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Matts’ Rotisserie

Matts' Rotisserie

Matt’s is one of the few good choices in the Redmond area if you’re looking to get a drink and a bite after work.  I’ve been going there for years – there’s good beer on tap, the nachos and wings are tasty, and they’ve got free wifi – so I felt obligated to give the burger an official going-over.

The menu calls it the Killer Burger, and also makes the claim that it’s “the best burger in town”.  That’s setting a pretty high bar, and I’m going to expect to see a claim like that backed up.  It’s described as fresh ground chuck seasoned with cracked pepper, barbecue sauce, and Dijon.  While those are all things I enjoy, I’m definitely not a fan of seasonings beyond salt and pepper mixed into the patty.  There’s also Tillamook cheddar and the “usual suspects”.

My order was for a Killer Burger with bacon, medium-rare.  The plate that hit the table in front of me looked nice – it had a strong visual appeal that made you want to take a bite.  The patty was cooked medium-rare as I’d asked for, which lately hasn’t been an easy thing to come by.  The bacon was pretty good, but the cheese wasn’t melted.  The lettuce was shredded and forgettable, but the tomato and red onion were both solid.  The barbecue sauce had been applied with a heavy hand, and definitely hid the taste of what seemed like pretty good beef.  It also had the side effect of killing the bottom half of the bun – by the time I was half through the burger it was a soggy mess.

The fries are good, and Bridgeport IPA never disappoints.  If you’re in the mood for dessert, the cobbler is always a good choice – and the best cupcake joint in town is just 100 feet or so away.

+ good beef, bacon, and veggies (except the lettuce)

– burger patties shouldn’t be “seasoned” like this, un-melted cheese, and a weak bun

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Matt’s Rotisserie & Oyster Lounge

Triple XXX Rootbeer

Triple XXX Rootbeer

Going to Triple XXX Rootbeer in Issaquah is as close as most people will ever get to going back in time.  There’s a very “Happy Days” feel to being there.  One of only two locations to remain from a once nationwide chain, Triple XXX is a destination best-known for the massive car shows on weekends.

There’s plenty of outside seating, which made it the perfect destination this past weekend when the weather suddenly turned amazing.  It’s hard to argue with the thought of a massive root beer float when it’s sunny and warm out.

I ordered a ’58 Impala, which the menu describes as a 1/2 lb burger with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mayo, & XXX dressing – minus the pickles as they’re not my thing.  The patties were wholly average and well done to the point of being dry.  The cheese was perfectly melted, and the bacon was really good.  The lettuce was shredded iceberg, and the tomato was very thin.  Sadly, I’m really not a fan of the XXX dressing.  There was too much of it, and what I think is supposed to be a “smoky” taste just doesn’t work for me.  The bun was solid, nicely toasted, and held up well.

The fries are above average, and the root beer floats are fantastic.

+ Nicely done cheese and bacon

– Overdone beef and a house sauce that didn’t please

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

On a nice day, it’s a great destination that I’ve been a fan of for years.  Go for the experience, to check out the cars, and for the floats – but don’t go just for the burgers.

Triple XXX Burgers – http://triplexrootbeer.com/

Lunchbox Laboratory

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Did I just have the best burger of my life?

I don’t know that I can answer that question.  I can state that the burger I had for lunch today was practically flawless.  Let me share the LL experience with you as best I can in a few hundred words.

When you walk in the door, it’s clear that you’ve entered a burger Twilight Zone run by mad scientists.  The word “Laboratory” is no accident, and it’s not simply because the milkshakes come in beakers.  Let’s take a look at the menu:

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After you walk in, you’re greeted and encouraged to take your time.  If you’re not familiar with the menu you’re going to need it.  The simplest thing to do is just select one item from each column, but you can mix and match any way you want.  I went with a 1/4 pound baby super beef patty made from prime grass-fed sirloin and ribeye, cheddar cheese, bacon, and the top secret burger sauce.  To round out the meal I ordered a side of tater tots with bacon-onion salt and a nutella shake.

The patty was outstanding.  Good texture, some char, and juicy with great flavor.  The cheese was melted as it should be.  The maple bacon was done but still slightly chewy.  The sauce had a nice smoky flavor to it.  The bun held up well and never got soggy.  The lettuce, tomato, and red onion were all very nice.  I’ve been struggling to find something that I could say didn’t work about this burger, and here’s the best I could come up with – there might’ve been too much sauce, and there was almost – not quite, but almost – too much bacon.

The tater tots are fantastic.  The flavor from the bacon-onion salt is subtle but adds a really nice touch.  As I was partway through my meal, I was brought a side of homemade ranch to dip them in.  There was garlic, there were spices, but I can’t remember what she said was in it – chipotle? wasabi? – as I was blissfully lost inside a fog of food at the time.  I do remember saying “ooooooh” and calling out “thank you!”.

The shake was just… wow.

+ Mind-blowingly good burger.  The great sides only add to the total experience.

