Thursday, December 31, 2009

DMK Burger Bar Chicago - Slick But Good

The blizzard of Dec.19th had us snowed out of NYC on our return trip from Wichita so we ended up with a 7 hour delay in Chicago. Not one to sit still, I rented a car (for $19) and we hit the city for lunch. The plan was a Chicago Triptych - Wiener's Circle for a char-dog, Superdawg Drive-In for shakes, and the new DMK Burger for burgers.

I'll dispense with the dog and shake, which were excellent of course, since this is a burger blog. I had to get to DMK after many Chicagoans told me the burgers were solid. I was also interested in DMK because 3 separate friends in Chicago informed me that the new burger hotspot was looping my film on flat-screen tvs (though no one at the restaurant asked for my permission).

The place is slick, the crowd is young, and the staff unbelievably friendly. No film of mine was on the big screens when we took a seat at the enormous bar. The burgers? Really amazing. Someone did their research for sure. The menu contained a few odd burger concoctions that I avoided but I knew the burger for me was the No.4 - A Roasted Hatch Green Chile Cheeseburger. It's no secret that when it comes to green chile I'm a stickler for details. Outside of New Mexico and Colorado no one seems to understand green chile. A green chile cheeseburger is just that and nothing more - green chile and cheese on a burger. Would DMK get it right? The burger, griddled and loose-pattied (smashed burger?) was an interpretation of said burger that included a fried egg and bacon. I asked for mine sans-egg so I could taste that green chile (Kris B's burger is pictured above with an egg).

The burger was amazing, the green chile hot, but then I noticed chopped, stewed onions in the green chile. I asked the bartender if there were onions in the green chile and got a definitive 'no'. Really? Hatch Green Chile does not need any flavor enhancers. Like an apple or a lobster, its basic taste should not be improved upon.

I'll be back, but for a straight-up cheeseburger and a beer (DMK has the best selection I've ever seen in a bar.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wichita Is A Burger Town

In advance of an official word that the revised edition of Hamburger America is in the works I took it upon myself to start poking around in some uncharted territory (at least by me). A filming job had me on a plane to Wichita last weekend so the research began. What I found shocked me. Small town, small burger culture right? Wrong. I had my work cut out for me.

Wichita, Kansas, the birthplace of the fast-food burger model through White Castle, is a burger town. I was totally overwhelmed by the options that Wichita had to offer. And worse, I'm embarrassed that not a single joint in the town made it into the first edition of my book.

At first glance Wichita had at least 10 good lookin' roadside burger spots but as I dug deeper the number was more like 25 or more. The 2 days I had for research would clearly not be enough. With a need to prioritize I selected 2 obvious winners (in taste and character) and one other that seemed to fit the Hamburger America criteria (fresh ground beef, 20 year+ burger on the menu, and a great place to visit).

Our first stop (Expert Burger Taster Kris B was along for the trip) was a Wichita classic - the Nu-Way Cafe. Just when I thought the loosemeat phenomenon was limited to Iowa along comes this gem. Since this 'burger' is a Wichita tradition anyone in town I mentioned my visit to said, "Oh, you have to have a Nu-Way." And that's exactly what what they called it, the NuWay, as in, "I'll have a Nu-Way." While in town I also heard it referred to as a "crumbly burger." There are 5 locations around town but we opted for the original 1930 diner on West Douglas.

At Nu-Way the options were strange and plentiful. Ask for the "original" and get the classic - a large scoop of crumbly, moist beef on a soft white bun with mustard and pickle. An "original deluxe" adds cheese. Other sizes were available like the "medium" which is served on a smaller bun and a "medium double meat" which adds more crumbly goodness (but wouldn't you just order an original at that point instead?). The beef is prepared the exact same way as their doppelganger in Marshalltown regardless of what you've read - it's just crumbled, steamed beef with nothing added.

After our stop at Nu-Way we stumbled up another great find, Jack's North Hi. Perfectly situated directly across the street from a huge high school Jack's has been serving up thin patty wonders since 1951. I had the most popular burger on the menu - the tasty double with cheese. Onions are standard, chopped and pressed into the patty. Unlike Town Topic in Kansas City or the great onion-fried burgers of El Reno, Oklahoma the onions are chopped square, not sliced thin. The result is a pile of grilled onion bits that don't really make it into the patty but add to the burger's overall oniony flavor.

We made it to one other burger joint before leaving, Bionic Burger. The kitchy old-timey interior was a turn-off but the tater tots a major turn-on. Bionic served up larger patties (below) than Jack's but used the same chopped-kinda-pressed-into-the-patty onions. A toasted white squishy was the prefect vehicle and the fresh beef sealed the deal. Damn tasty. We were the last customers of the day at Bionic and were accidentally locked into the restaurant, nearly a dream come true, then someone found the key.

