Thursday, December 30, 2010

Great Burgers on Route 82 in Colorado

What a difference a few months can make. The last time I was snowboarding in Aspen, only 8 months ago, the hamburger options were grim. It seemed as though no one between Glenwood Springs and Aspen really gave a crap about burgers. Then Edible Aspen magazine ran a piece on a tiny burger joint in Carbondale named Fatbelly Burgers and burger awareness in the valley was suddenly realized. The joint, which has no seating and a flattop griddle in view, serves simple 1/4 pound 'fast food' style burgers in the spirit of In-N-Out and Shake Shack. To me it is hamburger nirvana - no frills, no bullshit, great burgers.

I returned this year to find that not only is Fatbelly going strong, owner Shane Vetter has opened a second location even closer to Aspen in downtown Basalt. The Basalt location (named Fatbelly Eats) has an expanded menu that includes a handful of new signature burgers, a grilled Ahi plate, even salads. Most notable however is the long bar and bartender as you walk in on the right. The incredible beer selection trumps the wine and that's fine with me. Shane told me, "We are building a stage for live music back there." All of this fueled by burger money. Tasty, greasy, burger money. I was in awe of Shane's hamburger achievements over just one short year.

I arrived in Aspen to discover that the bleak burgerscape of this upscale ski town had given birth to a new burger concept, right at the base of Ajax. CP Burger, only open since October, is excellent. How excellent? I ate a burger there with my brother-in-law, left, then circled back 20 mins later for another.

CP Burger has taken a unique approach to dealing with the apres ski rush. I was shocked when my burger appeared in about 60 seconds, just about the time it would take to bun, load, and wrap a burger. Were the patties pre-cooked? The fresh-beef burgers at CP Burger are cooked on a flattop then transferred to a CVap to stay warm. Are you skeptical? Well don't be. Someone calling the orders explained to me that the CVap suspends the temperature of the patty for up to a half hour keeping the burger moist. It seemed to work because the burger was still very moist and tasty. I had a burger with blue cheese, bacon, and sauteed onions and 20 mins later had another. CP also serves my favorite Shiner Bock in cans, gotta love it. They've also taken a page out of the Bobby Flay playbook and are offering milkshakes spiked with booze, an idea worth drinking.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ken Lassen Has Died

I just found out from a friend in Connecticut that Ken Lassen, the grandson of the man that arguably invented the hamburger at Louis' Lunch, has passed away. You can read about it here. He starred in my 2005 film Hamburger America and will be sorely missed. Ken not only ran one of the most historically significant restaurants in America, he perpetuated the hamburger dream that his grandfather started over 110 years ago.

Fortunately, the future of Louis' is safe thanks to the dedication and hard work of Ken's sons Ken Jr. and Jeff Lassen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Back to Bobcat

We descended upon the tiny 22 seat Bobcat Bite this week with 11 people in tow. Not recommended unless you know when to arrive. The Bobcat normally opens at 11am and I somehow persuaded everyone to leave for a burger at 10:30 in the morning (they must trust me). We filled the counter and a table and there was no wait. Though by the time we left (45mins later) there were at least 30 people waiting patiently for their green chile cheeseburger fix. I'm sure the crowds grew as lunchtime progressed.

Wife Casey, the former vegetarian, ordered hers medium and devoured the thing in minutes. Bite for bite, she matched my usually unmatchable speed then exclaimed that she had just had an out-of-body experience. She did look dazed and told me, "That was amazing, better than I remembered." The burgers, now served on buns far superior to the original seeded white squishies, are always amazing and the new buns have enhanced the Bobcat burger experience tenfold. The burger that was off-the-charts has reached a new high. As we were leaving John Eckre was on the phone with his baker and told me, "We may run out today," and rolled his eyes. Check the holiday hours before you go.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Louisiana Smash

I love it when I come across a really satisfying burger. Smashburger, now with locations everywhere, creates pretty satisfying burgers. And even though they are a franchised chain I seek them out when I travel.

I found myself in Shreveport, Louisiana last week and had trouble finding a good local burger. I polled a few locals and came up with nothing (someone suggested the 'amazing burger at the Hilton'(?) and quickly realized that I was on my own). I did see that one of the local casinos had a place called 8oz. Burger but I did not try it. My sights were set on Smashburger. 

Someone in Shreveport did suggest that I try the 'Louisiana Smashburger' and that's when I discovered that Smashburger is apparently working on regional spins to their burgers. The Louisiana Smash is topped with a kick-ass remoulade sauce which is basically a spicy mayo with paprika and Creole mustard. The combination of the smashed patty, perfectly toasted bun and the remoulade was pretty amazing. I'm looking forward to Smashburger's Brooklyn spin when they open in my part of the world in the new year.

