Phrankly Focus – The Playhouse

Phrankly is an online platform and website that provides transparency in food sourcing. I’m working with Phrankly to highlight some of the spots that take their sourcing seriously and how it makes an impact on their business.

There is something immensely satisfying about stepping back into the simple foods that you grew up with. My scope of what qualifies as comfort food has expanded over the years, but it’s hard to deny that feeling you get when biting into a juicy burger and some fried potatoes. The Playhouse/Swillburger opened up right before Christmas in 2015 and immediately made a mark on the local dining scene. No place in recent memory had such a build up prior to opening with multiple pop up events and a huge social media buzz. Thankfully, they delivered on my expectations and have been killing it with their simple food that is just executed properly.

I went over to The Playhouse to talk with owner Brian van Etten about why they work with local providers to source their ingredients. If you want to learn more about The Playhouse, check out the podcast I recorded with Brian Van Etten and Christian Simeone on Food About Town.

The Playhouse is a large building in the Swillburg neighborhood of Rochester that has had a rich history including time spent as a church and has been almost completely transformed. It now houses a full service bar with twenty taps, a fast casual farm to table burger joint called Swillburger and an arcade focused on the classics from the 80s and 90s. The interior design was a collaboration with Staach that includes an amazing Tetris like centerpiece creation over the bar area. The combination of the clean wood pieces and the casual vibe of the space works magnificently.

We are a streamlined farm to table restaurant with high quality ingredients while still fitting in with a neighborhood bar and arcade. It is a food philosophy of myself and the staff to keep our high standards while being accessible to everyone in a way they are comfortable with.

That casual vibe carries over into the food and drink being served at the Swillburger counter. I love the old school pin letter menu and the simple approach to the offerings that include griddle cooked burgers with fantastic crust, fried chicken thigh sandwiches, fresh cut fries and creatively topped tater tots. What also makes it special is the dedication to sourcing quality, local ingredients like Seven Bridges Farm beef and, when possible, potatoes from local sources like Headwater Food Hub.

I know that I can taste the difference between our local sourced product and a generic one. It just tastes more satisfying while still offering a great value to our customers. Our customers know the difference too, and tell us all the time that they appreciate where we get our ingredients from.

The hits don’t stop rolling after you get past the burgers and fries either. The team headed up by Chef Christian Simeone makes their condiments in house and makes tater tots a canvas for their culinary whims. The buns are from from Flour City Bread, one of Rochester’s best bakeries. The milkshakes have local ties with ice cream sourced from Eat Me Ice Cream that allows them to serve a full suite of vegan shakes that don’t disappoint. Thankfully, vegans and vegetarians have lots of options at Swillburger.

It is definitely a priority to offer a good variety of vegan options. We would be shooting ourselves in the foot by not exploring the expansive amount of options in that area. Virtually everything we do at Swillburger can be turned onto a vegan option. We even made a version of our house Swill Sauce vegan to make sure everyone gets the same great experience.

The bar is the visual centerpiece of The Playhouse and it carries the same values as the food sourced at Swillburger. Bar manager Jay Rodgers oversees the eighteen beer taps that often skew local and also the well crafted cocktail program. I almost always find something I haven’t tried before and the taps are constantly rotating to keep things fresh. The spirits are well crafted with a good selection of local options to choose from including two taps featuring Black Button Distilling based cocktails.

We try to pick higher quality products the bartenders enjoy working with. When we can bring in New York State spirits and beer that meet our standards we love to do so since it builds the local community.

The bar also hosts the over the top Bar Room Battle Royale finale of the Rochester Cocktail Revival where bartenders compete head to head in different events. If you can make it out this coming Sunday, it is a party that shouldn’t be missed!

When you look at the whole Playhouse experience, it’s hard to deny that it is the kind of place that just does things the right way. It takes the typical burger shack and turns it into both your favorite neighborhood spot and an experience all at the same time. You can go to a themed tap takeover, play some delightful classic games and then get food and drink sourced with integrity. I appreciate how much they care about it but they don’t shove it down your throat. They know that burger can stand on its own and I completely agree.

Keep on watching the Phrankly Focus for awesome spots that excite their customers like The Playhouse does in the Swillburg neighborhood in Rochester. Until then keep eating and let me know if you find something we need to feature here!

You can listen to Chris Lindstrom on the Food About Town podcast or check out his food blog, Foodabouttown.com. Share any dining tips with him on Twitter and Instagram @stromie.

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