Village Whiskey Burger Does Not Live Up to Hype

village_whiskey_sign

It’s taken four years, but I finally made it into Village Whiskey last night. Jose Garces’ much-ballyhooed 20th Street spot has been on my list since its opening in 2009 (and I did have a problematic drink at the Revel location last year), but my aversion to lines, crowds and hostess Nazis has kept me away.

But last week, my friend James Sugg, whom you may have seen on stage with Pig Iron Theatre Company, texted me to say that he had just had the burger at The Dandelion and that it was the most amazing burger he had ever had in Philadelphia. So, I suggested that we explore some of the city’s burger destinations, and Village Whiskey was first on the list.

Actually, in point of fact, Pub & Kitchen was first on the list, but they’ve been closed for the last couple of weeks (they are scheduled to reopen today with new bathrooms and additional tap lines, among other changes), and Village Whiskey, which was number two, became number one.

This being a Monday night, there were no lines or large crowds, and the hostess proved to be perfectly friendly, even after I reprimanded her for trying to seat the people who walked in behind me first. We took two stools at the bar.

Naturally, we tried the pickles, which were, well, pickles. The wedge salad was average. And the cocktails–we tried the Commodore, Old Fashioned, Atomizer and a Manhattan–were on the verge of fabulous.

For the main event, we went with the Village Burger and a side of duck fat fries. Oh, I realize that people have waxed poetic ad infinitum over the restaurant’s Whiskey King–the $26 burger with bacon, bleu cheese, “maple bourbon-glazed cipollini” and foie gras–but we just wanted an unfussy but delicious burger.

When the burger arrived, it was cut in half. I didn’t ask anyone to cut it in half, and no one asked me if I wanted it cut in half, but there it was, cut in half. I realize they were trying to be helpful, but ask before you cut next time.

As a result of the cutting-in-half, the sesame seed bun was smashed a bit. And the patty that sat between the smashed slices? Bland. I took a bite. Nothing. James took a bite. Nothing. Totally unimpressive. I wondered for a second if my taste buds had stopped working. (And no, I gave up smoking cigarettes long ago). It’s a bad sign when two hungry carnivores don’t rush to scarf down a half pound of bloody meat.

And the fries? Apparently duck fat doesn’t automatically make everything awesome. I’ve had better at Marathon. Seriously. I’m sure that Village Whiskey has the capacity to be amazing, but on this particular night, there was no love in the kitchen.

After a conversation about Philadelphia restaurants with the couple to our left (short version: he owns a bar in Alaska, they just moved here and are living in a hotel, she has a long list of restaurants on her iPhone to which I added the 20th and Jackson Nick’s Roast Beef and the New Wave Cafe on Allegheny Avenue, because he loves Polish food), James and I paid our $90 tab and hoofed it down to the Doobie’s, where we washed away all that pretentiousness.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/stock.mattus Michelle Stock Mattus

    New Wave on Allegheny is the best. But please, for the love of God, stop telling people about it.

    • vfiorillo

      Selfish!

  • Drewster

    AGREED

  • Mike Burns

    Village Burg with the bacon and cheddar, along with the duck fat fries and the sly fox cheese sauce. So money. Also I’ve never had it cut in half. I suggest you go back, must’ve gone on a bad night.

  • little timmy

    duck fat fries = pour duck fat on fries after they come out of fryer
    ever try the tater tots? they hold enough fryer oil to refry themselves. gross

  • Dan

    Dude speaks truth. An overrated, overpriced and bizarrely pretentious place serving simple and un-flavorful food. Much like many of the Garces places, VW is a safe place for suburbanites and out-of-towners and nothing more. People act like saying this is sacrilege, but it’s not like dude is in the kitchen nor does he seem to hire particularly talented chefs.

    • JA

      Right, because people who live beyond the city borders have less taste than you?

      • Dan

        yes.

        • JA

          I would beg to differ…perhaps you meant they have less douchiness!

  • everyone’s a critic

    Did you know Victor was an actooooor? Don’t worry, he’ll let you know.

    • vfiorillo

      You need to work on your reading comprehension skills. Victor was never an actor. Well, there were the Our Town and Get Smart appearances in high school…

  • Liz

    Go back to Dandelion! My favorite restaurant in the city. Get the Dark and Stormy in a mason jar mug.

  • Jimmy

    Not so minor point of clarification – P&K hired a new chef and presumably the entire menu will change when it reopens. That would include the burger.

  • Sarah

    Dude. For a delicious $5 burger, try Fountain Porter on 10th and Tasker. They just started serving them late winter. They’re very no-muss-no-fuss, served on a potato bun, but the burger itself is rocking, so juicy and flavorful and simple. And not cut in half.