A repeat trip to Wichita is imminent because we missed a few talked about greats like Ty's and Walt's. As I stood on the spot where Walt Anderson opened his first burger stand on Douglas Ave (which is now a parking lot) I felt the weight of hamburger history. I can guarantee that Wichita will be well represented in the revised edition of the book.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Prime Meats for Juicy Burgers

And I mean JUICY. The Frankies of Carroll Gardens have opened a new restaurant only steps from their awesome sputino and this one serves burgers. I probably never would have tried the burger had it not been for a goofy NY Times article about gourmet burgers. That's embarrassing since it's only 2 subway stops from my home.

The burger is a hand-formed ball of meat, not my beloved flat patty, but I could tell at first sight it would be a winner. The first three bites, I kid you not, sent hot juices shooting into my mouth. Sounds ridiculous (and gross) but true. Expert Burger Taster Kris B wasn't so lucky and his first three bites squirted all over his face. After that first bite I pressed the patty and a geyser of juice came forth. Keeping juices inside the patty while cooking is clearly job #1 in the Prime Meats kitchen, and a job well done.

The patty was definitely salted and really was great. The house-made bun was large but soft and withstood those juices nicely (not that it needed to - the 8 oz burger was gone in 60 seconds). I probably should have gotten cheese but it didn't need it.

I spotted the chef afterwards and offered compliments. He told me the burger meat is ground in-house daily (you can tell) and that it's a combination of sourced
Creekstone Farms Angus and the famous LaFrieda (ahh) burger blend. The bacon on top was also from Creekstone, thick cut and damn tasty.

If you are looking for a good, hot squirt in the face, and you are in Carroll Gardens, head over to Prime Meats. I'll be back next week for sure.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Steak 'N Shake's New 'Shooters' - Yikes

On a trip down south a few weeks back I spotted a Steak N Shake and had to stop. As the tractor beams pulled us into the drive thru I noticed a new item on their menu - the Steakburger Shooters. Obviously this is an attempt by headquarters to join the ranks in the slider/mini burger revival. I was not buying it. On the other hand, the smash method employed at Steak 'N Shake is pretty true to the roots of the original American hamburger so maybe it had a chance?

Steak 'N Shake is one of my favorite fresh-beef burger chains just behind In-N-Out. As we rolled up to the drive-thru speaker I folded and fell back on an old favorite. It was the bacon double cheeseburger with onions for me but a brave soul in the car (a client of mine) saw promise in a bag of 5 Shooters. Boy did I choose correctly. The Shooters were awful. Dry and hard (yes hard, like cardboard) and tiny, smaller than a White Manna single slider (the Holy Grail of sliders). The buns were cute though, but what a mess if I liked the bun over the patty. My client only ate 2 of them and I tried a bite of one. What a wipeout. The bacon double did the trick however. Why these guys tried messing with a winning formula is beyond me.

Check out this photo from a Steak 'N Shake ad. Does my burger look anything like the burger in the ad? Not so much.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hamburger America Blog Now Searchable

After my 183rd post I felt it was time to make the blog searchable. Use the window on the right and search for words I may have used in a post (I just searched for 'squishy' and 8 pages came up, all mine). The search function only searches within the blog so it's finally easy to pull up old stuff. Dig it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jake's is Good

I found myself near Newark, Delaware last week and stopped for a local burger favorite Jake's. Their Newark location is the original (I believe) in a chain that now has over 10 locations from Florida to Massachusetts. And they are growing. If you go to the website take a look at the original as compared to the recently-opened East Windsor, CT. location. Quite a difference, but I'm happy to see that Jake's is not one to erase their past. The Newark, DE location, geographically and aesthetically, is down-n-dirty and I like that.

The burger menu is very similar to another mid-east coast phenomenon and from what I understand both source the same fresh-ground beef. The burgers are cooked on a flattop using the smash method and the grill cook employs a smashing device almost identical to The ones used at Five Guys. The major difference though is that where the channeled smasher at Five Guys is clearly mass produced to accommodate their rapidly expanding empire, the smasher at Jake's is a crude, homemade device. It's basically a bacon weight that has 4 chunks of metal welded to its sides in order to smash the patty to a consistent thickness. This kind of home-shop ingenuity is the backbone of the burger business in America. I can't even tell you how many grill cooks I've met across the country that use non-traditional spatulas and other cooking apparatus they have fashioned themselves to create the best burgers in the world. It was great to see this a Jake's. I might add that this device was way sturdier than those used at Five Guys - theirs are made from aluminum and tend to bend after much smashing. The result is a channel smasher that smashes the burger too thin as the smasher bends. At Jake's I could actually hear the 'CLANK' of the smasher hitting the griddle, hard.

The burger options are few but Jake's goes one further than Five Guys to offer the Big Jake which is a burger with three 3.3 oz. patties. As tempted as I was I opted for the classic double and was totally satisfied. Another menu item that sets Jake's apart from it's closest competitor is their awesome selection of hand-dipped thick shakes and there are many flavors to choose from, including a 'Milkshake of the Month'. This month's flavor is Pumpkin Pie. Yum.

Below is some of my daughter's work, thanks to a Jake's coloring page...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hamburger Holiday Gift Ideas 2009

It's that time of the year again and I'm here to help you make a few decisions on burger-related gifts.