Sorry the photo above is not more pro. The snap of the Louisiana Smashburger was from my crappy cellphone camera because I honestly couldn't wait to take a bite. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Made Possible Launches Today

A super-cool online mag geared toward dudes called Made Possible launched today. My good friend and visual genius Mac Premo made the short film about me making a hamburger that is part of the website's launch and is aptly positioned in their 'health' section. I have a feeling I'll be contributing more to the site in the near future...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Miss Ann Mellows

The NY Times spent some time down in Atlanta recently at Ann's Snack Bar to write a nice piece and produce a video. After watching, all I could think is how Miss Ann has really mellowed over the years. The Ann that I first met back in 2006 during research for the first book was pretty feisty (and threw me out of the restaurant just for wanting to write about her). Maybe I can go back now. I'd like one more Ghetto Burger before the place closes or changes hands.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Hamburger America is Available for Presale

I have not even seen the second pass from the designer and Hamburger America 2 is already available on Amazon. The presale has begun but the book will not be available until May 2011. The 'old' book is still selling but the new adds 52 more burger joints to the list (2 of the joints from the original Hamburger America have closed since that version of the book came out, The Yankee Doodle and Tookies. RIP.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hamburger Holiday Gift Ideas 2010

It's that time of the year again, time to show your friends and family how much you love burgers. Here are a few of my latest faves that will most certainly make great gifts this holiday season.

One of my favorite hats is back on the list. This one sold out before Christmas last year so get yours now!

Do I need one of these? Not really. Do I want one? Most definitely.

Really big. This FREE poster from the American Angus Association is almost 4 feet tall. I still can't figure out where to put mine. It's beautiful.

A great pan that I use daily. Requires two hands to lift, but man this thing cooks. Great for smashburgers.

This is the one you need and it is no flimsy flipper. Totally rigid for the perfect smash every time. And at $2.90 each you should own a bunch.

The first version of my book is about to become an out-of-print classic! Makes a great gift.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Beef Change at Schnipper's

I stopped into one of my newish favorites, Schnipper's, recently for a quickie and noticed right away that something had changed about the burger. My default order there is the signature colossus, the Hickory Bacon Blue, which is just fantastic. Chase it with a killer shake and your day is set. I found out after my visit from one of the Schnipper brothers that they have made the switch to Pat LaFrieda ground beef. It's pretty obvious. How do Pat and Mark keep up with all of these new clients?

Also it has been rumored that Schnipper's is planning on opening another restaurant, this one on Madison Park just steps from the original Shake Shack. I wonder if the brothers Schnipper were getting back at them for opening a new Shack just 3 blocks from their flagship store...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Paula Deen Made Me Cry

She made me cry tears of joy. This mashup has been on YouTube for a while now but good friend P2 Mike recently sent this note: "Hi Mr. Motz. Have you seen this? Paula Dean, dear god." Even if you've already seen the clip you need to watch it again. Don't worry, it's not the clip where her pants fall off during a live demo.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chicago for Thanksgiving, and Burgers (of course)

Although a recent trip to Chicago was all about turkey and eating massive quantities of food this did not deter me from paying visits to two of my favorites in town - Top Notch Beefburger and the newish MBurger. Pictured above is my regular order at Top Notch, a King Size cheeseburger (1/2 lb.) with sauteed onions. Pictured below is the glorious Double MBurger.

Every time I mention that I'm heading down (way down) to Top Notch I still get the same response from ALL Chicagoans. "Where is it again?" This decades-old burger joint/diner is unquestionably one of the best burgers in the nation and Chicago is basically blessed by its presence. Chicago just doesn't seem to appreciate the Top Notch. Sure, it takes about 25 mins by car to drive there at top speeds but the burgers are truly worth it. I guess heading all the way down to 95th and Western from downtown Chicago is like telling a New Yorker to head out to Flushing, Queens for a burger. Or better, telling a Los Angeleno to drive from Hollywood to Santa Monica for a burger. Me? I would drive hours for this burger, but that's just me..

I also managed to squeeze in a Double MBurger at the burger joint now attached to the kitchen of Tru. Thankfully, I showed up after 2pm and the place was empty (no large feat - MBurger would be filled with 4 people, 5 max). Love that Double M.

