Thursday, December 29, 2011

Serious Burger - Appleton, WI

Today's review comes from the great Midwest (Appleton, Wisconsin) and a great friend of mine, Josh Rolfing.  We've been eating burgers together for years, and he was kind enough to write a review for Pure Burger!  From Josh:

Iʼve been following a while now and have been inspired to enjoy, rather than inhale, the burgers I consume. This led me to Serious Burger.  As the name implies, this burger joint doesnʼt mess around (there is a large cleaver in their logo). I did some research and learned they just opened up this past summer and are 100% organic and use lots of local ingredients. I had a ton of questions and hoped a manager or better yet, the owner, could scratch the itch.

We were in luck. Owner at the register ready to take our order. Hereʼs what I learned.
Meat - Meyerʼs Natural Angus of CO. Delivered fresh. Never frozen. Blend of 4 different steak meats. The owner hunkered behind the word “proprietary” when I shot him with questions concerning the types of meat used, how it was prepped, cooked, etc. Heʼs trying to franchise, so I canʼt blame him, but he did mention, it is NOT a smash style burger.

Buns -- French Brioche. Baked daily. Said the recipe is his own and was developed over the course of 6 months.

Little restaurant with a modern feel. Big display boards with simple menu options and information. Think Chipotle.

I ordered a simple burger. 6 oz single patty cooked medium. American cheese. Lettuce. Tomato. Ketchup and Mayo on the side. It was good...dang good. Meat was delivered medium as promised and had that great crumbly texture. I would have enjoyed a bit more grease, but the burger was by no means dry...I just love fat in liquid form. The cheese was thick, had a good melt, and great flavor (local WI cheese) You can see it in the pic...the cheese was cooked a bit on the grill. Assuming it was intentional.

The buns were incredible. Warm, soft, a bit chewy and a slight sweet taste to them. Really good.

My wife had the Southwest Steak Burger - guac, tomato, chipotle mayo, crispy fried onions, pepper jack and aged cheddar. Great robust flavor, wasnʼt sloppy and didnʼt overpower the patty.

This guy is serious about burgers and everything that goes into making them great. Ben and I are franchising. We just need someone with some serious cash. Pun intended. 

Some pics:

Friday, December 23, 2011

City Grille - What You've Heard Is True

It's been several years since I've visited City Grille on Colfax Avenue in Denver, and I most definitely have not been back there to eat since my Great Burger Awakening of 2011.  It's been voted "Best Burger" in Denver by lots of people, and two of the founding members of this blog have always said, "We need to go back to City Grille since you haven't had it in years!"  Chances are, you've had friends who've told you it's the best burger around.  I'm here to tell you that your friends are probably right.  City Grille is outstanding.

(Now, a brief caveat.  I've got another friend who is also a burger expert who ordered the namesake "Citygrille Burger" and was somewhat disappointed by the caesar dressing and ciabatta bun.  If you visit City Grille, I'd STRONGLY recommend sticking with a more basic "Steakburger" which I am reviewing in this post.)

My entire table kept our order quite simple.  1/2 pound Steakburgers (Harris Ranch fresh ground sirloin), American cheese, cooked medium rare.  City Grille includes some sweetly grilled onions on the side of this burger, which was a welcome surprise.  The bun, at first glance, might throw you off.  Yes, it's a ciabatta, sort of, and immediately looks too bready.  But, I was actually really happy with it.  It was soft, nicely toasted, and most importantly held up fantastically under the juicy 1/2 patty (something which 5 Star Burgers in Southglenn definitely struggles with).

Upon first bite, this burger is like GETTING SLAPPED IN THE FACE WITH A SLAB OF COW.  I mean it, the beef flavor pouring out of this burger is simply unmatched.  It's well salted, steaky (not a word, I know), and just powerfully beefy.  While they don't grind the meat in-house, it's always fresh and hand-pattied.  The sirloin grind is incredible, and actually, you can taste just a hint of a reminder of Steak n' Shake (who also use sirloin, albeit an entirely different burger).

