Drink in the Holy Spirits at Monk's Cafe

Burger Breakdown

Monk's Cafe - Map It!
$8.50
Caramelized leeks and blue cheese on the Monk's burger, Sottocenere truffle cheese and shitake mushrooms on the Antwerp burger.
$2.00 for a side or $3.95 for a basket of some of the best fries in the city.
7.0/10

Monk's Cafe is the new drive-thru diner in Center City. (Edit: As of Labor Day the restaurant is back open, so that joke is now old, but shut up. It was relevant when we went a few weeks back. Shut up, I hate you, you're not my real dad.)

Going to Monk's Cafe is a religious experience: you're surrounded by beers beyond your understanding, and the more you experience them the less sense everything makes, but you keep going back because goddamn they make you feel good, and what else are you going to do on a Sunday? Plus, you might get molested by an old Irish dude. It's a win all around.

Monk's CafeMonk's Cafe is a legend in the city, as much for its mussels and other Belgian fare as for its incomparable beer selection. Georges Perrier and Stephen Starr are often credited with revitalizing dining in Philadelphia, but Monk's owners Tom Peters and Fergie Carey should be given just as much, if not more credit for their contributions to food and drink and my perpetual poverty. Among beer geeks it's one of the destination bars in America, a mecca of booze you must visit at least once in your life and pray in the direction of its taps three times daily (unless you're in New York). If you live in Philly and haven't been to Monk's Cafe yet, or are a beerless heathen, do yourself a favor and kill yourself because you're an idiot.

We recently reviewed The Belgian Cafe, which has a nearly identical burger menu. So why, you may ask, did we visit the three-year-old Fairmount establishment before its legendary, decades old sister storefront? That's an excellent question that I will avoid with an awkward transition. God works in mysterious ways.

The Burger: Monk's Cafe offers seven burger options, with toppings ranging from bacon and cheddar to Boursin cheese and sprouts. Laurence opted for the exotic Antwerp, with Sottocenere truffle cheese and shitake mushrooms, while I went for the namesake Monk's burger, with caramelized leeks and blue cheese. All of their burgers are also available with chicken breast, tuna steak or a vegan patty, for all those people out there who aren't reading this blog right now.

Monk's Burger at Monk's Cafe

Kyle: What is there to write about Monk's Cafe that hasn't already been said? Well, I did some research, and I think I came up with something: "Monk's Cafe inseminated Dustin Hoffman's petunias." Near as I can tell, that's never been said, and now we'll be number one for all the countless searches for that topic. We call that shit SEO, son.

As mentioned, The Belgian Cafe yanked their burger recipe from Monk's, and as such I think a fair starting point is to highlight where they differ. Aside from a few topping options unique to each restaurant, there is only one major difference: as opposed to Belgian's sweet brioche roll, Monk's Cafe offers their beef on a harder sourdough bun. It could simply be a personal preference or a side effect of having spent in excess of $10,000 between the two restaurants in the last 10 years, but I've got to give Belgian Cafe the nod here. While certainly a good roll, I found the sourdough a little too tough and dry, both for my taste and for the burger. In other news, I just realized I've spent in excess of $10,000 between those two restaurants in the last 10 years. I feel ill.

Much of the rest of the meal played out like a repeat of our previous experience. My beef came out perfectly cooked, perhaps a little more bloody than medium although I certainly wasn't complaining. It had the same coarse grinding and soft, moist texture, and the slightest sugary bite on the tail. The combination of caramelized leeks and blue cheese is phenomenal, offering a very sharp and tart flavor, and your tongue will be welling with saliva from the odor alone. Their divine frites were as delicious as ever, and the bourbon mayo was actually better than last time, with more of a hot horseradish kick.

Alleyway to Monk's CafeWhile I think The Belgian Cafe offers an ever-so-slightly better burger, everyone should go to Monk's Cafe, much like everyone should dance and drink and screw. Sadly, there are a number of unfortunate souls out there not doing those activities, and for them there is little hope. There is, however, salvation, and we can learn from the beer-brewing monks the one true way to the giant beer volcano in heaven. I can teach you how to save your danceless, beerless, sexless souls, but the lord, he has needs, and first you must send us cash or a check made out to Burgerdelphia Ministries. God's got a $10,000 tab to pay. Rating: 7/10.

Antwerp burger at Monk's Cafe

Laurence: I'm sure it's not intentional, but I like the new and temporary entrance to Monk's. While repairs are in place since the accident, you're led down a dark, slim alley to the bar's rear door. It feels very clandestine and intriguing. Then you end up in Monk's Cafe and it's the same old place you're used to. That's fine, but I stopped going to Monk's because it had become too crowded, and that aspect of Philadelphia's most well-known beer pub hasn't changed.

It's hard to keep away from the burger, even though I know a similar experience can be attained at the quieter and more fire-code friendly Belgian Cafe. The burger I favor most, and one of the few that isn't recreated on the Belgian Cafe menu, is the Antwerp, which is topped with Sottocenere truffle cheese and a shitake mushroom. The bun comes slathered in a delectably heart-stopping sauce that I believe had something to do with truffle but can't verify. Meanwhile, the mushroom was flavor-rich and covered in the cheese which is perhaps the most absurdly amazing cheese concoction on the planet. It's not a very strong cheese but, even in the relatively small quantity used to garnish the burger, it left a fine imprint on my taste buds.

The sourdough bun was more dry than the bun at Belgian but that wasn't a considerable problem; I just happen to prefer the cross-town counterpart. The predominant reason the bun wasn't a problem was that the burger was plenty juicy and the bun helped counteract some of what would have been an otherwise messy experience.

The fries here are the same quality and caliber as those at Belgian, which is to say they are made by the Almighty. And if you ask how god could be working as a fry cook in two places simultaneously I will not answer the question: You must have faith in his divine pommes frites plan.

Overall, if you ignore the crowd, you can't go wrong at Monk's Cafe. I think the burger is slightly better than at The Belgian Cafe, but just slightly, and it's not enough to warrant a full point more. Rating 7/10.

Verdict: 

You need to go to Monk's Cafe at least once in your life, and if you live nearby, possibly once a week. You have sin on your soul, and the only salvation is through beers with 9 percent ABV or higher. Get thee to a brewery.

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