Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Casey Eats Her First Burger In 17 Years

I made her wait.

When my wife started to experiment with meat about 2 months ago she tried chicken, steak, pork tenderloin, some sliced ham, and even chorizo in Mexico. There are many burger options in NYC but I asked her to wait until we were in Santa Fe for Christmas to eat her first burger in 17 years. I wanted her first to be a Bobcat Bite green chile cheeseburger.

It's not that the Bobcat makes my favorite burger (I don't play favorites) but it is such a perfect specimen that I wanted her to start near the top. The Bobcat burger is made from naturally raised beef that John Eckre grinds and patties himself every morning. The green chile is perfect and the bun white 'n squishy. I was looking for a home run.

John and I discussed, hands on chins at the grill, how to prepare a burger for this monumental moment. We both agreed that medium-rare would scare her off (with all that juice and pink) so we settled on just north of medium.

After her first bite (pictured above) she announced to the entire restaurant, "Oh my god...what's not to love?" Someone in the restaurant asked, "Did you think your husband was just making this stuff up??"

Think of the burger experiences that await her...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bobcat Bite Book Signing A Success

It would have been enough to head out to the Bobcat for their revered green chile cheeseburger but the day after Christmas I was there to sign books. We chose to be there the 26th knowing that the crowd would be robust, and it was. By the time Collected Works set up the table of books for sale, the front patio was filled with hungry, waiting patrons. Clearly they were there for the burgers, not really for me. Regardless, I met and spoke to very passionate burger lovers from all over the country and most were happy to see their favorite spots listed in the book. Reporters were there from 3 papers including the Santa Fe New Mexican who wrote this nice piece the following day.

After talking and signing for over 2 hours I finally placed my order for the GCCB, pictured, my 2nd at the Bobcat in two days. The first was consumed next to my wife on Christmas Eve, her first burger in 17 years...(check back tomorrow for the full story).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Book Signing at the Bobcat Bite

If you find yourself in or near Santa Fe, NM around Christmas, come on down to the Bobcat Bite for one of the best burgers in America and a signed copy of my book. I'll be there from 11AM to 2PM on December 26th signing books and talking about burgers to anyone that will listen. Local independent booksellers Collected Works will be there to sell books and both John & Bonnie Eckre will be hard at work flipping and serving green chile cheeseburgers. I can hardly wait for my first real GCCB in over a year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shake Shack's Miracle Griddle

I attended a party (hosted by burger brother Josh Ozersky) at the new Upper West Side Shake Shack last night, drank excellent shakes and ate predictably great burgers. When the party was winding down, I convinced manager Mark Rosati to introduce me to the Shack's new griddle, the wondrous Keating MiraClean. It is a griddle that has no equal. A conventional steel-top griddle, cranked up to 400-plus degrees, disperses ample amounts of heat into the kitchen. The crazy MiraClean griddle disperses almost no heat. The heat is on the surface only, proven by this photo of Mark's hand dangerously close to the 400 degree surface (he actually held his hand there for well over a minute while I futzed with the camera). The aluminum surface looks great too. Mark told me, "At the end of the night, when we clean the griddle, you can see yourself in it." 

I also discovered one of the secrets of the Shack Burger (other than lots of salt, great beef, and a potato roll) - the scraper. The griddleperson uses a commercial griddle scraper to flip the burgers instead of a standard spatula. The scraper allows them, in one movement, to scrape up the burger and all of its griddle crunch off the surface. It does such a great job that you can see the reflection of the scraper in the MiraClean during the flip.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Governor of Ohio Likes Hamburgers

I recently received a nice email from the new owner of Miamisburg's Hamburger Wagon, Jack Sperry, thanking me for including the Wagon in my book. He also told me that on a recent visit to the area, the Ohio gov Ted Strickland stopped by for a bag of the wagon's famous deep-fried sliders. Jack knew the gov was coming so he had an apron made in his honor (see above, center). He told me he also handed him a copy of Hamburger America (documented in this article). I'm glad Stickland now has a copy of the book (thanks Jack) because between Miamisburg and the governor's mansion there are at least 3 more great burger joints to visit! Ohio is definitely a burger-proud state.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hamburger Identity Problem at Citicorp Center

Last week we took the kids into Manhattan to see the Rock Center Tree, the store windows on 5th Ave, and the famous enormo train layout at the Citigroup Center. In the multi-level, 3 scale, 750 sq ft layout, I was happy to see more than one drive-in burger joint displayed (there were in fact 4 diners I think, including a version of Arnold's from Happy Days). But the most curious building I saw was the scale version of a White Castle, or was it White Tower? It has been well documented that White Castle spent a large chunk of its income in the 1930s suing any 'White' imitators out of business (somewhat rightfully so). But it was the successful White Tower that seemed to hold on to the White Castle-esque persona well into the 1970s thanks to a forced royalty agreement. If you look closely at the photo above (click on it for a better view) you'll notice that the designers had a hard time choosing which 'White' would own the building...