Missed DMK, Billy Goat and a new burger joint called Burger Bar (?) There's always next time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Burger Bites, Episode 2 - Some Odd Griddles

After over 9 months I've finally given birth to Burger Bites, Episode #2 - Odd Griddles and Techniques. I was on-and-off the road for months doing research for the completely revised Hamburger America (out April 2011) and learned a few new cooking methods for great burgers. In this episode you'll see some strange and amazing stuff, like burgers being poached at Pete's in Prairie Du Chien, WI. Click here to watch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

My New License Plate

Check out my new plate! (not kidding)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hamburger Photo Contest

I just found out that a photo contest involving burgers is ending tomorrow at midnight. The folks at Photo Shelter are holding the contest and I'm entering. Here's the link to the contest.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hamburger America 2 Almost Done

I'm at the end of my rope and almost done with final manuscript for the completely revised edition of Hamburger America. 50 new (old) burger joints have made it into the new edition and I am completely wiped out. I've worked harder on this book than anything in my life and I can't wait to put it to bed. I've actually had a blast in the past 2 weeks checking in with the 100 burger joints that are in the book already. Not surprisingly, nothing has changed at these places and that makes me happy.

My love and appreciation of the Great American Hamburger has grown ever stronger and I've met 50 new hamburger heroes. I'm looking forward to sharing the fruits of my labors, soon, come April 2011. And starting next week I'll be able to get back to blogging.

Below is a shot from the new book. See if you can guess where this was taken. Could there be anything better than a beer and a burger at a classic drive-in? (comments are open for this post)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chicago Food Film Festival - Special One-Time Burger

Sorry I have not posted in a while. The book manuscript is due in a few weeks and all of my writing energy is going into the book right now. We are also gearing up for the 1st Annual Chicago Food Film Festival where we are throwing a burger party with Chicago burgerman, chef Michael Kornick and DMK Burger Bar. He'll be making all sorts of burgers and we'll be watching part of Hamburger America and Joe York's CUD. Kornick has also agreed to concoct a special burger for the event on Sept 25th using the cheese of one of our big sponsors - Jarlsberg. Festival Producer Seth Unger has already labeled it the JARLSBURGER. I like it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Burger Garage is Open!

The Burger Garage opened for lunch this week and I was there. Not just because the burgers are great but also because the 2 dudes behind Burger Garage are childhood friends of mine. Jim and Adam Pileski have a family restaurant pedigree (The Palm) so there was no question that they were going to get it right. Jim has been talking about opening a burger concept in LIC for years and it has finally, actually happened. And it is goood.

The patties, cooked on a flattop, are from LaFrieda, the ice cream for the shakes is from one of my faves Max 'N Mina's in Flushing, and the buns are buttered, toasted white squishies. I had a double (2- 4oz patties) with American cheese and sauteed onions. Melt in your mouth good. I want more good.

They've been open for lunch now only 3 days and I hit the end of the lunch rush (fortunately). "We had a line out the door, around the block on Monday," Jim told me. They can handle it though, and my order came quick.

Finally, a burger to compete with that other burger in LIC - the Motz Burger at Water Taxi Beach!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Burgers Are Good

My super-genius friend, artist, and director Mac Premo just finished a short film on how to make a burger. The piece is running on the new and features me in my kitchen and is pretty damned good. Click here to see the 2 min piece and get yourself hungry..

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

An Appearance on Cooper's Kitchen

The appearance I made on the new webseries Cooper's Kitchen back in early March is now airing. The star of the show is award-winning country music recording artist Cooper Boone and we had a blast. I actually got to grind a Pat LaFrieda brisket-and-clod combo on camera and it turned out well. Check out the part where I stick my fingers into the meat grinder without the use of the supplied 'stomper'. Kitchenaid will love this one.

Also don't miss my somewhat ridiculous backup guitar and singing on Ramblin' Man. I sort of forgot that the show ends with Cooper singing with his guests. I had fun though and actually don't look half stupid. (notice the grinder peeking into the shot below)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Minnesota/Eastern Iowa Trip Starts Tomorrow

For the completely revised edition of my book I head out on another short burger jaunt into the Upper Midwest. There are a few burgers I need to check out from Duluth to Dubuque (not kidding) and this time the wife, the former vegetarian, is coming along. Follow the trip on Twitter@MotzBurger. Should be 7 burgers in 3 states, 40 hours.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Diablo Burger in Flagstaff, Very Local

I found myself in Flagstaff, Arizona yesterday and had to stop into a newish, recommended burger spot called Diablo Burger. Tiny does not begin to describe the size. The restaurant may be 500 square feet if that, but manages to seat close to 20 at 'community' tables. 

