Archive for January, 2010

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.

Blue Moon

blue moon burgers

Blue Moon Burgers near lake Union in Seattle does something few burger joints succeed at. Harmony. After multiple visits this holds true. All components of the burger work in harmony. Nothing over powers any other element. The cheese marries with the sauce, the veggies with the beef, the bun with, well, everything. Not to say there aren’t better burgers, because there are, but very few burgers pull off this level of harmony.

This time around I went with the bacon cheese burger, a straight forward classic. They have other nice looking options on the menu, including one with peanut butter, the Stupid Burger as I recall it named, but I gave that one a pass.

My burger was nice. Blue Moon procures very lofty, soft buns. Nice and chewy with very generous mouth feel. I don’t believe the bun was toasted but for once I didn’t mind. The veggies are nice, gorgeous ice berg lettuce, some decent red onions and tomatoes. Nothing award winning going on in the garden but nice nonetheless. Their swiss was nice cheese and melted perfectly. Their bacon was yawn actually. Permissible on a burger but very average. Their in house sauce is similar to others, a mayonaise based concoction with a light refreshing flavor and not as heavy and gloppy as others. I really enjoyed the interplay with the fresh, crisp iceberg lettuce. That being said there was a bit too much sauce on my burger for my liking. A little less sauce would have been admirable.

Now. With the supporting cast of characters set, their actual beef seems a bit under classed. Kind of dry, lethargic, and lacking the freshness and texture of a good beef patty. I’d like to see more here, I really would. The beef is the centerpiece of a hamburger, after all, and with a healthy supporting cast this burger just demands a better patty.

+ We give hooves up for a very nice chewy, fluffy bun, a very nice refreshing sauce/dressing, and beautiful fresh crisp iceberg lettuce.

– We give hooves down for the dry, uninspired beef, a bit too much sauce, and for being a bit chincey with the sweet red onions.

The bacon cheeseburger at Blue Moon Burgers

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

www.bluemoonburgers.com

Burgermaster

burgermaster

Burgermaster is a true drive-in, the first in my experience. Pull into a parking spot, flash your lights and over comes a friendly man to take your order. Fast, efficient and convenient. But is it more than just a popular Microsoft lunch spot?

The picture doesn’t quite do it justice, not that presentation is high on their list of priorities. The bun bares a striking resemblance to a McDonald’s bun, however the taste, absorbency and quality of the bun are far superior to McDonald’s … which is to say they are average.

Average is a theme here. Beef is alright, veggies are decent, cheese is fine. They went with shredded lettuce, which they get away with by virtue of freshness. Setting this burger apart from lesser burgers was a solid effort in bacon and the fine art of cheese-melting. I had “The Baconmaster” which is just their “Burgermaster” with three strips of well-prepared bacon.

There was no sauce that I could discern, which is just as well because the cheese was melted well enough where a sauce wasn’t necessary. On the subject of absences, Burgermaster omits the pickles and onions by default. While keeping it simple doesn’t detract from the burger, I feel like these missing pieces could be what they’re missing to push them into the next class. It’s just not the flavor explosion you might find elsewhere with a fully loaded burger.

Unbeef: Shake was good. Fries were meh. Going to a real drive-in is rad.

+ It was a tasty burger, all the pieces are solid.

– Average. They could see improvement in almost every area: lettuce by the leaf, a higher quality beef, a nicer cheese or a toasted bun. Needs extra oomph.

The Baconmaster at Burgermaster

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

www.burgermaster.biz

Palace Kitchen

palace kitchen

One of several Seattle’ based Tom Douglas restaurants, the Palace Kitchen is nestled neatly below the overheard monorail tracks in downtown Seattle, not too far from another excellent Seattle restaurant, Brasa. I’ve eaten here several times and enjoyed my belly stuffing escapades, but this was my first go around with their hamburger. I’ve been hearing about it at length from several sources and quite honestly, no Seattle hamburger discussion is legit without some mention of this burger.