NAMP Meat Buyer's Guide - Use what the pros use. This thick guide, produced by the North American Meat Processors, sounds expensive at $70 but you'll be amazed by the detail. Chock full of photos showing every possible cut of just about every commercially available animal. Highly recommended.

In-N-Out Beanie - Hit the slopes this year with some West Coast burger pride! This hat is awesome.

Lodge Reversible Griddle - This is the larger size (20") that will comfortably span two burners on your stovetop. Make burgers on a cast iron flattop, at home, without the sides of your cast iron skillet getting in the way.

Roll-A-Grill Bun Butterer - I own one (yes I do) and it comes in handy during burger parties when you have to butter 10 buns a minute.

Of course there is also the book which makes a fine gift as well as the photography from the book. And there's always the solid standby - gift cards from Five Guys, In-N-Out, and Shake Shack.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Black Shack Is Open

Jeff and Ed have done it again. After opening 67 Burger in Fort Greene Jeff Maslanka has brought his less-expensive burger concept Black Shack to Midtown Manhattan. Though the name sounds like an amalgam of Shake Shack and Pat LaFrieda's Black Label blend, the idea for Black Shack was kicking around far before the two burger staples even existed. "I wanted to open Black Shack before 67," Jeff told me.

The burger at Black Shack is cooked the same way as at 67 (over a flame grill) but is half the size (and almost half the price). Although the burgers are cooked over a flame, the obligatory propane taste that most gas-driven restaurant 'grills' impart is surprisingly absent. That's because...well, I'm not telling you - this secret is too good. Some of you know that I'm not a fan of the gas-grilled burger and let's just say that Jeff's method made me a believer.

Where the signature 67 Burger is a beast (a glorious, blue cheese-and-bacon beast), the burgers at Black Shack are very manageable and depending on your appetite may require a second patty (offered at a cheap $2 extra.) There are three burgers on the menu (which I just noticed offers things like a chicken sandwich and something called 'tofu'.) Expert burger taster Kris B and myself opted for the Black Shack Burger and the Western Burger. The Black Shack is a tasty, straightforward, loaded burger and the Western is piled high with thin house-made crispy onions and a tangy BBQ sauce. Kris asked for the extra patty on his Western and the toasted white squishy was up to the task. The Western was a hit with both Kris and I, those onions...

After eating a signature 67 Burger a few months back my wife (a recently converted vegetarian) exclaimed, "This is one of the most amazing burgers I've ever had - I have to stop eating burgers." A ridiculous statement, I agree. Let's see if I can get her to Black Shack so she can swear off those too.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Monday Night Burgers at R.U.B.

My good friends Andrew and Scott at RUB BBQ have been talking about their plans to create the perfect burger for years. The one item missing from their extensive barbeque menu was only going to get there after much trial and error in the kitchen. Every once in a while I'd get a call from Andrew saying, "Come on in tomorrow, we are doing a tasting of our new burger," only to be followed up the next day by, "We're not ready, yet. We'll call you." Fast forward to this past October when they suddenly started serving up the fabled burger without warning ONLY on Monday nights. I finally found a way to be there this past Monday and I'm sure glad I did.

The burger at RUB is made with a 'secret blend' that they are grinding in-house, smash-cooked at a super-high temp somewhere around 500 degrees on a plancha, and served on a toasted white squishy bun. The options are hamburger, cheeseburger, and an unnamed signature burger that is topped with cheese, pickles, sauteed onion, and a spicy mayo. I opted for the latter and was presented with a perfect specimen - a hot, oniony, soft, salty burger exploding with flavor that had ample griddle crunch.

Did I mention that the burger is NOT on the menu? Just shy of a secret handshake you'll need to be in-the-know to get a burger there, which is to say, only on Monday nights. "We sold a few on the first Monday, 40 the next, and 80 last Monday, all word of mouth," Andrew told me.

The reality is that Andrew and Scott are friends of mine. Honestly, if the burger was bad I wouldn't give it a bad review, I just wouldn't write about it at all. Fortunately, all those years of searching for the perfect blend and cooking method have paid off - this burger kicks some ass.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Apple Pan in Men's Health

The piece I wrote for Men's Health on the Apple Pan is in stores now. The article is part of a feature called 'America's Greatest Guy Foods' (and fits nicely between 'Read Her Dirty Mind' and 'Is She Really Just A Friend?'). If you can get past the 3 perfume tabs (yuck) make your way to page 118. There are seven other odes to favorites, 2 of them by friends Robb Walsh and Ed Levine, and others by Michael Stern, Jonathan Gold, and Jeff Steingarten. I think the feature should have had its own perfume tab that smelled like the steak pictured in the lead photo..