EVERYTHING about Diablo is local. The beef, the the pickles, even the hot sauce I noticed was made in Flagstaff. The organic ice cream for their kick-ass shakes is from Straus Family Creamery (in California, hmm, not very local but way good). Even their cash-only policy is technically local (the menu points out, correctly, that transaction fees go to a bank that is not very local at all).

The burger was great, cooked to temp (using a thermometer) on a flame grill with (local) lava rocks, and served on an English muffin that has Diablo's logo branded on top (above). I'm not a fan of the English muffin at all for a burger mostly because they taste sour and funky, and this one imploded under the juice of this perfectly cooked burger. A toasted white squishy would have been the way to go and I assume they chose the muffin as an excellent surface for their 'brand'. I asked for American cheese and was quickly reminded that there was no 'local' American. I settled for a local cheddar with local bacon.

If you are looking for a seriously local burger Diablo is no joke. Their beef comes from cattle raised 40 miles from Flagstaff. Just don't ask for American cheese.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hamburger Rock

I've been handed some pretty crazy burger-centric gifts over the years, everything from hamburger soap to the now-famous hamburger phone. Every year our Christmas tree is filled with an assortment of hamburger ornaments and my daughter just gave me a burger-shaped eraser from Japan. A recent gift from my father-in-law may have taken the prize however. On a trip to Bolivia last month he spotted this familiar looking rock in a riverbed. He told me, "I immediately thought of you." I wonder why?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Changes At Bobcat Bite

Nothing to dramatic here, but since I was at the Bobcat Bite last summer they have made the change to a more substantial bun. Obviously, it saddened me to see the white squishy go away but this large, juicy burger managed to disintegrate the bun in seconds. The new bun actually works. And another change - the burgers are now larger, weighing in at 10 oz. before they hit the griddle (making them a full ounce larger now and the change is noticeable.)

There's one more change that is making John Eckre's life crazy at the grill. They have added the Bacon Green Chile Cheeseburger to the menu (above). I indulged, the bacon was excellent, but something was not quite right. After all of these years eating Green Chile Cheeseburgers I've come to love the simplicity of the burger, the cheese, and the hot green chile. I'm glad to hear the addition of bacon is popular but for me the GCC is king.

Oh, and they have a new website!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Video Clip From El Reno

The trip through North Texas and Oklahoma was wild and I will eventually get around to posting a few highlights from the journey. Thanks to my commitment to tweeting on the road someone from El Reno Oklahoma's Onion Fried Day found me at Sid's Diner just after I had finished my last glorious bite of an onion fried burger. He had a camera with him and shot this:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wow, Mburger in Chicago Hits It

Before Mburger opened I received a few emails from its creator asking me to come check it out. I found myself in Chicago last week and thought I'd give it a shot. Only open for a few months I figured the place would still be struggling trying to find customers. Man was I wrong.

Mburger is on Huron a half-block off North Michigan surrounded by arguably the Midwest's most expensive real estate. The Apple Store, Brooks Brothers, and Tiffany are all just a few steps away and there are tourists everywhere. How could a tiny burger joint survive here?

I got my answer as I approached the miniscule burger joint - a line snaked out the door of Mburger and up the sidewalk, easily 40 people were waiting and it was barley 12:15. The line moved super-fast and was made up mostly of locals looking for greasy nourishment on their lunch break. I snuck in and found Chef Tim Hockett who brought me a burger and a shake to sample.

There are 2 reasons why there is a line out the door of Mburger: 1- there is no room inside, and 2- the burger is ridiculously good. The double Mburger is loosely based on an In-N-Out double-double and made with fresh-ground beef pattied in-house. So good.

Tim explained that the name is shortened to 'Mburger' because the place is so small that the 'Ha' wouldn't fit. They installed a few mirrors in the place to make it seem bigger but he told me regardless when three players from the Chicago Bears stopped in recently they took up the entire space. Tim admitted that he used my book for reference and that made me feel good. I'll be back for more in August and have been told I have to try the off-menu item, the Hurt Burger. No idea what it is but will find out soonly.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Finally, London Gets A Decent Burger

Burgers have a bad reputation in London, deservedly so, and most of the ones I've tried there are pretty awful. That is, until Byron Proper Hamburgers came along and upended the game.

I was shooting a short job at Christie's London last week when an assistant at the auction house gave me a great tip on a burger. She was so effusive about this burger that I had to go and check it out.

We hit their Soho location and found an airy sitdown restaurant with a casual-hip crowd of 20-something Londoners. They were all drinking and eating burgers and I easily could have been at a new spot in Brooklyn had it not been for the British accent surrounding me.

I was shocked to find out that Byron serves Dixie Beer! I had not seen that in a while and found out why - turns out the brewery in New Orleans closed after Katrina and a brewer in England (?) is now making the beer under contract. It's a damn good drinkin' beer and I had another.

