The Best Burger in Chester County, Pennsylvania?

It was the first truly nice evening of spring.  A two-day heat wave gave way to a dusk that was tinged with the smell of cut grass, the rhythmic chirps of insects awakening to their own dawn, and the longing of everyone who, bone-tired of a winter chill that had long overstayed its welcome, just wanted to sit outside with a cold drink and a nice meal.  As it so happens, that’s exactly what we found at the Four Dogs Tavern in West Chester.

There’s some history behind the stone walls and heavy wooden floors of this place.  Two centuries ago, The Four Dogs Tavern was a stable, an accompaniment to the neighboring stone edifice that is now known as the Marshalton Inn.  A few days earlier, we had made an attempt to come to the Four Dogs Tavern for dinner and drinks with our neighbors, but the weekend crowds had packed the establishment so thoroughly, it was impossible to even find a hostess to find out about the wait.  We left, frustrated, only to fall prey to a lackluster dinner at a nearby bar that, in hindsight, should have never even been considered as a second, third, or even fourth option.

Despite the initial impression, we made a second effort to hit Four Dogs a few days later.  Like a lot of things in life, it turns out that timing is key – having gotten there at around 5:15, we were seated immediately in the outdoor patio area.  By 6:00, though, a line of hungry patrons had started to form around the periphery of the patio, with various sets of eyes darting to and fro, looking for any signal of a dessert order, or a request for the check.  There would be no such satisfaction, though, at least not from our table – given the weather, the beer, and the excellent food, our early bird status had given us free license to linger and savor each moment.

We started with an order of the calamari, served on a long serving platter, crusted with parmesan, and dotted with remoulade and parsley pistou.  Far from being overwhelmingly chewy, a sure sign of poor quality pre-frozen ingredients, each of the tender rings was delicate and tender, lightly batter-coated and flash-fried until just barely done.  Despite the wispiness of the coating, the richness of the remoulade made for a deceptively heavy dish, at least when apportioned between two people.  Overall, the calamari is a pleasant departure from the traditional heavily breaded stalwart tubes that one always sees served with a cup of marinara.

What really made the meal, though, was the burger.  Described quite simply on the menu as an “8oz Black Angus Burger with Fries”, its unassuming title fails to convey the absolute perfection of what arrived at the table that evening. A pillowy bun, wrapped lovingly around a thick patty that was prepared precisely to order (an occurrence so rare in other establishments that I’m actually surprised when someone gets it right), with a burst of sizzling hot juices that run down your wrist on your first mouthful, and the crusty char that is characteristic of the best tavern burgers around.  This is why I would be a miserable failure of a vegetarian.  Some cultures worship cows as sacred beings; I worship cows because they are delicious.  Is this the best burger in Chester County?  It may very well be.

The fries are worth a mention, for the sole reason that they reminded me of the fries that they used to serve at Veterans Stadium – crisp, thin, and not at all greasy, and not at all like what is served today at Citizens Bank Park.

The quality of this meal went a long way towards convincing me that, one day soon, we need to book a reservation at the Marshalton Inn for dinner.  If the kitchen can be so artful in its execution of a simple grilled burger and fries, I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by the higher end menu items that are served across the parking lot.  But, before that day comes, I suspect that I’ll be having quite a few more burgers at the Four Dogs Tavern.