Wherein We Disagree Whether Twenty Manning Grill is Cool

Burger Breakdown

Twenty Manning Grill - Map It!
$12.00
Special sauce, iceberg lettuce, garden tomato, raw purple onion and a pickle of debatable quality. Kentucky bacon and Vermont cheddar are two bucks a pop, and are the best parts of the meal.
It came with fries, I think. Maybe they were shoestring. I dunno. Mmmm... rum.
7.0/10

When I heard that TMZ was opening up in Philly and had a burger on the menu, I was understandably confused. I wasn't aware that the low point of western civilization even had a dining outlet, let alone would need to set up shop in the city that mugs you back. Maybe it required a full-time staff to track the adventures of Danny Bonaduce. When it was later explained to me that I had the acronym wrong, and it was actually Twenty Manning reopening itself as Twenty Manning Grill, I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed. Not that I had any strong interest in seeing the further tabloid-fueled, pseudo-celebrity Jersefication of Philly, but I had already written an entire article about the 'Duce fighting Michael Vick on top of Pat's King of Steaks over the right to Needles Jones' hand in marriage, all while Holland Oates played in the background, and now the world will never see it.

There were explosions.

Twenty Manning Grill has done a 180: where Twenty Manning had a black-paneled, exclusive lounge vibe, TMG looks like someone's beach house, with bare white walls, yellow leather furniture and dark mahogany accents. The menu, displayed on chalkboards, has changed from Asian fusion to a thoroughly American palette. Staff members wear crisp, unadorned white tees, and everything has a sort of rough-hewn, unpolished feeling. The restaurant traded the late '90s idea of cool for the late '00s idea of cool, which means it kind of looks like every bar that's opened in the last three years, all of which are kind of uncool. Expect Stephen Starr to open something just like it in 2015.

The Burger: The TMG Burger is 8 oz. of grass-fed beef (because beef eats things) with special sauce, LTO and fries on the side. For $2 you can add Vermont cheddar, and for another $2 some Kentucky bacon. It also includes "a good pickle," but Good ain't no country I've heard of. Do they speak English in Good?

TMG Burger

Kyle: The first thing I noticed was how slammed the restaurant was for a Wednesday, and after a 20-minute wait for a table, what really struck me was the burger: everyone was ordering it. Coming out on a cutting board with loads of fries and accoutrement on the side, I must have watched waiters deliver 10 of them as we waiting for our meal. If that many people are ordering the same thing at a new restaurant, it must be good, right?

And it certainly looked it. Impaled on a pike and dripping with melted cheese, the beef and cross-bacon sandwich was like an awesome pirate flag of slaughted-animal glory and scurvy. Anxiously waiting for Laurence to finish taking photos, I could smell the cheese and bacon wafting through the air, and can remember the glistening beef perfectly.

I can also remember how crisp and lean the bacon was, flavorful for how little fat it had. The cheddar was almost as good, a mild mix that didn't draw much attention to itself, but added nice accents. I can remember the bun being dry, and the french fries as bland. More than all of that, though, I remember the special sauce, which was a knockout. I have no idea what it was, but it had hints of honey and lemon, and was sweet and delicate.

Of all the things I can remember, though, I can't really remember the beef. I know it came out overcooked, and that it was dry, and was in all other respects unmemorable. This isn't an insult: it wasn't bad, because at least if it was bad I would remember it. Which I guess is kind of an insult. So, while we're at it: you're also not cool, TMG. Your style is so last season.

Days, sometimes weeks after we've had a burger, I can remember its intricacies, its nuances and its tastes, but I can't remember a damn thing about this one, and that's the most telling aspect of the meal. There's nothing bad about it, and some parts of it are quite good, but nothing stands out about it either. There's nothing for me to mock, but there's nothing for me to recommend. While the presentation is outstanding, the burger was average, much like the new styling for TMG. Despite its recent rush of publicity, its original incarnation had more character. A lot more people are going now, but I liked it before it was popular.

Yes, this was all a set-up for that joke. Rating: 6/10.

TMG Burger at Twenty Manning Grill

Laurence: When I ask for a drink to be made extra strength, I'm not joking. I'd had a rough day and a stiff one with my meal was the only thing that could begin to put it right. Twenty Manning Grill has a nice line up of cocktails and I specifically asked for “the strongest mojito you can make.” It was a tasty beverage and quite refreshing, but I was hoping to smell of rum like a storybook pirate from the 1700s after finishing it. Instead I smelled like an organic urban garden of fresh mint and basil, which under normal circumstances would be wonderful but this night was tragic, much like the time my friend's cat died at his birthday party. It wasn't tragic because the cat died so much as that the party then ended. This relates to the rum because I had to leave a very nice bottle of Dominican rum at that party unopened. Did I mention that I hate cats... and love rum?

Drinks at Twenty Manning GrillAside for my bad luck trying to over-imbibe, I found Twenty Manning Grill to be a lovely experience. It reminded me of what would happen if PYT grew up, stopped asking mom and dad to pay the rent, and got job. That's not meant to be an insult to Twenty Manning Grill, which is a nice place, but is supposed to be an insult to PYT, which is not.

Beyond the beautiful dim lighting, candle-lit tables and sleek yellow upholstery, Twenty Manning Grill has a calming atmosphere. It's casual in the most classy way possible. The presentation of the burger is a testament to the classy/cool dichotomy of the place. Severed on a cutting board, and skewered with mini pickles, it's supposed to seem like no big deal, but it's also done with artful attention to detail.

What makes this burger for me is the sauce. The flavor of the cheese mixed with its sweet, tart and slightly spicy flavors, which was somewhere near magical ("That's awesome. Is that dill?"). Add the bacon to that, which according to my notes is “second to best,” and we're talking about a recipe to bypass every control your brain has in place to stop from overeating.

Finally, I must address the meat. If grass-fed beef was on every menu for a surcharge, I'd always order it. But it isn't, and I'm sure it's a conspiracy. I'm a big fan of the idea of grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. For health reasons (mine and the animal's), but more for taste and logic reasons. Who'd have guessed that letting an animal eat it's natural diet would result in a healthier animal, that required fewer hormones and antibiotics? The movement away from this most simple principal has done nothing good for taste lovers and may actually be part of a plot hinted at in The Protocols of the Elders of Vegan to make meat taste worse and, thus, to prevent us real Americans from wanting to eat it. Luckily at Twenty Manning Grill they seem to be fighting the good fight with rich flavors and plenty of good meat.

Still, the meat is overshadowed by the bacon and the cheese and the sauce. That's not to say that it's hurt by those flavors, it's just that the other tastes are so notably excellent that they stole my attention. You could take that as a knock against the meal and assume that the flavors don't blend well, but you'd be missing the point in my opinion. We're not talking about putting potato chips on a burger here. We're talking about adding phenomenal flavors to some damn good meat. Even if you can't remember the meat, the burger is still good. It's a lot like all the sex you had in college: you can't remember names, but the experiences were still worth every minute. Rating: 8/10.

Verdict: 

Twenty Manning Grill has something for everyone, as long as some people enjoy disliking things. It's a hip place, and the food's not bad, but it's not the best for your buck. Laurence says go, Kyle says don't. Roll the dice.

7.0
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