I ordered the Byron Burger which came with Byron sauce. The waiter was quick to tell me it was basically Thousand Island dressing which is what I suspected even before the burger hit my table.

If you go by the photo of the burger on their website you'd probably stay away. The bun looks like a dusty paving stone and the vegetables have no color. Thankfully, MY photo above is the real thing and it was damn good. Of course I pulled the goofy veggies off and the burger, cooked on an indoor flame, was pink inside. That's right, with the fears of Mad Cow now many years behind them, the Brits have finally stopped incinerating their burgers. The waiter told me that the beef comes to them from small farm grass-fed cattle in the Scottish Highlands. I'm not a fan of the taste of grass-fed beef but this was some of the tastiest I've had. Cheese and bacon completed the flavor profile and the bun was actually very soft.

So thank you Euthumia (Thymmie) from Christie's London for being the only person in that country to steer me in the right direction.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Burgers For Mayor Mike

I was invited to Gracie Mansion today to show the catering and kitchen staff my favorite way to make a burger. Naturally, I wanted to show them the smash method after Mayor Mike ate a few burgers at our Brooklyn Burger 'N Beer Garden (as part of the NYC Food Film Festival). It was 102 degrees on the upper east side and the staff wanted to make the burgers outside (even though they had a beautiful flattop in the air-conditioned kitchen). I think they wanted to compare griddled to grilled burgers so they threw two Lodge flattops right onto the grill. It actually worked.

I thought I was just making a few burgers but ended up making close to 30 sliders of varying sizes. It was a real workout and the heat was unforgiving. We tested burgers without any seasoning, save salt on the patty and butter on the toasted buns. And since it was my lunchtime I had them pick up a Vidalia onion so I could make one of my favorites - the Oklahoma Onion-Fried burger. They were a hit, though some complained that they were 'greasy' (which they are of course - that's why they are so good.)

Hopefully I changed their minds. They plan to replace their outdoor flame grills with rented flattops temporarily. Let's see what happens when someone complains that they want their burger 'flame-grilled' at the next 800 person Gracie Mansion cookout. I may take a guest spin on the griddle at the next cookout too..

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

To Chicago, More For The Book

Finally, after a brutal month making the NYC Food Film Festival happen I'm back to blogging. Tomorrow, I head to Chicago to plan the 1st Annual Chicago Food Film Festival and eat more burgers for the book. Charlie Beinlich's is part of the plan for this week as well as 2 undisclosed others.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More to Come

I have not posted a damn thing in weeks and I apologize. We have been busy preparing for the 4th Annual NYC Food Film Festival (of which I am its director) and have not had time to update the blog. I still owe the awesome trip I took to Texas back in May. Meet two of my new friends from the tiny town of Washington, TX, pictured below...more to come.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

To South Texas For More Research

I'm off to Houston and San Antonio for research. Follow me for the next 3 days on Twitter..

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Wild 48 Hrs in the Heartland

48 hours, 12 burgers and 750 miles of driving, that's basically what it turned out to be. The route for this stretch of research took me on a round trip starting in Cleveland. Follow this route - Cleveland to Columbus, Columbus to Urbana, Urbana to Fort Wayne Indiana, Fort Wayne to Detroit and then back to Cleveland to catch a flight out (I tried to time the trip to the airport with a quick stop at the Rock 'N Roll hall of fame but that never happened.)

I'm not going into too much detail since most of these joints are going into the book but I'll give a brief account of my wild ride.

In Cleveland I drove South to Akron to give Swenson's (above) a try based on many recommendations. It was excellent and the drive-in culture with carhops is alive and well in Ohio. I got the Galley Boy, which was a double on a very soft, yeasty bun with '2 special sauces'. I think the sauces were tartar and a ketchup thing and it hit the spot. I ate 2 of them.

I drove down to Columbus to visit Johnnie's and was joined by local EBT (expert burger taster) Jim Ellison (who brought me awesome vegan cookies from a local bakery - thanks for thinking about my health on the road Jim!). There's only one burger to get at Johnnie's but you choose your cheese. I chose the spicy pepper jack, apparently the fave among regulars. No one told me the burger was close to a pound! It was actually closer to 3/4 lb but what a beast..yum.

Next I dropped into Crabill's in Urbana just to say hi. I was headed to Sidney, OH and since Crabill's was on the way I had to stop. Marsha Crabill (above) was at the griddle (which is more like a tank full of glorious grease) and I had to have a few.

