Wonders of the Food World: Hamburgers


The Search for the Perfect Burger

If you have been reading us for quite some time, you have read the column on the dignified cocktail The Sidecar.  After I finished the delectable treat, our guide, a trendy architect from Brooklyn, sang the praises of a restaurant in the East Village that had earned a Michelin Star.  As she led us through a cavalcade of walkup Brownstone’s, she told us that the piece de resistance for this restaurant, called The Spotted Pig, was their Chargrilled Burger with Roquefort Cheese with Shoestring Fries.  I was still riding the high of The Sidecar and optimistically ignored the fact that I don’t typically enjoy any type of blue cheese (the sin of the shoestring fries could be a column all on its own).  I had however enjoyed a blue cheese burger, cooked simply over an open flame years ago. I looked forward to these culinary masters take on the burger. The Spotted Pig was quaint and dimly lit, the white tablecloths hiding the fact that at a different time this spot was likely little more than a boutique.  The burger arrived with much anticipation.  I took a bite, and the beauty of succulent illusions fell away from me.

Enumclaw, Washington has for much of its existence been a farming town best known as the last point of civilization on the road to the flanks of Mount Rainier.  In the last five years, people looking to escape the tightly packed sprawl of the Greater Seattle area have fled to Enumclaw for homes with larger lots and a more earthy existence. Naturally, they have all brought their Seattle sensibilities with them, preferring organic, locally grown, free range cuisine.  Naturally, the wheels of capitalism followed, leading to the presence of a handful of excellent restaurants.  One of these, Kelly’s Mercantile, made the greatest Reuben Sandwich I have ever had. My search for the perfect burger took me to their doorstep. 

To properly grasp what went wrong at The Spotted Pig one must recognize what makes a great burger.  Restaurants or fast food eateries that use premade, symmetrical, flat burger patties don’t qualify for the conversation of a great burger.  Mass production doesn’t lend itself to brilliance and innovation.  However, if you take the time to form an authentic burger patty, I shall hold it up to the high standards of the craft. It’s only fair.  These burger patties are thicker, and tougher to cook.  Due to the often unreasonable fear of eating undercooked meats, many places choose to overcook the hell out of the meat, leaving you with a dry burger void of flavor. The outside of the burger should have a good sear and the middle should be pink so that you can have the proper texture. 

The burger at The Spotted Pig was a travesty.  I can only surmise that the grill wasn’t hot enough, an amateur mistake.  The burger was plenty juicy, but lacked the all-important sear.  The patty was soft and spongey, the blue cheese overpowering, and the fries a disappointment.  I drowned my disappointment in a well-crafted Old Fashioned at a bar afterwards.  Two weeks later it was revealed that The Spotted Pig had lost its Michelin Star. So it goes.

Their daily special at Kelly’s Mercantile was a bacon burger with caramelized onions and a tremendous aioli served on a pretzel bun.  One cannot underestimate the importance of a bun in a great burger.  Often cheap buns are used and overwhelmed with the sauces and juices from the patty.  By the end of the meal, the patty has been reduced to a dwindling soggy mess.  The pretzel bun performed admirably, even under the onslaught of an unrested patty whose juices flowed out upon first bite, leaving the rest of the patty, which was overcooked to begin with, disappointedly dry.  Kelly’s Mercantile came much closer to achieving greatness but fell short due to the sin of impatience. 

We carry on in our search for the perfect burger. We remain optimistic and steadfast in our approach and when we encounter greatness on our travels, rest assured, we will let you all know.