The American cheese melt was fantastic, and these burgers came out SPOT ON medium rare.  The produce and fries are standard fare, and we dipped our fries in their tasty (but a bit too salty) green chili.

Bite after bite, the dopamine squirter in my brain just kept firing.  It was borderline debilitating.  I almost overloaded on the gloriously rich flavor of butchered cattle.  Here's to you, City Grille!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Westport Flea Market - Kansas City

I’ve finally had the opportunity to review an out of state burger.  (I am still looking for guest submissions, by the way.)  This weekend, I was in my hometown of Kansas City and visited a restaurant called the Westport Flea Market.  This burger was highly recommended by a friend of mine who lives in the area, so I was anxious to try it out.  The burger at Westport Flea Market has been voted “Best Burger” in Kansas City in the past as well.

The simplicity of the burger menu is great.  It should be noted that the menu is otherwise quite expansive: paninis, sandwiches, salads, etc.  The burger portion of the menu is blessedly simple, however.  A 10oz hamburger, a 5.5oz hamburger, and a patty melt (which is just the 5.5oz on rye with Swiss and onions).  I love it.  Another part of the burger menu entitled “garnishes” gives you the option of several cheeses and other basic accouterments like bacon or mushrooms.  That’s really it, and ultimately it’s what I enjoyed the most about Westport Flea Market: they’ve taken their stand with their beef, and have kept everything else blessedly simple.  Would that other restaurants realized this basic principle (one that I constantly harp on) that the beef patty is the heart and soul of a burger.  Put your energies here, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll have a decent burger.

The beef itself comes from a local butcher called McGonigle’s, and I understand it comes pre-ground but fresh, and is formed in house.  The beef flavor was very pleasing (I got the 10oz cooked mid-rare to medium) and quite juicy.  They cook it on an iron griddle with ridges, which gives the patties some grill marks.  The buns (commercial-grade, but soft and fresh) are well toasted on a flat top griddle, adding a nice buttery crunch to the burger.

A few downsides were the minimal amount of poorly melted cheese (cheese to meat ratio was askew), and I did have to send my first burger back for being nearly raw (a lesser crime than well-done, though).  Additionally, their sauces are just basic commercially purchased 1000 island and mayo.  So, again, nothing to write home about.  I also ordered grilled onions but they forgot them.  So all in all, this place won’t win awards for consistency or service, but the burger itself left me satisfied.

A few final notes.  If and when I return to Westport Flea Market, I’ll order the 5.5oz burger and ask for an extra slice of cheese to get a better ratio.  Although some might cry blasphemy, the nature of these burgers demands simplicity.  You’ll really have to let the beef shine to get the most out of a burger here, so I’d probably just get American cheese and dip the burger in ketchup. 

Crazy simple maybe, but I am a man unconditionally committed to excellence in flavor and texture when it comes to ground-up cow’s flesh, and that’s the best way to leave happy when you visit Westport Flea Market.

Here's some pics.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My mom got me one of these

A Lodge cast iron skillet.  In lieu of an actual flat top griddle at my house, this is the next best thing.

My first attempt went terribly wrong.  I smoked up the entire house, burned the outside of the meat to inedible char whilst leaving the internals of the burger still raw, and had to throw the whole shebang into the disposal.  It was humbling, and I thanked God for teaching me a lesson about being too prideful regarding burgers.

My second attempt went much better.  Coated the pan with a bit of butter, tried a lower heat, and created a wonderful grandpa-style diner burger.  (Double thin patty, double cheese, thinly sliced onion, iceberg lettuce, and a dash of mustard and mayo.  All on a cheap store-bought white bun.)

I felt like I was eating a burger from a small town of about 1,000 people cooked by a guy who's been standing in front of an ancient flat top griddle since 1965.

Thanks for the skillet, Mom.  And raising me as a carnivore.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Steak 'n Shake

A midwest tradition.  I grew up on this place.  And it's here, in Denver.  Quebec and County Line.  STEAK 'N SHAKE.

My memories of this place abound...and today I got a triple cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and dash of ketchup.  Shoe string fries.

