Warning: Everything you know about Kobe beef is a lie. Take a listen.
This month’s edition of Notes from the Burger Underground is an overview of burger news and reviews that have appeared in major media outlets. Enjoy.
This is the Roman Burger from M Burger in Chicago, which uses grilled cheese sandwiches for buns. The fearless correspondents at NPR’s Sandwich Monday give it a (gut) glowing review.
Jane and Michael Stern of Road Food fame declare the pimento cheeseburger at Southside Smokehouse in Landrum, SC, the ultimate southern cheeseburger.
Grub Street laments the disappearing burger, a loss leader in NY restaurants that have proven so popular that chefs limit access to their meaty goodness. “More top New York chefs limit their burgers by selling them in very small quantities, or only at lunch, or only for the first 30 minutes their restaurant is open, or maybe just to the people sitting at the bar but not in the dining room, or possibly only on Mondays.”
Author Michael Ruhlman reminds us that if we want to make the best burgers we need to grind our own meat. Why?
And finally, the NY Times’s Sam Sifton deconstructs the perfect burger, dividing the universe into diner-style griddled burgers and thick pub-style. The trick? “Cook on heavy, cast-iron pans and griddles. Cook outside if you like, heating the pan over the fire of a grill, but never on the grill itself. The point is to allow rendering beef fat to gather around the patties as they cook, like a primitive high-heat confit.”
It’s review #55, and we’re eating a burger at a converted gas station. Is it possible not to think of Sammy Hagar and/or his magnum opus “I Can’t Drive 55”? The answer is no—it is not.
Which is fitting, because I felt about the burger at Chevy’s Sports Bar exactly how I felt about the Sammy version of Van Halen. (And yes, I know that “55” was pre-Halen; work with me here.) That is to say: I wanted to like it more.
Chevy’s had a lot going for it—a cozy, relaxed feel, super-homey service, an admirable beer selection, and fine boneless wings—but the burger (not unlike Van Hagar’s “Finish What Ya Started,” “Poundcake,” and the unrepentant nightmare that was “Dreams”) kept my taste buds well within the speed limit.
Scott’s review: 2.25 out of 5
Being snarky is easy. A professional burgiatrist can delight in delivering a righteous smackdown to a burger joint that just doesn’t get it. What is hard is rating a burger place that you want to like—a place that’s clearly trying but isn’t quite sure what it is yet. Chevy’s is one of those places. A gas station burger joint is funny—I don’t care who you are—but we couldn’t go for the easy joke. (Well, Scott could.) They obviously cared about what they were doing.
My burger, a classic combo of cheddar, bacon, mayo, and pickles, was decent. It was a little overcooked, but the beefy flavor came through. The pretzel bun was a little dry. My rating comes with an asterisk to denote that I’d like to go back when they’ve finished renovating and have found their groove. Chevy’s has potential.
Chad’s rating: 3.25 out of 5
How would I characterize this burger experience, set at a former gas station? Middle of the road.
The patty was overcooked but still juicy enough. The bun was toasted nicely but fell apart. The caramelized onions were good but not quite caramelized. My tailored burger order—of a fried egg, bacon, caramelized onions, and American cheese—came together nicely, but was missing the bacon. Despite these issues—and overall pedestrian flavor—the burger was OK. I hope that they work through the kinks and bring the burger to the sunny side of the street.
Don’s rating: 3.0 out of 5
“Potential energy is energy stored in a system of forcefully interacting physical entities.” (Physics for Scientists and Engineers)
A burger too is a system of forcefully interacting physical entities. In the case of the burger at Chevy’s case, these entities didn’t all interact the way a great burger should. The patty was cooked well with a nice char, but wasn’t seasoned especially well. The pretzel bun was nice but fell apart midway through. The lettuce was green and fresh but was placed under the bun, effectively sluicing the burger juices onto the plate. The cooked-to-order bacon was crispy and flavorful, which saved this burger from being merely average.
The burger at Chevy’s was chock-full of potential energy. They need to harness that energy to elevate their good burger to a great one.
Michael’s rating: 3.5 out of 5
Chevy’s overall ranking: 44th of 55
BURGER HISTORY, PART 1: SADDLE MEAT
How was the first hamburger invented? Look under your saddle, pardner. Download here.
BURGER HISTORY, PART 2: FUN ON A BUN
Where was the hamburger really invented? The Straight Beef explores the six leading theories and determines which is the least insane. Download here.
The burgers at Craft Public House in Cary are average. Exceedingly so. They’re so extraordinarily ordinary, in fact, that they inspired these burgiatrists to recall other outstandingly unremarkable experiences gone by. To take a stroll, if you will, down Mediocrity Lane.
Eating a burger at Craft is like crashing in front of the tube for an evening of Full House, King of Queens, and Two and a Half Men.
It’s like taking test drives in a Honda Accord, a Ford Explorer, and a Toyota Camry.
