Don't Give Me Any Sassafras

Burger Breakdown

Sassafras - Map It!
They can be included. They shouldn't be.
According to my notes they're included. But we forgot to photograph them. And possibly to eat them.

Sassafras is the inspirational seed upon which Village Whiskey was modeled. It's an old-school bar rocking original Philadelphia-famous tin ceilings, black and white tiled floor, defunct marble fireplace, and a handful of cozy tables. All this without a celebrity chef, gimmick decoration, or air on inauthenticity.

I'm a little ashamed to admit that, sitting in the back of the restaurant we were discussing the great audio quality of the sound system only to realize upon our exit that it was in fact a live jazz band.

The no frills simplicity of the place extends from the taps (just a few beers) to the menu which lists burgers only by the type of meat.

The Burger: Sassafras has a few options. I was so tickled by the menu I decided to post it as is:

ostrich | 13.95
bison | 12.95
lamb | 10.95
sirloin | 10.95
veggie | 9.95

Burger at Sassafras

Laurence: With a burger for most known edible creatures, I was excited to visit Sassafras. I was also excited because the place looked like my kind of bar. I'd still say it is my kind of bar, but my excitement about the place is dramatically reduced.

Food-wise, there's little to be excited by at Sassafras. The cooking style doesn't seem to have changed since the 1950s, which is a bad thing because I've heard that most food in the '50s was bad. It seems Sassafras has been behind the times in more ways than ambiance. I guess the concept of high-quality, fresh ingredients hasn't made it past the bar yet because our burgers were anything but fresh and local.

Rocking underseasoned meat with a high likelihood of being previously frozen, the bison burger I ordered did have a strong bison flavor. But a strong bison flavor is rarely what you're going for in a burger. Had I ordered a bison steak, seared and only salt and pepper seasoned, I'd have appreciated the flavor quite a bit more, but I think a burger needs to do something a little extra to account for the fact that the meat is ground and there are other ingredients in play. But the Sassafras burger essentially ignored the other ingredients and so, when combined with the bun, most of the lean bison flavor simply vanished.

The bun too was as dull as a '50s sitcom. A plain, store-bought kaiser roll isn't much of a pleasure to eat. The only thing done to the roll before adding the meat was slicing it. It was dry and lacking any flavor beyond that of a saltine.

That's about all that you get on a burger at Sassafras. While it comes with tomato and lettuce, these are something of an afterthought. Sure you can opt for extra toppings, and I did order sharp cheddar on mine, but the cheddar didn't impart much excitement to a lackluster meal aside for a savory quality that was missing from the lean bison. A friend who was dining with us also ordered an extra sauce for his burger and that seemed to improve his experience but I wasn't aware that this was somewhat essential and I certainly didn't get any helpful hints from our waiter. Maybe this is all part of the plan to keep Sassafras quiet and respectable. If it is, I'd have to say it's working because my chances of returning for anything other than a drink are about as good as the burgers... not very. Rating: 4/10.

Sassafras Burger

Kyle: A common convention when reviewing something bad is to use the opportunity as a showcase for the writer's rapier wit. Authors across the land, and we certainly are not innocent of this, secretly delight in an awful experience; it gives them the opportunity to try and be better than the subject of their sentences. Bad movies, bad games and bad food all lead to hilarious criticisms.

These criticisms are also easy, cheap and shallow, humor the writer squirts out in some yearning for social validation. “Look how bad all of these things that aren't me are,” he says, and every other writer follows suit in a series of down-putting one-upmanships. It's a perpetual runt-kicking circle jerk. And now you know where Yelp got its name.

It would be easy to mock Sassafras (fun, too). My order, a special venison burger, was not good. It sucked like a forced metaphor about an unrelated pop-political reference. Sometimes there's no game in the sport. Sassafras wasn't even trying.

The fact that the bar wasn't trying is, honestly, the best thing to be said. It's a cool bar because it doesn't care and gives no pretense to the triumvirate of foodie/hipster/douchebag sensibilities that define nearly every eatery in the city. The decor hasn't been updated, or cleaned, since Coolidge was last in town. The drink options are as specific as "beer" or "liquor." The bartender/waiter/cook might have an Irish brogue, sometimes. In short, the bar is awesome.

The food is not. My venison, overcooked by several degrees, had a fishy smell and taste. If it weren't so incredibly tough and gamey, I could have mistaken it for salmon. It sits on a borderline-stale kaiser roll, and my cheese, gruyere, was all rind. It certainly wasn't the worst burger I've eaten, but it may have been the most bland and forgettable.

Ultimately I'm glad I found Sassafras. It's a cool spot offering respite in the middle of one of the most inhospitable areas of the city (although between here, National Mechanics, Irish Pol and Sugar Mom's, I'm wondering if we can instate a punk rock renaissance in the area). But I would never recommend eating here. And if this review wasn't funny enough, know that a year and a half of eating burgers has left an excess of salt in my blood. I promise next week we'll return with jokes about childhood obesity, links to songs from the '80s, and the word “fuck.” Rating: 3/10.


There are no good reasons to go to Sassafras, but there are two good reasons not to go: 1. The burger sucks; 2. I want to drink there and I don't want to see your face.

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