And why is everyone walking around with large white bags on their shoulders? 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Charlie Beinlich's for Research

It's a tough job but someone has to do it. As I embark on a new mission to add 50 burger joints to my book I'm listening to all of the suggestions I have received since the book came out. If the burger spot meets the criteria (a fresh-ground burger on menu for over 20 years for starters) I'm off and running. I love this part of the process.

Charlie Beinlich's in Northbrook, IL, just a short 25 minute drive from the Chicago loop, had been suggested to me by over 5 different friends and family in the Chicago area after the book came out. Fortunately, it fit all of the criteria nicely. Expert local burger taster Jay and his wife Alexis joined me on the trip north, skipping their usual lunch at Hot Doug's for a burger they had not tasted yet.

The burger is great and the place even better. It has the feel of a dark, mens hunting and fishing lodge complete with stuffed fish mounted in well-lit display cases. The burgers are cooked on a flattop griddle and served on white squishy buns by waiters in uniform aprons. The service was snappy and we were fed and out the door inside of 20 minutes. The turnover is quick and that's a good thing because by 11:45am, only 15 minutes after opening, the place was packed. Again, I'll save the details for the book, but do need to mention the curious sign just above the 'No Credit Cards' sign by the front door (see below). Jay pointed out, "What if you came in with muddy boots and a tank top?" My guess, you'd be banned for life.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wisconsin Burger Research

After Thanksgiving in Chicago I made a trip up to Wisconsin to research burger joints for the revised edition of my book. That's right, I'm already working on an edition that, if the publisher accepts the project, will include an additional 50 burger spots across America.

While doing PR for the book back in May, I ended up on talk radio in Wisconsin. The DJ surprised me with a segment of her show dedicated to call-ins. "Go ahead, give us a call and tell George what he left out of the book!" Fortunately, Wisconsinites are very friendly as a whole so it wasn't really a roast. Instead, I was left with an enormous list of must-try burger joints from every corner of the state.

The plan was to hit 3 suggestions from that show on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I knew one was closed but I wanted to roll by and check it out anyway. The other 2 were Kewpee in Racine and Zwieg's in Watertown. I'll save the details for the book but give some broad strokes on the burgers here.

The Kewpee in downtown Racine was once part of a chain of midwest burger joints not unlike White Castle, White Tower, and its many impersonators of the 1930s (Kewpee of Lima, OH, one of the only remaining outposts, is in my book). I was glad to see fresh ground beef next to the griddle and even happier to see the griddle filled with burgers at 10am. Kewpee employs my favorite method for cooking burgers - the scoop-and-smash method. Ask for cheese and a slice is tossed directly onto the griddle for a few seconds before being transferred to a waiting burger. Genius. 

A burger with everything comes with raw chopped onion, sliced pickle, ketchup, and just a little bit of mustard. When I asked owner and grillman Rick why the ketchup outweighed the mustard, he explained, "I've been adjusting the amount of condiments for years and lately it seems people want less mustard," and he shrugged. I think I know why - this thin-patty burger, with its toasted squishy bun, pickle, onion, and a large dollop of ketchup tasted exactly like a McDonald's cheeseburger, except of course, one made of fresh ingredients. It was quite tasty and I had another.

On the way out of Racine I spotted a bakery pushing the local favorite, the Kringle, a large, fresh baked danish. Naturally, I had to stop for one.

At Zwieg's (pronounced 'Zwigs') I met up with local expert burger taster Todd McIlwee. He arrived a few moments before me and secured, smartly, a spot at the counter directly in front of the griddle. Mary and Glenn Zwieg were behind the busy counter turning out burgers (lots to go) for the day-after Thanksgiving crowd. The burgers are cooked on a griddle that was "just replaced" in 1998 (10 years ago). "The old griddle was here for 50 years before that," Mary told me. I didn't really process the info until I spotted a framed news article announcing the big change. 

The thin 3oz patties are best enjoyed in duplicate, served on a white squishy bun with grilled onion. Everyone it seems orders theirs with onions. My tasty double was gone in 30 seconds and my clothes smelled of onions for hours afterward.

Only a few miles away in the town of Lake Mills, WI, was a burger curiosity that I knew was closed but had to see in person. If there were an award for the burger joint open the least amount of hours it might be the American Legion Post 67 Hamburger Stand. This miniscule walk-up burger joint is only open, according to the neighboring diner, on Fridays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I did the math and that amounts to only 14 days a year. I sure hope I hit it right on my return visit next summer.

Wisconsin is a burger-proud state and I always feel welcome there. Who can say no to the endless quantity of cheese, beer, and bratwurst that make the state so appealing? Add burgers to that and I'm already dreaming of my return.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

67 Burger - A Glorious Belly-Bomb

I don't know why, but I keep forgetting how LARGE the burgers are at 67 Burger in Fort Greene. I stopped into the upscale burger joint thinking I'd get away with a burger 'snack' and after ordering realized that the burgers Jeff Maslanka turns out are hefty 8-9 ounce wonders. I added cheese, caramelized onions, and crispy bacon and was rewarded with a burger that almost made me skip dinner that night. What a beauty. And now, glancing at the photo above, I never even saw the garnish on the plate! I was focused on that burger and it was gone in 60 seconds.

