When I heard that the University of Pennsylvania was receiving a new food hall, I had my doubts. I still remember how half-conscious college students would wander in and order cases of Doritos Locos tacos and Quiznos deli sandwiches. Even for a dining hall, the sitting area was horrendous. The room had a green and yellow color scheme, accompanied by a television blasting CNN. In other words, it was never a place I looked forward to visiting.
So, when the new dining hall, Franklin’s Table, finally opened, I was a bit curious about its new vendors. I wanted to see if this new food hall had brought in any promising Philadelphia restaurants that could at least outperform a Taco Bell (apologies to any hard Taco Bell fan). Thankfully, I was not disappointed with the KQ Burger.
If “KQ” sounds familiar, it’s because KQ Burger is a direct relative of Kensington Quarters Restaurant and Butcher shop. KQ Burger is the newest restaurant opened by 13th Street Kitchens. The 13th Street Kitchens, owned by culinary couple Michael and Jeniphur Pasquarello, already has several restaurants under its belt including Bufad, Prohibition Taproom and Cafe Lift. Now, coordinating with Kensington Quarters, it opened a new fast casual offshoot in Franklin’s Table on the UPenn campus.
KQ Burger also inherited Kensington Quarter’s mission statement of sustainable and high-quality beef. On the front counters there’s even a huge sign advertising “100% Local Pasture Meat.” At first, I was skeptical of such a claim. There seem to be plenty of restaurants eager to spout such claims without real commitment, but Head Chef Rick Ortiz was clearly dedicated to the meat and its quality. As a former employee at Kensington Quarters, Ortiz explained that he talks directly with his farmers to get high quality grass-fed and pasture beef. He even hopes to transition the KQ Burger from ordering just sub-primal cuts of chuck to entire cows — an ambitious goal for any restaurant, let alone for a burger joint.
Thankfully, Ortiz’s commitment to quality was reflected in the food. My first meal was pretty straight-forward. I ordered a Classic: a cheeseburger (cooked medium upon request) with cheddar cheese, KQ sauce, and roasted red onions. It was a good burger by all accounts, but it wasn’t extraordinary. I’ll reserve that praise for their cheesesteak.
In my opinion, KQ’s cheesesteak may be the best in University City. The steak itself has a delicious caramelized crust, and is served with a batch of caramelized red onions. Then, the flavors are solidified by KQ’s in-house cheese sauce, which binds the sandwich together on a delicious long roll.
The fries are also a great complement to the meals. They are not oversized potato wedges or meat flavored frozen sticks. Instead, the fries are something you may get at a quaint French bistro, thin cut potatoes season with a bit of salt.
The actual dining area is quite nice. The new white tiles and wooden tables are a welcome change from the horrendous decor of the old dining hall. There’s also plenty of seating so it’s a perfect place to bring friends on your 40-minute lunch break. If you’re curious, you could always wander the hall and watch cooks bake pita, toss pizza or roll sushi. However, don’t plan on coming to KQ Burger for a late-night snack. The hall is never open past 8 p.m.
Ultimately, I would recommend KQ Burger for the cheesesteak alone. It’s a perfect place to get a midday high-quality lunch at a reasonable price.