Saturday, May 10, 2008
Here's a crazy idea...go to three different burger joints and compare their cheeseburgers in a taste test. That is just what Duane and I did over 2 and 1/2 hours. We hit up three places in Delaware County to do a taste comparison. I had a biased opinion heading into it because I had been to all three places before. Duane had never been to any of them, so he was going into the taste test without any preconceptions.
We decided to visit Zac's in Media, Charlie's in Folsom, and Five Guys in Clifton Heights, in that order.
We walked into Zac's with great anticipation, for several reasons. First, it was our first destination. Second, Duane was ridiculously excited for this, evidenced by the research he had done online about reviewing hamburgers, his notebook with tasting criteria and the huge smile on his face. I also was excited, but was able to contain said excitement a little better. No matter, because it turns out that other people were nearly as excited as we were to be doing this. Once they brought our burgers to us, a few people noticed that we were taking pictures of the food, writing notes and generally discussing what was in front of us. One person asked if we were food photographers. Another guy heard us mention that we were doing a burger comparison and looked as though he was ready to ditch his (young) children and join us. Duane made the astute observation that he didn't really have much of anything constructive to say, but it seemed he really wanted to stand near us as we were discussing the food.
Once the burgers came out, we got down to business. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with ketchup, tomatoes and pickles. Duane ordered a bacon cheeseburger with everything and then added mayo and lettuce for good measure. He likes his toppings. In fact, he was scoring each place on their toppings selection. I chose not to do that. The burger fit the toasted bun well. Zac's burgers are relatively not greasy. They're clean and simple to eat and go down way too easily. The beef is fresh and not frozen and they cook it up for you when you order. My burger and bun stayed together very well, but Duane and his overloaded burger had a little trouble. I suppose you can't complain when you've got 8 or so toppings crammed between a soft, toasted bun.
In our excitement, we decided to pick up some extra burgers since Zac's offers 10 burgers for $12 on Saturdays. Later on, we realized the folly of our ways and couldn't quite figure out why we thought this would be a good idea. Anyway, with extra burgers in hand, we headed onto our next stop, Charlie's.
Charlie's in Folsom is a pretty simple place. They offer burgers and hot dogs. That's it. No fries. They don't have bacon. They've got a counter that looks at the flattop and a counter that looks out the windows. They tell you to stay in line after you order because it's easier for them to figure out who gets what.
The first thing Duane notices when we walk in is the plate full of thickly cut Velveeta cheese that is waiting to get placed on the burgers. It pretty much looks like what I imagine our arteries are going to look like after our third stop. But it gives the burger a little something extra. I ordered a cheeseburger with ketchup and pickles. Duane got one with everything, which was onions, ketchup, mustard and pickles. Like I said...it's a simple place.
The meat is already cooked and waiting for an order. The buns are pre-toasted. Everything gets heated up on the flattop when you order. These burgers are remarkably greasy. I suspect this is because of the Velveeta. You can feel the grease congealing on your hand as you eat it. Again, visions of clogged arteries dance through my head. Because there isn't much to the burger, it stays together nicely while you eat it. Overall, the burger isn't bad, but it's lagging behind Zac's from the start.
We finished up at Charlie's and moved onto Five Guys, our final destination.
Five Guys has a bit of advantage over the little guys. They've spread from their original locations in the Washington, D.C. area and they know what they're doing. That isn't to say that Zac's and Charlie's don't, but Five Guys is a bigger operation and their offering shows it. It's a different thing they've got going on. Their burgers are a bit more refined, though not necessarily better.
