Ladder 15: The Burger that Broke My Heart
My impression of Ladder 15 had been that it's the kind of bar with 10 taps serving Michelob Ultra and a two popped-collar minimum. Situated in the Rittenhouse morass, I'd never considered it a place worth visiting, especially not as a place to eat on a Friday night.
That was before David Ansill became the executive chef this March. In addition to whipping the beer menu into an almost-entirely microbrew format (don't worry kids, you can still get Michelob Ultra in bottles!) and bringing along some of the more popular dishes from his defunct Queen Village restaurant like steak tartar with quail egg and Korean tacos, Ansill has created an epic beast of a burger for the restaurant.
Two words here: bone marrow. I absolutely loved the bone marrow crostini at Ansill, and am always excited to try any kind of offal that makes vegetarians. The Burger 15 comes loaded with a prime sirloin beef patty, braised short ribs, red wine mushrooms and grilled onions on a buttered and toasted roll, with truffle fries, truffle mayo and truffle sauce on the side. It's enough excess to make Solomon (if not, perhaps, Pope Ratzinger) blush, but really, this thing is all about the marrow. Sitting gloriously on the plate is a slice of bone, serving as dish for a sort of bone marrow pate to spread on the beef. I have a few goals in life: to eat two of every animal, creating the Ark in my colon; to eat more than one animal at every meal possible; and to eat combinations of things that offend the sensibilities of most people. This burger satisfies numbers two and three on the list, and is prepared by a chef I hold in high regard: To say I was excited is an understatement.
Kyle: I'm going to let Laurence fill you in on the high quality of the short ribs, the onions, the fries, the truffle everything and all the rest. Rather, allow me to instead present to you a simile. This burger is like your crazy ex-girlfriend: full of bone marrow.
Okay, I'm bad at similes. Let me try again. This burger is like your crazy ex-girlfriend: it looks better before you get to know it, it's expensive and it will give you a disease.
The Burger 15 has a lot going for it. Every part of the dish with the word "truffle" in it is outstanding, and the short ribs may be the most flavorful, softest I've ever tasted. Beyond all the accoutrement, though, I was a little disappointed. The beef itself, while by no means bad, tasted bland and unseasoned, especially when compared to the robust flavors of the rest of the plate. My medium burger was also brown to the core, while the dark Avery Out-of-Bounds porter I ordered was floral and golden (and was, in fact, a Racer 5 IPA; our waiter corrected it, but still). And the marrow. Oh, the marrow...
Marrow is an acquired taste, to be certain, and it is a subtle taste. With all of the rich and complex flavors cohabitating in this burger, the marrow could easily be overwhelmed. This was not the case. Burger 15's marrow lacked the slightly meaty, buttery flavor I've come to crave, and tasted more like slimy fat cut off of a $8 diner steak and tossed into a blender. There was grit and gristle and grease, and none of the delicacy and charm I expected; it tasted, in essence, the way someone with no experience might expect marrow to taste straight out of the bone. I muscled through it and kept applying it to the sandwich, thinking and hoping that some more nuanced flavors would emerge, but it was only noxious. You'd have a more enjoyable burger leaving the marrow at the side as a mere curiosity; but when you're paying $18 and the prime (and most costly) feature of the meal is at best an ignored garnish, it seriously calls into question why you're having it in the first place.
Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that later in the evening, I enjoyed a few hours kneeling at the alter of John Crapper. (Closed Captioned for the euphemism impaired: I spent two hours vomiting things I don't ever remember eating.) I've had marrow before and not been ill, and while I have no evidence that it was the reason behind my violent reaction, I can't think of anything else in the evening that would have made me sick. Aside from Ladder 15's clientele.
The burger has potential, and I trust Ansill. Aside from the marrow and the money, it would be a great meal and score much higher. And if your ex wasn't crazy you'd still be with her. I can't justify giving a high score to something that charged me $18 to feel like Karen Carpenter. To Ladder 15 and Cindy: you made me sick and I want my money back. Rating: 4/10.
Laurence: As much as I liked the Ladder 15 burger it made Kyle sick and in the process jeopardized our quest forever. Forever! Why forever you ask? Have you ever thrown up from drinking too much insert your worst alcoholic experience here? You know how the smell alone is almost enough to have you dry heaving? I rest my case.
But you want to hear about the burger... The various truffle accouterments were spectacular. I couldn't get enough of the truffle mayo and truffle sauce, and long after the burger was safely situated in my stomach, I found ways to eat more of the divine sauces, usually by slathering them over the fries (also excellent). On the burger the flavors of the truffle, onions, mushrooms, ribs, and red wine blended just right. Nothing stood out too much but nothing seemed lost. As far as the meat goes, I've always find sirloin to be particularly flavorful and tender, this was not an exception. The bun was fresh and browned in butter. The only disappointment was the marrow. I wasn't sure what to expect from it, and when I saw that it was thick, gelatinous, white, mush offered in a hollowed out bone I was put off. It could have made up for it with taste but it didn't add anything pleasant in the way of flavor and just made me question whether my arteries were up to the stresses this meal was bound to place on them. So while I really liked the burger itself, I have to deduct a few points. One because I found the price to be offensive considering that the main draw (the marrow) didn't add anything worth mentioning and a second for endangering the mission. Rating: 7/10.
If you have better luck than we did you're in for a treat. But with Andrew Jackson on the line, do you want to risk?