Burger Week in Philly wouldn't be complete without talking about the original headliner patty, The Rouge Burger. Owner Rob Wasserman was responsible for taking the Rouge Burger to new heights at the famous bistro, including opening a standalone burger shop, 500 Degrees. The original Rouge Burger was part of legendary restaurateur Neil Stein's dominance of Rittenhouse Sqaure, and has become a part of Philly lore.
We chatted up Wasserman about what made the original Rouge Burger such a big hit, where the first national attention came from, and what's next for 500 Degrees.
Can you talk about the origins of the Rouge Burger?
Sure. Peter Dunmire was the original chef at Neil Stein's Rouge, and he was the inventor of the original Rouge Burger. The menu was mainly Asian, but there needed to be some comfort food, too, and that's how the original Rouge Burger came to be.
What were the elements of the original Rouge Burger?
It's made up of a 12 ounce custom beef blend patty, carmelized onions, and gruyere cheese on a brioche challah bun. And we haven't changed it a bit, lest we suffer the wrath of angry burger fans.
Who was the first person to give the burger such high praise?
I think GQ was the first to notice it, and listed the Rouge Burger as one of the 10 Burgers You Need to Try Before You Die in 1998. After that, Oprah Winfrey came by and gave it her thumbs up, as well, and then things really took off. We got lots of love from the local critics, too.
How did 500 Degrees come to be?
During the Rittenhouse Square Festival in 2007, we decided to do a slider version of the Rouge Burger, just to see how it would go. We had a line form from 18th Street stretch all the way down to 15th, and knew we had a big hit. So, the idea for 500 Degrees was born right there.
So, how has 500 Degrees done since opening up shop?
Fantastic. We're covering a set of fans that don't go to Rouge, and brought the price point down to where it's affordable for more people. We're looking to expand in a few places, but nothing is set in stone yet.
You were responsible for The Burger Brawl. How did that come about?
We have young kids that go to Meredith Elementary, and during a parent/teacher conference there was discussion about lack of funds for a new computer lab. So, I started asking other shop owners if they wanted to participate and everyone was so gung ho. We had a great first year, and raised $18,000. The second year, we added liquor, and raised $65,000. We're trying to top that this year. 36 schools pitched us for funds, and we're going to help as many of them as we can.
Anything new this year?
This year, we're auctioning off a judge spot at The Burger Brawl to the highest bidder. We're going to set it up on Facebook, and the bidding will end next Wednesday, April 24. So, if you're interested in being a part of the Burger Brawl, check it out.