Philly’s First Place to Get Burgers Finally Opens
If you live or work in Center City, you’ve no doubt heard of Shake Shack, the New York-based burger chain that opened its doors to great hype on Wednesday. Even if you’re not a Rittenhouse regular or a foodie, it was hard to miss the Inquirer’s big spread in Thursday’s food section. I’m not a food snob, but I’m as carnivorous as they come; considering that I once ate 50 cheesesteaks for this magazine in a month, this is no great revelation. But I think that the Great Philly Burger Bubble is about to burst.
Let’s review just some of the options within relative walking distance of City Hall: You have the quality-but-affordable (Bobby’s Burger Palace, two Five Guys locations, 500 Degrees), the gourmet (Rouge, Village Whiskey, Butcher & Singer), and bars/gastropubs (Good Dog, Pub & Kitchen). That doesn’t even include all of the watering holes with burgers on their menus, or neighborhood spots like the Wishing Well near the Italian Market or PYT in Northern Liberties. Yet, if you saw the lines around the block at 20th and Sansom this week, you’d think the only place to get a couple cheese-smothered patties and a milk shake had just opened its doors.
I’m beginning to feel like the guy whose favorite underground band gets a rave from Pitchfork and a song on a Hollywood film soundtrack, and now they’re everywhere and Urban Outfitters is selling their t-shirts. Of course the glory of a cheeseburger isn’t a secret—along with baseball, apple pie and the Kardashians, it’s practically a symbol of America. Yet there’s a chef on practically every block in the city who claims to have the definitive version. Stuff it with bleu cheese. Throw a slab of scrapple on it. “Crunchify” it, which is the cute way of saying what kids in grade-school cafeterias perfected long ago—stuffing potato chips on top. This joint uses a fancy hand-selected cut of beef from a fancy New York meat purveyor. That one drizzles on a “special sauce” that tastes a lot like Thousand Island dressing. If my arteries don’t explode first, my head will.
The truth is that most of these burgermongers serve up some excellent meat. Sure, you’ll have your favorites, but long gone are the days when the Rouge burger was the clear winner in Center City. That’s why it’s getting increasingly difficult to justify spending $18 for what’s essentially a bacon cheeseburger, paying a buck extra for a slice of cheddar, or dealing with an obnoxious host staff for the privilege of their $26 special blend. A couple weeks ago I was looking for a late-night bite and wandered past a Wendy’s that was still open. At that moment, a greasy double with cheese wrapped in foil and thrown in a take-out bag was as satisfying as any upscale burger I would have eaten—maybe more. I know that’s heresy, but sometimes I don’t need bone-marrow butter or foie gras. And I don’t want to wait in a 20-minute line for a slab of beef that’s not much better than what my dad would grill up on summer weekends.
That said, let’s be honest here—I’ve already read the Shake Shack menu and know what I’ll be ordering on my first excursion (a double SmokeShack with a black-and-white shake). I’m a sucker, I know, but my curiosity—and my belly—is nearly full. To the restaurant community: Thanks for all of the burger choices, but really, we’re good for now.