  • 75 South

    Nice that you lack the pretense to instead use the word pretentiousness. Next post: Where to find a gooder burger.

  • The Hamburglar

    Very overrated. Whenever I have been there the grease ends up soaking the bottom bun and making the burger impossible to pick up. Go to Alla Spina or Standard Tap for a good burger.

  • Das

    How on earth does someone writing for a food blog now know better than to avoid restaurants on Monday?? Monday’s the day of rest for the industry and many purveyors don’t even sell on Monday. Essentially, eating at most restaurant’s on Monday means that the chef won’t be in (so you’re meal isn’t gonna be cooked by some second string) and the ingredients may very well be not all that fresh.

    • Tomaaas

      Thats just plain stupid. Have you ever heard about refrigeration. Purveyors sell everyday. What purveyor in Philadelphia is closed on monday?

      • stacker

        Boy you’ve never heard the old industry adage to never buy fish on Monday b/c restaurant fish is purchased (and high quality fish caught/sold) for weekend service? It applies to meat and produce, many purveyors (especially small, local companies) are closed or, just as often, sell a more limited variety (and quality) of food on Monday. It’s simple logistics, if you purvey perishable goods, you buy in bulk on Wed/Thurs, to sell over the weekend and avail yourself of volume discounts which are passed on to restaurants which also buy in bulk for Thurs-Sun service. Refrigeration is nice but it doesn’t prevent food degradation and most restaurants, especially in Philly, pride themselves on quality, fresh food (why do you think so many good restaurants care closed Monday).

        • Frankie

          You are stupid

          • no

            NO U. I assume you don’t read, this being your level of discourse, but if you ever learn how, might I recommend Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential,” where he explains this very practice?

          • frankie

            Bourdain is the end all of all restaurant practices? Give me a break. You can get fresh seafood on Mondays and, yes, fisherman do work on Sundays. Even if it was caught on a Saturday, it’s still very very good on Monday. The shit you buy in whole food is at the very least one week out of water guaranteed. Moron. Don’t believe everything you read. Like this blog

          • salam

            Purveyors are open Monday. However, most restaurants aren’t gonna place big or even moderate sized orders on Monday, just the bare essentials to get by on a very slow day. The mentality of a restaurant on Monday is to use up as much of the leftover order from the weekend service as possible. A few restaurants will pass some of this on to consumers by pricing the leftover specials from the weekend at or near cost which is fine if you’ll sacrifice a bit of quality for a bit of a bargain. While you may get a a nice monkfish on Monday that was caught the day before, you’re just as likely to get the leftover from an order made several days before, it really depends on how much they sold over the weekend. Assuming the price is the same, you’re better off ordering that fish Sat/Sun rather than Monday. It’s not a bad thing overall, just a buyer beware thing that Monday is going to be the least consistent day ingredient wise and, assuming the chef is off Monday, perhaps technique-wise too . Because restaurants run on thin margins, getting rid of the weekend’s surplus on Monday helps keep costs down overall (less waste), eventually leading to better prices on the menu so it’s probably overall a good thing and just a reality of the industry.

            And yeah, whole foods fish is damn near a fraud on the public.

        • purveryorX

          Sorry, man – you’re plain wrong on every point. I don’t know what field you work in, but I wouldn’t presume to tell you how it works – as such, you probably shouldn’t presume to tell food professionals how their industry works, either. To wit: 1) Every vendor delivers on Monday. Maybe there’s a farmer or two who only delivers once a week, but that’s not really a purveyor, is it.. 2) We’re not selling 36 packs of toilet paper here. Not Costco or Sam’s Club. “Bulk discounts” aren’t really much of a thing in this business – kind of tough to buy chicken in bulk, no? 3) Purveyors continuously take deliveries throughout the week – not just a couple of bulk orders on Wednesday (refer back to point #3). And, 4) Most restaurants that close on Mondays do it so that they have at least one day off each week, not because deliveries of fresh food are not available. Jeez..

        • Tomaaas

          No offense but his is a profoundly clueless and idiotic response. I love when you jackasses get on foobooz and think you are experts. The effing Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is open 24/7 as is Fulton in New York and Billingsgate in London. Fish don’t take days off. They are caught everyday, shipped everyday and sold everyday. every major restaurant purveyor delivers on monday in Philadelphia. The reason restaurants close monday is that it is usually the slowest day of the week and it gives the staff some time off so they are not totally burned out. All you dummies who read kitchen confidential and believed everything are just pawns who have no clue how the food business really works. Tony Bourdain wrote a story about his shitty practices in a shitty restaurant. Les Halles sucks so bad. It does not mean every restaurant does.