The burger, or palace burger royale as it is known, is a wood-grilled Oregon country beef patty with beechers flagship white cheddar, some nice applewood smoked bacon, and all the traditional accompaniments (red onion, lettuce, pickles, etc). The housemade mayo is also a nice touch and comes on the side. Fries here are definitely above average, skin-on just the way I like them, but a tad bit greasy. Now at $15 plus an additional few bucks for the cheese and bacon, this baby is clearly the most expensive hamburger yet to make its debut on our site. So does it deliver?

First off, the burger looks gorgeous. Good sized patty, a giant pile of fries, nice crisp vegetables on the side. This is a serious pile of food going on here. Come hungry. The bacon is crispy and flavorful. The bun, although not award winning, does nothing wrong. And I’ve already praised the delicious housemade mayo. No complaints whatsoever with the veggies, all gorgeous and tasty. The cheese, although exceptional, was only on about 25% of the burger, clumped in one area as if it were quarantined from spreading. The beef was slightly undercooked, though not really a huge detractor for me, and quite lovely. What wasn’t quite lovely was what was “in” the beef. The seasoning was heavy and incredibly salty, easily the saltiest meal I have had in recent memory. I’m not sure if this is par for the course or the anomaly, but man, I could barely finish my burger it was so salty. And I love salt. Don’t get me wrong. This is a good hamburger. Without all the salt I can see this burger finishing very high up in our rankings. Perhaps we’ll revisit in the future, but for this round I rate the burger in front of me and this burger was just way too salty.

+ We give hooves up for gorgeous vegetables, nice homemade mayo, and very nice beef

– We give hooves down for being way too salty, a slightly undercooked beef patty, and for uneven cheese

The palace burger royale with beechers and bacon

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

www.tomdouglas.com

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

five guys

Ah yes. Five Guys Burgers and Fries. If you have one of these near you I definitely recommend you seek out and destroy one of their burgers. I’m not going to go into detail about the place, they are nationwide and have a healthy web presence. Honestly, I have a few easy take aways from my numerous encounters with the place. First off, their fries are legit. Freshly cut, skin on, deep fried in 100% fresh peanut oil, they are good. Damn good. Few, if any, burger franchises can match their fries. Secondly, they are consistent. I’m not sure there is much variation from a good day to a bad day at Five Guys. And lastly, they are very reasonably priced and they source quality ingredients.

The ever popular conversation around these parts is how Five Guys matches up to the juggernaut Red Mill, arguably the top two fast food/burger joints around. For me, quite frankly, time and time again I’m finding Five Guys beats Red Mill. I think the beef is levels better, the fries are better, and they are tiers more consistent. I’ll call the bun a wash and give Red Mill props for better bacon, better toppings, better choice of cheese and clearly better hype. By a slim margin, I give Five Guys the nod.

Having said that, Five Guys has room for improvement. The bun is stock and noticeably lacking a nice toast. I’ve seen their buns on the grill toasting but time and time again the toast simply doesn’t translate well to the finished product. Their toppings are nice but they don’t deliver anything extraordinary. And their cheese is stock american, which is an unwelcomed addition to all things culinary in my world.

+ We give hooves up for excellent juicy beef given the category, great value in terms of price, and a very harmonious burger dinning experience. Everything works well together.

– We give hooves down for a stock untoasted bun that just doesn’t seem to hold up, and wank cheese.

Five Guys Burger and Fries hamburger

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

www.fiveguys.com

Quinn’s Pub

quinn's pub

I have been hearing about the burger at Quinn’s Pub on Capital Hill for some time now. Last night I finally got up enough motivation and spite to pay them a visit. Known as a gastro pub, a pub which is gastronomically sound AKA serves delicious quality food yet remains true to it’s pub roots. Frankly, the idea seems illogical in some sense. I mean, who goes to a pub looking for high-brow pretentious food and the wankers that often times frequent such places? Well, honestly, when pulled off correctly a gastro pub makes all the sense in the world. Great beer and great food. Without the idiots.