A short and picturesque drive through Ohio farmland brought me to the tiny city of Sidney and the vintage burger joint The Spot. A complete throwback with a burger on the menu that kicks some butt, the Big Buy (above). 2 patties, lettuce, pickle, cheese, and tartar sauce. The owner graciously offered to show me the square patty maker and I accepted. Fresh beef is basically extruded thru this vintage patty former, not pressed, making for a loose, crumbly texture.

More countryside and I crossed into Indiana headed for Fort Wayne. There I found a gem of gems - Powers Hamburgers. Situated near two stately downtown structures Powers was a perfect specimen of the Golden Age of the Hamburger, right down to the crispy waitstaff. Locals were treated like family, I was treated like a party crasher (maybe I asked too many questions). The burgers, true sliders to be exact, were phenomenal. Goes to show, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

On to Detroit and the upscale suburb of Birmingham where the well-preserved 1950s Hunter House also serves excellent oversized sliders. I started with a single for breakfast before realizing that the double (above) was the way to go (ordered one of those too, which was piled with steamy onions). Behind the counter were hanging signs of record holders that all seemed to be under ten years old, records for the number of burgers consumed in a single seating. Start 'em young, that's my kind of burger joint.

My last stop kinda freaked me out. Motz's Burgers in Detroit was a surefire failure right? Wrong. Not only does the place exist in a defunct White Castle and share my name, the burger is absolutely dreamy. Coincidentally, it's the pressed onion slider (above) that I make at home. How could this be? What are the chances? I was so relieved that Motz's delivered and they have a true spot in my book.

Next trip will be to Houston and San Antonio. Again, I'll be tweeting the trip so stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ohio For Research

I'm headed to Ohio/Detroit tomorrow for a few days for hamburger research for the revised edition of my book. The plan is to hit 9 burger joints over 3 days. Follow me on Twitter to see how the trip goes.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

New Burger At Bill's!

When a burger joint adds a burger to the menu it's usually a change in toppings, a new flavor to an existing menu. When Bill's decided on change, they actually added an entirely new burger method to their short menu.

"Don't worry," executive chef Brett Reichler told me, "the original burger is still on the menu." Whew, that was a close one. I love this burger which is an authentic nod to the great Midwestern smashburgers. Bill's has purchased a few of those top-down griddles, a sort of over-engineered George Forman grill, to cook their 'new' burger concept with speed. Bill's has decided that they needed to add a classic pub-style burger to the menu. They are obviously trying their hand at a thicker patty, Corner Bistro-JG Melon-type burger with decent results. The burger is served on the classic toasted white squishy bun but I'm not the one to ask about its greatness. I prefer the thinsmashedgriddlecrunched wonders and there really was no room for improvement. I'm assuming this burger is for those who walk into Bill's, order a burger, and then say, "That's It?" In other words: The ones that just don't get it, the ones that require a burger with a little pink inside and think the thin patty is not substantial enough (which it most certainly is). Bill's is now covering all the bases. Very smart!

Now here's a weird one: Bill's has also moved to a different bun for the rest of the older burgers on the menu. The old burgers get the newer bun and the newer burgers get the older bun (?). The new bun is fresh-made and damn good. It's nice to know however that if you require the old bun with the older burgers you are in luck.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

El Mago, Again

I found myself in Miami briefly again last week and knew exactly where I was headed for a burger. Outside of some of the incredible hamburger experiences I've had all over the country in the past decade, this place (and this burger) are still knocking me over. You will not find an experience like this anywhere else in America.

I love the frita and El Mago's impossibly good flan and added a batido this time for fun. A batido is basically a cross between a smoothie and a milkshake and is damn good. I ordered the mamey batido because it sounded the most exotic and wow was that a good call (pictured with my first frita of the visit).

After savoring a second frita I bid El Mago farewell and headed straight for the airport (which is only a few mins away). El Mago told me that just before I walked in a woman picked up a few fritas to bring back home to California. I wonder how that turned out. You really need to enjoy them right there at the counter and know you'll be back again soon.

If you are in Miami, skip the gourmet joints and make your way over to this Calle Ocho outpost. You will not regret it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Burger Garage To Open Soon

The paper is still up on the windows but I got a sneak peek today inside the soon-to-be-open Burger Garage in Long Island City. Brothers Jim and Adam Pileski are behind the new burger joint and say they'll be serving burgers in just a few weeks. The location couldn't be better for the thousands of employees of Citigroup seeking lunch since Burger Garage is just across the street from the familiar blue glass tower. Outdoor seating is also planned as well as beer and wine.

