Odes To Our Favorite Burgers: In Which City of Ate Reflects on the Best Meats
With burgers, like many things, beauty is in the mouth of the be-eater. While I've been running around town looking for my perfect burger, I realize that everyone has their favorites, and no amount of smackdownin' is going to change the mind of a devoted burger enthusiast.
I polled the staff of the Observer and asked them, not to simply vote for their favorite burger, but defend their love. They sent me a mouthful.
Rachel Watts, clubs editor My favorite burger is the Cool Beans cheeseburger at Cool Beans Bar and Grill in Denton, where they have maintained the same $3.50 burger special each Friday for more than a decade. For the past two years I have seldom skipped a Friday. Eating Cool Beans cheeseburgers over a game of dominoes is now a tradition in my world. What I admire most, and what has kept me coming back more than 100 times, is its inconsistency. You never really know what you're going to get, and it depends a lot on which cook is making it.
Really, it's nothing terribly fancy, just your run-of-the-mill toppings, like lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, mustard, onions, pickles and cheddar cheese. Sometimes the burger and bun are burned to a crisp, other times the burger is so juicy the cheesy grease sauce runs down your arm and drips off of your elbow onto your basket of waffle fries (which are included in the $3.99 basket and drink special). I guess I like the element of surprise. Somehow the cheeseburger never tastes the same as the last time I ate it, whether because the proportions are always different or because each cook uses a different method, but regardless, it always tastes like a cheap American cheeseburger -- the best kind.
Food Bitch During a lunchtime visit to Oak, I felt compelled to order the burger. It's intriguing when a high-end restaurant offers up a burger, and many do, because it feels like table stakes; a menu item restaurants consider a challenge. An Oak fan, I was interested to see how chef Jason Maddy would put his own spin on the everyday sandwich. What resulted was not only incredible, but incredibly memorable. It came open faced, showing off a soft butter lettuce leaf topped with a thick, red slice of tomato, some red onion and salt and pepper. A small bowl of thick-cut horsey pickles cheered me on from the sidelines. The cheese on this thing was near pornographic. I found myself wanting to cover it up, gently moving the red and green toppings over to the gooey side. Then I spread some of the accompanying Dijon onto the bun before assembling the tower completely and slicing it through to reveal its medium-rare insides.
The first bite made me slightly uncomfortable. This thing was just too juicy to be enjoyed in such a buttoned-up setting. And I'm not sure if there's such a thing as too much umami, but if it can be argued that there is, this burger had it. It was savory to a visceral degree. Hours, even days later, I was still thinking about it. Nowadays, Oak has eliminated their lunch service, but the memory of that burger proves Maddy can rock a somewhat pedestrian dish just as expertly as one that contains octopus and pork jowl. It might not have been as beautiful, but my mouth didn't mind one bit. That burger still haunts me. It is my burger white whale.
Jessy Hughey, copy editor Malt and Jake's Special: Thousand Island, double meat, teenage graffiti.
Nick Rallo, web Jedi The best burger I've ever had came minutes after the worst flying experience I've ever had. I was flying to New York City to visit my brother, and bad weather suddenly diverted us -- 30 minutes before landing -- to Buffalo. After frantically landing in Buffalo, we sat on the runway, unable to deplane, for nearly three and a half hours. Hour seven passed of My Hell Day with American Airlines, and I'd eaten maybe three cashews and a shitty Natural Valley Granola Bar. Here's where my brother wins the award: The second I stepped out of the cab, he hustled me over to Shake Shack in the Upper East side. It was closing in minutes. I ordered a double Shack burger with fries, and ate it with a cold beer at my brother's place. Maybe it was not having any food inside me, or the cold beer, or the beautiful way the cheese melted, or the juicy crackle through the patty, but at that moment it was the best burger I've ever had.
Catherine Downes, editorial everything Up until recently, the notion of consuming a patty of ground-up cow flesh sandwiched between a bun really grossed me out. I avoided burgers on menus, opted for turkey or veggie patties when necessary and turned down bites when offered. As far as I was concerned, hamburgers = gross. That all changed a few months ago. I was at Meddlesome Moth and a few Live Oak HefeWeizens in when dinner arrived. The dude sitting next to me offered me a bite of his "Meyer Natural Beef Burger." I accepted (probably because of the beer), and to my surprise, fell in love (with the burger, not the dude). There was something about the beef, Tillamook cheddar, homemade Thousand Island dressing, ripe tomato, lettuce and purple onion combo that melted my heart. I now regularly crave that burger.
Christian McPhate, intern
It gazes in the mirror just to admire its seeds.
It once lay on a McGriddle just to see how it felt.
Chefs often attempt to replicate it because they find its taste irresistible.
Its buns never get soggy unless you drown it in ketchup.
It tastes delicious with or without mayo.
French fries mate with curly fries just to be at its side.
Its calling card simply says, "Interesting."
It was named "#1 Burger for Lunch," by a clown named Ronald.
Five Guys rub their fingers across its meat and it still pleases the opposite sex.
It tangos with lettuce and an onion without spilling its grease.
It's the most interesting burger in the world. "Stay hungry, my friends."
Scott Reitz, professional fat man Boulevardier. The burger is sick. Start with at least a dozen oysters to prepare your palate, or maybe just because they taste so damn good. Eat them with cold beer because everything about this meal is relaxed and cool.
Order your burger medium, confidently, knowing it will arrive just as requested and when your burger arrives waste no time. Take a massive bite and admire the warm, rosy center of a patty that's tender but still has the texture of a burger that used to be steak once. With lettuce, onions and tomato lightly kissed with sherry vinaigrette, bacon with snap, and a breath of smoke from a wood-fired grill that permeates every bite, this isn't a just great burger just in terms of mechanics and execution -- it's a burger work of art.
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