In Baguio, the burger becomes the King
I have to admit, I had my doubts two weeks ago. Would Billy King, renowned Prince Albert chef and creator of Le Souffle, much loved for his souffles and lamb creations, be able to pull off an All-American menu? He is known for his French cooking after all, and with Irish pragmatism, said of the old John Hay menu, “It’s just burgers and ice cream.”
The burger at Camp John Hay
But the John Hay burger was never “just a burger.” Talk to anyone who grew up with memories of the old Baguio and they will always gush about that John Hay burger. Food writer Alice Herrera remembers burgers at the 19th Tee with blue cheese dressing. Cook Magazine editor and golfer Dino Datu remembers the burgers at Halfway House. The John Hay burger was legendary.
So I held my breath when Cocoy Puyat, burger aficionado, told me that he and wife Ella Puyat, went up to Camp John Hay over the long weekend just for this burger. “I gauge the greatness of a hotel by its burger,” he said.
Thankfully, Billy King proved his burger is king. “This is what I’m talking about!” Puyat said. He described the burger as juicy, with all the flavors oozing from the meat and not just on top. Its greatness is measured not in size but in its flavor.
Unlike other burgers that try to be great by simply being too big to fit in your mouth or being made “special” with foie gras or truffle oil or other add ons, Billy King’s John Hay burger is simply a burger done right. The meat is not overcooked nor too rare; the cheese is Monterey Jack, and the bread—homemade—is superb.
This burger alone is worth a special trip to John Hay, just like back in the day. It is available on the menu at Le Chef at the Manor on Saturday nights and Sunday lunch, but only until Oct. 2.
But I am crossing my fingers that they put this burger on The Manor and The Forest Lodge menus forever.
- S. Off the menu is Billy King’s chili. It is also the best! Ask for it, with extra cheese, please.
The best place to stay in Baguio, especially for golfers, is The Manor in Camp John Hay. Alternatively, there is the Forest Lodge, which is the affordable version of the Manor but with just as elegant facilities.
But whether you are there for business or pleasure, a Baguio visit will not be complete without an appreciation of its cultural sites.
Aside from the Ben Cab Museum, food editor Dino Datu also recommended Tam-awan, a Baguio artists’ village and “garden in the sky.” It literally feels like you are driving to the sky during the 25-minute drive from Camp John Hay to Tam-awan. It is quite high up that in some days, it is covered in fog. (We found it via Waze.)
There is an entrance fee of P50 for adults and P30 for students and senior citizens. Then you go up steep stone steps to the galleries upstairs. There are also Cordillera Huts where you can stay overnight to experience real Ifugao living for only P500 (rates may change, visit tam-awanvillage.com for updates). Sometimes there are shows.
A cafe across the main gallery serves Benguet blend coffee and native delicacies like pinikpikan, a native chicken soup, smoked meat like kiniing, and indigenous rice. Occasionally, the menu says, artists themselves cook their own recipes in the kitchen.
A more extensive menu is offered next door at Farmer’s Daughter, which serves Ibaloi cuisine such as smoked meat called kinuday or kiniing, blood sausage called pinuneg, and the must-have dessert of mashed taro root called paytoy.
My two go-tos in Baguio are Chef’s Home by Chef Alvin Emuang, who, to my mind and palate, whips up the best Asian food in the country; and Rancho Norte in the Ketchup Community compound.
While I had always ordered the tapa at Rancho Norte—you can have Tapang Baboy Damo (boar) or Tapang Kabayo (horse, if you dare!)—I was delighted on this trip with their lechon kawali sisig. It is so good you will want it all to yourself.
Baguio Craft Brewery
If you are a beer lover—as I am—check out The Tasting Room at the Baguio Craft Brewery. Chris Ordas, Arnold Miguel and friends make their own beer including an American Pale Ale called Englishman in New York, an American wheat ale called Kabunyan, and a Baltic porter called Kraken.
Friends of Baguio Craft Brewery like Burgers and Brewskies founder Francis Balbarin also recommend Amare, a pizzeria at the Albergo Hotel, which makes Napolitan pizza.
If you bring your dog with you, as I did, you’ll be happy to know that Ketchup Community allows dogs in, as does Roadhouse Barn.
Roadhouse Barn is full of animal love, with a huge portrait of an animal “board meeting” and quotes like “A home without a dog is just a house”.
Order the house ribs and carnitas JJ-Changa, which is their version of a burrito.
I asked them to hold the butter on the side of veggies for my dog Stardust.
If you come from a typical Pinoy family, then you can’t go home without pasalubong. While the raisin bread at Baguio Country Club is still the best, pair it with the strawberry jam from The Deli by The Manor. You can literally take the sweetness of Baguio home with you.
With the pine trees and chilly weather, Baguio is a place where it feels like Christmas everyday. I would strongly recommend to head up before the mad Christmas rush and get a little head start on feeling the happy holidays.
Camp John Hay, Ordonio Drive, Baguio City, Benguet. For reservations, call (074) 4240931.
Forest Lodge (beside The Manor) at Camp John Hay. For reservations, call (074) 4222075.
Tam-awan Village, Long Long Benguet Road, Baguio. Open 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily including Sundays and holidays. For inquiries, call (074) 4462949 or visit tam-awanvillage.com.
Ketchup Food Community, Romulo Drive, Baguio. Open daily starting at 8:00 a.m.
Baguio Craft Brewery, Ben Palispis Highway, Baguio. Open daily starting at 5:00 p.m.
Amare La Cucina, EGI Albergo Hotel, #1 Villamor Drive, Brgy. Lualhati, Baguio. Open daily starting at 11:00 a.m.
Roadhouse Barn, 1 Ignacio Villamor Drive, Brgy. Lualhati, Baguio. Open daily starting at 10:00 a.m. For reservations call (074) 442 2936.
More at margauxsalcedo.com. For food news and updates, follow the author at @margauxsalcedo on Instagram.