Unlike most burger spots that cook on a flame indoors, 67 Burger actually know what they are doing. With the exception of Stand in Manhattan, 67 Burger manages to flame-cook burgers that have no residual 'propane' taste. You really cannot taste the flame, which is a good thing, and the burgers still come out charred on the outside, exploding with juice. The crispy pile of bacon (smartly placed underneath the patty) and the peppery caramelized onions were probably unnecessary but very tasty. The bun seems large at first but something needs to hold this pile of goodness together.

I chatted up chef and part-owner Jeff Maslanka before I ate and he told me that he's planning to open another, simpler burger concept in NYC. That's as far as he was willing to go with the info but when pressed on where his burger joint might open, he told me, "Somewhere in Brooklyn." Oh good, more for me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The New Jersey Triptych

I was looking at some old photos of past burger research and realized that it had been a while since I'd been on my New Jersey Food Triptych. The triptych consists of 2 rippers from Rutt's Hut, 2 doubles at the White Manna, and a chocolate malt from Bischcoff's, all within an hour, all for lunch.

Since this is a burger blog I'll leave out the details of the hot dogs and the milkshake but tell you that the White Manna (which is in my book) is as good as ever. I was joined on the triptych by expert burger taster Kris Brearton and we decided to bring along food blogger NYCFoodGuy.com. I was shocked to learn that he had never been to the famed Manna but glad to see him walk away thoroughly satisfied. It really is one of the most historically significant burger joints in America cranking out the same original, gooey slider for over 70 years. 

I did discover that by showing up at the White Manna 11:30am on a Monday you have the place to yourself. Of course by the time we finished off our doubles with onions and cheese the place was wall-to-wall dudes. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hamburger Holiday Gift Ideas - Part One

The economy sucks. You'll still need gifts for the holidays so I've compiled a list of my favorite inexpensive burger gifts for the burger lovers on your list. Of course the best deal going is my book, but here are a few other ideas:

That's right, free. I still haven't figured out why (promotional I presume?), but The American Angus Association gives away this 24x36 poster detailing the cuts that come off a cow (shipping is free too in the US!). It's a beauty. I have mine in the kitchen.

There are MANY things to buy in the In-N-Out company store (like their cookie jar or burger sticky note pad) but this authentic apron is one of my favorites. Double the authenticity and buy the oversized safety pin you see all the employees wearing behind the counter.

This chunk of burger bling will make them stare and your love of burgers will be obvious. I own one and it's a great addition to my wardrobe. Get the belt for you new buckle here.

I'm not kidding, it's my favorite coffee mug. It was given to me as a gift by the owner (he literally dumped out my cold coffee and handed it to me).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Burger Photography as Art, at the Beard House

Save the date, February 3rd, 2009, for the 'Beard Burger Bash' where Josh 'Mister Cutlets' Ozersky and myself are hosting a tasting and talk on the State of the American Hamburger. The bash coincides with a gallery show at the James Beard House of 14 large prints from my book. Harry Hawk will of course be in attendance as burger chef of the evening turning out regional burger concoctions. A green chile cheeseburger will be on the menu and other ideas are still being tossed around. Stay tuned for the menu...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wimpy Makes A Burger

Chicago friend and burger fanatic Jay sent me this clip from a Popeye episode. In the clip we get to see J. Wellington Wimpy sing his ode to the burger as he grinds and cooks one for himself. Notice how even in cartoons back then they got it right and scooped the beef, not hand pattied it. I like the way he brushes the burger with mustard on the griddle, but unfortunately it looks like he goes overboard with the spices (chopped onion, salt, and pepper). Also, he sings about how he likes it 'rare' and barely keeps it on the flattop for 20 seconds.  Now that's rare!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Texas Burger Guy, Found!

I've found the missing Texas Burger Guy through that wacky website Facebook. So far, this is the second burger mystery solved by the online ex-girlfriend-finder network (the missing Chris Russell resurfaced a few months ago). Here's what Texas Burger Guy (aka Noel Kersh) had to say: 

I've been on a bit of a hiatus from TGB. Lots of things going on career-wise and family-wise that have kept me out of the burger joints. I anticipate a return to it though...stay posted.

I'm looking forward to more deep-Texas burger discoveries. The burger above, shot by TBG on one of his trips to West Texas, is from Arnold Burger in Amarillo, TX, home of the Texas-shaped burger.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Irving Mill Now Has Ryan Skeen and a Burger

Damn that Ed Levine and Bruni for beating me to it, but I too found the new burger at Irving Mill pretty darned juicy and worth the trip. Ryan Skeen brought his burger know-how over to his new post at Irving Mill from Resto but altered the recipe to suit his changing ideas on burger construction. The new burger is made from aged Niman Ranch flap steak, beef cheek, and pork fatback. 70% of the mixture is 50/50 flap and cheek with 30% fatback rounding out the blend. Cheek I'm familiar with, fatback too, but flap? "It's the boneless portion of the short rib," Skeen told me after I had inhaled my burger. I was not alone in my confusion - very few I asked could tell me and my trusty Angus Beef Chart had no mention of the said steak.

