Thursday, February 23, 2012


I've been saying it for a while.  Others agree:
Denver: Fast Casual Deliciousness at Park Burger | A Hamburger Today

The Castle - South on Broadway

I live within a 1/2 mile of The Castle Bar and Grill on south Broadway in Littleton.  I've driven by this place countless times, but had always blown it off as another Broadway dive bar...even though their sign out front advertises the best burger in Denver.  "Surely not," I sneered.  "How could a weird looking dive bar that no one I know has eaten at actually serve up a good burger?"

That was until a buddy of mine from church said he's had a great burger I was yesterday, The Burger Baron went on a little 1/2 mile adventure and ordered a 1/2 lb, medium rare, American cheese, LTO burger from the Castle.  Here's what I discovered.

Our waiter was an old bartender who is probably in his 60's, a nice guy, and asked us how we wanted our burgers cooked.  That's the first tip-off that this isn't your average bar food.  And sure enough, this patty arrives with a nice crust from the flattop griddle and was perfectly medium rare.  My companion ordered, and received, a rare burger.  Kudos, Castle.  You know how to cook a patty.

The beef is never frozen, and the owner gets it fresh about 3 times per week.  The patties are made in house out of 80/20 chuck, and seasoned with a bit of Season All.  Nothing special here in the way of beef blends, seasoning, or what not...but like I said, the patty was cooked to perfection and had a great consistency.  Juicy to boot.

The produce was fresh and crisp, and I really enjoyed the copious amounts of American cheese.  Had to've been two slices, and melted well.  The buns won't win any awards, as they are just your average Costco sesame buns.

The owner was kind enough to sit down with us, and this was the highlight of my meal.  Yes, we talk about burgers on this blog...but as you know, we also discuss burger philosophy.  This is where the Castle shines.  I am paraphrasing, but listen to what the owner had to say (edited for language): "We just want to make a good burger.  I train all my cooks how to make a good, simple burger.  I tell them that the only thing that separates us from the next restaurant is that we give a sh*t.  One bad piece of lettuce, one bad slice of tomato, and we're not doing it right."

This, my friends, is how you approach making a burger.  You cook it right, you indoctrinate your staff, and you pay attention to the small details.

Ultimately, the biggest detractor to the Castle's burger is the ordinary buns and basic beef.  But here's the thing.  The Castle's burger becomes more than the sum of it's parts due to the attention given to cooking it right and composing a thoughtful burger.  It's not one of my ultimate favorites in Denver, but I was pleasantly surprised.

(HINT: I'm not going to become a Castle regular for their $8 burger, but on Tuesdays the burgers are Buy One Get One Free which is totally worth it.)

Peep dis:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

5 Star/Nicer Pics

I am going to try and commit to taking more appetizing photographs of the burgers I eat.  It can be tough in a dark restaurant, but heck, you deserve nothing less.

To give you an idea, I revisited 5 Star Burgers in Southglenn today for lunch.  Got my staple: green chile cheeseburger.  Pepperjack cheese, chopped green chilis, green chili mayo, on a brioche.  Easily the juiciest burger you'll find in south Denver, so AS SOON as it arrives at your table, throw the lettuce between the patty and bottom bun.  It'll act as a barrier, and you'll be glad you did it.  Today's burger was a tad under salted and closer to medium than medium rare, but they were training one of their friendly managers on the grill, so I forgave them!  Also learned an interesting fact.  They have a flat top griddle AND an open flame grill.  The patties see a bit of both surfaces before making it to your table.  Interesting!

Side note: don't overlook the value of a restaurant that trains it's management on the grill.  THIS IS KEY! To run a good burger joint, you have to indoctrinate your staff (managers included) with the elements of creating a great burger.

