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Holly Moore

SquareBurger

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Steven Starr's SquareBurger was in shake-down mode today. If the stars align, it will open quietly tomorrow and have it's official opening on Friday. The location is Franklin Square - that's the merry-go-round park at the end of the Ben Franklin Bridge, between 7th and 6th and Race and the Vine Street Expressway.

Of all the squares in a city full of Squares, why Franklin Square? "Location, location, location" it isn't. Forget about parking unless one is sufficiently urbanized to ride a scooter. Access, itself, takes time. By foot, one must cross Race Street, just before the bridge - A thrill to be sure. By vehicle anyone coming from the city has to circle past the expressway to return.

The obvious comparison is Danny Meyer's Shake Shack in Madison Square Park in the middle of Manhattan. The first obvious non-comparison - a location in the middle of Manhattan versus one at a distant edge of Center City. Including a day camp of kids playing miniature golf I counted maybe 100 people at Franklin Square during lunch time. I suspect, once Squareburger gets past the opening hoopla, it will be a challenge to drive customer traffic to SquareBurgert. The good news is my demonstrated inability to predict a place's success.

Onto the burger. Besides being a free sample and therefore, alas, only half a burger , it was a great cheeseburger. Nicely thick, on a potato bun, and properly sized - maybe a quarter pound. Classic toppings - pickle, onion, ketchup and mustard. Mine was cooked medium well and still juicy. I asked and they will cook burgers to order, ie medium rare. As proof I wasn't recognized (like it matters), I was also offered half a veggie burger. Ick.

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Another concern - the place is small. The turnout area is small. If they approach anything near Shake Shack volume, production is going to be a frustrating issue for both staff and customers.

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But limited size doesn't stop me from complaining about the fries. They are frozen and they are shoestring - a dull and a disappointing side to a really good burger. Size and production space is the rationalization for copping out with frozen fries, but I'm not buying. Proper fries are fresh cut and par fried. There is no reason the cutting and first frying couldn't be done at another Starr establishment and trucked in. With the volume they hope to be doing, refrigeration is not an issue. At McDonald's we would par fry at least three full fry racks and let them sit out until finish fried.

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Now back to the good stuff. They build root beer floats. Also, according to Grub Street Philadelphia they'll be doing a TastyKake Butterscotch Krimpet milkshake made with half and half and topped with real whipped cream. There will also be hot dogs and a Philadelphia Hot Dog - a kosher beef dog wrapped with kosher salami and topped with pickle, onion, cherry poppers, plum tomato and mustard.

Through today, for a while, SquareBurger has been operating out of a tent, with the fast food equivalent of an army field kitchen.

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Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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On the run to an event we stopped by to get a burger and dog to go. Not the easiest, since there is almost no parking in the area. Luckily SRG happened to be there in full force; I think they were celebrating the opening. This lead to a few cars and the SRG van parked up on the sidewalk. I parked like I knew what I was doing too and nobody bothered the car while we went to get some food.

We weren't asked for a temp on the burger (Classic Burger) and they cooked both that and the dog (salami-wrapped) to order. The Martin's rolls for both were cool, not cold or hot. This works, on a hot day. The burger was great, tender and flavorful, despite being cooked to mid-well. The dog had mustard and ketchup and sweet hots. We drove away eating and wanted to turn around to get two more. I would like the dog more if it was grilled so the salami wrapping was crisped up.

A big selection of Jones sodas is also nice. This stand is going to make the rest of the park (miniature golf, carousel, fountain) into a biking destination for us for the rest of the summer.


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matt o'hara

finding philly

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Made it back to SquareBurger for lunch today - my first since they officially opened.

There were maybe 10 people in line ahead of me and a few more waiting for their orders. The line did not move fast, but not all that slow either. Took me fifteen or so minutes to place my order and another three or four to get it. Like a lot of places, you order, receive a numbered chit, and wait on the side for them to call your name or number. Neat that they don't use a computer register, but hand write the guest checks. The checks go up above the grill and turned quickly - no more than five or six at a time and often down to one or two.