The burger was explosively juicy, generously salted (or was that the fatback?), and served on a squishy bun. Skeen has honored simplicity and built a basic burger with complex ingredients. The result is truly satisfying. When I asked part owner Mario, "Grill or griddle," he told me neither. Get this - each burger is cooked in a cast iron skillet. "We offered to get him what ever he wanted [to cook the burgers] but he only requested cast iron skillets!" Mario explained.

Then Skeen told me something both Levine and Bruni missed. The new chef plans to include a little-known regional burger on the menu soon - The Goetta Burger. Skeen, who hails from Ohio, wants to create a burger that has a slice of the tasty ground-meats-and-oats Cincinnati sausage on top. He told me, "It's sort of like Haggis, but better." Sounds good to me.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

LaCense Beef - Mail Order Grass-Fed

Going to your local butcher for steaks and ground beef is always best, but eating a good mail order steak from the likes of Omaha Steaks once in a while is OK. Recently however I was tipped off to a mail order grass-fed beef supplier from Montana, LaCense Beef. Their website has a great Grass-Fed 101 section for those that need convincing. I entered their 'write your own slogan' contest last spring and have been receiving promotional mail ever since. The last flyer I got from them pushed their new 'tasting pack' of frozen sirloin steaks (not on their order page) for a pretty decent price. I've never been a huge fan of grass-fed beef but it was worth a shot. Part of the promotion included 2 pounds of ground beef for free.

Naturally, the first thing I did when I received my cooler with dry ice (great presentation by the way, wrapped in a ribbon with a personal note) was to defrost the ground beef and make burgers (pictured above with griddled onions). My past experience with grass-fed is that it tends to be dry, lean, and hard to cook. To ensure moist patties, I dipped my spatula into that morning's bacon grease and gave the burgers a little smear. Totally unnecessary. Within the next minute the burgers started to create their own copious amount of grease. This was some fatty grass-fed and the burgers were phenomenal.

Though I'm not big on frozen beef at all, I give LaCense credit for creating some of the tastiest grass-fed beef I've had so far. Let's hope the sirloin steaks can match up.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Five Guys Opens, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

"HEY! You're OPEN!!" were the words out of the mouth of a very excited employee of nearby Chase Bank as he made his way to the counter. The best part was that he applauded loudly all the way from the front door to the counter as if he were trying to get the 'team' pumped up. This man was clearly excited about opening day.

And he should be. Craig Cohen has done it again and opened his third Five Guys franchise in Brooklyn in just over a year. The first was on Montague St., the second only steps from my apartment in Park Slope. Craig greeted me and expert burger taster Kris Brearton (pictured above) with big handshakes and told us that 2 more stores are in the works for Brooklyn, one in Cobble Hill, and one in MetroTech Center, north of the downtown Marriott.

Many set-in-their-ways locals peered in the window, squinted at the menu, and one skeptical woman even asked Kris, "Is it any good?" Amazingly, Craig has set up shop only a few feet from a Burger King and 4 doors down from the beloved Brooklyn time warp Hinch's Soda Fountain. If I were to guess, Burger King will suffer and Hinch's will be just fine. BK is the only one of the three using frozen patties.

Craig asked me if I needed anything and I told him that I've always wanted a close-up look at the famed proprietary burger smasher. The grill man took a 20 second break from the grill and I was rewarded with this excellent photo op. A unique solution to burger size management that produces the same perfect not-too-thin patty every time.

After eating my usual regular bacon cheeseburger (always a double) We skipped the free soda refill and headed down to Hinch's for a classic soda fountain chocolate malt. The perfect end to a well-balanced, high calorie lunch in Bay Ridge.  

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bobby's Burger Palace

On a recent trip out to visit my parents on Eastern Long Island I decided to swing by Bobby Flay's newest food adventure Bobby's Burger Palace for some meaty nourishment. Currently, the sole location in the future chain is in Lake Grove, NY, in the enormo Smith Haven Mall. The mall is a destination in itself but not really on the way to anywhere, unless you live nearby or are headed to Stony Brook University. It's out there.

The interior is slick but comfortable. The ordering system slightly confusing but very efficient (it's similar to the ordering at brgr where you order/pay first, get a number, and find a seat. The food finds you). And the burgers are pretty damned good. I know that Nick Solares had an unfortunate over-cooked burger experience when he visited but I lucked out I guess. My burger was cooked to a perfect, juicy medium that was pink throughout. They wisely cook on a flattop griddle instead of a gas flame.

There are many wacky burger combos on the menu (the burger piled high with potato chips called the 'Crunchburger' stands out, pictured above with Bobby, Newsday photo) and a few burgers that are trying to be 'regional' but sort of miss the mark (the Santa Fe burger has jalepenos(?) and a queso sauce on it...not many jalepenos in the green chile cheeseburger state. This burger sounds great, but more like a Tex-Mex burger). I stuck with the Palace Classic, a cheeseburger.