Once again, in striving for consistency for an easier comparison, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with ketchup, tomato and pickles. Duane ordered a bacon cheeseburger "all the way" which is most of the toppings they offer, including mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, ketchup, lettuce, and mustard. He threw in jalapeños for kicks. I forgot that a regular Five Guys burger is a double. The single patty burgers are called "little." The quality of the meat at Five Guys is definitely the best of the three places, but just barely ahead of Zac's. The burgers are pretty much right in the middle of Zac's (less) and Charlie's (more) in terms of grease. They wrap their burgers in aluminum foil, which squishes the sesame seed bun quite a bit. It also keeps the moisture in, which makes them a little soggy, especially when they sit a while, like when you do take out and drive home before eating them. Once again, my burger held up to the stresses of being eaten and stayed relatively intact during consumption. Duane's burger, on the other hand, had quite a bit of trouble. For some reason, his meat was crumbling and with so many toppings he had trouble keeping the burgers from sliding around. He decided in the end that the mushrooms were the culprit.
As we slowly finished the last few bites of our Five Guys burgers, the day was settling in our stomachs. We finished up tallying the scores from all three places as we sat in Five Guys, letting our food digest a bit before got back in the car and drove home.
The final score
Duane scored the toppings in his reviews and I chose not to. In order to make an easier comparison, Duane's scores are totaled both without the toppings and with the toppings (in parentheses).
Duane says it was a toss up between Five Guys and Zac's for him. His observation was that it is difficult to compare these two burgers because they are so different. He would return to either place depending on what type of burger he wanted. For me, it was Zac's all the way.
We had a great time doing this and we're already planning our next food comparison. Will it be cheesesteaks? Or pizza? Or hoagies? Stay tuned for more.
Complete set of my photos
Monday, May 5, 2008
From 39th and Chestnut to 2nd and Pine, City Chase Philadelphia made sure to spread the challenges out all over the city. Starting out at Love Park at 16th, we hoofed it 10 miles from challenge to challenge, not including the time spent on the bus and the subway. Needless to say, certain body parts were/are sore. But it was totally worth it. City Chase was tons of fun.
Our first challenge took us to the Schuylkill River for kayaking. This was something we were both hoping to do during the event and it turned out to be our favorite of the day. One of us had to kayak about two blocks down the river and then come back before returning and having our partner do the same. It was a lot harder that it seemed like it was going to be; the current around the bridge pylons tried to pull you into the concrete rather than let you go straight. From that first, tiring event we ran and fast walked to 39th and Chestnut for our next challenge.
The second challenge took us to the Boston Market at 39th and Chestnut. There we were met with stilts and the requirement to walk along a line about 25 feet long. Once we made it to the other end, we needed to give the stilts to our partner to go back to the other end. I was up first and after quite a few falls, that including banging my knee and cutting my thumb (battle scars! haha), I finally made it to the end of the line. There, I handed the stilts off to Becca and she mastered the challenge much faster than I did.
From there we headed off to the Fencing Academy of Philadelphia to, we presumed, fence. When we got there, we had to wait for 5 minutes or so before we even found out what the challenge was. It turned out that one team member had to take a fencing class (about 10 minutes) and then had to fence another team's participant. The catch was that you wouldn't get credit for the challenge until you won. So if it turned out that whoever was fencing sucked and kept losing, you could potentially be there for a long time. We decided against fencing although we both thought it would be fun. Later, after the race, Jared and Heather said they were there about 30 minutes, which was the class and two matches. We were glad we skipped it.
From the Academy at 36th and Lancaster we walked back to 22nd and Arch, via Market. We rode the bus to 22nd and Fairmount for our third challenge, a scavenger hunt at Eastern State Penitentiary. Given a Palm Treo (thank you Sponsors!), we had to find seven items on the list (out of 9, I believe) and take pictures using the phone. Neither of us had been to ESP and it was nice to get to see it, but we couldn't enjoy the tour because we had other challenges to complete. This is also where we filled up our orange balloons that we needed when we crossed the finish line.
With our balloons secured to our bags, we headed to our next challenge at the Urban Saloon at 21st and Fairmount. There one team member had to try and win a Wii bowling match against another team. If that team member lost, the other team member was busy building a house of cards to get credit for the challenge. See picture of the house of cards to figure out which we needed. It's tough making a house of cards and getting it to stay standing when the floor vibrates every time someone walks buy. Necessary steps were taken to make sure the table remained standing. We also turned in our Mensa challenge and walked out of the Urban Saloon with our day half finished.