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If the line gets much longer they may want to do what McD's used to do back when they had lines - an outside order taker to write up the order. The customer then gives it to the register person who rings it up and passes it to production. Speed things up some. More importantly customers feel that progress has been made once they place their order.

A cheeseburger, hot dog and diet coke came to $9 plus change. Decent value.

I ordered my burger medium rare. They wrote medium rare on the ticket and handed it to the grill person. So far so good. The burger came out medium to medium well. Like last time, still juicy but not as flavorful as medium rare. With the rush, condiments got sloppy. Too much ketchup on mine, and a third of the burger was over salted. The one I had during the shakedown was much better. I'd rate this one as above average but not worth traveling fifteen blocks for.

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Cheese melting is a bit amateurish. The burger, on spatula, receives a slice of cheese and then goes under a cheese warmer. When it doesn't melt fast enough to suit the grill guy he picks up the spatula and holds the burger less than an inch under the heat.

A non-grilled (steamed or zapped?) hot dog on a bun with no relish has all the eye appeal of Joan Rivers without her makeup. The hot dog is kosher, all beef, decent-sized. Like Matt said, I'd prefer the dog grilled or split and grilled, and garnished with mustard, relish and onion - or at least the option to get it properly dressed.

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Not in much of a hurry to get back to SqareBurger. I'll give it a try in a few weeks to see how it does with some more experience and fine tuning. I was excited with the possibility of a Shake Shack (Danny Meyers - New York) of our own. I'm still hoping.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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i was there today (and saw you, holly) and had that same weird thing about part of the burger being oversalted. and it was a little dry toward the middle. other than that it was good, but i'm no burger snob. i like the chopped pickles they put on top with the chopped onion. i'm tempted to get it without ketchup & mustard next time and just put them on myself (and mayonnaise).

having had shake shack for the first time over july 4 weekend, it was pretty much what i'm looking for in a burger, and i was hoping for a slavish imitation (except not those crinkle cut fries -- i like the frozen shoestring fries here for this kind of meal).

anyway, this isn't that. but it's pretty good. and if the wait's not too long there are a lot worse places to sit around having lunch outside than franklin square (and up until two years ago, that is a sentence you would never ever hear, haha).

also, they need to get bags or boxes or something. just getting handed burgers and sodas, your hands get pretty damn full pretty damn fast.

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Sorry I didn't see you. Was I standing next to you in line? I've been having senior moments not recognizing people since I was 30.

You're right about a tray or box. I walked away juggling two foil wrapped sandwiches and a soda.

One thing Shake Shack does is not totally wrap their products. Burgers go in an open paper sleeve. Dogs are in a hot dog tray. Stops the bun crown from getting all steamed and wrinkled. Everything comes nicely packed in a paper carton.

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I like crinkle cut fries. Nathan's serves one of the world's great french fries - short, stubby, greasy and crinkle cut. Shake Shack's aren't as good as Nathan's, and as I recall they are frozen. But they were good. As I've said elsewhere - shoestring potatoes are such a cliche nowadays. I'm guessing Danny Meyers picked crinkle cut for just that reason - another point of difference from the mediocre fast food places.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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nah you were standing over in the service area taking pics while i was waiting in line. too far away to yell, and i never know if you know who i am anyway.

i guess the question about squareburger is this: considering that it's the only thing of its kind around there, and it's good enough, is it going to get better? or is it going to rest on the laurels of its mere existence, and continue to be just good enough and not a destination?

i noticed the building had windows on the side, and counter areas. i'm wondering if they'll reconfigure the pickup area or something, to make the flow of things better. the line moved slowly today, but i noticed that there wasn't a growing crowd in the pickup area, and they got orders out pretty quickly. so that's a good sign.

one definite advantage of squareburger over shake shack: while we were at shake shack, a starling attacked my dining partner's burger twice -- while it was IN HER HAND. the first time we just picked off the part that it looked like the bird had gotten. the second time we gave up. luckily by that point there were only a couple bites left.

so yes: lack of insane birds = one advantage of squareburger over shake shack. tastykake milkshakes might be another one, but i haven't tried one to find out.


