Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kuma's Corner, Chicago

It's been well over a year since well-informed Chicagoans and beyond have urged me to go to Kuma's Corner for a burger. Their inclusion in Jeff Ruby's Playboy list last year piqued my interest and the raves kept coming in. Last weekend I finally had the chance to visit with local expert burger tasters Jay and his wife Alexis. Local friends Paul and Brian joined us and suddenly our group was dangerously large.

We had a hunch that Kuma's would be packed this past Saturday thanks to 2 mentions in the paper in 2 weeks (one concerning their new burger, the #@%! Blagojevich which has a slice of bologna and a 'negotiable' price.) We met at the front door of the Metal-themed bar and grill at exactly 11:25am only to find another 40 people who had the same idea. When the doors opened, the place filled and every seat was occupied in 20 seconds. At 11:35am there was a line already forming. According to Jay, the wait for a table or spot at the bar can be well over an hour and the wait for a burger once you've ordered can be up to an hour. He wasn't kidding. We sat, ordered, and waited for our burgers for an hour and 10 mins. 

Was it worth it? Yes, the burger, though a little over-cooked for my taste, was high quality, flame grilled, and served on a soft pretzel roll (my first ever. How come I've never seen these things?). Although there were over 20 burger concoctions on the menu with names like the Iron Maiden (avocado and chipotle) and the Goblin Cock (basically a burger with a hot dog and Chicago fixings on it), I opted for the Kuma Burger, a 10oz burger with bacon and a fried egg on top.

It was great to see families with kids in L.L.Bean jackets dining next to tattooed, bearded lovers of Metal. I also appreciated that someone had scrawled, on the large chalkboard over the bar, 'die emo die'.

By the time we left the crowd waiting had swelled to over 50, some standing in the frigid Chicago temps that were hovering around 12 degrees. Next time, a visit off-peak (Tuesday at midnight?)

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Kid's Bun at the Billy Goat

The original Billy Goat location, the subterranean downtown Chicago watering hole, makes a great burger to soak up the booze you'll be drinking but I've heard from more than a few people that their homemade buns are too large. Sure, if you order a single patty (even after the grillman has told you 'triple much better!') you'll have a hard time trying to find the patty on that throw pillow of a bun. I usually order a triple or a 'Sosa', a burger with 4 patties and 3 slices of cheese. The homemade Kaiser rolls are designed for multiple patties.

I've discovered a bun alternative for all of those haters out there so it's time for you to give the burger at the Goat another shot. I was signing books there back in May and Bill Sianis produced a single patty on a white squishy bun for my 4 year-old daughter. He explained, "That's our 'kid's bun'." I was in Chicago over this past weekend and gave it a shot (see photo above). I ordered a double with cheese on a 'kid's bun' and got a large, sesame-seeded, soft bun. Just to make sure they could handle demand I asked how many they keep on hand. They told me, "About 40 a day." Next time I'm ordering a Sosa on a kid's bun.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Shopsin's for Sliders

When Nick Solares asked me to join him at Shopsin's for sliders I jumped at the chance because Nick is friendly with the infamously vocal Kenny Shopsin (at least he hasn't been tossed out of the restaurant, yet). I would have loved to enjoy Kenny's sliders anonymously but no such luck. Kenny, a frequent reader of this and other food blogs, was fully aware of my presence from the moment I stepped into his corner of the Essex Street Market and razzed me until I stepped out. To him, I'm a jerk-off that's "f*cking those guys at that place in Red Hook, Yeah, yer all f*cking each other." (?) He also had zero appreciation for my brand of hamburger reportage though it was clear that he had learned from it. He told me, "At one point we had every one of the burgers from your film on the menu." It was all delivered with a smile and I didn't get tossed out of the restaurant so things must have been going well (at least for this visit - way back in the late 90s Kenny tossed me out of the original Bedford St. location because I was with a party of 5).

I was there for the sliders (photo above courtesy of Nick) and if they didn't deliver I'd be disappointed. Nick had already called these the best in NYC city and he's to be trusted with burger accolades. Fortunately, they were incredible. A $10 order of 3 is roughly equivalent in size (and flavor) to 3 doubles with cheese at the White Manna. These are authentic sliders, not over-crafted, over-touched, fussed with mini burgers that some high end restaurants are pushing on their bar menus. Kenny actually cares about what he serves people and the attention to detail shows. The sliders are made from fresh ground beef from the neighboring meat market Jeffrey's (only a few steps away), the cheese appropriately American, the onions thin-cut and grilled, and the buns are none other than Martin's Potato Rolls.

The experience of downing sliders at Shopsin's was akin to the berating I received from the self-titled "mean bitch" Miss Ann of Ann's Snack Bar in Atlanta. Both visits, though peppered with direct insults, resulted in excellent burgers and friendly exits.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bad News - Tookie's in Seabrook Texas is Closed

I've just learned from Doug at the Seabrook Texas Tourism Office that one of the 100 burger joints in my book has closed. Nothing anti-climatic like cash-flow problems or a bad health department inspection were to blame for the closing though. It was last year's Hurricane Ike that did in the 35 year-old burger destination. "Oh, it was under about 6 feet of water," Doug explained. He didn't know what the owner's plans were for reopening but he mentioned, "I sure hope they reopen. People come from all over for their burgers."

