Burgiatry Breakthrough!

Durham’s Ninth Street Bakery Offers Brioche Bun

Ari and his soon to be world famous brioche bun.

Ari Berenbaum has spectacular buns.

There is one ingredient that always makes food taste better. It’s called “love.” It’s also called “butter.” And when there’s love and butter, magic happens.

That magic happened recently when The Straight Beef met with Ari Berenbaum, the new owner of Durham’s Ninth Street Bakery, to taste his brioche hamburger bun. Our host was George Ash, owner of Buns, Chapel Hill’s boutique burger joint, one of our top five burger places.

The Straight Beef has always taken a firm stance on hamburger buns. A bun is more than a mere delivery system. A good bun can make or break a hamburger. The classic diner-style burger bun is a squishy potato roll, which is perfect for a single patty cooked on a flat-top, but for anything larger, it tends to disintegrate with each bite, leaving the eater with a sloppy handful of patty and condiments. On the other end of the spectrum are wheat buns and the dreaded Kaiser roll, which offer greater structural stability but at the expense of excessive breadiness and too much chew.

Brioche, rich with butter and eggs, is a classic French-enriched bread. It is usually found in popover or loaf form and served at holidays. Ari Berenbaum has turned it into what may be the perfect hamburger bun.

Ari explained how the brioche bun is different from normal buns: In addition to the tenderness provided by eggs and milk, the introduction of softened butter–after the other ingredients are mixed–allows for ribbons of butter to layer in the dough.

“There is a richness to brioche,” Ari said, “a depth of flavor, a yeastiness and balance that you don’t often find in a hamburger bun.”

In the interests of objective burgiatric science, we tasted the brioche by itself. It was light, soft and delicious, with a beautiful sweet butter favor. Then we tasted George’s standard wheat and regular buns. The brioche crust was softer and easier to bite through, the crumb was light and airy, and the flavor trumped both other buns easily.

The real test came, however, with the burgers. Could the brioche bun stand up to a variety of toppings? Reverend Corey ordered his burger with bacon, grilled onions, American cheese and a fried egg to see how the light interior of the bun withstood the wet toppings and the ravages of a lava-like egg yolk.

Mr. Ward went classic with pickles, mayonnaise and sharp cheddar, the Spartan selection highlighting the interaction of the bun and patty.

Both burgers were enhanced by the brioche bun, adding depth and a hint of butter to each bite. While the bun had a way of dissolving quickly in the mouth, allowing the favors of the burger and toppings to come through, the interior remained structurally sound almost until the end, surrendering to the juiciness of the burger and toppings only at the last bite or so.

As always, the burgers at Buns were perfectly cooked and seasoned, offering the ideal test platform for the bun.

Ninth Street Bakery’s brioche buns are exclusive to Buns in Chapel Hill for the time being, but Ninth Street distributes its breads in grocery and specialty stores from Greensboro to Raleigh. The bakery expects to have brioche buns in Harris Teeter and Whole Foods stores in the upcoming months.

Pictured from left. Ari, Don, Chad, and George Ash.

Pictured from left. Ari, Don, Chad, and George Ash.

Work Those Buns!

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.

The Top 5

This post was originally posted at WRAL Out and About.

The Straight Beef is pleased to announce its Top 5 Triangle-area burgers so far (well, 6, actually—there was a tie for 5th), including excerpts from each review.

Each burger is rated on a scale of 1 to 5; an asterisk denotes a tie.

5. JOHNSON’S (Siler City) Average score: 4.50*

“Do yourself a favor, my friends. Go to Johnson’s soon. Get there early. Get that classic, humble, beautiful, delicious, American, quintessential cheeseburger and wash it down with a Pepsi. Savor the melted Velveeta. Then drive among the pastures and fields along Highway 64. Get yourself one of these 4.5s and live the American dream. I implore you.” (John)

5. BARRY’S CAFÉ (Raleigh) Average score: 4.50*

“Barry’s continues to get it right, with very nice American cheese, very fresh veggies, the very build order required, a very nice and traditional bun, and very nice attention to proportions and assembly to bring all of the very nice flavors together….This is a very, very, VERY good burger, people. Which is why I am resisting any urge to replace the word ‘very’ with ‘Barry,’ which would have been juvenile.” (John)

4. DRAFT (Raleigh) Average score: 4.58

A haiku: The Blazin’ Asian / Draft approaches perfection / Rating four point five (Michael)

3. BUNS (Chapel Hill) Average score: 4.67

“I suspected that the burger would be good, just not this good. Every bite of the exquisite Buns burger was a Dionysian commingling of flavors and juices that rang bells of delight through the hallowed annals of burgiatry, elevating me to a level of burgiatric pleasure seldom imagined. It was, simply, a celebration of life.” (Scott)