I'm very happy with this piece (and the 7 others) but keep in mind that although I chose to gush about the Apple Pan I'm not saying it's my favorite burger (only because I never play favorites, it's too hard to choose). It really is a great burger experience though and definitely one of my many favorites.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bill's 'Bobcat' Burger

I need to start by saying this is a great burger. That said, it ain't a Bobcat Bite Green Chile Cheeseburger. When I noticed the Bobcat burger listed on the menu at the then-yet-to-be-opened Bill's Bar & Burger I got excited. Assuming they were using real green chile from New Mexico (and using the name of the restaurant in NM that arguably serves the best example) they would be the first to present the beloved burger of the Southwest in NYC. But after consuming the Bobcat last Saturday at Bill's I can safely say they are making a great, spicy burger that is not a green chile cheeseburger. After close inspection I believe the spice comes from sliced pickled jalepenos. I've often described the difference between the two like this: A jalepeno hits you like a slap in the face whereas the green chile is like a punch in the gut - a stinging pain versus a deep, slow pain. I'll take the punch in the gut any day. And anyone who has had the good fortune to eat green chile before can attest to its powers.

Photo courtesy of Eating in Translation

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Trip To The Burger Maker Processing Plant

At the last Burger Bash I saw a lot of familiar faces in the burger world and made a few new friends. After sampling a few of Bobby Flay's Crunchburgers and boozy shakes I was introduced to the ground beef supplier who just happened to be standing right there. One thing led to another and I was invited to check out their facility in NJ. I had never been to a meat processing plant so I jumped at the opportunity.

Burger Maker is a processing facility, not a meat packer (no feedlot and whole cows here). Cuts of chuck shoulder are shipped to their plant so they can do one thing and pretty much one thing only - make ground beef for burgers. It wasn't a huge place but they manage to produce over 200,000 pounds of ground beef a day. Whoa. That may be because one of their clients requires a lot of fresh-ground beef for their burgers, a place that just happens to be one of my favorite East Coast burger chains - Five Guys.

I'm not going to go into detail about the facility (because I promised) and because some of it was a bit gnarly anyway. Let's just say that I'm glad we visited Burger Maker before lunch and not after.

That said, the most important thing I took away from our visit was that this was one clean operation. There were basically three industrial meat grinders larger than 18-wheelers pushing out fresh-ground product into stainless steel bins at a rate of about 300 pounds every 5 minutes. It was freezing in the plant so we had to wear supplied jackets (pictured below, with Expert Burger Taster Kris B). We also had to wear hairnets and probably should have had beard nets too.

In addition to sending out bags of fresh-ground beef Burger Maker also makes patties of every size for a few other large national burger chains. Although I'm not a fan of them, the patty machines were fascinating. Another amazing piece of machinery we saw in action was the Fat Analyzer - a machine that gives a readout of the exact fat-to-lean ratio in the grind. The mix is tested often to ensure exact ratios.

After a whirl through the grinding floor we met the resident lab technician. He showed us some paperwork for tests he was working on and I was glad to see column after column of the word 'negative' under the word 'e-coli'. Testing is big here.

Not surprisingly we had burgers for lunch in their company kitchen. The chef was the lab tech we had met earlier (which was a little weird). We did not question the freshness of the product however. Burger Maker is working on a new ground beef blend to sell to higher end restaurants so we tried the new blend. It was good except it was a formed patty. Next time I have to try it as a smashburger. I also noticed a few boxes of fresh-ground beef in the refrigerated shipping area heading to Fresh Direct. Now you can order Burger Maker patties to your doorstep (in NYC).

After we left Burger Maker we headed over to nearby White Manna where we were underwhelmed by the sliders for the first time ever. I said to Kris about halfway thru my first double, "The onions taste weird, right," and he said, "Yeah, they do. I thought it was just me." We rectified the situation by heading over to nearby ice cream counter Bischcoff's for chocolate malts. They never fail to satisfy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Burgers In Men's Health

I was asked to pen an ode to a great burger for the December issue of Men's Health and chose the Apple Pan since it was the site of my life-changing burger epiphany way back in 1991. The magazine just sent me the page with my article and it looks pretty good! Look for it mid-November.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Triple XXX Family Restaurant - 24hrs and Tasty

Way back in July I visited a burger joint that will definitely be in the next edition of my book but it has taken my 3 months to get around to posting about the place. If you've been to the Triple XXX you are probably already a fan. If you have not been yet you need to find an excuse to get there.

My excuse (other than burgers being my obsession) was a trip I took to Indianapolis to see a NASCAR race (my other obsession) at the famous Brickyard. I spent the day in the garages and pits during the race thanks to a ridiculous all-access pass that allowed me to be just about anywhere but in a race car (thanks Josh). To top off the perfect day I visited the awesome Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum then headed up to nearby West Lafayette, Indiana for some dinner and research.

Why I didn't know about this place when I was researching the book baffles me. Everything about the Triple XXX fits my criteria perfectly. They serve tasty burgers made from fresh-ground beef and have been around for decades. As an added bonus the burgers are cooked on a flattop griddle and served on toasted white squishy buns. And the place sports mismatched stools and horseshoe counters. I was in heaven.

