flintstone's car. The beef blend is a Pat Lafreida mixture custom blended for the restaurant. According to the chef - who came out to talk to us personally upon hearing of the challenge (I was giddy like a 12 year old) - they mix in belly meat from the cow that has a higher fat content and gives the patty an incredible lusciousness. They all were cooked exactly per our order. This may seem like a simple and expected task, but we've had to send numerous burgers back along the way. Execution is matter of pride here.

The only complaint would be the burgers cooked rare tended to fall apart after a few bites. This might be the result of the specific beef blend and extra fat content, or just the club hands of a fellow challenger. Mine was cooked medium rare and held up superbly, thanks in part to the absolutely perfect brioche bun, toasted ever so lovingly. On a side note - this was the only bun to get a perfect "5" on the scoreboard from all four judges, and it is well deserved.  Every burger made henceforth should be served on this roll. 

this thing looks like it could eat you

Delicious beef patty -  seared crispy yet still juicy inside?  Check. 
Bun - toasty & buttery?  Check. 
French fries - blanched and fried to golden splendor?  Check.

Toppings, ahhhh the toppings. They can make or break the burger. The Butcher Burger comes with fried onions smothered in English cheddar that is melting over the side like a Salvador Dali clock on a tree limb. The onions were just on that edge of caramelized and translucent, some of the best I've seen on a burger anywhere. For some odd reason though, they serve it with limp iceberg lettuce and tomatoes that were just north of mealy. I know I'm being picky here, but after all the love that is put into the bun, meat, onions, and cheese, why would they just phone it in with the lame veggies? 

Part of the rules we laid down at the beginning of the challenge was that we would eat the standard house burger with whatever toppings were offered. We put our trust and taste buds in the hands of the chef to deliver the perfect mix of ingredients. Don't get me wrong - this is a very tasty burger and sure to induce said food baby. The patty, onions, cheese and bun together are more magically delicious than a bowl of Lucky Charms that is all marshmallows. But do yourself a favor and leave the veggies on the plate. The Butcher Burger was right at that precipice of greatness, but fell just short like an unimpressed gymnast. A silver medal will have to do. 

baked alaska. on the house. thank you very much. 

Any time I mention to someone that I write a food blog, I inevitably get the question "What's your favorite restaurant?" My answer is always definitive and it's always Butcher & Singer.  What puts it onto that pedestal for me is partly the food, but even more so is the service. From the moment you walk in they make you feel special. Attentive hostesses that don't scowl at you and are happy to take your coat. Bartenders that are quick to ask what you're having and know how to make a proper cocktail. Servers that are always there when you want them and can anticipate your needs. 

On our visit we had four different employees ask us about our burger challenge and were eager to know where they ranked. For a restaurant that is established and clearly confident in what they do, it is heartening to know that they still pay close attention to details and care about diners without an expense account. They may not have the absolute best burger in town but there is no where else that I'd rather be eating.

Food Baby Rating: Triplets!

Butcher & Singer
1500 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102