The British Invasion, Part 2: Anarchy in the U.J. (Union Jack's)

Burger Breakdown

Union Jack's - Map It!
Depends on the burger. Onions, mushrooms, and cheddar on the Charing Cross. Monterey Jack cheese, jalapeños, raw onions, and "Tex Mex sauce" on the Pancho Villa
$1 extra but worth it.

FACT: Much like the later years of World War II, when the Americans were busy trying to make an atomic bomb fearful that the Germans might be trying to do the same, during the Revolutionary War the British were trying to make the perfect meal in hopes that they would find the solution before the Americans. Little did they know that Benjamin Franklin had found the recipe long before the war and had committed it to a secret location within the city of Philadelphia. Franklin's knowledge, and the founding of the country as we know it, was laid out in the Declaration of Burger Dependence.

During the Revolutionary War, a secret British laboratory was established on the far outskirts of the city. In the years after the British were defeated, the building would come to be known as Union Jack's. The British never did perfect the burger but they did have some worthy attempts and a menu full of burger options to prove it.

Union Jack's isn't a dive bar and it's not an upscale trendsetter. Its brick and wood-paneled walls, combined with the rather uninviting entrance, speak to its roots as a neighborhood bar. Growing up, I never had a neighborhood bar that had good food or beer so I consider it something of a novelty, but I suppose if you grew up in England (or the edge ofPhoto of Union Jack's in Manayunk) it'd be more common. The walls are decorated with British kitsch which, while obvious, is fun. There are three televisions which makes watching the game easy and ignoring your girlfriend moreso.

The Burger: There are a few burgers to choose from. Most are inspired by a geographic location (The Italian, The California, etc.), all are tempting and none cost more than $7. You can take the bus and use the savings for more beer or be smart and use it for wings, then drink more beer at home. More than burgers, Union Jack's is known for wings. The flavors abound. Point blindly at the list, you can't go wrong.

Photo of the burger at Union Jack's in Manayunk

Laurence: Admittedly, eating a dozen wings before a burger isn't smart, but I do not think "Burgerdelphia" and "brains" should be included in the same sentence unless that sentence is “Last week for Burgerdelphia, I ate a burger made out of brains.” The wings were superb: Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, slathered in sauce, not too hot, and ample. They were packed with flavor. In my notes I have the word “Art” written and underlined next to sauce stains. I can't recommend them enough.

The burger is a different story. Maybe I was jaded or my palette was skewed by the wings, but I found it bland. I ordered the Charing Cross, a burger topped with sauteed onions, mushrooms, cheddar cheese and spiced with a dash of Worcestershire sauce. The meat was cooked to order, medium-well in my case, and had some seasoning, but the combination of ingredients didn't go anywhere, much like sex in a parked car with an ex-girlfriend.*

Photo of the burger at Union Jack's in ManayunkThe mushrooms and onions, usually a real jolt of flavor, melded into the meal like English citizens (i.e., they were quiet and nondescript). The cheese was a sticky situation. It melted over everything in stringy, unwieldy abundance, which should have been wonderful but it was the bright yellow of ballpark mustard and had none of the sharpness I've come to expect from cheddar or even from a dull spoon.

Normally I'd think I just got to Union Jack's on an off night, but I've eaten there before and found the burger to be similarly mild even with different toppings. All the mean jokes aside, I do think it is a quality meal, made with quality ingredients and it does come with good home-made fries, which is more American than some American eateries we've visited. Still, this is the city of burgers and the English way of doing things simply won't do.

I like Union Jack's. They have good beer and a decent burger for a decent price. I've eaten there before and I'm sure to do it again but, while satisfying, it leaves me wishing for a little more. It's kind of like the difference, to use the UK vernacular, between “wanking” and “shagging.” They both get the job done but the former doesn't seem quite as heavenly. The wings, however, do. If I could rate them I'd give them a 10. Since I can't, I'll settle for wanking. Rating 6/10.

*This joke works on two levels. If you were British I wouldn't have to explain it because the British understand subtlety.

Photo of the burger at Union Jack's in Manayunk

Kyle: You could say my experience with English-themed dining has, thus far, been underwhelming. About the only thing that could make it worse would be moving it to Manayunk, so naturally, Laurence suggested we go to a English-themed bar in Manayunk. When I mentioned where I was going to my coworker, who draws me looking like a douche, he emphatically deplored the prevalence of popped-collar frat guy jokes and forbade me from making any, so just use your imagination and pretend every sentence here terminates in a reference to flip cup or date rape.

The Pancho Villa burger has Monterey Jack cheese, jalapeños... wait, Pancho Villa burger? Really? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Did someone just spout off the first Hispanic name they could think of? Why not just name it the José de Nachos burger? Or the Quesadilla Ethnicstereotypista burger? God, I hate Manayunk. Anyway: cheese, jalapeños, raw onions, "Tex Mex sauce" and a D- in history.

In all likelihood the burgers here are a pre-made variety from Restaurant Depot, but in that regard they aren't the worst offender I've ever tasted. The beef was overcooked to a medium-well, and while it still had some chewiness and a mild beef flavor, it was pretty bland. More bland than the beef was the sourdough roll, which was unpleasantly dry and had almost no taste, just like British humor.

Most of the character for this sandwich comes from the toppings. The jalapeños were thick and looked freshly cut, while the gooey cheese had a peppery bite. The aforementioned Tex Mex sauce is an authentic Guadalajaran recipe of high-fructose corn syrup, red food dye and Hunt's barbecue sauce. It sounds gross, and it is, but sometimes you just want to eat something bad for you, and this combination of mesquite, cayenne and molasses hit the spot. Topping it all off was a crisp onion with a sharp and sweet flavor that perfectly matched the rest of the meal. The fries are worth the extra dollar, as you get plenty to soak up all the beer you'll inevitably drink, and with just a hint of paprika, they're actually quite tasty.

Despite my reservations and natural inclination to hate everything associated with Manayunk, I found myself enjoying the meal: it's the burger equivalent of junk food, but sometimes that's what you want. Maybe it was the beer and maybe it was the dozen awesome wings I ate beforehand, but it was a good time. The burgers are perfectly average, nothing you can't make at home, but at this price point it's probably easier and cheaper to eat here. If I ever find myself in Manayunk, and not as the victim of a prank involving beer pong and forced sodomy, I'd go back to Union Jack's. Remember, it's not gay if the balls don't touch, bro. Rating: 6/10.


A good meal and a good price if you're in Manayunk. If you're not, well... you win.

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