We Enjoy the Hair of the Dog at The White Dog Cafe

Burger Breakdown

White Dog Cafe - Map It!
$14.00
A half inch thick slice of Applewood-smoked slab bacon, Pepperjack, smoked tomato aioli, and lettuce.
Deep golden brown house-made garlic French fries.
7.0/10

The White Dog Cafe is on the only original block left in University City. The plan to destroy the area and rebuild it as a freshman friendly shopping zone was conceived by the University of Pennsylvania as part of it's “good neighbor” program in which the university destroyed the lives of it's neighbors. It was a little bit deceitful because the program had a founding statement that was infrequently cited: “the only good neighbor is a dead neighbor.” For the most part Penn won and destroyed the area, only to refashion it as something trite and that made parents feel good about sending their children to school in the rape capital of the east coast. The block of Sansom Street, on which the White Dog Cafe resides, was spared in large part thanks to the owner and founder of the White Dog Cafe, Judy Wicks. The Penn hating ambiance runs deep at the White Dog, which makes me love it. In an area surrounded by undergraduates that could be used in a research study to document the decline of American education, they are remarkably absent inside the White Dog Cafe except when their parents are visiting, and then they are usually on their best behavior and thus almost tolerable.

 

The Burger: An 8 oz. patty of Green Meadow Farms grass-fed beef, topped with Applewood-smoked slab bacon, Friendly Farms organic Pepperjack, smoked tomato aioli and a healthy does of fresh deep golden brown garlic French fries.

White Dog Burger

Laurence: We happened to visit the White Dog Cafe on St. Patrick's Day, also known as the worst day of the year. In the span of a few blocks we were assaulted by a drunken sorority girl (we defeated her) and sidestepped countless puddles of beer-frothed vomit. I did not have my hopes up for an enjoyable lunch. But the White Dog came through again. Conspicuously absent from the restaurant was any shade of green or silly hat. It was just like any other day–quiet and comfortable.

The White Dog has long been known for it's support of local food. Though it's no longer owned by Wicks, the principles she established still prevail. And though I have heard it said that the food is not as good under the current ownership, I have not felt this to be true.

The burger is a good example. Every ingredient in the burger comes from the tri-state area. There was a time, I didn't think such things made a difference. That time as passed. In countless eating experiments, I have come to the conclusion that the faster food gets from a farm to my mouth, the better it tastes.

The flavors of the burger are bright and crisp. The aioli provides a delightful, sweet and tart taste to the sandwich, which blends terrifically with the slightly spicy but mostly savory Pepperjack. The lettuce was crisp and deep rich green, as it should be. Lettuce is supposed to have flavor, a concept that appears to be lost in many parts of the United States. I think the word “salad” in the Midwest translates to “delivery mechanism for dressing.” But the lettuce at the White Dog is a real vegetable and it has the hints of iron that a leafy green is supposed to have. It provides fresh counterbalance to a burger, which is in many way inherently heavy and dead.

The meat itself has wonderful flavor. Mine was cooked a tad hot, but still retained moisture and rich savory character. One nice thing about sitting at the bar at the White Dog is that you can watch your burger being prepared. You know it's hitting real fire and is cooked immediately upon your request. I find this somewhat comforting, though I am probably alone in this.

The real standout of the meal was the slab bacon. I dare any state in the country to top Pennsylvania bacon. From the Dutch to the Amish, PA bacon has history and quality is nearly impossible to top. The bacon on the White Dog burger is thick as cardboard, deep maroon and shining with oils and flavors of hat and Applewood smoke. It's worth a trip to West Philadelphia just to eat a few slices and on a burger of simplicity, care and quality, it is a knockout. Rating: 8/10.

White Dog Burger

 

Kyle: As Laurence noted, White Dog Cafe is where UCity undergrads take their parents to dinner. It distinguish itself from other eateries in the area by not catering to college kids and offering a decidedly adult dining experience. There are no areas to dance, the radio never features Beyonce, and the waitstaff won't raise those uncomfortable “Why does the waitress have swallows on her chest” questions. White Dog Cafe is not cool. I like it.

The burger is much the same way. Lacking the sugary and salty junk-food flavors kids crave, it's a decidedly adult burger. Phrased another way, it's kind of boring. This isn't a jab, because the hamburger is decent and hits some positive notes on the palette. What the burger lacks is character.

White Dog's meat is almost buttery in its mouthfeel, despite coming out overdry and overcooked. Lightly chewy and salty, you could take our your dentures gum it, letting the meat and grease coat your mouth. It's a lean beef, mild in both meat flavor and seasoning, triggering the positive reward centers of your brain without any good reason. It's a meat narcotic.

Aioli is what you call mayonnaise when it isn't disgusting, and the tomato aioli on the burger is one of the better spreads you could have. Light on the garlic flavor, it favors a sun-dried tomato tang, which is also light. For cheese you have mild pepperjack. The slightly-dry brioche is buttery, fluffy and, you guessed it, light. Basically none of these ingredients have taste, but they have no taste in the best way.

One standout are the thick slabs of bacon crisscrossing the sandwich. These aren't the fat-streaked grease sticks you'd usually find in Philly, but are solid, chewy and substantial, more like beef jerky than fatty pork. Like the burger, this was a little overcooked, but in a way I strangely enjoyed. Having to gnaw on a thick, meaty piece of bacon that cracks when you bite into it is satisfying.

White Dog Cafe is a great restaurant, and worth going to for most everything except their burger, which I would not recommend getting. Not because it's bad, because it isn't, although not worth $14. The problem is everything on the sandwich is good but, much like this review, incredibly boring and forgettable. Rating: 6/10.

Verdict: 

A great place to go if you're stuck in University City, a good place to go for a good meal, and an okay place to go for a burger.

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