I met owner Greg Ehresman who gave me the lowdown on the history (which I'll save for the book) and how they make their burgers. Grinding and pattying happen upstairs and they start with steaks from a local butcher. Like Steak 'N Shake the burgers start as a plug, a tall, cylindrical wad of beef , that is produced by their patty maker. The patty press spits out plugs for portion control and the burgers are pressed thin just before hitting the griddle. But there's a twist, something even I have NEVER seen before. As I watched Greg make a burger for me he nonchalantly tossed the patty into a bin of flour before plopping it onto the hot griddle. Perplexed, I asked him why. Like all stewards of tradition his only response was, "Because that's the way we've always done it." The result was predictable and amazing. The flour mixes with the cooking fat to create an even more pronounced griddle char. Why does no one else do this?

The burger I had was the Boilermaker Pete, a triple with cheese and grilled onions (pictured above). It sounds huge but the patties are thin and proportions perfect. I washed it down with some of their house-made Root Beer and the restaurant's namesake. The other 5 signature burgers on the menu looked amazing but unfortunately I was full. I now have an excuse to go back.

Oh did I mention that the Triple XXX is always open? That's right, with the exception of 8pm Sunday to 6am Monday the place never closes. How comforting is that?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Wheel Inn's New Location

A few years back the Wheel Inn Drive In of Sedalia, MO was in danger of closing thanks to a bit of eminent domain (the City of Sedalia, MO wanted to add a turning lane to the busy intersection the Wheel Inn used to occupy). But as all great heroism stories go, the Wheel Inn was spared at the last moment by a longtime employee (of 47 years!) named Judy Clark who moved the business down the street. The original structure is now gone as you can see from this excellent Google street view frame above but the famous Guberburger topped with hot peanut butter lives on. The Wheel Inn now occupies a defunct video store across from the state fairgrounds and thanks again to Google street view we can see that they are in business. The photo was obviously taken during Christmastime as evidenced by the large wreath near the door.

Like so many great burger stands in America they have moved, reopened, and soldier on. Now I need a Guberburger.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bill's Bar & Burger - A New Classic

Opening tonight, Bill's Bar & Burger is exactly that and (thankfully) not much more. The latest venture by restaurateurs B.R. Guest are wisely keeping it simple and living up to the name by pretty much only serving burgers in a bar setting for decent prices. Who's Bill? Who cares, the burgers are great.

Taking a page out of the Shake Shack playbook Bill's is serving an All-American original - the griddled smashburger. It's the burger Josh O, Adam Kuban, and myself have been pushing for years and the burger that started it all over 100 years ago (one which of course predates the fast food McWendyKings). It's the primary source burger we crave which can usually only be found in the Midwest. It's a burger that looks and tastes similar to Steak 'N Shake but one that is made with top-notch Pat LaFrieda ground beef. I'm not sure this burger has an equal in NYC.

Shake Shack finally has some healthy competition. Like the Shack, Bill's is employing a Mira-Clean flattop, a bun-buttering wheel, and a Pat LaFrieda burger blend. The focal point of the menu is their signature burger selection, one which caught my eye immediately - the Bobcat. That's right, a Green Chile Cheeseburger may have finally made it to the big city. Unfortunately, there was no green chile in the restaurant yet for the press preview and no one at Bill's had actually been to the Bobcat Bite to taste the country's best example. Hmmmm. Chef Paul Sale assured me that they were using authentic green chile and nothing else (the green chile that Bobcat uses is unadulterated and stewed, spooned on the burger hot, and damned spicy). I'll go back soon to make sure they are using authentic Hatch Green Chile.

The classic cheeseburger alone is worth the visit but the burger that really did it for Josh and I was the Fat Cat (pictured above), a double patty (2 - 5oz.) cheeseburger served on an English muffin with caramelized onions - truly sublime (after taking his first bite Josh actually screamed out, "OH MY GOD"). I'm not a big fan of the burger-on-a-muffin thing but this sort of worked. Next time I want this burger on a toasted white squishy.

Cheap, high-quality burgers are a rarity, especially in the trendy Meatpacking District. I'll be back for more. Imagine if you can actually get an authentic Green Chile Cheeseburger in Manhattan! I hope they get it right.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Motz 'N Martha

Not that I should be blogging about bloggers but I thought this was a good one from AHT's coverage of the Burger Bash last week. Here's a shot of Martha and I at the bash (not in the same frame, though I did thank her for having me on the show just after these shots were taken by Nick Solares). The mini version of the Minetta Tavern Black Label burger was amazing and cooked perfectly. I didn't even know there was a pickle in that fry boat..

Here's a clip from the Bash of me enjoying a Minetta mini. So juicy, and not raw!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hamburger America on TV in Hungary

I was interviewed by friend and Kiss legal counsel Angus Vail for a Hungarian Television show he was hosting - subject: The history of the hamburger. The interview was wacky but fun, filmed out at Water Taxi Beach, LIC last month. I saw the tease the other day for their burger show (where they actually go to Hamburg, Germany to ask questions - I don't know of anyone who has gone that deep before). The show is nuts, in a good way. Looking forward to seeing the full segment.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Schnipper's - Wow

What is it about this place? Every time I go I'm knocked over by these burgers. I need to get here more often. Jon Schnipper, the man behind the food decisions at the restaurant, is nuts. He's the kind of crazy the burger world needs more of. Every detail of everything on the menu is the result of Jon's intense attention to quality. Their signature burger, the Hickory Bacon Blue Burger, is a perfect balance of expertly sourced ingredients and a kick-ass piece of meat. Although there is bacon, blue cheese, a tiny squirt of BBQ sauce, and the just-right amount of crispy onions, you can still taste the beef in the burger. To me that is the sign of a great burger, when the beefiness is not hidden beneath a pile of overpowering condiments. "We just switched to a sliced blue cheese," Jon told me. That's right, no cheese sauce here. You get the real thing - a slice of actual blue cheese on your burger and it makes all the difference. "It's more expensive but worth it".