Edited by mrbigjas (log)

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What an original idea. Putting a burger shack in a park. Where have I seen this done before? Oh yeah. Manhattan. Source of all good ideas in SRO world.

Pfffftt. Whatever. :rolleyes:

I'd have so much more respect for it if anyone would own up to being copycats and laughing all the way to the bank. Just call it what it is. I can respect that.

The implication that Philadelphians are that stupid and gullible is more than a little insulting.


Edited by KatieLoeb (log)

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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nah you were standing over in the service area taking pics while i was waiting in line.  too far away to yell, and i never know if you know who i am anyway.

I likely won't, so you can savor my fumbling through an awkward moment. Nothing personal. I usually only recognize people when they are in context - ie Katie mixologizing. Bad example - Katie I'd recognize.

...

one definite advantage of squareburger over shake shack: while we were at shake shack, a starling attacked my dining partner's burger twice -- while it was IN HER HAND.  the first time we just picked off the part that it looked like the bird had gotten.  the second time we gave up.  luckily by that point there were only a couple bites left.

Once word gets around the avian crowd, the pigeons and gulls will outnumber people.

so yes: lack of insane birds = one advantage of squareburger over shake shack.  tastykake milkshakes might be another one, but i haven't tried one to find out.

Some things one just knows will be good. Butterscotch Krimpet milk shakes for example - though even better if they were made with Bassett's Ice Cream. I think I saw a Jack and Jill sign somewhere.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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What an original idea.  Putting a burger shack in a park.  Where have I seen this done before?  Oh yeah.  Manhattan.  Source of all good ideas in SRO world.

Pfffftt. Whatever. :rolleyes:

I'd have so much more respect for it if anyone would own up to being copycats and laughing all the way to the bank.  Just call it what it is.  I can respect that.

The implication that Philadelphians are that stupid and gullible is more than a little insulting.

meh. i don't care much about that aspect of things.

make a good product and people will come. someone has a good idea, people imitate it. no big thing. if it's good, then fine. if it sucks, it'll die.

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I never really understood the Shake Shack hype. It's a pretty good burger, but nothing spectacular. It's nice to be able to eat a pretty good burger while enjoying the park on a nice day, but it's not worth standing in a long line for.

Anyway, I share Holly's skepticism about Squareburger's long-term viability. I like Franklin Square- I was just there on Saturday, riding the carrousel and playing in the playground- but if I didn't have a kid, I don't know if I'd go out of my way to head there for a hamburger. Still, I'll definitely try one, next time I'm there.

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Two things I really like about the Shake Shack, above and beyond its oasis-like setting and its architecture/signage - the burgers are really good and the frozen custard is wonderful.

I'm not all that upset about the Starr Organization copying the Shake Shack. I just wish they had equaled or surpassed the original. It seems like, other than the burger, they didn't try as hard with "fast food" as they have with all their other concepts. Maybe SquareBurger has a metamorphosis in its future.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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i like the burgers at shake shack too. they're basically what i'm looking for in a burger -- not big steakhouse kinda thing, small and greasy in the right way, good sauce, and under $5. it's good. it's in madison square. it's a good idea at the right time. i won't wait an hour for a burger either (we skipped it on saturday when there was a long line, and went at 11 on sunday and there was basically no line).

but yeah, i wish starr had imitated it better. like holly, i'm not upset about the imitation -- like i said, no reason why the concept shouldn't be imitated.

i don't know if i share your skepticism about long term though. what is there around there? if you're in the neighborhood as a tourist or something, it's certainly a viable option, cheap enough, good enough even if it's not great, only a block off the beaten path, and in a nice setting. and that's what i mean about it resting on its laurels without having any real laurels to rest on. i wonder if there's an impetus to make it better.