My buddy got the excellent lamb burger.  (That's the pic with the cucumbers in it).  Without further ado:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Last night I experimented

A great friend of mine gave me some of this:

And some of this:

So I made this:

Both of those products come from Williams-Sonoma, if you are wondering.  Both were really flavorful, too.  The Bomb Sauce is like a pickly, tangy 1000 island.  The Burger Starter would taste especially good on a burger cooked outside on the grill.

So, I just cut up a huge hothouse tomato, leafed some iceberg, and cooked this puppy on my new blue steel crepe pan (which is a wonderful makeshift griddle).  No smashing last night, just let it crust up nicely.  Also put the onions in the pan for a few minutes to brown them slightly and get them a bit soft.

How was the burger, you might ask??  Well, you needn't.  I am the Burger Baron!  It was delicious!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I wish Tim Cook advised burger joints

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple: "Steve [Jobs] grilled in all of us over many years that the company should revolve around great products and that we should stay extremely focused on a few things rather than try to do so many that we did nothing well." Would that more burger restaurants (or restaurants in general) had the guts to actually do this.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Relish It - Littleton, CO

At the corner of Prince and Santa Fe, (just south of Belleview) there's a little restaurant area that houses a Lamar's Donuts, Dickey's BBQ, Panda Express, Subway, Il Vicino Pizza, and the newest gourmet burger bar in Littleton, Relish It.  I'm not sure they have a website yet, but here's their Urbanspoon page.  Living within 5 minutes of this place, I've been meaning to give it a try and finally made it over there with my burger buddy Jeff.

Relish It heavily promotes their 100% grass-fed beef from a supplier called Our Pastures.  There seems to be a rancher in Colorado that supplies this beef to Relish It, among other restaurants in the area.  But the owner of Relish It claims he's got the only 100% grass-fed burger in Denver.  Needless to say, what Relish It gets right is a commitment to quality, and that becomes apparent if you get a chance to talk to the owner, Terry.

While the burgers come pre-ground, they are hand-pattied in house right next to where they hand cut their own thick fries.  The patty construction is a good one...medium grind, loosely packed.  However, that's where the positives of this patty end. Perhaps most shockingly, no one at the restaurant could tell us what blend of beef they were using (even the owner)!  Unfortunately for a burger bar that places so much emphasis on their beef, the negatives dramatically outweigh the positives.  Our burgers were well-done (but ordered mid-rare), sparsely salted, and overpowered by toppings and bun.  A 1/3 lb. patty is just not the right ratio for the Aunt Hattie's sesame buns that they use.  The buns were soft, held up well against the burger and toppings, but a gourmet burger bar that uses buns from Costco?  A little odd, and generally unimpressive.

Their special 1000 Island spread is tangy and good, and their sliced dill pickles were outstanding.  I imagine they use their tasty dill pickles in their spread, which is great.  Toppings are numerous, so you can build all kinds of burgers here.  We kept it simple with American cheese and grilled onion, but the menu is vast.  In fact, in the next few weeks it's expanding even more...which is, in my opinion, a move in the wrong direction.  At Relish It, you can get salads...italian beef sandwiches...brats...marinara sauce...turkey burgers...veggie burgers...funnel cakes...sloppy joes...and soon, you'll be able to get sliders, angus steak burgers, etc, etc.  Now I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like a "burger bar", that sounds like your regular old American cafe fare.  And here's where I think Relish It loses it's way.  They've spread themselves too thin, and didn't even pull off a regular burger with American cheese.  Overall, I was dissatisfied.  As I've mentioned several times on this blog: find ONE thing, and RULE at it.  Don't fill up your menu with a bunch of other crap.  If you're gonna be a burger joint, then be a burger joint!  Moreover, specialize in one fear is that Relish It will begin offering 6 different types of burgers and meat, and not excel in any of them.  In fact, I'm betting on it.

This is a lot of restaurant philosophy, so let me get back to the burger.  While this might sound insulting considering the higher quality ingredients that Relish It uses, I was reminded of a Wendy's cheeseburger.  Could I stomach it?  Or course!  But is this a top-notch burger bar?  Definitely not.

