Our Two-Month Absence is Due to Hibernating at the Blue Bear Tavern. And Gout.

Burger Breakdown

Blue Bear Tavern - Map It!
$11.00
Red wine reduced onion puree, bleu cheese, and the craving to eat a live baby deer.
Though included, they need some salt, and maybe manners.
7.0/10

When we ate at Blue Bear Tavern, the new restaurant hadn't had its grand opened yet. Naturally, you could attribute this to our influence and power as well respected members of the community, not only in the food blogosphere but also in Philadelphia at large. You could also attribute it to my confusing the address with 1518 Bar and Grill (a review of which is coming soon, and oh, it will be worth it), where we intended to go that night, and coincidentally stumbling in on the first night of the soft opening. Your choice.

Located in the spot of the late and much-loved Doc Watsons, Blue Bear Tavern has some significant shoes to fill. DW was an institution of sorts, long-lived and with cred among many in the city. Perhaps rightly, most of that is gone now. About the only things similar to Doc Watsons here are the perpetual dark inside the bar, and the feeling, upon entering, that you will never be clean again.

Eschewing the dive/rock/WTF vibe of old, Blue Bear Tavern takes the high-class sports bar angle, with large TVs in nearly every room of the spacious building. Laurence and I are not sports fans, so when the waitress suggested we sit upstairs for “the great view,” we took her up on the offer. We soon learned that “the great view” referred to the TVs.

The Burger: The Prime Beef Burger at Blue Bear Tavern is $11 of prime beef, which is not a universal currency and means nothing. It's also topped with red wine onions and blue cheese, which according to Wikipedia, is the currency of Alsace. The More You Know. ™

Photo of the burger at Blue Bear Tavern

Kyle: I didn't have great expectations for Blue Bear Tavern's burger. I didn't have any expectations, really, because it was a brand new bar and I hadn't anticipated going. So when I read the burger description, I was pleasantly surprised. Everything sounded much better than typical sports bar fare. Granted, surpassing a frozen Restaurant Depot patty shouldn't be difficult, but tying your shoes also shouldn't be difficult and yet they still make adult sneakers with Velcro.

Fortunately, Blue Bear Tavern's burger is free of frostbite and Walmart fashion choices. The loosely packed patty came out glistening and moist. Sirloin and steak sauce flavors are prominent, as was a nice bite of blood and iron. There was a bit of a consistency issue, where the meat seemed a little watery and perhaps too finely ground; we're not talking cat food level here, but it was noticeably messy.

Sitting on top, and perhaps most interestingly, are the wine-braised onions. Diced, mashed and made into a preserves-like spread, they were sweet, sharp and, surprisingly, cold. When you bite into greens on a burger you expect them to be cooler than the meat, room temperature or slightly warmed from the burger, but these onions were straight-from-the-fridge cold. It really makes the onions stand out, and while the cooler temperature likely dampens the flavor, it's certainly a unique concept.

Of course, it's entirely likely that the onion is supposed to be warmed, and that an unprepared new kitchen staff simply forgot, but for once I'll give a restaurant the benefit of the doubt.

The bun and bleu cheese hit all the expected modern gastropub notes without being exceptional. The bun was nice and soft, warmed on the grill, but the flavor and texture were nothing out of the ordinary, and the bleu cheese was equally on par. The only real disappointment were the french fries, which were cooked to hell and back and lacking any seasoning. It's a minor facet of the meal, but one that can so easily be average makes those who screw it up seem like they aren't trying.

Blue Bear Tavern is another restaurant in Philadelphia. So if you like restaurants in Philadelphia, as I do, then you'll like this place. Unless you hate restaurants in Philadelphia, as I do, in which case you'll hate this place. Places like Blue Bear Tavern, and the burger they offer, serve their purpose; while nothing special, they are good enough to attract some people to them, which reduces the chance that you'll have a two-hour wait at Village Whiskey by 3%. Rating: 6/10.

Photo of the burger at Blue Bear Tavern

Laurence: Blue Bear Tavern may have my favorite burger of the past four months. Beginning with the large mugs of beer that were hurried to our table, I felt we were in for a pleasant experience. The bar itself was comfortable and while undoubtedly upscale didn't have an affected air. It was wholly fun and though some game was happening that caused occasional outbursts from the other patrons it was mostly quiet enough to allow conversation.

Which is all well and good, but Blue Bear brought out our inner animals with relative ease.

You may think that animals have little discretion and will eat almost anything. This is true to some extent but that does not mean animals are without taste and that they do not prefer some foods to others. Case in point: several years ago I was traveling through Montana when I decided to spend the night at a campsite. I got to talking with a few of the other visitors and learned that a local bear had been frequenting the area at night. It had apparently developed a taste for beer as a result of less intelligent campers leaving coolers out overnight.

Smart bear.

The real kicker though was that the bear had developed a taste for certain beers. He preferred dark malty beers with a high ABV. So strong was the bear's taste that he would leave the watered down and highly filtered American beers untouched if there was a better option.

A bear after our own hearts.

My burger was cooked with proper affection. A textbook example of medium-well with a pink hugh in the center. The meat was of absolute high quality and the patty was molded into a lovable misshapen blob, a sure sign of a human hand. With a savory pepper and Worcestershire seasoning, it has the ability to trigger near universal glee in the brain of a carnivorous creatures. This is the point at which animal gluttony essentially took over.

I ordered a second round of craft beer and buried my nose into the head of floral hops. This complimented the two major flavors of the burger which were a puree of red wine reduced caramelized onion and bleu cheese. After eating everything on my plate with a ferocity that might have been more welcome at the zoo, I promptly suggested to Kyle that we order not one but two rounds of Knob Creek on the rocks. This is normally not a good idea.

But sometimes it is a really good idea.

What can I say. It's hard to put the animal back in the cage once he has been released. So we ordered on. At this point I should mention my one real complain with the meal which is hardly worth mentioning. The fries needed a tad more salt. Like I said, hardly worth mentioning.

Having wiped the plates clean, we decided to give the house chicken wings a try. The Creek's current was moving us swiftly. The wings were crispy, spicy and delicious. The pours were generous. The animal howled. And the night was fine.

The next morning I awoke feeling like a werewolf who has just returned to his human state following the setting moon. The light burned my eyes and my stomach and head ached with the sins of a night well spent. This normally puts me in a foul state but I must say, this time, I could only think that Blue Bear Tavern might be my new favorite place for a burger in quite some time. Rating: 8/10.

Verdict: 

Maybe not the best new restaurant in Philadelphia and one without the fuss and waits of other establishments, but the food is good, the drinks are stiff and bar is dark... Hmm. Maybe it is the best new bar in Philadelphia.

7.0
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