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Anyway, I share Holly's skepticism about Squareburger's long-term viability.  I like Franklin Square- I was just there on Saturday, riding the carrousel and playing in the playground- but if I didn't have a kid, I don't know if I'd go out of my way to head there for a hamburger.  Still, I'll definitely try one, next time I'm there.

I seriously don't get it. I drive by that square a lot and it seems like there's never more than a relative handful of people there at best. Not to mention that, at least to me, those burgers look dead average. It looks like something I could throw together with next to no effort, espeically since I can grab Martin's potato rolls from the corner store half a block away.

If it had to be in a square, why not Washington or Rittenhouse? If either one of those places was a viable option (which I'm assuming they weren't), I'm just confused as to why you wouldn't put that stand in a place with a considerably higher amount of foot traffic. I'm sure it has to do with permits or lack of cool little stands, but really, that stand in Franklin square looks like it was thrown together by 3 Little Pigs Contruction Co. It can't be terribly expensive to throw one of those things together.

Also to follow up on what Katie said, Philly isn't Manhattan. Why try and shoehorn a burger stand into a little used, out of the way square? Why not pick a place where a ton of people naturally go? I know it sounds like I'm coming down on this place pretty hard since it's been open for like an hour and I haven't been there, but my problem is just the whole thought process behind it. I hope it works, I just wish it was in a better place. Our squares might not have the viability of a Madison Square Park, so think outside the box a little.

Dear SRO,

Please strike a deal with Lloyd Hall at the top of Boathouse Row and put your burger shack there. You'll make a mint. Thank me later.

Sincerely,

Common Sense


I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer...

Homer Simpson

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I think you're oversimplifying Tim. I bet it would be extraordinarily difficult to get a burger joint approved for Rittenhouse or Washington Square. I would also bet that The City approached SRO, and not vice versa.

Besides that Franklin Square, one of the 4 historic squares laid out in our city by our innovative city planners, was until very recently a huge eyesore. Why not roll the dice and try to really make it nice?

Finally I don't think the point is to make a fancy over-the-top burger. I've tasted them and they're very good; they're better than a lot of burgers I've had in the city. I think the point is to have a little stand selling well-made refreshments in a renovated, historic and fun little square. You want to go play some mini-golf this weekend? The carousel also looks pretty great and I didn't get time to check out the gift shop last time. :D

edit: I was going to start with "Dear Common Sense," and finish with "Abby" but decided it was too snarky. :P


Edited by mattohara (log)

--

matt o'hara

finding philly

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There is a Capriccio Coffee and sandwich place in a similar building on the small park at the northwest corner of 16th and the Parkway. Much better location - SquareBurger would have rocked there.

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I've always thought that the little building in the middle of Rittenhouse Square would make a nice food stand. A goldmine. Think of all the money the Friends of Rittenhouse Square and Fairmount Park Association could raise to benefit the square. I've also wanted to close off 18th between Locust and Walnut and let all the cafes expand across 18th. I suspect the last pigeon will leave Rittenhouse Square before either of those happen. But would be great.

Drove by SquareBurger today on the way to drop off something for a customer. Around 2:15. Not one person in line. Grand Opening is tomorrow.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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one definite advantage of squareburger over shake shack: while we were at shake shack, a starling attacked my dining partner's burger twice -- while it was IN HER HAND.

All the fauna in Madison Square Park are overly aggressive. Those squirrels are terrifying. I assume they've been emboldened by being fed, or maybe people throw fries at them to drive them away and then they get to eat the fries. Win-win... for the squirrels.

There is a Capriccio Coffee and sandwich place in a similar building on the small park at the northwest corner of 16th and the Parkway.  Much better location - SquareBurger would have rocked there.

That would definitely be a very popular location - easily reachable from a huge number of Center City offices. Like others, I'm not sure I'll make it over to Franklin Square for this one, though I understand why the City would want it there.