Next, we tried to find Franklin Town Park, which Google put at 18th and Spring Garden to play SpikeBall, but we couldn't find it. Turns out the park is at 18th and Callowhill and we didn't walk down that far. Instead we walked back to Broad and Fairmount to catch the Broad Street Line down to South Street. At least that was the plan...instead, as we pulled into the Walnut-Locust stop, I had the brilliant idea to get off there and go a different route through the challenges. Which was idiotic and possibly a symptom of temporary insanity. Once we were off the subway, Becca kindly pointed out that we still had to go to South for two challenges regardless of where we got off. So...we trudged to 9th and Bainbridge for our sixth challenge at Expressive Hand.
When we talked to Jared after our fifth challenge, he and Heather had already completed 7 challenges. We felt slow, but this changed after we got to South Street and Old City. We walked into Expressive Hand for the challenge, which turned out to be finger spelling a word on a card that we randomly selected. The word turned out to be "City Chase" and we were finished our sixth challenge in about 3 minutes.
From Expressive Hand we headed up to the Whole Foods at 9th and South for another challenge that we were looking forward to. There we had to raise $30 for a great charity, Back on My Feet. Back on My Feet helps the homeless get cleaned up and get interviews to get themselves back on track. It started when Anne Mahlum would run past a homeless shelter every day on her run. She organized a running club with the homeless shelter and through running, got them the help they needed to turn their lives around. The challenge required us to solicit strangers on the street to donate money to the organization. As incentives we had shirts and wristbands which could be bought for $25 and $5, respectively. We didn't sell a shirt, but we did sell a bunch of bracelets. For me, the thing that stood out the most about asking for donations was that the kids we talked to donated more than the adults. We would talk to a group of teenagers and they'd all donate $1 or so. But the adults who could, theoretically, afford to donate more were harder to get the money from. It was a good feeling knowing that the kids were doing to donating. I suppose there's hope for today's youth, after all. After we raised our $30, we headed off to our 8th challenge at Society Hill Dance Academy.
We walked down to 2nd and Pine and found the Academy. There we found a pile of tutus and knew what lay ahead for us. After I squeezed into the pink tutu, we quickly learned a short routine. Then we did it 3 times, practicing twice and the third time to music. I am not the most graceful person on the face of the planet. But it was fun.
After earning our 7th challenge point, we trucked it over to 3rd and Market to Doggie Style. There we tried miserably to identify 8 dog breeds. After failing, I got to eat dog food. It wasn't so bad, actually. Luckily it was a "natural" dog food. It had turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes and other stuff. It tasted kind of like a cold stew and didn't go down too badly. Also, I had smartly brought gum along for the day, so I was able to chase the dog food with a stick of minty fresh gum.
A block down Market was our 10th and final challenge. We had to put a snake down our shirt. This was probably the easiest challenge of the day, but apparently there were girls that were crying while they had the snake slithering through their shirts.
After the 10th challenge we hustled back to Love Park to the finish line. After crossing, we learned that we finished in 110th place. Our friends Blake and Patrick finished 18th and Jared and Heather finished 75th. We figure that if we hadn't followed my excellent advice to get off early on the subway, we would have finished at about the same time as Jared and Heather. Regardless, we had a great time and it was a fantastic experience. I'm willing to bet that next year's Chase will be even better.
City Chase USA
Back on My Feet
Society Hill Dance Academy
Eastern State Penitentiary
Saturday, May 3, 2008
Mayor Michael Nutter came to the opening "ceremony" for City Chase USA Philadelphia and started getting down with all of the participants. He said that the city was campaigning to be the City Chase USA Host City next year. He expects participation in the event to at least double.
I truly believe that Mayor Nutter is going to turn around Philadelphia and make it a city people are proud to live in. He loves life and this city and he's not afraid to show it. More importantly, he wants to share that love with everyone who lives in, near or visits Philadelphia. He wants to clean it up. He wants to make it safer. He wants to get people involved with the community. And he wants to groove.
City Chase USA
Mayor Michael Nutter