A Tale of Two Burgers, Part 1: Barclay Prime

Burger Breakdown

Barclay Prime - Map It!
$19.00
Mustard onions on top; lettuce, tomato and pickles on the side.
Included. Tater tots, enough to fit in your cargo pocket.
6.5/10

I find all of Steven Starr's restaurants to feel like movie sets. They're hyper-real. If I needed to film a hip bar scene for an episode of Sex and the City, I'd pick a Starr restaurant. And if I needed to shoot a '20s era gangster film, I'd choose the lounge at Barclay Prime. Large black and white square-tiled floor, wood paneled walls, molded ceiling, high-back brown leather chairs—this place is the interior decorating equivalent being of dressed to the nines. It's classically elegant and beautiful with a couple modern twists; the music being one, and the the subtleties of the furniture being the other. Sure, it's a bit pretentious (not to mention expensive), but it's not the kind of place you go every day, and the wait staff seems to have a good idea of how to deal with the various breeds of clientèle. They smiled like slightly embarrassed parents as we photographed our food extensively before consuming it, and when we were ready to go they had the check printed and ready for us for us... hey, wait a minute...

Photo of dry aged burgers at Barclay Prime

Laurence: We'd heard about the Barclay Prime burger from a friend who works there, who said it was fantastic. We pondered the statement, checked our wallets (required, as the burger costs $19), and headed for Rittenhouse. The Dry Aged Burger is not a single burger but two small burgers (3 oz. each). The meat is a combination of strip steak, rib-eye, and porterhouse. It's served with English cheddar on a bun that has an outer layer much like a pretzel, I suppose giving it local flair. When it comes to ordering meat (or any food that requires eater feedback as to how it should be cooked) at a high end restaurant, I ask how the chef recommends the dish. In this case he recommends medium-rare. I went with it.

Photo of dry aged burgers at Barclay PrimeThe texture is unlike most burgers, but this isn't most burgers. It didn't seem to be ground. It was more like finely chopped steak, which in all likelihood it was. It's a flavorful burger but you can't exactly discern the nuances of the various kinds of meat. For that kind of experience you need to go to a Brazilian steak house. Surely it was a tasty burger, rich and savory, but medium rare was pushing it for my taste. The meal is served with tater tots rather than fries, which I was upset by at first but they were probably the best tater-tots I've had, although I don't know if that's saying much since the last tater-tot I'd eaten was in a school cafeteria. Overall I think it's a great burger but it's not a great price for what you get. Score: 6/10 



Kyle: I find sliders to be morally offensive. People seem to think they're fun, but there's nothing fun about getting less food. Barclay Prime plays on this perception and wants this meal to be cute; from the kitschy wrapper to the ballpark-style mustard onions, the whole presentation is supposed to be fun. Do you know what would make it even more fun? More food.

Photo of dry aged burgers at Barclay PrimeAside from the condescending size (and make no mistake, if you're paying $19 for 6 oz. of meat, someone's laughing beyond your back), what you get is unlike any burger you've ever had. The patty is made from finely shredded strip steak, ribeye and porterhouse, all dry aged. As Laurence notes, it's almost impossible to make out the individual meat flavors, and what you get tastes like heavily smoked brisket that simply falls apart in your mouth. The aged cheddar and crispy, almost wheat-like bun perfectly complement the dry taste. The mustard onions, on the other hand, seem like an insult to the beef. When you're eating something composed of fine steak, putting the same onions on it that you get on your $1 lunch truck hotdog just kills the delicate flavors. Both onion and mustard could be excellent pairings to the meat, but neon yellow mustard is not the answer.

The tater tots were very tender and tasted fine, but again, they just seem like another part of the joke on the customer. Little burgers, little potatoes; it's like the restaurant is mocking you for not buying the $95 kobe strip steak, and the attitude doesn't do the meat justice. For all its faults, I absolutely loved the taste of this burger, but I can't imagine paying this price for the same meal a second time. Treat your audience with a little more respect, turn this thing into a full-sized meal, and it would both raise my score and bring me back. Score: 7/10

Verdict: 

Though an excellent burger and an important stop on the Burgerdelphia Quest, I'm not sure it's worth the dough. This is essentially a $19 appetizer, and appropriately, we were still hungry for the main course. With no burger entree on the menu, what were our heroes to do?

Naturally, they went out and got another burger. (Click here to eat more.)

6.5
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