Cooking and writing and writing about cooking at the SIMMER blog

Pop culture commentary at Intrepid Media

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What an original idea. Putting a burger shack in a park. Where have I seen this done before? Oh yeah. Manhattan. Source of all good ideas in SRO world.

Pfffftt. Whatever. rolleyes.gif

I'd have so much more respect for it if anyone would own up to being copycats and laughing all the way to the bank. Just call it what it is. I can respect that.

The implication that Philadelphians are that stupid and gullible is more than a little insulting.

Katie I would not even focus on who inspired what if the product is good.

I went for lunch at 2pm with 3 people yesterday and while food operations should not be judged by one visit, the burgers were terrible and the experience and effort to go get them was just pointless.

2 of us ordered regular burgers, 1 veggie burger.

All 3 were super dry though medium was requested.

The most annoying things were both beef burgers were split in half I assume to check the internal temperature which is the most unforgivable move in hamburger cooking.

In addition to that we waited 21 minutes for the food with 8 people in line, even worse the 7 people who came behind us got the food first.

Upon being asked why, the gentleman at the counter said that since they cook the veggie burgers to order, orders with veggie burgers take longer while the beef burgers are precooked.

The French fries were not good at all, I am not sure I completely agree with Holly that they should hand cut them based on space, there are good Frozen fries on the market, these just were not them.

At one point one of us had to run back to the car to stop us getting a ticket while parked on 6th street.

At the end of the day, the burger was not good, the fries were not good, you risk a $45 ticket unless you park 3 blocks away and walk and pay almost $10 each for slow-fast food.

I am not quite sure why you would not just walk into any Mcdonalds where at least based on yesterday the food is way better.

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fwiw, as far as parking around the square, there's a little street that i don't know the name of buried under the approach to the bridge. it's kinda hard to remember how to get to, which is why there's always parking there. you have to go down to 4th, and up vine, and make a left on lawrence or this one bit of 5th that seems like you shouldn't be able to turn left on it (but you can), and then the street is right there. it's probably officially new st. or north marginal rd. or something, but even google maps doesn't have it named.

anyway, considering that the rest of the area around franklin square is either federal or police only, it's hard to park there, and therefore i bestow this wonderful tip upon you all.

p.s. i still liked the fries fine; way better than the ones i had at PYT last night, anyway. and i liked my burger fine, but it couldn't come NEAR the PYT burger, either chicken or beef. and that's my comparison of new burger places for the day.

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Maybe SRG knows that this will be a low volume place and built a unit that could only handle low vol. Or perhaps they plan on having long lines to build cachet and then expand elsewhere. Sort of a Krispy Kreme maneuver.

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SquareBurger's TastyKake Butterscotch Krimpet Shake - Vanilla ice cream, half and half, a pack of TastyKake Krimpets and topped with whipped cream and caramel (maybe butterscotch) syrup.

The shake was great, except I found the crumbled up Krimpet coming through the straw weird - like cookie crumbs in a glass of milk. I thought I'd like the whole concept, but after trying it, I'd prefer the krimpets on the side. Maybe if I were 9 years old...

Gotta comment on the counter service this time. Curt, almost challenging. Heard one employee making fun of a lady before me not wanting whipped cream. A supervisor type was walking around talking to employees in the service area, distracting them from customers. Last time service was friendly. This time not so much. Maybe the workers need more breaks on a hot day. But based on today they need a strong manager to keep employees focused on service, starting with at least a friendly "hi."


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Rude/bad service at a Starr establishment?

[voice of Casablanca's Captain Renault]I'm shocked, shocked to find that rudeness is going on in here![/voice of Casablanca's Captain Renault]

:raz:

I can't imagine anywhere I'd still be working if I got caught making fun of a customer in earshot of other customers.

That crimpet shake sounds like it would be better served to get the butterscotch flavor in without the texture. I like the idea in theory, but chunks of junk in my straw sounds really unappetizing. A butterscotch shake sounds really good though...


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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