Sansom Street Oyster House: Serving You the Ocean's Waste-Processing Organs Since 1976

Burger Breakdown

Sansom Street Oyster House - Map It!
Blue cheese, grilled onions and the oceanic equivalent of your distressed, toxin-laden liver.
No amount of salt is enough to suck the oyster back out of your body, but these fries try.

Sansom Street Oyster House is the last place I would have looked for a good burger. It's the last place I would have looked for anything, really, because I've never had the slightest urge to try an oyster. Laurence is one of those weird people who thinks doing terrible things like eating oysters or biking across the country is an intelligent and rational way to live one's life, so he was terribly excited to learn that the Oyster House had a burger. My excitement was something less than that.

Although I'd never been there in my life, something about Sansom Street Oyster House seemed incredibly familiar. From the white brick walls to the hightop tables, from the chalkboards to the exposed lighting, it looked like a stereotype of a place I'd never been but knew all too well. Seafood is not my forte, and my knowledge of the culinary style and those places that serve it is paltry, but SSOH made me think of every small-town seafood place I've ever seen in a movie. This, for some reason, makes me think of New Jersey. Nothing should ever force you to think of New Jersey.

The Burger: The OH Burger is a smallish patty of grass fed beef topped with blue cheese, grilled onions and a fried oyster. Despite what you may think, the OH does not stand for "Oyster House" but rather for "Oh." True story.

Photo of the burger at Sansom Street Oyster House

Kyle: My ability to like something is directly proportional to how much it lets me look down on other people. Most anything described as an "acquired taste" falls into this category, with its implicit admission that the taste which must be acquired is not, you know, tasty.

I'd never had oysters before, but they fall perfectly under this umbrella. They look like skinned testicles and taste, as Laurence suggested, "kind of like the ocean." There's nothing appetizing about the appearance of an oyster, and as long as you're on this side of starving there's no necessary reason to eat one. I really wanted to like them.

Oysters are meant to be swallowed, or at most, chewed once. They shouldn't spend much time on your tongue, which means you shouldn't spend much time tasting them, which probably means they don't taste good. When I ate the first one, I bit right in and was greeted with sand and saltwater and slime, kind of like the ocean in the same way the floors of beachside restrooms at Atlantic City are kind of like the ocean. Shooting the second oyster was like swallowing a mouthful of someone else's infected phlegm, but without the human intimacy.

What I'm trying to say is: oysters are gross.

All of this prelude is necessary to set the stage for Sansom Street Oyster House's OH Burger. I could describe the rich, buttery brioche, and I could praise the tart blue cheese, and I could gush over the supple grilled onions, and I could trip over myself raving about the velvety, tender beef. It would be a pleasure to discuss how all these soft and yielding ingredients combined into an amazing package, a 7 or 8 on the scale, a meal worth your while. All of this would be easy if I could get beyond the utter horror that is the snot-swallowing experience of eating an oyster.

The oyster on this burger completely destroyed the meal. It was fried, which takes away the mucus-like consistency, but frying an oyster is like introducing BP to the ocean: it puts a greasy layer on top while coating everything inside in oil. The pickled, brined taste overwhelmed the interplay of the other sweet flavors, and the rubbery and tough texture defeated how soft the rest of the ingredients were. The final nail in the coffin was biting halfway into the oyster and finding in it a gelatinous blob a shade of green I haven't seen since Nickelodeon Ooze. I now know why you aren't supposed to bite into oysters: they are filled with your ruined childhood.

Sansom Street Oyster House naturally needs to include its namesake on its burger, which is a shame because it completely spoils the experience. I felt sick after eating it, and for once it wasn't due to food poisoning or consuming an obscene amount in one sitting. It was the sickness you experience when you feel guilty, when you know you've done something wrong. Putting an oyster on a burger is wrong, and if you are one of those degenerates who enjoys oysters, know there is no place in hell black enough for you. Rating: 3/10.

Photo of the burger at Sansom Street Oyster House

Laurence: In general I am a man who delights in specialties. I appreciate the koala that eats only the leaves of a single tree. I have reveled in the nuance of the Japanese tea ceremony, in which hours of preparation and movement revolve around a simple cup of tea. This led me to believe that going to a restaurant specializing in seafood for a burger was a bad idea. It happened however to be my bad idea. I am a longtime devotee of Oyster House, formally Sansom Street Oyster House, but now just “Oyster House” and still conveniently located on Sansom Street. It's gone through ups and downs in it's long run as Philadelphia's staple oyster bar. It happens to be in the midst of an up phase these days and I'm always looking for an excuse to go. Plus, sucking down a dozen happy hour oysters (priced at a buck a shuck from 5-7 p.m.) really seems like the perfect thing before a burger and ensuing beers. And while I may balk at the concept of a burger at a fish place, I know the food and Oyster House has been top notch and I figured it was worth a shot. If it all went very poorly Kyle would die of food poisoning which would be funny... well maybe not funny but it would probably make a good article and might get me on a morning talk show. Kyle dying of food poisoning is the only way we'll ever make back the cash we've invested into Burgerdelphia.

Long story short, Kyle survived... and the burger was pretty good.

I was very impressed with the grass fed beef patty. It had wonderful flavor, was lovingly spiced and was cooked close enough to the medium-well I requested that I couldn't much complain.

The brioche was excellent. I have nothing more to add, just excellent.

The onions were soft and imparted nice flavor but didn't pack the punch I hoped for. Few burgers do meet my expectations in the onion department and most of those that do are noted in the upper echelons of the Burgerdelphia ranking system.

Then there is the blue cheese and the fried oyster. I didn't have much opinion on the fried oyster. It didn't add much to the meal aside for a salty flavor and some breading. Oysters have such a delicate flavors that dropping them in searing oil tends to destroy. Still it was kind of a fun topping and gave the hint of the briney sea to what is normally meal for the landlocked.

My only complain with the burger was the blue cheese and not just because I am, as has been cited previously, not that fond of blue cheese. Unlike some people who cannot begin to imagine that something they don't like could ever be good, I try to appreciate the flavors as much as I can and assess their interplay even if they may not agree with all of my taste-buds. It's a little thing called being cultured. So while Kyle was complaining about seafood, I ordered a few dozen salty delights and had a beer with Bill Gates, Ed Rendell, and Bill Murray. We were just shooting the shit, you know, talking about life and some of the finer pleasures. Gates told me to invest in Apple, seriously that guy is a riot. Later Natalie Porman joined us and I made out with her. It was a pretty awesome night but not that unusual if you know me and my utterly refined taste.

Anyway, while sharp cheeses are not my favorite I can still taste a nice interplay of their flavors with other tastes, particularly the tastes of burgers. I think the OH Burger seriously overdid the blue cheese and it really distracted me and drowned out most of the nice interplay of the meat and the oyster, an interplay I was really excited to experience.

Later I went back over to see how Kyle was doing. He has a really good olfactory sense.

“You smell like Natalie Portman's breasts,” he said.

“It's an a acquired taste," I replied. "You wouldn't understand." Rating: 7/10.


Do you like oysters? The answer to that question is the same as our recommendation to go.

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