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Brothers and sisters, sometimes a spiritual journey is required in order to test one’s convictions, to exorcise one’s demons—you know, to shake things up. The need for such a pilgrimage led me to Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic. For two weeks, I searched and searched, looking for burger enlightenment. As I grew accustomed to gorging myself on stuffed chicken breasts, wood-fired pizza, and kobassa and beer, my focus was less and less on burgers. I was losing my way. That was until I was saved—yes, saved, brothers and sisters!—by the holy site that is Dish. (www.Dish.cz)
This looks good, but where’s the buttermilk fried bacon?
Dish was a spiritual oasis in a desert of heavy, often overly sauced, foods. Dish just makes burgers—and they make them well. Their menu might be simple, but the flavor of their burgers are complex. I gave witness to the burger they call “Savory,” topped with their homemade ketchup, a Portobello mushroom, caramelized onions, a baked tomato, and parmesan cheese chips. The beef was perfectly flavored and cooked to a perfect medium rare. Customer can see the chef prepare the burgers, and it’s clear that he cares that the build is organized and presented well. The bun was a bit of a letdown, as it overpowered some of the complex flavors, thus keeping this angel earthbound.
But still I left with my faith restored, my pilgrimage complete.
Don’s review: 4.5 out of 5
In this episode, we talk about the differences between chains and local burger joints and why we haven’t reviewed certain places. There’s also a little meditative interlude near the end. Download this episode and all of our back episodes with iTunes or directly from the Libsyn feed.
Would You Eat It?
Battle of the Burgers 2013, clockwise from top left, STG (Save the gravy) burger, GCCB (Green curry chicken burger) ultimate fusion, Steakhouse burger, Hoad’s hot jalapeno burger and Texas luau burger. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles Times has wrapped up its third annual Battle of the Burgers (click link for recipes), crowning five winners from hundreds of entries. Recipes were whittled down by reader voting to the top 20. Each of those 20 reader selections was prepared in the LA Times test kitchen and judged by the food editor, the restaurant critic, the head of the test kitchen, and other staff members, who chose the top five.
That should produce a great hamburger, right? Instead, it produced a freak show.
Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much; let me sum up. In addition to my duties as a member of The Straight Beef, on-call forensic burgiatrist, and unofficial link to the seamier sides of the burger underworld, I sometimes judge beer contests.
Beers that win contests are rarely beers that you’d want to sip after mowing the lawn. They are bigger, bolder, maltier, hoppier and more aggressive than standard beers. They taste wonderful for the one or two sips that a judge might take, but you probably wouldn’t drink a pint of one, much less order a second or third.
These burgers are like contest-winning beers. They’re too much. Too over-the-top, with recherché toppings and multi-step (and sometimes multi-hour) preparations.
A good burger is a thing of beauty and a thing of simplicity: good beef treated with care, seasoned simply (but aggressively), grilled or griddled to a light crust on the outside, and topped with ingredients that enhance but don’t overpower the flavor of the patty.
That’s the recipe for a perfect burger. It’s also the recipe for losing a hamburger contest, where the premium is on originality rather than flavor.
These burgers are the monster trucks, the nitro-burning funny cars of burgerdom, behemoths seething with testosterone. They are built to impress rather than please.
The Straight Beef has a rule of thumb that any burger with more than four toppings must be truly exceptional to overcome the difficulty of eating it and the overwhelming likelihood that the toppings will mask the flavor of the beef. None of these burgers has fewer than seven toppings, and you could not possibly eat one without a knife and fork.
Great burgers to wow a contest judge. Lousy burgers to serve to friends and family.
(Photo from freefoto.com)
Pilgrims, today I reach out to you about the paradox of faith in the burger. We only truly experience enlightenment when we have faced a trial that often shakes our faith in burgers. A few months back, I had an experience so gut wrenching – so sacrilegious- I was afraid of the burger. I had stared at the abyss of hopelessness and it stared back. I was defeated- broken. It was at this point of questioning my beliefs in the burger that my burger brethren rallied around me. They lifted me up. They showed me the path and we had a top 5 experience. It was heaven sent.
So brothers and sisters, if you have had your faith in the burger tested, if you have faced the abyss and it has stared back, if you have decided the grilled chicken sandwich is a safer bet, let us rally around you. Let us raise you up. Let us show you the path. Visit one of our top 10 and have your faith restored. Always remember in the time of darkness, love the burger and the burger will love you back.