I also ordered fries and was surprised to find a very familiar sauce accompanying them...Schnack Sauce! Though that's not what it was called. I asked manager Phil what the ingredients were and he was a bit cagey. When I told him what I thought was in the sauce he smiled. Chipotle and mayo is hard to beat, especially for fries. Cudos to Bobby's Burger Palace for making a very spicy dipping sauce standard with the fries.

I also tried the squirt bottle of Bobby's Burger Sauce that was on the counter and that was amazing. Phil told me it was the same recipe as Flay's signature steak sauce and kicked some ass.

I'll be back, even though it's not really on the way to my parents. They make some kickin' shakes too and I'll need to try this crazy 'Crunchburger' soon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shake Shack Burger On Camera!

Josh Ozersky has done something all true burger lovers can appreciate - he has revealed, with video camera in tow, how the Shake Shack makes their burgers. Winners of numerous accolades in their very short history, the Shack invites Josh and camera into their new Upper West Side location.


I'm totally flummoxed by the chrome (?) griddle. How come this is the first I've heard of this surface for burgers? The burgers at Shake Shack really are amazing and I concur with the single-smash method the cooks employ. Thanks for the burger tour, Josh. (Ozersky has a new home at The Feedbag after leaving Grub Street) 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

MAJOR Renovation At Stella's, Nebraska

One of the featured spots in my book, Stella's Hamburgers in Bellevue, Nebraska, just completed a major renovation. As you can tell from the pictures above the new barely resembles the old. This is the way I describe Stella's in my book:

"There's no fancy sign out front,...no pictures of burgers in the window, and no bright colors. Just look for the small, plain-looking house on a hill surrounded by a hard dirt parking lot."

I'm stunned. The new place seems great and sort of has the look of an apres-ski bar in Colorado. I just hope nothing has changed with those amazing burgers. I did hear however that they are still served on napkins. Whew.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Crazy Phone Call from Florida

I receive about 15 emails a week from people who have excellent hamburger info to share. This restaurant closed, this one sucks, "How did you miss this one!!", and so on. I also get emails from all of the big burger chains looking for my opinion, and random burger questions from fans ("I loved your book! How long can ground meat last in my freezer?"). Someone once even sent me a song they wrote about a cheeseburger. But a few weeks ago someone from Boynton Beach actually called me on my cellphone to tell me that I left Louis' Lunch out of the book. Louis' Lunch? Did he get a copy of my book that had the Connecticut chapter missing? Of course, they are in the book and one of the 8 burger joints profiled in my film as well. Click here to listen to the crazy phone call (where he pronounces my name wrong and calls my book, "your book in regards to cheeseburgers, etc..."). I've garbled his phone number in the message but the rest is audible and priceless. At least the caller has an unmistakable passion for Louis' (as do I).

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Quick Visit To Harmon's Lunch, Maine

After boarding a flight to Maine last week with the wife to celebrate our 7-year anniversary, I broke it to her that, "We have to stop for a burger near Portland, one that is in the book." How could she say no? It was on the way and it also happened to be my 4oth birthday.

I'm glad to report that nothing has changed at Harmon's since I visited the tiny burger shack almost two years ago for the book. This visit was not just about checking up on a first-rate burger though. On my previous visit I pulled a burger joint faux pas and needed to make amends.

When I sat down to inhale my first Harmon cheeseburger way back in December 2006 I pushed off the red gelatinous goo that was piled on the bun. Owner Pete Wormell caught me doing this and shouted, "Hey! Whataya doin'!" I sheepishly explained that I, "wanted to try it without all of the stuff on top..." Huge mistake. I had broken my own personal rule to eat the burger the locals eat, no matter how weird. That red stuff was weird but I found out this past week it's also pretty damned good. It's a sweet red relish that goes well with the burger, the cheese, the stewed onions, the mustard, and the steamed bun. It's what everyone seems to order there, including me from now on.

Someone please tell Pete I ate the weird red goo, and liked it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What Happened To Texas Burger Guy?

One of my favorite sources for Texas burger info seems to have dried up recently. After repeat visits to the well-liked texasburgerguy.com I've noticed that the most recent post to the blog was way back in early January '08. I've emailed TexasBurgerGuy (aka: Noel Kersh, a forensic investigator in Texas) but never got a response. It was his blog that confirmed the greatness of one of the real winners in my book, Christian's Tailgate (formerly Christian's Totem) in Houston (with some help from author Robb Walsh). In the last few years he has reviewed and quaffed burgers at 29 mom & pop joints and dives all over the state. It would be a shame if he has thrown in the towel for some reason.

TexasBurgerGuy uses a quirky but definitive rating system for the burgers he eats known as the TexasBurgerGuy Terminology. Using criteria like 'Oooze Factor' and 'Herd Killer' we are able to know these burgers in a way that most print media and bozos like the Food Network wouldn't recognize. He also shoots priceless, sometimes out-of-focus snapshots of his dining experiences that truly set the tone (see photo above). His everyman approach to reviewing burgers is invaluable. 

If anyone knows why he stopped burger blogging let me know. Has he moved on to BBQ? Left the state? If you are wondering, by the way, what happened to brgr's Chris Russell after he left the successful Chelsea (NY) burger joint he opened, I found him, mystery solved. Turns out he is part of the team that brought Justin Timberlake's BBQ venture to life, Southern Hospitality on the Upper East Side. He told me, "We do, by the way, happen to have a pretty good burger!"

