This American comfort food will certainly satisfy, but the buttery buns might make you an addict.
1907 Chestnut St. 215.751.0707
Cuisine: American comfort
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 11am-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-midnight; Sun. 10am-11pm
Smoking: After 5 at the bar.
Atmosphere: Urban park.
Service: Cool, clean.
Food: Refined burgers, barbecue and three Thanksgivings' worth of sides.
That Devil's Alley sure got some nice buns. For real. A handful of meals at the six-week-old restaurant has made me dream of its sandwiches' exteriors: golden, luminous and perfectly plump brioches. Brioche: The word sounds like the swish of skirt, the swing of hips, the shake of bon-bon.
Chef Michael Yeamans runs both halves of each challah-like roll's sweet egg-enriched insides over the grill-giving it a buttery toasting-before turning the bun into a pristine double pillow.
Yeamans stuffs the derriere-ish rolls with 8 ounces of ground sirloin, which he crowns with thick onion rings encircling crisp fries that stand up like a bouquet. He ladles sweet and savory pulled chicken, pork and brisket onto mini brioche to make a barbecue trio.
Ground turkey, heart-healthy buffalo, all-American beef and wheatberry-based veggie patty: All are downright bootylicious, thanks to the bread they're served on.
Not that Yeamans bakes the rolls. He doesn't. He gets them from baker Nichon, whom he connected with during his decade cooking at Striped Bass and Rouge. After all, Yeamans has been slinging fancy hash in this part of town for a while. He knows what Center City eaters want.
So does Devil's Alley owner Susan Schlisman. After 16 years stuffing suburban masses with burgers and barbecue at her two Sam's Grills in Wynnewood and Jenkintown, she decided Philly needed a dose of what she calls "really good product at an affordable price."
But her third venture isn't like her first. The location, for one, is thoroughly urban. Long ago 1907 Chestnut was an alleyway. Today the narrow cement-walled space has been stripped down and perked up, made park-like with skylights, an open-out glass facade, potted plants and a wooden banquette whose slatted back runs up a wall to the ceiling. Chairs are silver. Tabletops are black. Placemats are brown butcher paper. A mezzanine cutout overlooks the first floor.
It feels like dozens of places you've been before, but not enough places in this part of town. Which is why nearly every day at lunchtime there's a line out the door.
Customers seem to eat everything here at lunch-not just burgers. Can't go wrong with much. The grilled veggie platter consists of a pile of balsamic vinegar-marinated portobellos, zucchini, asparagus, yellow squash and red onions served with a ramekin of crumbled feta.
Meatier midday entrees include a quarter rack of ribs and another quarter of a chicken-although both seem at least as big as a half-not smoky but slathered with sweet-and-sour bright-orange barbecue sauce brought in from Sam's Grill. The same sauce enrobes a generous salmon steak that has a glossy, near-rare interior.
There's a refreshing romaine salad, whose whole leaves are decorated with halved artichokes, salty kalamata olives, sweet roasted reds, tender grilled asparagus and hefty forkfuls of herb oil-poached big-eye tuna, all dressed in a mild herb and onion vinaigrette. There's a pizza of the day too-thin, rich dough-covered during one visit, with Asiago and goat cheese, grilled asparagus, grilled mushrooms and ratatouille-like tomato sauce. It didn't go begging.
Devil's Alley diners could live by sides alone. Mashed potatoes: red bliss tubers mixed with prodigiously delicious amounts of cream and butter. Sweet potatoes: spiced to taste like pie, whipped to melt on the tongue and finished with mini top-toasted marshmallows. Mac and cheese: not the stringy kind, but in a refined cheese sauce covered with Parmesan breadcrumbs and a cinnamon-touched tomato relish. Flour-less corn cakes: cute, flan-like yellow square sponges. Stuffin' muffins: even cuter mini muffins of sage-infused and carrot and celery-chocked cornbread stuffing. French fries: standard Idaho-issue potatoes sliced and twice-cooked to Belgian perfection, served in a tin bucket.
Dessert-while not always offered by the server-is nonetheless a requisite indulgence. Molten chocolate cake is warm and fragrant. Its center isn't quite liquid, but is still moist and irresistible. Challah bread pudding changes daily-cinnamon apple cranberry one day, chocolate with peanut butter hunks another. It's hefty, caloric and so worth it.
Still, nothing on the menu can compete with those golden-bunned burgers. The beef versions-available with
thick slabs of bacon, hunky blue cheese and crispy onions-give neighborhood competitors a run for their money.
But for my dough, the best rendition is tuna: ruby steak, cilantro, scallions, soy and wasabi-ground, served with a lime, fried garlic and sriracha sauce aioli alongside ginger slaw and thin slices of fried carrot, and between two perfect posterior-like buns. That's one baby worth going back for.
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