It was my Southern food guru John T. Edge that led me to this out-of-the-way burger spot to sample their famous bacon-and-beef "Squealer". It's the ultimate bacon cheeseburger that is sure to spike your cholesterol. It would be a shame if this American culinary treasure were lost.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Poll

Look on the right. Blogger offers a poll and I'm fully taking advantage of this function. I thought I'd start with an easy one - the bun. By this point you know my favorite.  What's yours? Anyone who answers brioche might be banned from this blog (no pressure).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pimento Cheeseburger at Rockaway Athletic Club

I swear I drove by the place 5 times before accidentally turning into the parking lot. There are no signs and no sign of life from the street side of the Rockaway Athletic Club in Columbia, South Carolina. I pulled into the parking lot to turn around once again when I noticed a piece of cardboard by a backdoor with the words, "Boiled Peanuts Tonight" scrawled on it in black Sharpie. I figured I had arrived.

I was at the Rockaway the other day to sample their Pimento Cheeseburger (pronounced 'pimena cheese' in these parts). At 3:30 on a Tuesday the enormous college watering hole was completely empty so the burger came fast. The photo above doesn't do the burger justice but it was an excellent belly-bomb with warm pimento cheese-goo on a soft egg-type sandwich roll. The patty, about 7 ounces of fresh, pressed beef, was a little overcooked for my taste but I'd go back.

Rockaway seems like a great place to let loose if you are a college student in Columbia with about 7 beers and a shot of Jaeger in you. The original burned down a few years ago and was replaced by this imposing brick structure (or maybe they moved to this location?) The plain exterior yields a well-appointed interior. I'd love to know why the windows out front are armored, or why there is no sign outside anywhere, or why it's called an Athletic Club? More research is needed for sure.

On the way out of town I found this tiny burger, chicken, and soft-serve ice cream stand and had to stop for a chocolate shake. No malt though. I asked for a chocolate 'malt' and I got a look like I was from a different planet. I thought malts were universal.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Family Outing to the Apple Pan

My sister, who was in LA visiting friends, called me looking for a burger joint that would impress. I could have sent her to Father's Office in Santa Monica, or Irv's in West Hollywood. I was sure they had all been to In-N-Out before so the obvious choice was the Apple Pan. And they had never been.

In the picture above my sister is in the striped shirt flanked by her friends Chad Smith, Nancy Mack, and their son. What I love about pictures like this is that it's proof they took my suggestion! The report was that many Hickory Burgers were consumed and Nancy, 8 months pregnant, tucked into a Steakburger as well.

And I think I see Hector in the background...

Friday, January 9, 2009

New In-N-Out Book, Due April '09

Fanatics of one of the most celebrated fast food burger joints in America are going to flip for a new book that hits bookshelves this Spring. Stacy Perman, staff writer for BusinessWeek, has written a history of the West Coast phenomenon, simply titled In-N-Out Burger (Collins Business). I was sent an advance copy over the holiday break and started in right away. I kid you not when I say the book is a page-turner (maybe the case only for true fanatics), so much so that I shipped 4 other food-related books home and stuck to Stacy's book for the vacation.

Stay tuned. Pre-ordering has begun on Amazon. I need a Double-Double Animal-Style.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hamburger America Gallery Show is Up!

This past Tuesday I hung 14 images from the book in the Greenhouse Gallery at the James Beard Foundation in Manhattan. The show is not open to the public but if you are a member of the foundation you can't miss the show if you are attending an event at the house. There are 10 - 11x14 images and 4- 30x30. 

As I was hanging the photos a girl that works there saw the image of Joe Maranto from the Meers Store in Oklahoma (above, with Bonnie) and said, "Ahhh, there's my man." Gotta love a septuagenarian rancher who elicits that kind of response.

The show runs through the end of February. For the full monty, come to the Beard Burger Bash on Feb. 3rd. Josh Ozersky will be there to wax poetic about burgers, Harry Hawk will be there to make amazing burgers and I'll be there to eat them.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Great Five Guys Hamburger Swindle

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Five Guys and their fresh-meat burgers. But unfortunately the other day I was swindled by the short menu at a Manhattan location when I tried to order something different. My usual intake at Five Guys, no matter what store I'm visiting, is the Bacon Cheeseburger (confusing, but always a double). The size is perfect but sometimes I think that the bun might implode if I'm not careful. With this in mind I decided to order 2 Little Bacon Cheeseburgers, which are the same as the regular, 2 patty burger with only one patty. 

This is where I got screwed (follow me here).

One Bacon Cheeseburger has 2 patties, 2 slices of cheese, and one bun for $8.45.

Two Little Bacon Cheeseburgers have 2 patties, 2 slices of cheese, and 2 buns for $13.20!

That means I basically paid an additional $4.75 for a cold bun.

The lesson learned here is that, although it's not cheap, the deal is in the regular, 2 patty burger. Stay away from the 'Little' rip-off burgers.

(Expert burger taster Kris smartly ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger, also listed on the receipt above)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

I Am A Hamburger

Over the vacation my wife asked my 4 year-old daughter to draw pictures of everyone in the room one night. The picture above is a drawing of me. I guess my daughter thinks I look a lot like a hamburger.