Monday, October 6, 2008

Pat La Frieda New Black Label Taste Test

I was asked by meat expert Josh 'Mr. Cutlets' Ozersky to be on a panel that would taste NYC butcher Pat La Frieda's latest burger blend. The runaway success of their now-famous mix of chuck shoulder and brisket led to the next obvious step - a more complex blend of cuts, all from a cow. 

I'm not a huge fan of blending different cuts of beef myself because I can never really get it right. I usually stick to 80/20 chuck as a safe bet. Pat La Frieda has created a blend that is based on a dry-aged 70/30 ribeye, blended with skirt, brisket, and short rib. That's right, the fat content is high! 

Many great burger minds were in attendance, including Nick Solares (one of my former NYU 'students'), Andrew Fishel and Scott Smith from R.U.B., and Michael White from Alto. We tasted 8oz. hand-formed patties that were dusted with salt and cooked on a flame (Nick took one sniff of the raw patty and exclaimed, correctly, 'dry-aged!'). The high fat content created an exterior char that left the center of the burgers juicy and rare. The buns were sort of ridiculous so I tasted mine without. There were no condiments (I did see some cheese floating around) and none were necessary. These burgers actually tasted like cooked steak.

Even though the burger was amazing, I was wondering how the blend would fare in other, less qualified hands. The chef handling the cooking (forgot his name) did a great job and pointed out that the meat cooked very differently than other blends. And then we found out from Pat La Frieda V.P. Mark Pastore that the blend was going to be very expensive and offered only to some of their high-end clients. My guess, if you want to taste this beef, expect to make a reservation, don a jacket, and pay a premium. It'll be worth it though because this meat needs to be in the hands of a high end chef. This ain't your average backyard barbeque patty.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hamburger America Test Kitchen - Big City Slider Station

When Billy Mays is screaming at me to buy something I usually mute the TV as fast as possible. That is, until last month when he was a shill for the new Big City Slider Station. The wacky contraption caught my eye not just because it was hamburger related but because the 'station' employs the scoop-and-smash method, one of my favorite for making burgers. You need to click the link above to see the actual TV commercial that sold me. While you are watching, notice that the meat is never touched, it's scooped then pressed into tiny sliders. Regardless of the goofiness of Mays, I had to have this thing.

It took 3 weeks to receive my Slider Station. When it arrived it was much smaller than I had imagined and smelled of noxious chemicals (which I'm assuming was the non-stick surface that was clearly brush painted on). I washed the station thoroughly and left it to heat up for 15 mins to burn off any crap residue that may have made its way from China.

While the Slider Station heated up, daughter Ruby and I ground fresh chuck (twice) in my grinder. We scooped balls of the fresh ground, placed them in the 5 slider receptacles, sprinkled with salt, and pressed (gently) with the cover. In about 2 minutes, we had sliders! I was amazed. The damn thing actually worked. The method of extraction for the finished sliders is to lift the cover off, flip the station upside down and smash on a flat surface (like a cutting board). This is where things went wrong. Only one slider came out, the rest were stuck and had to be pried out in pieces with a knife. I chalked it up to new equipment and vowed to butter this non-stick contraption next time.

Ruby and I enjoyed the sliders the only way you should - on tiny potato rolls with melted American (under the broiler) and grilled onions. Didn't Mays sell Oxi-Clean too? He was right about that for sure. Maybe he's right about this as well.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hamburger Wagon Has New Owner

I knew she'd sell the place (because she told me she would). When I interviewed Michelle Lyons for my book back in March 2007 she told me she wanted to sell the nearly 100 year-old burger wagon outside of Dayton and move to Hawaii. I didn't believe her, and didn't even include that in the book. And then this showed up in the Dayton Daily News. The new owner, Jack Sperry, is as wise man. He told the paper, "I'm not going to change anything - it's working just fine as it is." Damned right it is. These little deep-fried wonders stole my heart. When I showed up to sample the burgers for my book I ate 2 doubles then went back for another. Thank goodness tradition prevailed once again and a burger steeped in history was spared.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Five Guys Park Slope Goes Thinner

The thin patties at one of my favorite burger chains just got thinner, at least at my local Five Guys location. For those watching the action behind the counter as the burgers are being griddled, most are horrified that the standard practice is to 'smash' the burgers into thin patties. What most do not realize is that 1) this was the standard practice for all short-order burgers made before there were such things as patty formers and 2) that Five Guys has a secret. The griddle cook at every Five Guys employs a sort of channeled bacon weight that only allows the press to go so far before its edges touch the griddle (see Adam Kuban's photo above). The result is a patty that does not get the life pressed out of it. Seems as though the cooks at the new Park Slope Five Guys have been doing some serious pressing because the channels on their 'smasher' are bent out of shape rendering the design useless. I tried to explain this to the cook on duty and naturally she looked at me like I was a crazy person. I actually like the thinner, looser patties so don't tell anyone that their burger press is busted...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dram Shop is Good!

My neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn is seeing a true hamburger renaissance of sorts with the opening of 4 new burger joints in just the last few months. Two are not worth it unfortunately but the other two are outstanding. One of my faves, Five Guys, is now open only 5 blocks from my house and the bar Dram Shop on 9th St. serves up a damned fine burger. Good friend and burger confidant Josh 'Mr. Cutlets' Ozersky sent me this email:
"George, have you eaten this Dram Shop burger? It's great! I went there today and they made it for me mediumish, and it was fabulous! Loved it! Eat it and tell me what you think."
Now, understand that Josh and I have very similar tastes when it comes to burgers. Josh loves thin-patty wonders and, like me, tries to avoid burger behemoths and bloated wallet-busters. But it was seeing 3 exclamation points in his short email that had me itching for more.

The Dram Shop burger, at the top of their short menu, is most definitely a thin-patty wonder. The burger comes with shredded lettuce, tomato, chopped onion, mayo, and mustard on a white squishy bun. By default the burger is a double and the patties are fresh ground, thin, and square and cooked on a flattop griddle. I noticed on the menu that the burger 'recipe' comes from the owner's family's Mallow Grocery in Dallas. There's no question, with the mayo, the twin patties, and the shredded lettuce that this is a classic Texas drive-in burger. It is as authentic as it gets for NYC - close your eyes, take a bite, and end up in Texas. Josh was right. It was fabulous.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Visit To Hildebrandt's

I was in the neighborhood of the only Long Island burger spot in my book today and it just happened to be lunchtime. Expert burger taster Kris was also along so burgers at Hildebrandt's was the call. We sat at the long, classic, marble counter and ordered doubles and were confronted with an alternate possibility. The counterman asked, "Do you want two separate patties or should I smash them together?" Hmmm, think quick. A bigger burger or two thin patties? Forgetting that Hildebrandt's serves 1/4 pound burgers we opted for the "smashed together" version and were presented with enormous 1/2 pound burgers. Remembering that 2 patties see more grill surface thus have more griddle char we chose incorrectly, unless you like large burgers. Next time, a double with two patties (and bacon) for me. It's still a great, fresh-ground burger though and nice to know you can order your burger here two different ways!

The milkshake in the photo was a chocolate malt and was enormous. Believe it or not, the contents of the metal cup filled the glass three times.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Excerpts From the Book On A Hamburger Today

My burger-buddies over at AHT have started to run excerpts from Hamburger America on their blog. The plan is to roll out an entry every two weeks, 25 in all, until next summer. The posts are accompanied by photos from the book and so far 2 of the 25 have been posted. Look closely at the double cheeseburger in the photo (from Bud's in Colorado) and see if you can figure out why the bun looks like that...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Motz Goes Hamburger Flipping

Last weekend I did one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life - I spent 2 hours flipping burgers at a very busy beach cafeteria. 

I know a lot about burgers. However, I don't know a lot about making burgers. Given the time and space I've been know to make a mean, tasty patty in my great-grandmother's 100 year-old skillet. Making burgers for waiting, hungry, PAYING, customers was an experience that was foreign to me, until last Sunday.

The beach club on Long Island, NY that I've been going to since I was born has a very efficient short-order kitchen that can serve over 400 lunches a day, mostly hot dogs, fries, sandwiches, and burgers. The burgers on the menu are frozen so I agreed to a lunchtime shift on the griddle making burgers from fresh-ground 80/20 chuck. Mostly I wanted to see if the patrons at the beach could tell the difference between frozen and fresh. I chose the scoop-and-smash method popular at most burger spots across America and threw in the onion-fried burger from Oklahoma for good measure.

For those that have run a short-order griddle I have all new respect. My hamburger heroes across America that spend hours, day after day, year after year, doing what I did for 2 hours are true martyrs. It's hot, loud (exaust fan), and greasy. At one point I was behind by 27 burger orders but still moving as fast as I could. By the end of my shift I had sent 120 burgers out to waiting patrons that were thankfully impressed. I was wiped out.

Here's to my first and last trip to a working griddle. A lesson learned, not to be taken lightly.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Reading at Half King

If you are near Chelsea tomorrow night (Monday) I'll be reading from the book of burgers at Half King on 23rd Street. The bar has a projector so I'll be running the 'Endless Burger Slideshow' before and after the reading. The slideshow is made up of just about every shot I took during the research phase of Hamburger America the book.

The readings at Half King are usually done by well-respected authors, not goof balls like me. I apologize in advance if the evening is not as 'academic' as you had hoped for. On the other hand, if you don't know a thing about burgers in America this may just be the event for you. I hear the burgers at Half-King are pretty good too.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Five Guys Park Slope Now Open

We arrived at my neighborhood Five Guys (the whole family) on opening day only 20 minutes after opening and were greeted immediately by owner Craig offering us a high chair for our 1 year-old...WOW.  Now that's the way to open a restaurant in Park Slope, home to the largest stroller mafia on the planet.

