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.