Coincidentally, Jim and Adam are childhood friends of mine and I know they know their burgers. Jim is obsessed with quality ingredients so I'm guessing these burgers will kick some ass. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Taylor's Refresher in Napa Changes Name

Taylor's Refresher, the Napa Valley drive-in burger joint that has been serving burgers for over decades (and is in my book), apparently made a big deal this week about changing their name to Gott's Roadside Tray Gourmet. It's a strange combination of words, but a good way around some legal crap the Gott Brothers were apparently going through. I have no problem with the new name as long as the burgers are still amazing. However, I'll bet the Taylor's Refresher brand will be a hard thing to shake.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Val's Is Amazing

Somehow this classic burger joint in the Bay Area slipped through research for the first edition of my book. I'm sure there are many places like Val's Burgers that I missed but man, what a miss! The place serves excellent diner fare to a sea of happy locals in booths and sports one of the longest counters I've ever seen.

The burgers at Val's come in 3 sizes - the 1/3 lb Baby Burger, the 1/2 Mama Burger, and the 1 lb, Papa Burger. I of course opted for the, urp, Papa but it was way too big. I tried to compress the burger to fit it into my face and still couldn't ram it in. Next time, it's the Mama Burger for me. And it was so good, cooked over a flame grill on a toasted bun. I asked for sauteed onions and received a side dish with an entire onion's worth.

I was also coaxed into an amazing shake referred to by regulars as the 'Rootanana' - a root beer and vanilla shake with an entire banana blended in.

Research continues and the next big trip is just around the corner.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hamburger America 2 Is On The Way

It's official. The revised edition of my book is happening. After a little negotiating, my amazing agent has struck a deal for the next edition of Hamburger America that is due to hit stores in Spring 2011. The updated version will include an additional 50 burger joints bringing the total for the book to 150. The existing entries all need updating and unfortunately 3 are coming out. That means I have to visit 53 burger joints in the next few months...

The good news is that I've already complied a list of about 40 viable entries thanks to the endless string of email I've received in the last 2 years. I've also learned much from my new network of EBTs (Expert Burger Tasters) all over the country and I thank you all for your hard work.

The new list is a secret and consists of places that meet all of my criteria and need to be in the book. I'm still on the search for an additional 13 burgers so if you have a strong opinion about your favorite let me know. I've opened comments for this post so go ahead and sound off. Remember the criteria however:
  • The restaurant must make a burger with fresh-ground beef.
  • The burger has to have been on the menu for over 20 years (but the older the better).
  • Must be a great burger and be a place you can comfortably recommend.
  • Must be in the USA.

Let the madness begin! I hit the road next week and man have I got a lot of eating to do.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

LA for Work, and Burgers

I'm on a flight from LA the night before the Academy Awards and as you could probably guess the plane is empty. In the past few days I've been working (filming), but of course taking time to eat burgers. There was the obligatory stop at In-N-Out for a Double-Double Animal Style and a visit to my home-away-from-home the Apple Pan, but on this trip I hit Umami Burger for the first time.

More than 20 close friends and my father-in-law have urged me to check out Umami so there was pressure to get this burger in my mouth. The Umami empire has expanded in the last few months from a small, clean, mall-front store to a few large, hip restaurants (and a food truck is on the way apparently, and an outpost in the Fred Segal store). We visited the Umami way East on Hollywood Blvd, across from the old-school Cheetah's Exotic Dance Club. Our wait on a Friday night at 8pm was almost an hour. I was in for the ride and not going anywhere. I didn't care how long it took, I was excited, hungry, and was going to eat the burger that so many of my trusted burger compatriots have gushed over.

Did I like it? Well, yes, I did, though I couldn't help but think that it could be better. The burger (above) didn't live up to the hype, but that's the way it often goes, right? And to present your burger with a bun, toppings and an Japanese food theory that requires a flow chart takes a lot of balls (this isn't just any burger, it's an 'umami' burger). The skinny here was that my burger was raw, and so were the other burgers brought to the table. Much in the way April Bloomfield will err on the side of underdone for her vaunted pub burgers at The Spotted Pig, so too follows Umami. I could sense greatness, possibly achieved by an additional 30 seconds on the grill.

I won't get into the Hatch Burger (which didn't have a shred of green chile near it) or the tater tots (which were just deep-fried mashed potatoes) because I understand, I think, why people put their own spins on classics. It's just not my style.

