Allen Burger Venture has nailed the art of the destination hamburger.
The beef is better – grass-fed, organic, aged for deeper flavor, a patty that delivers more wows than average cow.
The kitchen’s execution is precise, too, thanks to the years of fine-tuning from managing partner Dino DeBell and chef Todd Serotte.
In a time when medium rare has been driven extinct in many precincts, snuffed out by management policy or cook carelessness, Allen Burger Venture will put you in the pink.
Its toppings – vegetables, cheeses, auxiliary meats – are tasty riffs, a special-occasion splurge on a bun. Blue cheese on a burger is fine, but try cambozola, like blue with the melty seductiveness of brie. Or a prosciutto-wrapped patty gilded with white truffle cream cheese, or Ommegang caramelized onions paired with porter cheddar. What’s still surprising is how it does at meals where you could look at the table and say: “Where’s the beef?”
The inside is still rock 'n' roll meets steampunk, with walls of album covers and a proliferation of iron tap handles behind the bar that could figure prominently in the stickier scenes of a heavy metal horror opera.
Outside, a patio at Allen Street and Elmwood Avenue provided urban views: bubbles pouring from a window, lit by the setting sun and a person in a wig asking people for change.
Allen Burger Venture has become an Allentown staple for lots of reasons. Whiskey is one, with exploratory flights starting at $9.
The beer lineup is an outstanding array of craft, with no Buffalo beer outside of Thin Man, but maybe that’s what you should expect at a Mike Shatzel place (Thin Man Elmwood and Chandler Street, Moor Pat). There even was a nonalcoholic India pale ale. I was surprised to see bubbles up and down the glasses’ interiors, usually indicating unrinsed chalices, surprising for a craft specialist.
The meatless marvels start with appetizers, like the Texas-sized onion rings in Olde English 800 batter ($8), puffy as monster truck tires. Allen Burger Venture also sends out the best housemade jumped-up tater tots ($8) in town. These are golden nuggets of coarsely ground potato and onion, not the textureless mash of competitors. They come with bacon scallion sour cream and cider sauce for dipping.
The sweet lime-chile-cilantro sauce with the impeccable fried calamari ($13) was as genius as ever. There’s even a destination salad made of fresh green beans and marinated tomatoes, enlivened with radishes, shallots and plentiful flakes of good feta ($13).
Vegetarians have a couple of sandwich options including a spicy black bean burger topped with baby kale mango salad ($15).
But the chole stole the show. The menu calls it a chickpea burger chole ($15), so you might expect a falafel patty. But chole is Indian, the chana masala – curried chickpeas – of the burger world.
A bite of the griddled patty was electric, alive with ginger, coriander and garlic. Dressed with cilantro chutney and racy, tangy serrano yogurt sauce, it was an incredible vegetarian burger – one that wasn’t born in a test tube somewhere.
A tuna tataki burger ($19) was tuna steak crusted with cracked black pepper and seared so it was still sushi-raw in the middle. Seated on a brioche bun, augmented with spicy mayonnaise, slips of cucumber and sliced avocado, the rich ensemble soared, seasoned with between-bite dunks in a ramekin of citrus soy.
A few years ago, the place added Danger Dogs ($10) to the lineup. These are pudgy links made of wagyu beef, wrapped in bacon and griddled into happiness. I’m not sure the luxuriousness of the beef strain was a huge influence on the hot dog’s flavor. It ended up reminiscent of a finer-grained kielbasa, which is a compliment.
A banh mi version echoed the Vietnamese sandwich flavors with gently pickled waffle-cut daikon radish and carrot, plus jalapeños and spicy mayonnaise. Another version arrived smothered in Colorado green chile, Monterey jack cheese, coarsely chopped onion, tomato and sour cream. This was a dog that ate like a meal.
The house-cut french fries are excellent, on average the right sort of puffy-crispy potato batons that make me happy. Even better, this is a place that can make truffle Parmesan fries that don’t taste like a frat locker room, from truffle oil overdose.
If you have a devotion to art rendered in burger form, make your way to Allen Burger Venture. I haven’t even gotten into the lamb burger with tzatziki ($17), or the way the prosciutto-wrapped patty of the No. 12 burger, combined with the truffled cream cheese, is the sort of peak umami experience that could hold you through quite a few weeks of vegetarian existence.
Go for the beef, stay for the vegetables, because the heavy metal burgermeisters of Allentown can shred with either hand. In a town with a hamburger on every menu, ABV’s go to 11.
Allen Burger Venture – 8 plates (out of 10)
Location: 175 Allen St. (768-0386, allenburgerventure.com)
Prices: appetizers, $5-$14; hot dogs, $10; burgers, $15-$19.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Atmosphere: Rock inside, streetscape out.
Wheelchair accessible: yes.
Gluten free: buns, fries and tots.