It’s like curling up at the beach with a paperback collection of John Grisham, Danielle Steel, and Dean Koontz.
It’s like going to a concert featuring a lineup of John Mayer, Steely Dan, and Phil Collins.
It’s like watching a movie starring Greg Kinnear, Eric Roberts, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Michael’s rating: 3 out of 5.
Scott’s rating: 3 out of 5
Chad’s rating: 3 out of 5
Don’s rating: 3.5 out of 5
As I travel this crazy burger-loving world, it becomes increasingly obvious that burgers are attaining their rightful status as a national meal. It warms this burgiatrist’s heart.
My burgiatric travels recently took me to Prague, where I learned about a new burger venture called Crush Street Food (www.crush.cz). Jan Picha, the brains behind Crush, was driven to burger greatness. In order to get his burger to the people, he retro-fitted an old Citroën truck into a burger-making machine. I discovered this silver beast among a throng of food vendors—a veritable olfactory celebration—in the Andel area of the city.
Jan explained to me that today he was serving the Hovezi Burger—a beef burger topped with grilled red peppers, pickled red onions, tzatziki sauce, lettuce, cheddar cheese, and chipotle ketchup.
Quite simply, the burger was great. Fresh, hot, juicy, and very tasty—the burger grand slam. The patty was nicely charred, the bun was toasted perfectly, and the toppings did not overpower the perfectly seasoned patty.
Well played, Crush. Well played. And yes, I’ll take the easy pun: You crushed it.
Don’s score: 4.75 out of 5.0
Strip Mall Surprise: A Recipe
Review painfully slow website. Preheat snark to medium.
Arrive at generic strip mall sports bar. Note the Skee ball machines and clusters of patrons at the bar—and the virtually empty dining room—and lower expectations to simmer.
Order wings and beers. Note with mild surprise the tastiness of the wings while lamenting the skimpiness of the beer menu. (Remember that too much lamenting this early in the recipe can lead to some bitterness.)
Order three half-pound burgers: one Carolina burger with chili and coleslaw, one Cheddar burger, and—taking one for the team—one Mac & Cheese burger, piled high with “homemade” macaroni & cheese that looks homemade only if your home is a blue box with “Kraft” emblazoned across it. Raise snark to high.
Take a bite.
Note the well-toasted, locally baked bun. Note the near-perfect sear and proper seasoning level on the patty. Reduce snark back to medium, raise expectations slightly. Chew thoughtfully. Take another bite.
Discuss quality of the burger with tablemates. Dial snark down to low. Remark on the high quality of the burger—with or without extraneous toppings—and completely rethink the experience.
Peel away previous bias and enjoy. Voilà! Strip Mall Surprise!
Scott: For a slightly spicier version of the recipe, add pinball machines, 70s-style paneling, and an unremarkable-looking joint serving an unexpectedly remarkable burger. I’m going all the way to 4.0-town for the Carolina burger.
Don: Cheddar Burger- Cheddar Cheese: I went with one of the most basic burgers listed and was struck by the nice char on the burger as well. The bun was great and perfectly toasted. My biggest complaint is with the amount of cheese that was used. It was lost on the burger. I don’t know if I actually tasted it in retrospect. All in all a very solid 4.0.
Overall rating:4.0, putting Rally Point Sport Grill at 22 out of 53.
***Congratulations to Brian Anderson for winning the contest. The correct answer was 40%.***
The nice folks at Smashburger in Durham have teamed up with The Straight Beef to give one lucky reader a pair of free entrées.
Smashburger opened its first Triangle location last month in Durham’s Lakeview Pavilion East shopping center (2608 Erwin Road), located across from Duke University Hospital.
What’s that, you say? You have a friend who—for no good reason—doesn’t eat burgers? Never fear! Smashburger offers grilled chicken sandwiches and fresh-tossed signature salads, as well as a variety of succulent sides like rosemary and garlic-seasoned Smashfries, Haystack Onions, and Veggie Frites.
But first, to win the contest for the pair of entrée certificates, you need to answer the following question correctly:
What percentage of the certified Angus beef used in burgers in the US is used by Smashburger?
(Hint: the answer can be found in our Smashburger Preview.)
Dear Buffalo wings,
What I am about to write will embarrass you, but I cannot contain my feelings any longer.
I love you.
I love you, I want you, and I need you. I am at peace when we are together, and I long for you when we are apart. You are the very definition of delicious.
There is no need to respond, Buffalo wings. Just know this: I love you now, and I will love you forever.
I understand that you saw my letter to Buffalo wings, and that you’re upset. I see now that my admission was tactless and cruel. Please know, hamburgers, that it was never my intention to hurt you.
We’ve been together for many years, you and I, and our memories exceed measure. And despite my affection for Buffalo wings (which, my dearest, I cannot deny!), my love for you shall never diminish.
You are, and will forever remain, my dearest heart.