We are about to finally get to witness one of the most hyped and contentious restaurant openings of the year. My first sighting was of a highly seared burger in May 2014 and I’ve been closely following the progress of The Playhouse/Swillburger ever since. The last year or so has been studded with pop up events at the Owl House and other locations where we got to try the burgers and other menu items as they developed. A successful Kickstarter campaign was funded in early July and that brought about even more attention both positive and negative to the long development process.
Let’s take a step back. For the uninitiated, The Playhouse/Swillburger is a combination burger joint, bar and arcade located in the Swillburg neighborhood of Rochester. The two main men behind the venture are Chef Brian van Etten and Jeff Ching who have ties back to the Owl House and that feel and attention to ingredients comes through at The Playhouse as well.
The former church building is at the corner of South Clinton and Meigs and has been nicely renovated with plenty of wood touches and splashes of color with the design help of Staach Inc. Arcade and pinball machines pop right when you walk through the door followed by a showpiece bar area and then the wooden walled Swillburger portion of the space off to the side.
The walls and the pin board menu give it a distinct feeling of a dive pizza or burger place but in a very refined kind of way. I absolutely love the end finish there and it suits the simplicity of the food and the style as a whole.
The menu is boiled down to burgers (beef, chicken or veggie) with toppings, a small selections of sides including two kinds of fries and onion rings, and shakes. There is a focus on locally sourced ingredients including meat from Headwater Food Hub, potatoes, rolls from Flour City Bakery and ice cream from the girls at Eat Me. The bar has yet to officially open, but it will feature 20 beer taps, a full craft style cocktail menu and a shaved ice machine that is unique for our area.
So, after all the hype, is the food worth it? From what I’ve had so far I definitely think so. The basic beef burger is top notch with assertive salting and the best crust of any burger I’ve had in Rochester. Take a look at that picture above. That is some serious searing power from the 1″ thick stainless flat top. This is a burger along the lines of a Five Guys style, but with much better ingredients and with more care from top to bottom. The free topping offerings are solid; my personal favorite so far are the sauteed mushrooms. Seasoned well and enough grill flavor that they don’t get lost in the shuffle.
Personally, I’m just happy to see The Playhouse open for business after their arduous build out process. This was an ambitious project and one that seems like it will pay off in the end. They are still in a soft open phase while their liquor license is being processed, but will be open this week Tuesday 12/29 – Thursday 12/31 from Noon to 10pm. Full food menu (selection may change by day) and arcade will be available during soft open.
It is more than just hype now. Get out, try a burger and check out the space for yourself.
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