I have a philosophical problem with turkey burgers. Now, I know that some of this is a result of my own personal issues that I have to work my way through. But the sad truth is one that too many health-crazed people are scared to admit: Turkey burgers are rarely, if ever, as good as their beef counterparts. They lack the chew, the savor, the primal sense of satisfaction that comes from tearing into a juicy, medium-rare patty of bovine love.
So imagine my surprise—my shock!—when I took that first bite of Boots & Saddle’s turkey burger and found myself swooning. I mean this literally: I actually wobbled for a second.
It was among the best turkey burgers I’ve ever had. This deeply satisfying patty was a dense yet somehow fluffy miracle of ground bird. Of course, it was helped along immeasurably by a bit of smoked duck fat. And the pickled long-hot peppers didn’t hurt either. And all sandwiched between halves of sweet brioche? Well, this was poultry majesty, and a refutation of all that I thought I’d known about turkey burgers and their too-frequent shortcomings.
Boot & Saddle is full of surprises. Located on a, shall we say, not aesthetically pleasing stretch of South Broad Street, its door beneath the original, time- and weather-worn sign, you walk in and find an oasis: pressed-tin walls, warm wooden tables, a well-considered beer selection scrawled on boards by the bar, and, in the back most nights, live music. On a recent December evening, arriving before the band began strumming, I’m pretty sure I caught the closing strands of a Lou Reed tune reverberating through the speakers. A song from the ’80s band Mr. Mister rang out at one point. Someone, somewhere around the bar, called out for “more cowbell” as I sipped my soul-warming draft of Tröegs Mad Elf and my friend enjoyed a Sixpoint Global Warmer, which was ironically named for such a frigid night.
Those beers are excellent framing devices for food that impressed at nearly every turn. The grilled cheese sandwich, a seemingly standard offering for a bar with comfort-food convictions, was a full order of magnitude better than I was expecting, a result of impossibly meaty shiitake-mushroom “bacon,” oil-cured tomato and bread as snappy and decadently crisp as I remember from childhood.
No, that’s not fair—because this was better.
Hash browns, if just a bit too oily, nonetheless were cosseted in a perfectly snappy shell and, complemented by an ingenious smoked cheese sauce, embodied what we all wish cheese fries were like. Just make sure you eat these as soon as they arrive, as the cheese’s texture suffers a bit as it sits. No concern here, though; you’ll want to gobble it up immediately.
As you will with the homemade, hand-rolled pasta. The lineup changes weekly, but I genuinely hope that the tonnarelli with house-cured baccala finds its way back. The noodles, like mostly uncoiled telephone wire, were textbook al dente, and the salt cod among the best and brightest I’ve ever tasted outside of Portugal.
Executive chef Christopher Davis is clearly adept in the ways of the sea, as the “octopus on a stick”—a happy-hour offering that our charming server, Erika, was able to finagle for us from the kitchen—arrived delicate and tender. Skewered with a sliced pickle and homemade bacon, and dragged through a paprika aioli, it was hard to think of a better beverage-accompanying snack.
The only vague disappointments were the whipped goat cheese streaked with red-chili honey—a perfectly fine dish, but in the context of the other fireworks it fell a bit flat, even with the excellent sesame crackers to scoop it up with—and the cocktails, both of which we tasted were distressingly dilute. The King Cole especially, which was like a riff on an old fashioned but with pineapple, lacked much punch.
But that’s a quibble compared to the ample pleasures delivered by nearly everything else here. Because in a city with more than its share of comforting, welcoming bars, Boots & Saddle brings it all together brilliantly—and with excellent live music to, um, boot. The turkey burger enough would have been enough to keep me coming back. But I plan on becoming a regular for so much more than just that.
Boot & Saddle
1131 S. Broad Street
267-639-4528 | bootandsaddlephilly.com
Photograph by Felicia Perretti