On a health–conscious campus like Penn, Bobby’s Burger Palace can be easily overlooked by the veggie–loving population. Luckily, Bobby Flay himself is setting the record straight: Bobby’s isn’t just burgers. Given the opportunity to interview the Iron Chef and sample his vegetarian menu, I can say that everyone can eat like a king at Bobby's Burger Palace — even without meat.
Bobby Flay opened his first location in 2008 as a foray into the fast casual dining space. The chain has since grown, now with 19 locations including the University City spot. Flay, who studied at the French Culinary Institute, brings a gourmet touch to his cooking. He elevates the fast food standbys of burgers, fries, and shakes far beyond the McDonald's standard. "I create everything, especially at BBP. It's very hands–on," Bobby said.
In addition to the regulars, Flay creates a burger and shake of the month for the menu. As for December, Flay revealed the specials early to be a Christmas–themed burger and a dulce de leche milkshake. He finds inspiration for his cooking everywhere: “My whole life revolves around food. When I’m traveling, when I’m eating at other restaurants, when I’m competing on my shows. I dream about food. I see finished dishes.” His love of food is reflected in his menu—from his city–inspired burgers to the variety of ketchups and sauces provided on the table.
Recent additions to the regular lineup have included meat–free options to cater to the growing vegetarian population. “I pay very close attention to what people are eating and what trends are going on. When you say the Penn campus is very healthful, I would say every campus is. People in that age group are very healthful. I have a daughter in school out in California, and they are very thoughtful about the food that they are eating.”
The menu features three salads: Chopped Crunch, Super Kale, and Palace Quinoa. These are no sad side salads either; they are hearty meals filled with a variety of mix–ins. “When devising a salad, it is important to have a lot of things going on,” Bobby said of his more recent menu additions. The Chopped Crunch is inspired by his daughter’s namesake "Sophie Salad" at Flay’s Mesa Grill. Featuring chickpeas, avocado, feta, and cucumbers, the $8.95 salad competes with Sweetgreen in terms of freshness and flavor.
A self–declared “burger purist,” Flay did not add a vegetarian version to the menu for years. When challenged to cook a veggie burger on his TV show Beat Bobby Flay, he was impressed enough with his creation to add it as a permanent item to the menu. “If you are with two friends, and they all want burgers, I don’t want to lose you as a customer. I was happy to be given that challenge.” The burger, crafted from barbecue wild mushrooms, chickpeas, and quinoa, is served cheeseburger–style with spicy mayo to top it off. While the burger doesn’t pretend to be the real thing, it doesn’t have to. It's spicy and flavorful in its own way.
For those who want to eat like Flay himself, true fans order off the menu and ask for the “Bobby Style Burger." “It’s a cheeseburger with coleslaw, pickled jalapeños, chipotle ketchup, and crunchified with potato chips. That’s how I eat it when I go to Bobby’s.”
The crunchify option has been on the menu since the beginning and is a favorite of many customers. “It definitely differentiates it. When they [order] it, they don’t go back. If you add some crunchiness to the burger, it makes it a better sandwich.” Flay incorporates other food trends into his burgers, offering toppings like avocado relish and a fried egg. However, don’t expect any gimmicks or food fads. “I’m not into anything unicorn. I don’t like how unicorn tastes," says Flay.
While Flay himself never cooked dollar ramen in his dorm room, he does have advice for first–time college chefs. “Start with something that is recognizable to you. If it’s roasted chicken, find a really good, simple roasted chicken because you know what you want it to taste like and look like.” From there, Flay suggests creating a repertoire of five dishes: one chicken, one pasta, one fish, one steak, and one salad. Once those are mastered, time to get creative. “Once you have success and build confidence, you can start adding and making it more complicated.”
As for adding to Bobby's Burger Palace, Flay plans to expand. "We are definitely going to be doing more licensing deals. Nothing crazy, just to get it more out there. I get asked by a lot of different places to open them there." As the true burger king, Flay's palace could soon grow into an empire.