The Dandelion is No Place for a Dandy Lion
If you were to visit The Dandelion, Stephen Starr's new English pub at 18th and Sansom, when it were empty you would notice a terrific attention to detail and a level of decorating that doesn't make you want to vomit like the interiors of so many other Starr restaurants. It's a fun place from the boar heads to the bar, with a killer menu to boot. The problem, like other Starr restaurants I've been to, is the other patrons.
If you recall from high school science class the concept of a super-saturated solution, you will start to get a clear picture of a Thursday night at The Dandelion. You probably made a super-saturated solution to create crystals. Generally you might have done this with sugar. The idea would be to heat water and add sugar until, because the water is hot, it is able to dissolve more sugar than it would be able to normally. As it cools the solution is very susceptible to being seeded. Thus hanging a weighted string into the solution acts as a seed for crystallization and sugar crystals begin to grow in mighty abundance. The difference between The Dandelion and sugar candy is that the solution present in The Dandelion is asshole based. The concentration of assholes is so great in The Dandelion that simply by walking through the door you are quite likely to act as the seed and soon will be surrounded by assholes to the point of terror. If you're worried about the dress code... don't be.
The environment in The Dandelion is able to hold far more assholes than could be concentrated in a normal bar because:
A) The Dandelion is new.
B) The Dandelion is in Rittenhouse and thus the osmotic pressure of the surrounding area contains a higher concentration of assholes.
C) The Dandelion is owned by Stephen Starr.
D) The Dandelion would be cool if no assholes were present, thus adding the needed energy to the location to create a super-saturated solution.
E) All of the above.
If you did not answer E then you probably never successfully passed a multiple choice test and thus probably can't read this blog anyway.
It is difficult to assess the effect the concentration of assholes has on the price of drinks at the Dandelion. Whether the beer is overpriced because there are assholes present or whether assholes are present because the beer is overpriced is a question that deserves further research but will not be addressed herein. What is known is that beer that is not particularly hard to come by in Philadelphia will run you nearly double-cost for a pint. There is also a tricky bit of business on the menu wherein the proprietor appears to obfuscate the origin of the beer through crafty rewording. For example, the delightful Young's Double Chocolate Stout is listed as “double chocolate stout by Young's and Co.” This almost fooled me, as I was excited to try a new double chocolate stout. In short, just don't get the beer. Cocktails at The Dandelion are more interesting, stronger and about the same price as the beer.
The Burger: The house-blend burger at The Dandelion is topped with a thinly sliced pickle, smoked bacon, sharp cheddar and a tomato horseradish sauce. It is also the only thing there that I didn't want to punch.
Laurence: It's hard to overlook the ambiance of a place. No matter how good the food may be, if the experience is terrible, it is hard to remember the event fondly. There are a number of dives and sketchy eateries that I simply adore, but I probably wouldn't if I heard turtleneck-wearing swine drunkenly screaming in an attempt to get laid. Usually I like dives and hole-in-the wall type places because the food is good and the people are scarce. The Dandelion, like many Starr restaurants, takes the opposite approach. It seems the philosophy is that gaudy equates to enjoyable food. It seems to be working out well for Starr, but not for those who have taste.
All that said, the burger at the Dandelion was quite good. The patty was a magnificent piece of work. It had the glistening fat and dark char that you generally only see in food photography. The taste was splendid, with the richness of the beef working with spices and smoke.
The bacon was nice. It was not overwhelming in any way, including the good way. It was good, just not a standout. It's hard to have standout bacon when you've got to compete with the Italian market, the Amish butchers at the Reading Terminal, and meat-crazy restaurants like Amada in a tight circle around you. You won't be disappointed by the bacon but you shouldn't expect anything that you can't find on other high-end burgers and you certainly shouldn't be here if you'd wear this shirt.