This place is tough to beat.  It's a TRUE, CLASSIC, DINER-STYLE, GRIDDLE-COOKED, SMASH-METHOD burger joint.  The patties are made from T-bone and sirloin (true steak burgers), and juicy and flavorful.

Eat your heart out, Freddy's.   You are just a sad copy of the real McCoy.

Steak 'n Shake is the REAL deal.  If you are from the Midwest, you'll know what I mean.

We Ground our Own Patties

Last night, I tried to reverse the bad burger luck that I felt sticking to my soul after my unfortunate H Burger experience.  So, me and a few buddies did the only sensible thing.  Visited a butcher and ground our own patties.

The breakdown from Tony's meat market was thus: a good size portion of chuck, 4 short ribs, and another portion of brisket.  Our fat content was probably 30% (est.).  We ground the beef quite coarse, loosely packed it, and griddle-cooked it with some kosher salt and pepper to a perfect mid-rare.

Potato buns, iceberg, hot house, and onion, plus a homemade 1000 Island-type spread.  Simplicity at it's finest.

While not perfect (we're still experimenting with cooking methods, flipping the burgers, ratios, fat content, and salting), the burgers were far and away better than many I've cooked.

Can't beat fresh beef, freshly ground, cooked to temp.

H Burger Co (or, A Treatise on Burger Philosophy)

Alright.  This is a review of H Burger.  They've got two location in Denver, one at 16th and Blake and one at 7th and Colorado (called Little H Burger, same menu).  I went with my wife and another couple, none other than my buddy Brent and his wife.  Brent is one of the original founders of this blog...and he KNOWS burgers.  So we were excited to try H Burger.

Here's what we ordered.  First: the original H Burger itself, which is an angus patty that comes with a hatch chile, smoked cheddar, bacon, and a red-pepper tomato jam (like a fancy ketchup I guess).  Second: a standard burger with American cheese and grilled onions.  Thirdly: a lamb burger with feta and and a spicy aioli.  We also tried 4 of their french fry varieties: standard (with a tasty sauce of mayo/garlic/thyme), sweet potato (with a stellar ginger sour cream), truffle parmesan (H sauce again), and "everything" fries topped with cheese/bacon/scallions/jalepenos (with a wonderful Sriracha ranch).

First let me outline the good, then I'm going to go on a tangent.  H Burger's sauces were all great, the fries ware tasty, and the lamb burger was the most flavorful meat I tried that night.  The service was good, and the atmosphere is modern and hip.  The smoked cheddar and bacon on my H Burger were tasty, and the patties themselves were a decent size.  That's where our praise for H Burger ends.

Brent and I discussed at length the basic philosophy that SHOULD (but didn't) govern a burger place like H Burger.  Quite simply, as Brent said, you'd better get burgers right if you have "burger" in the name of your restaurant.  The greatest downfall of H Burger is the simplest and most absurd thing that a burger place can get wrong.  THE PATTIES THEMSELVES!  The very foundation of a burger...the basis upon which the burger stands or falls...the heart and soul of the American cheeseburger...

H Burger gets it wrong.  Sure, they are ground in-house...but no one there could tell us about the blend of beef (the menu just says Angus.  What?  Big deal!  McDonalds advertised Angus...),  and the patties were WOEFULLY overcooked.  You could barely taste the beef on my H Burger (WAY too much going on, keep it simple!), and as I said earlier, the lamb was the tastiest meat I tried.  How could a burger place get BEEF wrong?!?

Underlying this tragedy is another flaw in their design.  They quite simply have not indoctrinated their waitstaff or employees with what a great burger truly is.  No one at the restaurant could even answer what kind of buns they use!

All in all, H Burger is hoping that their average customer will be wowed with toppings, sauces, and a varied menu.  But for the true burger lover in Denver, H Burger just doesn't cut the mustard.  It's a farce...a restaurant that slapped "burger" in their name to join the ranks of hip burger joints but has no serious commitment to beef or an overarching philosophy of what a truly stellar burger is...