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!