While Relish It (and it's friendly owner Terry) are to be commended for their high values on quality and healthier beef, I just can't in good conscience recommend Relish It.  An overcooked, under salted patty slapped on a bun that's too large and store-bought...grass fed beef that doesn't at all stand out from the crowd (fat content is 85/15, maybe 90/10, which is just not fatty enough for a real burger)...and a menu that by including too many options has by it's very nature distracted from a pure burger experience -- all of these things add up to a burger joint that just won't stand the test of time.

Relish It - you are young enough to do it right!  Pick one burger type of meat...get rid of the rest of your menu...and master that burger.   MASTER IT.   If you do that, I'll be back.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Cherry Cricket

If you've been in Denver even a short time and talked to someone about burgers, my guess is that The Cherry Cricket has come up a time or two in your conversations.  It's in North Cherry Creek on 2nd Street, and provides a nice bar environment for some hanging out.  My first impression of the Cricket, maybe a year and half ago, was a positive one.  I remember getting one of their recommended burgers, which was cream cheese and chopped jalepenos.

That was then.

That was before the Great Burger Awakening of 2011, of which I have referred to previously.  So, let's dive into the burger that I got this last Friday night.  I fully expect some backlash for this review...

As you'll see in the pics below, topping options are numerous at the Cherry Cricket, and you can get pretty crazy if you want.  I departed from my standard American cheese and grilled onions staple and ordered a 1/2 lb burger with pepper jack cheese and green chile strips.

First, the facts.  80/20 fat content beef, never frozen, but comes pre-formed (mistake).  We never got a straight answer on the meat cuts waiter said it was a proprietary blend, another mentioned 100% chuck with some suet mixed in.  Buns are from a local provider and are a standard sesame bun.  Toppings are of course the Cricket's focal point.  While I can easily deride restaurants that focus solely on toppings, it is fun to visit a place with lots of options sometimes.

The Cherry Cricket makes two big mistakes as far as I can tell.  The first is with the bun.  Here's a great quote from my buddy Jon that sums up my thoughts exactly: "a good bread is supposed to provide structural support for everything that is stuck in the middle without causing any 'toothiness' i.e., having to exert any effort to get your teeth through the bread. The Cherry Cricket, unforgivably, provided a bun that was akin to a soggy diaper. It was a basic sesame bun, but it was not toasted well, nor water-proofed well, which lead to the bottom bun becoming complete mush."  Couldn't have said it better myself.  The lack of proper toasting was unforgivable.  To be fair, the bread was tasty in it's own right, just a mess from a structural standpoint.

The second big mistake is that they have their patties pre-formed.  Frankly, this is inexcusable.  Forming patties in-house has got to be the simplest way to improve a burger's construction and patty flavor.  Why any restaurant wouldn't do this is just flat-out burger laziness, and a shock considering how much pride the Cricket puts into their burgers.  Another quote from Jon: "The patty was preformed, and therefore a bit too dense, and also too thin, which led to a very generic tasting burger with little substance."  I've had worse patties to be sure, and it was cooked expertly to a nice mid-rare, but still.  I should also mention that they cook the burgers on a grill, which imparts a nice flavor from the lava rocks it's cooked over.

All that said, I know I might sound overly negative.  As I thought about the burger this weekend, I think my fairest assessment of the Cricket is this: for your average Joe, the Cherry Cricket is going to provide a generally tasty burger who's faults can be overlooked. If you forced me to eat there, I'd leave satisfied.  Fun toppings, well cooked, and juicy.  However, as a true burger enthusiast, I feel like I've outgrown the Cricket.  A final quote from Jon: "The Cherry Cricket is pretty well renowned for their burgers - but I'm betting it's the flavor combinations made by their toppings rather than the burger itself."

Once you begin to notice the nuances of great burgers, you'll be harder to please.  It's tougher to find a stellar burger, but more rewarding when you do.  Keep reading this blog, it will ruin you.