What I love about this place is not limited to the burger though. Schnipper's, unlike some of the other fancy-pants burger destinations all over Manhattan, is totally accessible and cranks out high-quality food (I would love to send everyone down to Minetta Tavern for a burger but you can't get a reservation). And the milkshakes are unreal. I still have not ventured into other parts of the menu. With burgers so great it'll be a challenge to stray.

Here's to Jon Schnipper losing sleep to benefit your hamburger happiness.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Burger Bash Was A Smash

I didn't know what to expect from an 1800 person burger scrum and was pleasantly surprised when I had a great time. Friday night's Blue Moon Burger Bash was a blast. The beer flowed freely and the burgers for the most part were amazing. I tasted 14 of the 17 visiting restaurants and went back for 2nds and 3rds at the Minetta Tavern and Bobby Flay tents. They really were my faves by far. Seemed like too many burgers out there were downright RAW. I don't mind a lot of pink in my burger (Minetta had pink 'n juicy down) but cold and raw is just not my thing. I like the reaction the meat gets when it spends another 45 seconds on the griddle...

We ran the 250 image 'Never Ending Burger Slideshow' on one of the tent walls Friday night (the best of my burger research) and auctioned off a 30"x30" framed photo (from the book) of a Jucy Lucy from Matt's Bar in Minneapolis to benefit the Food Bank for NYC (pictured with Seth Unger, photo by Kelly Neal). There were old burger buddies there, meat celebs, and a few new friendships were born (I'm looking forward to a promised tour of the Burger Maker meatpacking facility in NJ). I also got to personally thank Martha for having me on her show last month and Rachel Ray commented that she loved my photography.

It was quite an event. Next year Lee Schrager, the promoter and mastermind behind the bash, plans to hold the 3rd annual Burger Bash followed by a Hot Dog Bash the next night. Pure genius.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nashville For Burgers - Fat Mo's Hits The Spot

Last weekend I was at a wedding in Nashville and worked a few burgers into the schedule. A stop at Rotier's to visit old friends was a must and lunch at the local favorite Fat Mo's was in order.

During the research for Hamburger America the book I visited a bunch of talked-about burger joints in and around Nashville. Rotier's and Brown's Diner made it into the book but one spot, Fat Mo's was cut because it failed on the 'must have a burger on the menu for over 20 years' rule. Opened in 1990, Fat Mo's is soon eligible so we'll see what happens. They make one helluva burger and I'd like to put them in the next edition of the book.

The nondescript box near the I-440 and I-65 interchange is the original location of Fat Mo's which has now spawned a 14-store mini-chain in metro Nashville. Fat Mo's has two drive-thru lanes, one on each side of the building. One of the lanes, it seems, you'd have to get your order through the passenger window. There is no talkback box so someone comes out to your car to take your order which you then collect at the window. It's a bit lo-tech but it works.

The burger menu is slightly confusing offering a 1/2 pound Fat Mo and a 1/2 pound Double Mo. A typo? Nope. The Fat Mo is one large 1/2 pound patty whereas the Double Mo is made of two 1/4 pound patties. It makes sense to offer different patties to customers with different tastes - The thick-patty people need to order a Fat Mo and the thin patty lovers (myself included) need the Double Mo. Simply put, the Double Mo is the same size burger with twice as much griddle char.

Served on a toasted white squishy the burger is an American classic with the exception of the seasoning. Fat Mo's owners Mo and Shiva Karimy hail from Iran so the burgers do have an unmistakable Middle Eastern essence. The patties are seasoned with a subtle mixture of pepper and another unidentifiable tasty spice.

As you can see from the photo of my Double Mo the ubiquitous golden arches loom in the background. But that's not all - the Southern burger chain Krystal is across the street and Checkers is just down the road. That said, you'd be a fool to get to this part of town and not choose Fat Mo's.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Burgers For You And 9 Friends

I have once again become an auction item except this time winning bidder gets me in their house to make burgers for 10 people. The online auction is for the upcoming Food Network Wine & Food Festival, is to benefit Food Bank for NYC and includes over 100 items. The plan is to make many burgers representing regional specialties of America with donated Pat LaFrieda ground chuck. Some of the burgers I plan to make are green chile cheeseburgers, guberburgers, and onion-fried burgers. 

One catch that prospective bidders need to keep in mind is that the location of the burger party has to be within 50 miles of NYC (unless of course the lucky winner lives in Colorado or something and wants to fly me in). The auctioneers valued the event as 'priceless' which makes me happy. Place your bids!

