Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hamburger Love Leads To Wedding Bells

A few months back a girl from Ohio emailed to say that after reading my book she and her boyfriend were moved to take this journey. I spent a week in Ohio eating and researching burgers and these two lovebirds hit all six of my faves in one day! That's correct, they managed to visit Hamburger Wagon, Crabill's, Wilson's, Kewpee, Thurman Cafe, and Gahanna Grill, all within 13 hours. And as if that weren't enough, they saved the behemoth Thurman Burger for last! I can't even imagine. These two really like burgers so naturally I really like them.

A few weeks ago I received another email saying that they were tying the knot (congrats!) and of course hamburgers were involved. They have decided to go on a 'Hamburger Honeymoon', most likely the first of its kind (c'mon Brides Magazine! Now there's a story..) and they have asked the food community for advice. Please take a minute and visit their Chowhound thread, check out their route, and make sure they have enough great burger joints to visit.

I think I'll suggest to my wife that we renew our vows, but only if it leads to our own Hamburger Honeymoon.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Burger Truck in Miami

After inhaling 2 Fritas at El Mago De Las Fritas the day after Christmas I needed more. I told Miami blogger Burger Beast that I had to try the new burger truck he had been blogging about and we were off.

Latin Burger & Taco hit the streets of Miami in early December 2009 firing off tweets to alert followers to their location. When we found the truck they were parked in a not-so-convenient spot (on a stretch of Route 1 near Coconut Grove) but thanks to Twitter burger lovers were there. As we stood ordering burgers I asked the guy in front of me how he knew about the truck. "I read about it on a Miami burger blog." Beast was impressed, so was I.

The Latin Mucho, the only burger on the menu, is the creation of the chef behind Latin Burger & Taco, Food Network's Ingrid Hoffman. The patty is a riff on the Frita using a combo of chuck, sirloin, and chorizo meats. Served on a toasted white squishy, the burger comes with intense, slow-cooked caramelized onion and jalepeno and Oaxaca cheese. You can get yours with either the avocadolicious sauce (?) or red pepper mayo. I was in a bit of a haze after El Mago and have no idea what sauce I asked for. Whatever it was it was good. The burger is incredible and a unique take on both the traditional American hamburger and the Frita - a well-crafted taste explosion. And at $5.75 this double wonder is worth every penny.

I asked Ingrid's husband, the brawn behind Latin Burger, "What the hell is in this burger?" and he replied flatly, "The recipe is on the internet." Yeah, but you should head over to the truck before trying to make your own. These guys have it down.

They have tacos too. Tacos? I need another burger.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wilson's of Findley is NOT Closing

I received an email from a fan of my book who informed me that the 74 year-old institution Wilson's Sandwich Shop would be shuttered soon. The Courier (of Findlay, Ohio) reported that the economy was to blame and one of the owners Michael Fenbert was going to switch from grinding and pressing patties to outsourcing fresh patties to save money. Fenbert was quoted as saying, "I'm going to buy patties until we close down."

Thankfully the news is only partly true. I spoke to Vicki at Wilson's on Monday and she told me they are not closing. Whew. It was a misunderstanding. They will be outsourcing patties though. Turns out the good-old patty making machine they have been using for decades is suddenly not up to code. The paper reported that the machine had "the potential to pinch fingers." Duh. I asked Vicki if the patties would still be square and she replied, "Oh yes."

Wilson's is a historically significant burger joint whose square patties were most definitely one of the inspirations for the square patties at Wendy's (the other being Kewpee of Lima, OH just down the road.) To lose this place would be tragic.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Quick Stop At Top Notch Beefburgers Chicago

I had exactly 1 hour to grab a burger before a meeting in Chicago last week and I chose to hit Top Notch Beefburgers way down in the neighborhood of Beverly. Why did I drive 35 minutes to spend 20 mins. cramming a 1/2 pound burger in my face? Because Top Notch never fails to deliver.

After I put Top Notch in my book back in 2008 my good friend and Tribune reporter Rick Kogan admitted that he had never been there. He too saw the light and was undaunted by the long drive down to 95th St. near Western. Kogan was so moved by the burger (and the admission that it was new to him) that he wrote a piece for the Trib about it. To this day whenever I tell a Chicagoan where I'm going I always get the same response - "Way down there? Have fun." And no one ever asks me to bring them one because it's so far away that the burger would be ice cold by the time they got it.

I met Chicago Expert Burger Taster Jay at counter and he told me, "It's a good thing Top Notch is not near my house. I'd be here all the time." But for me it's 700 miles away so I wish it were closer. We both ordered the Half-Pounder King Size with cheese and grilled onions. Just perfect. The meat is ground fresh from hanging beef in their walk-in cooler and the shakes are amazing.

If you have not been yet get yer butt down there already! And Top Notch is now selling red trucker hats for only 5 bucks..

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Miami Frita - An Amazing Burger Experience

I had a layover on the way to a Caribbean vacation after Christmas and decided it was time to give the fabled Frita of South Miami a try. If I had only known how great it was I would have come sooner. This was an amazing hamburger experience.

I met the Miami blogger Burger Beast (friend and translator) at his favorite Frita counter in South Florida - El Mago De Las Fritas. It was a bright, clean place that was empty at 3pm but El Mago himself was there and he tossed some burgers on for us.

For the uninitiated, the Frita is a Cuban interpretation of the hamburger. Erase preconceptions about the classic America burger though - this version will knock you over. El Mago, translated as The Magician, takes a wad of fresh ground meat and smashes it thin on a flattop. He then reaches for an unmarked plastic bottle and gives the patty a generous squirt of a mysterious deep-red liquid. A handful of chopped onion is sprinkled on as the patty cooks in the bubbling sauce.

And then comes the moment where this burger becomes unique. The patty is slipped onto a soft, warm Cuban roll and topped with a generous heap of ethereal, stringy fried potatoes and a squirt of ketchup. The patty, which definitely contains some sort of spiced chorizo or the like mixed in with the fresh beef, explodes with flavor. Yes, I dealt with ketchup on this burger. I felt like I was in a foreign place with foreign customs and a language I do not speak. Who was I to decide that ketchup should not be on this burger? It was actually good and I reasoned that I put ketchup on fries anyway.

The amazing flavor of this burger must be consumed to be appreciated. After I inhaled mine I told El Mago how happy I was and he just smiled. I thought to myself, "When will I be back?" Tomorrow would not have been soon enough so I ordered another.

The second Frita I asked for with American cheese out of curiosity. A Frita with cheese is not traditional by Cuban standards but popular on Little Havana menus. Burger Beast chuckled and reminded me, "American cheese is not big in Cuba!" Oh yeah, duh. This burger needs no cheese though, infact the cheese only muddied the subtle balance of flavors.

Pictured above with my first Frita is a glass of cold watermelon juice. Yum. After my two Fritas El Mago produced a small plate of homemade flan. It could have been the best I've ever had.

Will El Mago be in the revised edition of the book? Hell yeah. I will never visit Miami again without stopping for a Frita.