Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Burger and a Beer: Monk's Cafe

I can think of hundreds of good reasons to fight the crowds at Monk’s Café. But as the majority of those reasons are the same, the big three will do: burgers, mussels and, no surprise, beer – lots and lots of beer. Is there other food on the menu at Monk’s? Of course, and some of it does rise above the normally insipid yet filling standard of pub grub. There’s good, rustic country pâté and a pretty respectable braised rabbit dish (Lapin à la Gueuze). When all is said and done though, the strengths at Monk’s are undeniably the standard bearers for Belgian style cafés across America: moules frites, offered with a variety of sauces and ingredients, and burgers, also with choices of an atypical and savory range of toppings.

What sets the burgers apart at Monk’s is not their decadence. There’s no foie gras stuffing, they’re not as rich in fat or as extravagantly portioned as at Rouge for instance; in fact, they’re unlikely ever to take the honors for the “best” in Philly. I love them, rather, for their consistency – not in texture but in quality. If there’s anything the hard working line chefs at Monk’s have mastered, it’s cooking burgers – I’m talking beef here, not about the veggie and white meat options also offered on the menu – to the proper temperature every time. They’re served on chewy, firm stirato rolls, slightly oversized to make for relatively grease free fingers.

My fallback selection when opting for a burger at Monk’s is the Ardennes, topped with Ardennes ham and Belgian cheese. The ham lends smoky, salty and slightly sweet cured goodness to the juicy burger beneath. On my most recent visit, with friends and old Monk’s fans who were visiting from CA, I opted for something with a little more bite: the Ghent burger, topped with broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic and finished with a melt of cheddar. The Ghent’s toppings provide contrast to the richness of the burger with sharp zestiness from the cheddar and an acidic, slightly bitter tang courtesy of the broccoli. Washed down with a little Brasserie Thiriez Extra and a bottle of classically funky, spontaneously fermented Girardin Gueuze, it made for a warmly satisfying finale to a relaxed day spent wandering about town.

Monk’s Café
16th & Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia


The Street Wise Gourmet said...

Monk's is the perfect incarnation of what Yogi Berra supposedly said about PJ Clarkes in NYC at the height of its popularity, "nobody goes there anymore, its too crowded". Miss the place, but too many joints in Philly to just wait and wait and wait at Monk's.

David McDuff said...

Well commented, SWG. I definitely avoid Monk's like the plague on Friday and Saturday nights. There's never a problem finding a spot midday, however, and brunch usually isn't too hectic either.

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