The Quinn’s Pub burger is, in a word, exceptional. A 1/2 pound patty of gorgeous, and I mean gorgeous beef from the people at Painted Hills. A lovely melted slice of cheese, white cheddar I believe, and a generous slag of quality bacon. Add to the equation a ridiculously serious bun and some nice fresh mayo and the burger is complete. No lettuce, no tomato, no pickle, no onion, no nothing else. Sans rabbit food, This burger is a statement.

What might strike most as a glaring burger oversight, the risk involved with a vegetable-free burger is tremendous, is simply executed with perfection at Quinn’s. The beef is so absurdly good that it serves as both the main event and supporting cast that provides that accompanying freshness that most burgers rely on earthy toppings for. Quinn’s burger is legit and lives up to everything one can hope for in a hamburger, providing us all with hope and a reason to live.

+ We give hooves up for Exceptional beef, cooked to order, and one of the best burger buns one is ever likely to consume.

– We give possible hooves down for lacking any vegetables, though this is an extreme stretch as I’m still searching for a negative with this burger. It’s that good.

The burger at Quinn’s Pub

Rating: ★★★★★ 

www.quinnspubseattle.com

Wibbley’s Gourmet Hamburgers

wibbley's gourmet hamburgers

So what does one do with a burger that does nothing? It doesn’t do anything criminal. It doesn’t do anything enlightening. It just is, like culinary driftwood in the sea. How does one judge such a thing?

Ok. So Wibbley’s Gourmet Hamburgers. Let’s cut right to the chase here folks. First off, there is nothing “gourmet” going on here. Standard toppings, standard beef, stock buns, and plain old genericness at its finest. And please don’t mistake this for bad. But in commonly understood english where my fluency lays, this meets no definition of gourmet.

My Wibbley’s Gourmet Hamburger was more generic, if anything. A normal beef patty, shredded lettuce (from a bag), loads of ok pickles, an ok tomato, and some decent mayo-esque dressing between the buns. There was no onion, which elsewhere surely would have made the cut on a gourmet burger. And having made the choice to forego cheese and bacon, both were marked absent. A relatively rare move in my world, but not every burger every time requires as much. Besides, I’m not sure it would have mattered much anyways.

In a word, Wibbley’s is simply burger driftwood in the sea of the burger world.

+ We give hooves up for being a mile ahead of satans infamous burger circle (McDonalds, Burger King, and Jack in the Box).

– We give hooves down for being boring, ok, and audaciously ungourmet. An untoasted bun, bagged lettuce, no onion, and oh. Yawn.

The Wibley’s Gourmet hamburger

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

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: ★★★★☆ 

Teddy’s Bigger Burgers

Teddy's Bigger Burgers

Teddy's Monster Double

Inconveniently located in Woodinville, Teddy’s Bigger Burgers live up to their name, weighing in at 5, 7 and 9oz sizes, with the option to double up. Claiming to have “reinvented” the burger, the Teddy’s franchise originated in Hawaii and has since spread to the mainland, we put them through the rigorous test of our digestive systems.

The beef is cooked to order, medium with a nice char on the outside. The quality of the meat is good, well above average, but no Jak’s. The bun gets the job done and the sauce which adorns it is alright, however both are otherwise forgettable. Most impressive was the bacon, which was cooked to chewy but not crispy and never left its rightful throne atop the melted cheddar. The lettuce, tomatoes and pickle were all fresh and a-okay in my book, but Teddy lost me at the onions. A cold mess of raw, thinly sliced white onions sits in the middle of your burger, begging to be released from their prison to die a lonely death in your fry basket. If you’re in the area, stop by for a burger and you won’t be disappointed, but don’t expect a transcendent experience.

Unbeef: fries are very good, menu has great variety, friendly staff, seating area is large and clean (unlike 90% of burger-dedicated shops).

+ Good beef, good cooks, great bacon.

– Cold, raw, hateful onions. Bun, sauce, cheese, veggies are bogged down by mediocrity.

The monster double bacon cheese burger at Teddy’s Bigger Burgers

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

www.teddysbiggerburgers.com/

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