Reverend Don Corey
Today’s reading is from the book of Burgiatry, chapter 9, verse 17, The Straight Beef’s Top 10
Chuck’s = 5.00
Only Burger = 4.88
Mojoe’s = 4.83
Brewmasters Bar and Grill = 4.67
Buns of Chapel Hill = 4.67
Draft = 4.58
Johnson’s = 4.50
Barry’s Cafe = 4.50
Bonefish Grill = 4.42
Salem Street Pub = 4.33
Ok guys, I found a receipt in my pocket that shows I paid for a burger with fried egg, bacon, and American cheese at one “JD’s Tavern” in Apex. Did you guys pull a prank on me? I can’t remember the burger at all. I remember awesome buffalo shrimp, good conversation, a long wait for food, and a couple of laughs at Scott’s and Chad’s expense. That’s about it. Definitely no burger.
That makes sense—you do always get bacon and egg on your burger. Maybe you need something different in your life, like the pineapple and salsa meat sandwich I had. Wait—was it just a sandwich? Maybe it was a burger.
That certainly looks like a burger. Why can’t I remember eating it?
OK—this is slightly eerie. I also have a vague memory of eating at JD’s. When the four of us get together for an outing, we usually review burgers, right? But for the life of me, I can’t remember having one there. We wouldn’t have gone on a burger outing and not had a burger, though, right? Right? Please tell me I’m not losing it.
I also recall good conversation, decent beer, excellent Buffalo shrimp, and little else. I was as stunned as the rest of you to find a hamburger on my credit card slip, so I did a little research.
Burgiatra Britannica contains references, albeit incomplete, of a phenomenon called “burgnesia.” Apparently there were experiments done in the 1940s under a secret government program designed to determine if a foodstuff, most notably hamburgers, can be made completely forgettable. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) determined that under the right circumstances, a hamburger can be rendered so pedestrian that it is erased from the subject’s memory. I think that is what is going on here.
Nicely done, Major Beef. Another mystery solved. Now it’s coming back to me a bit—something about sliders with three-day-old buns and flavorless patties. I’m not sure I remember it well enough to give a rating, but I’ll go with 2.0.
Hey, Scott. Remember me? I still have one of your fillings.
Oh wait! Now I remember this burger. It was completely pedestrian. The goodness of the bun was countered by the fact the patty was way overcooked. I ordered the burger medium rare, and that was a solid well done. The meat was bland and dry, the fried egg was too hard, and the bacon was just…there. Rating 3.0.
I can’t walk. How can I be a pedestrian?
J.D.’s Tavern has either resurrected WWII stealth burger technology or they have inadvertently stumbled upon a burger that is so uninspired that the brain completely erases its consumption from recall. It is neither good enough to merit recognition nor bad enough to warrant space in memory. Whether they realize it or not, they have perfected the invisible hamburger. If I could recall it better, I would probably give it a 2.5. The overcooked burger itself deserved a 2.25, but the excellent brioche bun pulled it up.
Wait, I definitely remember Scott’s sliders. They deserved their own jaw muscle workout video, “Buns of Stale.” My pineapple salsa . . . sandwich . . . burger . . . whatever, was most notable for having pineapple and salsa on it. I give it a 2.75.
Scott and Michael talk about the joys and differences of flat grill vs. open grill cooking. Scott also puts Michael’s extensive condiment knowledge to the test. Download this episode and all of our back episodes with iTunes or directly from the Libsyn feed.
The Straight Beef’s recent Podcast #4 raised the critical issue of whether or not a patty melt is a legitimate hamburger. The answer to that question hangs on one’s belief in the importance of the bun. If the bun is a critical component, then the patty melt, which is traditionally served between slices of rye bread, is not a burger. If, as the Food Lover’s Companion says, a hamburger is “. . . a cooked patty of ground beef between two bread halves, usually in the form of a hamburger bun,” a patty melt is very definitely a variation on a hamburger just as a pimento burger is a variation on a cheeseburger. We’ll deal with this topic in greater detail (and with greater vitriol) in an upcoming review.
Why all the bun angst? Because the bun is important. The founding members of The Straight Beef are adamant that a kaiser roll is never a fitting delivery vehicle for a hamburger. Latecomer and burger iconoclast Chad believes that a kaiser roll is sometimes appropriate for pub-style burgers, those whopping half pound giants whose juiciness and overloaded toppings can sometimes overwhelm a lesser bun.
