Monday, June 11, 2007

A Burger and a Beer

Installment One: Summer Has Arrived

Yesterday marked the climax of Philly bike week or, more formally, the Commerce Bank Triple Crown. For regional and international pro cycling teams and for American cycling fans, Sunday's Philadelphia International Championship is arguably the biggest one-day race on the domestic calendar. For a goodly portion of Philadelphia’s cycling community though, the day is more important in that it presents one of the few opportunities in the year for friends – who might otherwise see each other only in the saddle – to get together, catch up and share some suds and grub. While the largest crowds congregate on the fiercely steep Manayunk Wall and at the start/finish area along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the grassy knoll of Lemon Hill is arguably the best place to really enjoy the day. It’s also the best place to set up a full size grill… but I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.

For me, the weekend of the big race marks the arrival of summer. It’s a weekend of casual fun and of simple, hot weather fare, the perfect time for a burger and a beer. As usual, I kicked things off this year at the traditional Friday night pre-race party at Bicycle Therapy. The shop’s spread of pasta from Villa di Roma and the cooler full of Victory’s Hop Devil and Storm King Stout whetted my appetite. So when the party wound down, I headed around the corner to Grace Tavern for the first burger of the weekend. I opted for their Kennett Square burger, a well-charred patty topped with sharp cheddar and Kennett mushrooms. Ensconced in a toasted brioche bun and cooked to a perfect medium-rare, it was all beefy goodness, helped along by a couple of glasses of Monk’s Flemish Sour Ale.

The beer board at Grace Tavern

Saturday night brought a break in the action, with a relaxing dinner at home following a long day at work. It didn’t give any reason to stop the burger themed weekend though. Rather, it provided an ideal opportunity to try out the ground buffalo I’d picked up a couple of weeks earlier at the Oakmont Farmers Market. I kept the preparation simple – salt, pepper and a quick sear on the grill – resulting in rare, juicy and tender burgers best served with a simple salad of market-fresh greens. In place of beer but sticking with the “B” theme of the weekend, we opted for a bottle of Bourgueil. More specifically, it was Joël Taluau’s 2003 St. Nicolas de Bourgueil “Vieilles Vignes,” a lush, chocolaty and typically aromatic version of Breton (Cabernet Franc) from the central Loire. Good stuff.

Finally, burger weekend, a.k.a. Philly cycling week, wrapped up on a lovely afternoon spent on Lemon Hill. In spite of the weekend’s concentration of ground meat, I usually treat burgers as an infrequent treat and aim for quality over quantity, for fresh, quality ingredients over short-order ease. If there’s a time and a place, though, for simple, pre-packaged frozen patties, it’s at an outdoor picnic where you’re serving hundreds of burgers to as many friends. No rich juices to run down your arm and onto your clothes, just a simple disc of meat, a grocery store roll and a squirt of mustard, maybe with a slice of American cheese. Wash it down with a crisp, cold brew (Anchor Summer Beer in this case) and the living is easy.

Lee Rogers of Bicycle Therapy mans the grill on Lemon Hill

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