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.