All agree, however, that the perfect hamburger bun for classic, diner-style, griddled hamburgers is the potato roll, specifically the Martin’s potato roll. Our friends at the Burger Lab at A Hamburger Today conducted a series of taste test that confirmed our findings. You can see the results here: The Burger Lab: What’s The Best Bun For My Burger?
Photograph by Robyn Lee, A Hamburger Today
The minions at The Straight Beef’s secret undergound lair and test lab are currently putting the finishing touches on the ultimate homemade hamburger bun recipe. In the meantime, this recipe from King Arthur Flour is a good start: Hamburger Potato Buns
Photo courtesy of King Arthur Flour
1) Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix and knead them — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft dough.
2) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in bulk.
3) Turn the dough onto a lightly greased surface, gently deflate it, and divide it into 6 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
4) Place the balls into the greased cups of a hamburger bun pan, flattening gently. Or place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 2″ to 3″ between them; flatten gently.
5) Cover and let rise until the buns have doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
6) Bake the buns for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they’re light golden brown.
7) Remove them from the oven, and brush them with melted butter, if desired.
8) Transfer the buns to a rack to cool. Store buns, well-wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.
Yield: 6 buns.
These Are Not The Burgers You’re Looking For
The voice of the Ancient Burgiatrist Kobe-Wan came quietly into the Straight Beef’s collective conscious:
“You will go to the Gorman Street System.”
“There you will sample the burger and learn its secrets, just as I did.”
The scene opens on The Straight Beef seated at Gorman Street Pub. They have just been served their hamburgers.
Scott: I have a bad feeling about this.
Don: I find your lack of faith disturbing.
Chad: Kobe-Wan said we were to learn the secrets of these burgers, but it tastes like those secrets include a Bantha-load of spices – onion powder, garlic powder, red chile flake and cumin, lots of cumin – even on the plain burger.
Don: When I ordered my burger, I was not expecting it to have been seasoned at the spice mines of Kessel. After all, it was the Have It Plain burger—I just added bacon and egg. But alas, the burger is seasoned to the taste of a Wookie with a lot of ‘Arghhhhhhh’ (Don roars and pounds his chest, causing several patrons to turn and stare.) It overpowered the rest of the fixings and is a bit of a letdown.
Scott, Michael, and Chad were handed the wrong plates. Each samples his burger, realizes something is wrong, trades his plate . . . and then trades again. Still, they have a hard time determining which burger is which.
Chad: I ordered the Black ’n’ Bleu burger, Cajun rubbed with bleu cheese. When you can’t tell the plain cheeseburger from the Cajun spiced burger with bleu cheese, there’s a problem. Maybe “Cajun rubbed” means they have a Louisiana native chained in back who gives it a good pat down before serving.
Scott: The possibility of receiving the correct burger order is approximately 3,720 to 1.
Michael: Never tell me the odds!
Michael glances over at Chad who is chewing grimly and then glares at his burger.
Michael: My friend doesn’t like you.
The burger doesn’t respond.
Michael: I don’t like you either.
Scott: As senior Burgiatric knights we learned all learned the Way of the Grill, you “Do or do not. There is no try.” Gorman Street Pub doesn’t even try.
The Straight Beef departs Gorman Street Pub. As they exit, an eager young couple is entering the restaurant. Michael waves his hand in a complicated gesture in front of the man’s face.
Michael: These are not the burgers you are looking for.
Man: These aren’t the burgers we’re looking for.
Michael: You should go on about your business . . . perhaps at Only Burger, Chuck’s or one of The Straight Beef’s Top Ten.
The man glances at his wife.
Man: We can go on about our business at one of the Straight Beef’s Top Ten.
The man’s wife stares at her befuddled husband and then strides forward purposefully.
Woman: That’s just creepy. I’m going to have a burger.
Don: It’s a trap!
Woman: I’m not afraid.
The Straight Beef: You will be. Yoooou wiiiiilll beeee.
In this very special episode, Scott and Michael discuss perhaps the most hotly debated issue in the history of burgiatry. Also: We got some fancy new podcasting equipment, so you should be able to hear us now. (In stereo, no less.) Download this episode or all of our back episodes with iTunes or directly from the Libsyn feed.