Business was brisk and the burgers were great. The physical space is larger than Craig's Montague St. location and he told me construction has already begun on his next location in Bay Ridge. I had a cheeseburger with grilled onions that was cooked through (standard practice) but was still a very moist grease bomb. The vegetarian wife loves the Five Guys veggie, which is basically a grilled cheese on a burger bun with all of the condiments. The clientele were mostly from across the street at Methodist Hospital standing in line, smiling, with scrubs and stethoscopes. It's always comforting to see an army of med-schooled doctors scarfing down burgers. The family was joined at lunch by omnipresent burger blogger Adam Kuban. I would recommend visiting his blog entry here for more details on opening day.

The comment corkboard had only been up for an hour and it already had two comments posted. Adam and I got a kick out of this one (pictured) but realized that what it lacks in grammar it makes up for in passion. We all know what this dude was trying to say (and MAN was he tryin' hard!).  I'm glad I'm not the only one out there as nutz for Five Guys.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hamburger America Test Kitchen - The Squealer

Tonight I attempted to re-create one of my favorite burgers in America, the Squealer from Tookie's in Seabrook, Texas. Tookie's has guarded secrets so I was on my own with this one. From what I can tell, bacon is ground with the beef to create a one-of-a-kind experience, a burger with the unmistakable essence of bacon mixed right in.

You have to use a grinder to blend the bacon with the beef properly, so naturally start with a good chuck steak from your butcher. I cooked 3 slices of Boar's Head bacon until browned, not crispy. I then cubed a 1 pound chuck steak and sent it all through the grinder. The bacon strips went in whole, which was a mistake because some of the undercooked bacon fat gummed up the grinder.

I scooped balls of the mixture, placed them in a hot skillet, and pressed them to the shape of the patty. The chuck I used was too lean though and the burgers came out a bit dry. I'm guessing that the bacon may have also dried out the burger as well. The result was pretty damn good for a first try. It tasted close to Tookie's Squealer, the taste of bacon very present, but needs more work. Next time, more bacon, and more beef fat.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dram Shop in NY Magazine

If you've seen NY Magazine's 'Eat Cheap' issue already, you've seen the incredible shot of the burger at Dram Shop, a new bar in my neighborhood that didn't even register on my burgerometer. The Dram Shop recently replaced the long-time supplier of aquatic fish and aquariums to Park Slope and I didn't even know they served food. Josh 'Mr. Cutlets' Ozersky has already made plans to visit and wants me along. Wow, what a burger renaissance Park Slope is having!

The NY Magazine article tried to pin the trend of low-brow burger joint openings around NYC on the demise of the gourmet burger due to a crappy economy. They call it the 'Burger Correction'. Unfortunately, the commentary doesn't really hold up. It seems like I hear about a new gourmet burger everyday. Even a burger joint the magazine puts on their cheap eats list Wall Street Burger Shoppe has an absurd burger on the menu that has GOLD FLAKES on it! That's right, flecks of 'edible' gold (see photo) and the burger costs $150. The only sign that a weak economy may be affecting burgers is the price reduction from $175.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Five Guys Park Slope Brooklyn Opens This Friday

I have it on good authority that the Five Guys on 7th Ave in Park Slope will open at 11AM this Friday, July 25th. Last summer a Five Guys opened in Brooklyn Heights (burger pictured) and the franchise owner told me he had plans to expand to my neighborhood. I'm very much looking forward to a double cheeseburger this Friday, the first decent burger in the 'hood since I've moved here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Three New Park Slope Burger Joints

That's right, all in one week, 3 new burger spots have risen all within a few blocks of my house. What's up with that? The Brooklyn Burger Bar (a failure by all accounts) on 9th St. and 7th Ave. closed yesterday (?) and Flipster's has opened in its place. It's under new ownership we think so let's hope this group knows what they are doing.

I was on my way to meet blogger Adam Kuban at the week-old Corner Burger and passed the soon-to-be-open Five Guys on 7th Ave at 6th St. Now there's a burger we can count on. From the looks of the interior progress, they should be opening in a week. A call to Five Guys corporate resulted in voice mail. I also sent them my book a month ago and have received zero response.

Adam wanted to check out the spanking-new Corner Burger on 5th Ave at 6th St. and we had high hopes. I heard two guys walking down the street talking about it the other day and they both agreed it would fail because every other restaurant in that space has. The burger looked good (see photo) but was embarrassingly overcooked. Worse was Adam's burger that he asked for medium-rare. It too was over-cooked and pressed dry. Yikes. The bun was also clearly too big for its beefy partner.

Oh well, let's hope that Five Guys wows 'em because if this neighborhood doesn't produce a good burger joint soon I may have to open one myself.

Hamburger America Available in Japan

I just discovered that Hamburger America is now available in Japan on the ubiquitous Amazon.com of course (amazon.co.jp). Strangely, one of the only english words on the page is 'SEXY' and if you click on the link next to it you are taken to a page that sells dog and cat calendars. Very weird. Hamburger America is also for sale now, interestingly, at FredFlare.com, the made-in-China outpost for all hip things made of plastic for teens (shades, cool tees, Lomo cameras - think Urban Outfitters without the expensive clothes). I find it kinda strange though that it's filed under the 'Men's Home' section...