          • boyo

            Misses the point that going to a restaurant on Monday and expecting a
            decent meal is like going to the zoo on the hottest day of the year and
            expecting the animals to not be asleep. And VW sells hundreds of pounds
            of beef a week, they, like every restaurant in Philadelphia, gets a
            volume discount (no doubt Garces has contracts for purveyors to serve
            all this restaurants under one bulk contract to avail himself of
            economies of scale). That’s a major reason purveyor’s exist, to sell in
            bulk for cheaper than you’d get at retail, and a burger joint buying
            1000 lbs of beef a week gets a better deal than one buying 10 lbs. And,
            considering the piss poor state of Philly seafood, you aren’t getting a
            fish served Monday that was caught Monday… or Sunday.

    • vfiorillo

      Cool, then I’ll take a refund.

    • Awesome seven days

      You’re a fucking idiot.

    • ur all hacks

      yea most purveryors dont deliver on mondays…..ur high

  • Tomaaas

    Victor. Good Post. A few points.

    1.”When the burger arrived, it was cut in half. I didn’t ask anyone to cut it in half, and no one asked me if I wanted it cut in half, but there it was, cut in half. I realize they were trying to be helpful, but ask before you cut next time.”

    ————

    They were not trying to be helpful. Village Whisky on multiple occasions is unable to cook a hamburger to the correct temperature specified by the diner so they cut it in half to verify that it is in fact medium rare or whatever temperature you wanted. Lazy way out and extremely lame.

    2. “And the fries? Apparently duck fat doesn’t automatically make everything awesome. I’ve had better at Marathon. Seriously. I’m sure that Village Whiskey has the capacity to be amazing, but on this particular night, there was no love in the kitchen.”

    ————-

    The biggest load of BS in menu language and cooking is restaurants like VW who add tiny amounts of duck fat to frying oil or post-fried potatoes suggesting in some way it makes them taste better. The reason is most people associate the deliciousness of duck fat to duck confit. Potatoes unfortunately are not salted spiced meat with a crispy skin which is why confit tastes so good. This is just a reflection of the emperors new clothes attitude of VW.

    They also lie that they use “cipollini” onions on the other burger which is clearly not true because cipollini is not available year round.

    I also suspect the “Bourbon-Maple syrup” is not maple syrup aged in bourbon barrels but a small addition of cheap bourbon to maple syrup heated together.

    • chef j

      Yeah, we all know they’re using frozen pearls

    • Lord Chesterfield

      Tomaas… I enjoyed your comments. Except you are wrong to state that cips are not available year round.

      • yer

        yea in the world of restaurants cippolini onions are readildy available year round, just because you can’t find them in at your product junction doesn’t mean a restaurant can’t get them.

  • Jimmy

    Clearly Victor is trolling to generate hits. After all, what writer/contributor on a food website would not have eaten a Village Whiskey burger in the four years since VW opened?

  • rk

    and once again, i’d like to welcome foobooz to 2011, when it first became clear the VW burger had taken a step back.

    While here, I strongly recommend checking out HBO’s upcoming new show Game of Thrones, starting soon. It’s hard to follow if you haven’t read the books, but it’s excellent. I hope it lasts more than one season.

  • Cameron

    Your first mistake was not choosing the Whiskey King… BIG MISTAKE! Best burger in Philadelphia. The Village Burger is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but if you were looking for something delicious to knock your socks off, you missed your opportunity last night. The duck fat fries are simply amazing, and what more could you ask for than to have one of the (if not the largest) whiskey selections available to you? I suppose you could go over to Ella to try the burger on their bar menu. That’s pretty slammin’ good. But if you want a quick comparison of a “burger” next to a BURGER.. try shake shack or that 500 place.

  • http://www.facebook.com/doobiesbar Doobies Bar

    Victor, I would highly recommend trying the Burganator at Doobies next time. A burger with fried mushrooms & onions, maple bacon, pepper Jack cheese & barbecue sauce. It’s 7.95 & pretty delish! Glad you stopped by last night & so very nice to meet you! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andre-Bustamante/679173242 Andre Bustamante

    you waited too long, quality has declined over the last couple of years so you’ll probably never know if the burger was ever worth the hype. last I went the burger had shrunk and the quality had diminished. one word comes to mind with village whiskey, autopilot.

  • barrygster

    Most underrated burger in Philly: “My Burger” from Catahoula.

  • Nate Hopkins

    Surely leaves no lasting impression. The burger that’s been on the menu at Resurrection Ale House lately is quite memorable. And the SPTR burger is a reigning champ.

  • Joe

    Dude. for the best burger in town, go to kite and key.. hands down best burger in city

  • cg

    you seem cunty.

  • Baba Booey

    I love whiskey, but unfortunately this place is just way too expensive to enjoy more than one round. Back off the proces, please.

  • Lord Chesterfield

    Paid to yelp. Sweet.