Bobby's Burger Palace: The King is Dead
Bobby Flay isn't a chef, but he plays one on TV. I don't watch cooking shows; the worst part about food is not eating it. Consequently, my exposure to Flay's personality is limited, but everything I've ever heard about the man strikes me as though he's constantly posturing to be the frat-friendly chef, like he grew up wanting to be Julia Child but couldn't hold his liquor. Years ago I ate at the Mesa Grill in Las Vegas where I had a memorably forgettable filet mignon, and never gave Flay another thought until his empire encroached on the equally frat-friendly University City. I was very excited to get this meal over with.
Bobby's Burger Palace looks like the juice bar from Mighty Morphin Power Ranger but with less class. A garish 1970s' color scheme care of architect Mike Brady sets the tone, all vertical stripes and earth tones, while photos of food that look a lot better than what you're eating hang on the walls, a tactic normally saved for fast food joints hoping to trick people into ordering their tripe. It's like a fast food restaurant, but it's not. Except it really is. This place is a palace under the fiefdom of the Burger King.
The Burger: Due to the array of options, we took a different tack with this week's review and each ordered a separate sandwich. Laurence opted for the L.A. Burger, because he's a wanker, which includes avocado relish, watercress, cheddar cheese and a tomato, while I selected the more bro-tacular and patriotic Crunchburger featuring double American cheese and potato chips, because it's name is extreme and it's more American and I love America. And it was in a box on the menu. I like boxes.
Kyle: Before we get to the meal, a note on the milkshakes: don't get them. The human stomach isn't designed to hold 16 oz. of milk, but beyond that, they seem to only put a single shot in each drink. Appropriate for "dude I'm so wasted" UPenn undergrads, but we're pros here and I could barely taste the whiskey in my vanilla caramel bourbon concoction. If you absolutely must order one, bring a flask.
As soon as the burger came out, I asked myself, "why did you order this?" Potato chips, by and large, are an insulting addition to any meal and should always be replaced with fries, so amplifying my displeasure by putting the chips directly on the sandwich was probably not the best decision I've ever made. (What can I say, adding potato to a burger worked so well before.) The chips are obviously store-bought, no in-house frying here, along with the seeded Stroehmann's rolls. Likewise the ultra-American pre-sliced Kraft singles which surely came from Sam's Club. Aside from the beef and the fries, you can buy every part of this meal yourself, meaning that the only area where Flay can display that very un-American French Culinary Institute degree is in the beef. So how is it?
In a word: meh. In a few more words, there was nothing distinctive about the burger. Almost certainly frozen either in store or from an outside distributor, the beef still had the slightly-watery texture of recently-thawed meat. The patty was very salty, possibly to reduce any residual liquid, and had a significant amount of gristle; it's nothing you weren't capable of making back in college with only ground beef, salt and a G4. The toppings only detracted from the experience; the two slices of excessively American cheese were really just excessive, alternating from wet and gooey to thick and plasticky with each bite, and the potato chips did nothing but add extra salt to an already too-salty burger. The fries, which cost extra, come generously portioned and look great, but were completely unsalted and otherwise unseasoned. Ultimately, there's nothing here to recommend, and the restaurant's continued popularity with the kids proves what we've all long suspected: University of Pennsylvania has lowered its admission standards. Score: 5/10.
Laurence: Not long ago, a reader* confronted me, stating, "You guys are just on an elistist burger hunt." Let's set the record straight: Yes, we are elitists, but what's that have to do with the quest for the best burger in Philadelphia? I pose to you, do we need to eat well documented shitty burgers to know they aren't the best? No.
We seek the Ivy League graduates of the burger world. For this reason, I wouldn't have ever walked into Bobby's Burger Palace if it had not been for the incredible hype. Why? Because it looks like a gimmicky burger joint. Now, I was initially biased against 500° for the same reason, but I confessed to that error in judgment. In the case of Bobby's, my prejudice was valid.
I've developed a little ritualistic dissection as a result of these reviews. I pick my burger apart, taste each facet and assess it. Then I taste the burger as a unit (the true test). You can imagine the moral outrage that filled me when I noted the seam on the bun, a remnant of where it had been attached to the other obviously supermarket-quality buns. It's offensive to me that any burger that would consider itself a contender for the Burgerdelphia title could display such a lack of attention to detail.
My outrage aside, while perhaps an excellent burger in the realm of highway fast food, the burger at Bobby's is below par by Philadelphia standards. The meat was okay, the tomato fine, the lettuce unnotable. The best part of my meal was the avocado relish (pronounced "guacamole") for which Kyle mocked me.
As a side note, what the hell is up with "crunchifying"? All they do is put generic chips on the burger. That's supposed to make it better? My inner elitist can't help but think it's a pretty lame gimmick to enhance an otherwise average meal. Score 5/10.
* Yes we have them, and no it wasn't my mom. Yeah, okay, it was my grandmother.**
** Just kidding. She's dead.