I'll be back and will request the additional 30 seconds of grill time. It's the only way to order at Spotted Pig and the results are always amazing. The same should stand for Umami.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An Appearance on Coop's Kitchen

Last weekend I was asked to be a guest on the new web series Coop's Kitchen hosted by country recording artist Cooper Boone. They asked me to come on the show and make burgers and they wisely chose to grind fresh beef for the cameras. Armed with my trusty KitchenAid grinding attachment and fresh beef from Pat LaFrieda we ground fresh chuck and brisket, scooped, and went straight to Coop's flattop griddle. The burger we decided to make was the Oklahoma Onion-Fried Burger, the burger I learned to make by watching Marty Hall at Sid's Diner in El Reno, OK.

Coop had a great time grinding beef and the burgers turned out well. He made a kickin' chipotle BBQ sauce with Grandma's molasses that we spread on the burgers. So good.

At the end of the show we played guitar and Coop sang the Allman's Ramblin' Man. I asked him before the show how his music was with NASCAR nation and he replied quickly, "I love NASCAR, sang the national anthem at Watkins Glen!" Yes he did (click here).

Look for the episode in a month or so.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

RUB Nails The Guberburger

"Is there mayo on a Guberburger?" Andrew Fischel from RUB BBQ called me last week to get some specs on the Midwestern peanut butter and beef treat served at the Wheel Inn Drive-In. "I think so, but you should just give them a call," I told him. And he did. Turns out mayo is served on the Guberburger 'only if requested'.

I did not request mayo on mine. I snuck into the kitchen at RUB last Monday and grabbed a Guberburger with hot, melted peanut butter only. RUB's Monday Night smashed burger, cooked on a flattop with a generous sprinkle of salt, and served on a toasted, buttered bun is phenomenal. The addition of peanut butter to this burger made me delirious. The beefy, salty, p-nutty flavor profile may have even been better than the original.

This Monday night's burger (tomorrow) will be RUB's nod to the Jucy Lucy of Minneapolis, a burger with a hot cheese surprise inside. Take a bite too soon and I can guarantee pain. I've tried to make the Jucy Lucy at home only to fail miserably. I'll be there tomorrow for sure and hope they are more successful than I've been.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Burger Bites, Episode 1 - Kate's First Burger

Here 'tis, a short film about Kate and her first burger. Two weeks ago a girl I work with asked me where to go to have her first burger EVER. Not a vegetarian, Kate had somehow flown under the burger radar enjoying steaks and other meatthings. When she asked me my opinion of where to go I was amazed and honored. I wanted to choose a place that would be sensitive to the challenge of feeding a first-timer and a place that would allow us to film this monumental occasion. That place became the ever-accommodating and very new Bill's Bar & Burger. The shoot was a success. Not only did Kate enjoy her first, the film became Episode 1 of a new series I'm putting together called Burger Bites. And the exceptional burgers (my favorite: a smashed patty with nothing but sauteed onion on top) were prepared by Chef Brett Reichler.

Kate told me that her friends said that her first burger had to be from McDonald's. McDonald's?? I'm sure glad she had the sense to get a second opinion.

The awesome opening sequence was created by good friend Mac Premo and brother Ted helped with the theme tune. Kris B (an E.B.T.) shot the film. Also, listen for music by Toss, the band I was in for a decade, in my life before hamburgers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fatbelly Burgers, VERY local beef

You'd think it would be easy to find great burger joints in beef country but sometimes in Colorado it ain't so easy. My all-time fave in Colorado is Bud's Bar, but outside of this tiny bar in a tiny town south of Denver I've never had much luck. That is until this past Saturday.

I spent a few days snowboarding in the Rockies last week and naturally had a craving for apres-ski burgers every day. The Red Onion of Aspen is closed (but soon to reopen, hopefully with better burgers) and Jimmy's is a decent standby. I haven't had a burger at Woody Creek Tavern in years (though they were unmemorable) and the closest Smashburger is in Grand Junction. But just last November a new spot called Fatbelly Burgers opened in Carbondale that definitely fits the bill. Owner and ex-New Yorker Shane Vetter is making classic thin patty wonders on white squishy buns with special sauce that taste fantastic. Shane rolls fresh balls of local grass-fed beef and uses the griddle-smash method to make his burgers. "That griddle is at 500 degrees," Shane told me after I had finished my usual volley of questions. After one bite of my 1/4 pound Standard burger I immediately placed an order for another. I could have eaten a 3rd.

When Shane told me the beef was local I imagined the lots at Greeley, CO which is certainly local. Then I learned that the beef comes from grass-fed cows from Carbondale. Now that's local! His cows may even be closer to the griddle than Joe Maranto's Texas longhorns, the grass-fed cows The Meers Store uses for their burgers.

Next time I'm out there I need to try another new burger concept - Larkburger. The good people behind this local chain have invited me to taste their burgers but it will have to wait until my next adventure.