– It’s a long drive from where I live.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

El Gaucho Bellevue

El Gaucho

Today work found me in Bellevue at lunchtime which gave me the chance to stop by El Gaucho for lunch.  Having had a number of excellent steaks at the downtown Seattle location I was excited to give the burger a try.  The menu described the burger as a sirloin burger with NY white cheddar, bacon, and a focaccia bun.

While waiting for my burger to arrive I was thinking “focaccia bun? really?”.  The result was better than I expected.  While I would’ve preferred a more traditional bun, it held up well and tasted good.  In addition to the aforementioned ingredients, the burger also had white onion, tomato, and iceberg lettuce.

The patty was ok, but I was expecting more than ok.  Neither the texture or taste stood out, and the “beefy” flavor I expect in a burger at a steakhouse was lacking.  Clearly there’s no cheese in the picture.  The bacon was quite good.  I’m not a big fan of raw white onion on a burger, and the tomato slices were thin.  The lettuce was much too thick, and I wound up having to break half of it off to eat the burger comfortably.  There wasn’t anything wrong with this burger – well, except for my AWOL NY white cheddar – but there wasn’t anything particularly outstanding either.

The fries weren’t bad.

+ The ingredients worked together as a whole.

– Missing cheese, patty that was ok but not what I expect from a high-end steakhouse

Originally I had mentally tagged this burger as a 3.5/5.  After a few hours of thinking about it and comparing to other burgers in the price range I’ve revised that.  If you’re going to charge $14 for a burger I’m going to expect that you bring more to the table than this.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Blazing Onion Burger Company

Blazing Onion

Recently we got a tip via Twitter about the Blazing Onion Burger Company.  After a reading of their website, we knew we had to check it out.  Promising to deliver a gourmet burger made with top-notch beef from Painted Hills, Tillamook cheese, and even locally made buns had me hoping for greatness.  I made the trip to the Mill Creek location and ordered my standard medium-rare bacon cheeseburger.

When my burger arrived it looked very promising. The bacon was thick and appealing, the cheese was nicely melted, and my bun was toasted.  Unfortunately the taste didn’t live up to that first impression.  Instead of the medium-rare patty I was expecting, I got one that had been cooked to death – apparently the standard medium-well that you’re given if you don’t specify as I had.  Since they’re using good beef – Painted Hills is top-notch – why cook it to the point that you can’t tell what you’re eating?

The bacon was chewy with good flavor.  The cheese was solid.  The house sauce had nice flavor, but was too runny.  The tomatoes and red onion were both good, but sliced much too thin.  In the case of the red onion it was so thin that it brought almost no flavor to the burger.  The lettuce was good, but there was too much of it and it overwhelmed the burger somewhat.  The bun was really good – it was nicely toasted, and was strong enough to hold up to the end without getting too mushy.

The fries and the onion rings were really underwhelming.  Clearly fresh from a freezer, they were thoroughly meh.

+ You can’t make great food without great ingredients and all the right makings are present.  Two thumbs up for the local focus.

– The overcooked patty destroyed the potential for greatness, and paying so much attention to the main ingredients while ignoring the sides seems odd.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

The Tasty burger

 The Tasty burger

If you listen to the podcast at majornelson.com, there’s a good chance you’ve heard my friend stepto talk about Tasty.  Tasty was a local grass-fed Red Angus, half of whom now lives in his freezer.

Last week he hooked me up with a pound of ground Tasty, along with a warning to mix it with something fatty as it’s very lean.  It certainly looked and felt different than the ground beef that I’m used to.  I picked up half a pound of chuck at Whole Foods which I then ground myself (Kitchenaid, 1/4″ die, two passes) and mixed with Tasty.

I decided to keep things simple to make it easier to discern how this meat was different from what I’m used to.  This was a basic cheeseburger using Tillamook medium cheddar, with no accompaniments except for ketchup.  The bun was a Rudi’s organic white that was briefly toasted in the oven.  It was cooked smashburger style on the stove.  Since I’ve had a number of folks ask what that is, here’s the quick-and-dirty version: 

  • Form a 1/4lb patty that’s shaped like a hockey puck
  • Place on the cooking surface and don’t touch it for a couple minutes
  • Smash it down with a spatula, flip, and cover with cheese.
  • Cover the burger for two minutes or so to melt the cheese, then plate.

+ Really good beef flavor, nice texture, nice char.

– Even mixed with chuck, it was still too dry for my burger palate.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Done with the usual trimmings this would’ve been a four-star burger.  I think the sirloin/chuck/brisket mix I used last time produced a juicier and superior burger, though.  That’s less about the quality of Tasty than it is about the cut(s?) that went into the ground beef.  I need to get stepto to drop by with some sirloin and chuck so that we can do a fair test… hint, hint.

P.S. Being too lazy to make fries from scratch tonight, those are Alexia garlic and onion fries.

Legit burgers at home.

the dz burger

Being a group of hardcore burger critics, we like to think we know what it takes to make a killer burger.  This weekend we set out to prove it.

The beef was freshly ground just before we cooked it.  It was a mix of roughly 50% sirloin, 30% chuck, and 20% brisket.