The 'Award-Winning' Hamburger America

I just found out that Hamburger America (the doc) has won an award! A friend of mine was at the Modesto Reel Food Film Festival and emailed to tell me that my film took the Audience Favorite Award. A big thanks to everyone who went to the screening this past weekend. Because of this Hamburger America can now officially be referred to as an "award-winning documentary" and it only took 4 years to get one!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

To DBGB For The Menage A Trois

In the green room just before going on the Martha Show I was chatting with friend and burger icon Daniel Boulud. He asked if I had been to his newish DBGB on the bowery for the burgers. "Have you tried the Menage A Trois yet?" he said with a wink and a smile. I was invited to DBGB to try the 3-burger salute that included The Frenchie, The Piggie, and The Yankee and I graciously accepted.

The three 6-ounce burgers are available lunch and dinner at DBGB. The Piggie is topped with, among other things, a barbeque-sauced pulled pork, The Frenchie is topped with a slice of confit pork belly and soft French cheese, and The Yankee is an American classic with onion, lettuce, and tomato. Like their big brother, the famous DB Burger stuffed with fois gras served uptown, each burger at DBGB includes many elements that make for a tasty gourmet burger experience. Of the three my fave was, I kid you not, The Frenchie (far right in the photo). The pork belly and cheese enhanced the beefiness of the burger and was truly satisfying. 

I looked around the restaurant and noticed that The Yankee was clearly the favorite among lunchgoers. We also sampled a few of the amazing house-made sausages and were knocked over. Boulud knows his encased meats.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hamburger America Now In Kindle

I just noticed that my book is now available from Amazon in Kindle format. I can't imagine what it would be like dialing up my guide book and walking into one of these old burger joints with an oversized PalmPilot (remember those?) And what about the photos? Is the screen in color or black and white? I doubt the photos will look good on this thing or worse, what if they eliminated the photos entirely! If anyone sees this version of my book please let me know...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Martha and the Burger Show

The new season of The Martha Stewart Show has begun and she has devoted an entire episode to burgers (go Martha). Along with Daniel Boulud, Pat LaFrieda, Adam Kuban, and others I was there for the taping today (airs this Friday, 11am, ch. 4). I have a small segment after the first commercial break where I obviously push the book. I'm asked two questions before the cameras go to Boulud who of course is there to construct, for the cameras and Martha, the famous DB Bistro Burger. They do cut to shots of the Bobcat Bite's Green Chile Cheeseburger and Solly's Butter Burger and during the entire interview Martha is holding my book for the camera (Adam Kuban photo above).

Bill O'Donnell, one of my hamburger heroes and the owner of the Corner Bistro, was also there and produced 180 mini Bistro Burgers for the audience (that's Boulud, me, and Bill backstage in the green room).

Adam Kuban was sitting right next to me live blogging (Martha covered all the bases) and the entire audience had to wear these goofy tees that said, "I Love Burgers." I refused to put mine over my shirt so the producers settled for mine under. I felt much better about that one. And Boulud, LaFrieda, and others didn't have to wear one (the format was a little strange where the real celebs got to be on stage with Martha but Adam and I were in the first row with these tee shirts on...).

It was fun and painless and the entire audience received a copy of Hamburger America on the way out. The producers tried to sneak me out a side door but one audience member saw me and after 15 minutes I had signed about 40 books. It was my pleasure.

After the taping I made tracks for the screening of Hamburger America at the Tom's River Library in New Jersey. Outside of a host of tech problems the screening went well and the audience of about 100 really had a great time. The local Five Guys was there and supplied the crowd with free burgers.

Strangely, for a day of programming surrounding the burger I somehow managed to only eat that Bistro mini burger at the taping and half of a Five Guys small burger at the screening...

If you can, tune into the Martha Show this Friday the 18th at 11am EST, Channel 4. Click here to check the listing in your area.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hamburger America Screening, New Jersey

The Tom's River Branch of the Ocean County Library will be screening Hamburger America on Sept. 15th, 2009 at 7pm. I think the event is free but you'll need to register here if you want to attend the screening. I'll be there to sign books and answer questions so come on down. I put the event programmer in touch with the local Five Guys so you'll have some fresh burgers to look forward to as well. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

MORE BREAKING NEWS - Five Guys May Open in Williamsburg Brooklyn

I've just confirmed a rumor that a new Five Guys may open in Williamsburg in December 2009. Craig Cohen, owner of the Five Guys franchise locations in Brooklyn Heights, Bay Ridge, and Park Slope told me the new location will be near Bedford Ave. but no lease has been signed.