The real treats were the the brioche and the pickle. The brioche was perfectly browned, probably made from 90 percent butter, and then was browned in more butter on the grill. It also had the shape of a breast implant. Being shaped like a breast won't help you become the best burger in Philadelphia but it often bodes well for food. The pickle also stands out, not because it is a supreme pickle like the one at Bishop's Collar but because it is delicately sliced and the flavor integrates into the burger with each bite without you really noticing that it is a pickle you are eating. You get some nice pickle zing without it being an distraction to the other flavors. I thought it was a winning solution to a problem that didn't really exist before, or at least a problem that I never thought was a problem.
The horseradish sauce could have been more pronounced for me. I love the taste of horseradish and find when applied properly it helps draw savory flavors out and adds pleasant sharpness to many dishes. What was there was fine, it just didn't quite go far enough.
One day I hope to visit The Dandelion when it's not full of jerks and enjoy the dinner experience rather than just my meal but I don't think that day will happen unless there is some sort of global pandemic or general apocalyptic scenario, which would likely cause the chef to call out of work anyway. So I guess I'm just out of luck.* Rating: 6/10.
*Actually the burger reminded me quite a bit of the burger at 20 Manning and I liked that place much better so maybe dreams do come true.
Kyle: I'm glad Stephen Starr exists. He's created a lot of restaurants and a lot of jobs, and while the pseudo-authentic pastiche on each eatery can be grating, you can't deny the man his success. He's opened restaurants that have helped to define entire areas of the city, for good or for ill, and has worked to build bars that revitalized destitute areas. His development has shown other people its safe to open a business, and inspired them to create food surpassing his own. Philadelphia needs someone like Stephen Starr, because he lays the groundwork that allows other people to build.
I'm also glad Stephen Starr exists because everyone needs a bitch, and Starr is Philadelphia's bitch. No one respects him, but everyone visits once in a while. He's that girl who will text you once every six months saying she'd love to show you a new outfit. When your friends ask what you're doing Friday night you lie, say you're hanging out with Marc or Georges, but with guilt in your stomach you know exactly where you'll be. It's a train wreck, that's all. Morbid curiosity. You won't stay the night. It's the last time. Really.
For me, going to The Dandelion was the time you visit that girl and realize, really, you need to stop. Everything was too familiar. Sure, she swapped out the beret for a boar's head, and moved on from the Japanese fashion kick to British mod chic, but it's the same crazy girl. And she has the same awful friends. And they all got the same text message.
I like The Dandelion's look. I like dens and fireplaces and wood tones. But Stephen, babe, you're a bitch. And bitches are surrounded by douchebags which, as Laurence pointed out, line the walls more than the faux-authentic British art. The thoroughly American breed of asshole that actually enjoys Starr was on full display, destroying any semblance of ambiance the bar tried to convey. Charging $9 for a pint didn't help. Pricing your beers in euros won't trick me into thinking I'm in England.
Price aside, the food won't trick you into thinking you're in England either: Everything was edible. The burger was a house blend, seared on the outside with a bloody pink belly, and had a soft and fatty taste and texture. The fries (I was relieved they weren't called "chips") were thick home-cut wedges, unsalted and tasty. The grilled brioche was fluffy and heavily buttered, while the bacon was thin, crispy and smokey. Thinner still were the near-translucent pickles and the horseradish spread. It's good thing the latter was so sparse, as it already dominated the rest of the ingredients. It's good, if a bit much.
In fact, that's a good way to describe the whole meal. Good, but a bit much. You won't be disappointed if you get it, but it isn't worth $16 either, and is certainly not worth the audience that will accompany it.
I've been to most of Starr's restaurants, and have both laughed and bemoaned the Disney-like culture-apeing, but for some reason it really got to me at The Dandelion. It was the shock of reality I needed to get out of there, like waking up the next morning and for once seeing that girl in the daylight, without make-up and with an Adam's apple. I'm real sorry, Starr, but you've got to stop calling me. I don't want to see you anymore.
But if you get a new look, call me. Rating: 6/10.