The cheese was Beecher’s Flagship.  We had three different kinds of bacon – Whole Foods Maple, Whole Foods Pepper, and Niman Ranch Maple that we pulled from my fridge at the last minute for comparison.  For veggies we had both red and sweet yellow onion, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and homemade pickles.  To finish things off there was ketchup, dijon, and a homemade “secret burger sauce”. Finally, the buns – Rudi’s Organic White lightly toasted in the oven.

the array

The patties were formed into 1/4 pound pucks and cooked with the smashburger technique.  As always, it worked beautifully – here’s a look at the patties after flipping and just before I threw the cheese down:

smash

Honestly, it’s difficult for me to find things I’d do differently next time.  I’ve got some ideas but they’re really more for educational “what will happen if I…” purposes than because I think it’ll improve the final product.

+ Amazing beef, cheese, and toppings. A burger done right, IMO.

– Having to clean the kitchen afterwards.

These were certainly the best burgers that I’ve ever made. 

Rating: ★★★★½ 

(if you’re interested, find the full set of photos here.)

John Howie Steak

John Howie Steak  

John Howie Steak in Bellevue is the latest restaurant from one of Seattle’s premier chefs.  An earlier visit delivered one of the best steak dinners I’ve had in years.  That experience combined with a mouth-watering description on the menu made this a must-try burger:   

USDA Prime Beef Bacon Cheeseburger, ½ pound ground prime sirloin, Beecher’s cheddar, Kurobuta bacon, Brioche roll,drive-in sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickle and sliced red onion  

Prime sirloin?  Beecher’s cheddar?  Kurobuta bacon?  Sign me up!  When the burger was placed in front of me I was excited.  Everything looked top-notch, and every bit as good as I’d been hoping for.  

The patty was excellent.  It was clearly high-quality beef that had been cooked just the way I wanted it, and I’d put it in the top 10 patties you’ll find in the Seattle area.  Sadly, everything that went with the patty was unable to hold up in comparison.

I’m not a huge fan of brioche buns, and this was a good example of why.  The burger was juicy but not sloppy, as it should be – but even that level of juice quickly dissolved the bottom of the bun, making the last half of the burger a little challenging to eat.  The cheese was a real disappointment – I’m a huge fan of Beecher’s and use it on my burgers at home, so I was really looking forward to what it would bring to the table.  As you can see in the photo, the slice was extremely thin which resulted in the taste of the cheese being completely lost.  When I could taste the bacon it was very good, but there weren’t a lot of bites where I could taste the bacon.  The red onion was fine, but the wedge of lettuce was big enough that I wound up setting it aside halfway through.  The “drive-in sauce” tasted like a typical smoky mayo-based sauce, and was quite good.  

With all that said, I really liked the burger and will be going back – but it didn’t deliver on my admittedly high expectations.  Taking this burger to the heights it could reach wouldn’t be hard – a better bun, make the cheese three times thicker, another slice of bacon, and better lettuce would result in a simply astounding burger.  

The fries were solid.  Crispy with fluffy texture inside, and with what tasted like sea salt sprinkled on them.  Definitely above-average.  Even the ketchup was a notch above what you’ll get most places.  The house-brand amber beer was good, and if you’re a dessert person check out the exceptional pear and raspberry sorbet.

  + Really dig the beef, the burger was solid, and everything that wasn’t between the buns was top-notch  

  –  The bun and the toppings keep the burger from being everything that it could be  

The burger at John Howie Steak

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Burgers are serious business.

Lunchbox Laboratory

I worship the bacon cheeseburger.  Medium-rare, of course.  Over the last year or so my take on this American icon has gone from love to obsession.  I’ll go much farther than I would’ve thought possible in search of my next fix, and I can’t eat it without taking pictures and grading the experience for whoever’s eating with me.

I’ll start with a few stakes in the ground (beef):

Bacon is magical.  If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume that I don’t have to explain this to you.  It should be crisp without being burnt.  Pepper adds a great touch.  Premium producers like Niman Ranch deliver superior pig.  Sadly, some restaurants manage to screw up bacon.  I’d like to make them all do penance at Red Mill to learn how it’s done.

Cheese!  For years I was a fan of sharp Tillamook cheddar, and I still am – but recently I’ve learned of the bliss on a burger that’s Beecher’s Flagship.  There’s also a type of burger that simply requires the Kraft single.

Sides matter.  Fries, rings, tots, mac-and-cheese, potato salad – I love them all.  If it’s lame, I’m going to be hard-pressed to bother coming back when Seattle has so many great burgers to offer.

You can’t have a great burger without great beef.  Freshness matters.  Grind matters.  Fat ratio matters.

There’s so much more – griddle vs. grill, the importance of good tomato, letttuce and onions, the art of the smashburger – but those’ll have to wait for another post.  For now I’ll simply leave you with eight key words to help guide you to burger bliss:

Red Mill.  Five Guys.  Lunchbox Laboratory.  Palace Kitchen.  They know the way of the burger.  Stick around and I’ll explain why.

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