Clearly his other locations are doing well to warrant a 4th location in 2 years. This location could be his biggest winner yet and put a local fave like Dumont Burger on the defensive (I know there's no comparison but try asking for a free refill at Dumont, or fast service).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Bobcat Considering Bun Change

We stopped into the Bobcat Bite for our semi-annual Green Chile Cheeseburger fix and noticed that once again not much has changed. That is until John Eckre conspicuously approached me in the dining room with a bag of buns. "I want your professional opinion," he started and my heart sank. The bag contained 5 large, semi-hard rolls and were cold to the touch. John explained that the white squishy buns they currently use tend to disintegrate in the to-go orders. I can safely attest that the buns do nearly disintegrate even if you get them hot of the grill and eat them at the counter. It's just a fact of life - Bobcat burgers are a bit much for the buns.

"I like them because they actually taste like homemade bread," he continued. I think I made a face but I had to give them a try. John is a good friend but my expectations were low. I was SHOCKED to discover that the bun worked. The 9-ounce patty at the Bobcat is a beast but this test bun cradled the burger perfectly. After John had warmed the bun on a nearby griddle it was as soft as a white squishy and held up to the copious amount of juice a Bobcat burger produces.

Bonnie Eckre is not interested in a new bun but only because she fears change. I think she'll change her mind. This bun was made for the Bobcat Burger. Sometimes a little change is good (just a little). For now the white squishys are still in use (and understandably John is afraid to break it to his current bun supplier).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hamburger America and the Blue Moon Burger Bash

I was just asked to be a special guest at the Blue Moon Burger Bash, hosted by Rachel Ray, at the Food Network NYC Wine & Food Festival. They've asked me to bring my Hamburger America Slide Show to the event to be projected onto the tent's ceiling (you can view a very small portion of it here). The slide show contains hundreds of images of burger joints, burger people, and of course burgers. The collection is the result of over 10 years of exhaustive burger research. The show also contains all 200+ photos from my book.

The Burger Bash will also be auctioning off one of my large framed editioned burger prints (image TBD) and the proceeds will benefit the Food Bank for NYC.

I missed last year's bash (and the one in South Beach) so I'm looking forward to the event. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Now That's a Burger Tattoo

How committed to burgers and punk are you? Chicago expert burger taster Jay has proven his love of both by getting this kick-ass tattoo. The design is a cross between a very thick burger and the well-known Black Flag logo. Jay pointed out though that he cannot claim credit for the design - the 'burger bars' logo came from a spoof by comedian Neil Hamburger of Black Flag's seminal EP 'Six Pack'. Jay told me, "Black Flag pretty much changed my life. I'd long considered getting a Black Flag tattoo...This one just seemed too perfect."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hamburger America in Saveur

This month's Saveur magazine has 28 pages dedicated to burgers and yours truly gets a few mentions. They did a great job pulling together lots of talent and photos for the issue and are calling it the 'Burger Bible' (but don't expect anything that definitive). The layout is eclectic and covers everything from burger art to regional burger sauces. Pat La Frieda even gets their own sidebar. The mag asked me to submit 2 shorts pieces and one was chosen for this issue, a very brief profile of Sid's in El Reno, OK (the piece that got dumped was about the Double-Double Animal Style and will reappear somewhere else I hope).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Musings from the Wisconsin Burger Belt

It was only 11am when I had inhaled 2 burgers 'with' at the American Legion Post #67 burger stand which meant that I needed to think about lunch soon. Fortunately I was in what I like to call the 'Wisconsin Burger Belt' which extends from Madison to Milwaukee. Just off Route 94, which connects the two cities, are a handful of tiny Mom 'N Pops that serve classic thin patty wonders. There's Zwieg's, Wedl's, and the Post#67 burger stand just to name a few and of course Madison and Milwaukee have their share of great burger spots.

Local Expert Burger Taster Todd and myself plotted a course that would take us to Wedl's in Jefferson, then onto Madison for burgers at The Plaza and Dotty Dumplings, all for lunch.

Wedl's, formerly known as Peterson's, is in my book and serves burgers out of what must be the smallest burger shack I've ever seen. Back for my 4th visit I was eager to order one with grilled onions and looking forward to meeting the new owners. I'm happy to report that not only are the burgers unchanged and amazing, the Wedl family plans to hold onto the stand for many years to come. The Wedl's son Bert worked for the Petersons and is the heir apparent to the decades-old business. The stand is safe for now.

We made it to Madison and met columnist and friend Doug Moe at The Plaza. Fortunately, owner Dean Hetue was at The Plaza when we arrived and I was able to meet the man in possession of the secret recipe for the tangy white sauce that is slathered on their burgers (for the book, all interviews with Dean were by phone which only deepened the mystique). We savored the sauce, the burger, and moved onto Dotty's just up the street.

By the time we arrived at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry I was full. 4 burgers for lunch had caught up with me but I wasn't leaving Madison without a bellyful of Sprecher's Root Beer (on tap) and an order of the Wisconsin's proudest gastronomic quirks - deep-fried cheese curds. The are, when prepared well, heaven in a fry boat.

By the time I hit the road back to Chicago I was in a daze. My caloric intake was high but somehow that didn't stop me from pulling over for a chocolate custard with hot fudge at Culver's. There's nothing like creamy cold custard, even at this so-so burger chain. The Lower Wisconsin Burger Belt was great for lunch. Eventually I need to venture into the burger joints North of Route 94.