2. MOJOE’S (Raleigh) Average score: 4.83

“Wow. Yum. Man, that’s a good burger. Wow. Is this burger amazing, or is it just me? Yum num num. [Sigh.] Whew. Man, there’s just not a lot wrong with this burger. Yum num num. Yum num num num num. This has got to be a five. I mean, if this isn’t a great burger, what is? Yum.” (Scott)

1. CHUCK’S (Raleigh) Average score: 5.00

“Seekers on the path to enlightenment must pursue the Four Noble Truths. It can be very time-consuming. I suggest that those in search of enlightenment simply visit Chuck’s, where four other, easier, noble truths are posted on the menu: (1) half-pound 100% chuck, (2) house ground, (3) flat-top seared, (4) on a potato roll….This burger led this burgiatrist to true enlightenment.” (Michael)

Burger World Turned Upside-Down Yet Again

The Straight Beef’s Rating System Revised To Include Quarter Points

Here’s the Triangle’s new Top 10, based on our new average scores:

1. Mojoe’s (Raleigh) 4.83

2. Brewmasters Bar and Grill (Raleigh) 4.67

2. Buns (Chapel Hill) 4.67

4. Johnson’s (Siler City) 4.50

5. Bonefish Grill (Cary) 4.42

6. Salem Street Pub (Apex) 4.33

7. Corner Tavern and Grill (Cary) 4.17

8. Players’ Retreat (Raleigh) 4.08

9. City Beverage (Durham) 3.50

9. The Cheesecake Factory (Raleigh) 3.50



Review #13: Buns (Chapel Hill)

  • Joint: Buns
  • Burger: Double Stack (various toppings)
  • Category: Classic Rocks

John’s Review

I’m a sensitive man, and I’m proud of it. Many a time have I found myself overwhelmed by a sudden revelation of sheer varicolored beauty, in rich chiaroscuro and in salient relief to the fundamental grayness of this world and our lives within it. When I’m blessed with such revelations, I absorb them instantly, completely, and make no effort to abate my tears of joy. This time, it was captured for posterity.

Look at the deep saturation of natural color in the image above. Witness the wondrous interplay of the fluorescent light upon the curved surface of the freshly baked bun, verdant lettuce, and healthy tomato, with the deep shadows of the perfectly charred ground chuck and sautéed mushrooms. Behold in this moving burgiatric composition not only the colors and textures of the fresh ingredients, but how the elements relate. The vision comes to magical fruition and bespeaks a talented artist who creates with love and passion.

Buns is owned and operated by a man who loves and understands a great burger. I know this from eating one of his creations and from listening to him share not only his own burgologic values, but his sincere appreciation for the offerings of other gifted peers. Rather than dive into exposition on each ingredient of this burger, I’ll let the image above and my emotion within it do the talking. Buns is recommended with a strong 4.5. I hold back on giving a perfect 5 because the delicious ground chuck patties were capable of a bit more juiciness (though I checked with our proprietor and he assured me that no patty-pressing occurs under his roof….Thus, it is a mystery). Perhaps on my next visit, which will certainly be soon.

Michael’s Review

This is The Straight Beef’s 13th official review, but I urge all triskaidekaphobics to set aside your superstitions for a moment.

I eschewed the typical toppings for my Buns burger, going with sautéed mushrooms, Brie, and pesto mayonnaise. Going without lettuce or tomato was almost exotic. Made for a burger that was earthy in aesthetic and flavor. It was a welcome change of pace from the usual American cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Not for the novice, though.

At first taste, the burger seemed a little dry, like it might have been left on the grill a little long. I thought it might have been because there wasn’t quite enough mayo. When I went to ask for more, the owner (George, more on him later) said he had originally thought the cook used too much and had him scrape it off. The fact that he cared enough to make that adjustment speaks volumes about his burger philosophy.

In Buns we trust.

After a lengthy conversation with George Ash, Buns’ owner, about a wide range of burgiatric topics, I decided to confer upon him an honorary Doctor of Letters for his tireless work in the field of burgiatry. As for my burger, I confer upon it a 4.75.

Scott’s Review

A disclaimer: It has been suggested by a reader that The Straight Beef was preordained to review Buns, Chapel Hill’s popular new burger joint. After all, averred the shrewd observer, both parties have names that are “more than slightly suggestive.” Rather than deign to respond, I will simply dismiss this suggestion is ludicrous, unseemly, and more than slightly rude. But because this is a family site, and because I recognize that the confluence of the two names in question might result in an inappropriate—albeit unintentional—implication, I will place my review on a separate page, to ensure that minors be shielded from any erroneous turn of phrase.

Yes, I am over 18.

I am not over 18.

Nice tomato.

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