Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Top Notch With The Gang

Had to post this pic since it now lives on the wall at Top Notch Beefburger. I was in Chicago for the 3rd Annual Chicago Food Film Festival a few weeks ago and stopped into Top Notch for a King Size with cheese and onions with a few good friends. With me was editor Mike Fox, long-time Food Film Fest volunteer Fletcher Chen, Food Film Fest Beer Sommalier The Rev, and my son Mac. With the exception of Mac and myself, the other 3 had never been before. Glad I got them down there!

The burgers at Top Notch are unquestionably some of the most consistently great burgers in America. It always amazes and delights me to know that burgers like this exist out there, burgers that will always be there for you. Not the same can be said of the original owner Diran J. Soulian who Grub Street Chicago reported unfortunately passed away last month after running Top Notch for over 60 years. It seems like the place is in good hands however, and if it's any indication, the King Size I ate tasted the same as the first one I consumed way back in 2005.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Finally, I Have A TV Show!

That's right! After years of planning, testing, shooting, negotiating, more shooting, and waiting the TV show of my dreams has actually become a reality. The Travel Channel will be airing a one-hour special of "Burger Land", a show based on my book. The 2 half-hour episodes air as part of "Destination Summer" over Labor Day weekend on Sunday, Sept. 2nd at 7pm and 7:30pm ET/PT.

Burger Land is a regional show. One episode explores what I like to call the Wisconsin Burger Belt, or the latitudinal route between Milwaukee and Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. In the show I get to revisit my hamburger heroes at Wedl's, Pete's, and of course Solly's in Glendale. The episode ends with a visit to a place in the region that I have not been to before, in this case it's Village Bar in Madison. A second episode visits New Jersey with stops at White Manna, Rossi's and one of my personal favorites White Rose System in Linden. The show ends with a visit to a new joint in Newark called Hamburgao that serves a crazy Brazilian take on the burger.

Please tune in on Sept 2nd and see what we've been working on. I'm very proud of this show and hope you like it too. It has truly been a labor of love for all involved and I think is shows.

DP Guy Jackson gets up close with 2 beauties at White Rose System

I watch the glorious butter drip off my butter burger at Solly's

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

National Burger Month in LA

I spent the first 3 days of this holiest of burger months gorging myself on 4 old favorites in Los Angeles last week. Right off the airplane, I headed straight to the Apple Pan, took my customary stool (the one by the pie window), and inhaled a Hickory Burger. It was still the same damn burger I ate there 20 years ago, one of the crazy constants in this world.

The following day I took a bunch of locals to a place that (amazingly) none had been to before - the one-and-only Irv's Burgers in West Hollywood. Sonia greeted us with open arms and would not let us pay. When I tried to sneak a 20 into the tip box Mama came running out of the kitchen and pinched me HARD in the side to scare me off. I love this burger, the place, and of course Sonia's family. What was even more rewarding this time however was watching the look that came over the newbie's faces upon first bite. I had clearly created a few new disciples.

On day three I headed over to Cassell's in Koreatown and just made it before they closed (at 4pm). Not a soul in the place and a stellar burger as usual. The grinder in the window once again reminds all that this is freshly ground for sure. And a bonus to getting this burger is the free dollop of Cassell's signature horseradish potato salad, easily one of the greatest things I've ever eaten. Unfortunately for most Los Angelinos a detour to Koreatown (though not really far from anything) is like a New Yorker hitting up a burger joint in, say, Battery Park City. Most just won't do it.

After Cassell's I had to head back to the airport to catch a redeye but couldn't resist the gravitational pull of In-N-Out on the way there. I used my handy Burger GPS and easily located one near the runway. No fries for me this time, just a Neapolitan shake and a dbl dbl Animal Style. With all that glorious beef and cheese I was set for an all-night flight..

Monday, April 30, 2012

National Burger Month Starts Tomorrow

I'm starting National Burger Month tomorrow by having a burger at the joint that started it all for me - the Apple Pan in LA. It was over 20 years ago that I first slipped into a spot at the worn Formica horseshoe counter to indulge in the burger that would slightly alter the course of my life. That Hickory Burger, and the place (and most of the people who work at the Pan) have remained unchanged and the burger I will eat tomorrow will be no different than my first.

I hope you have a great National Burger Month. A great way to kick start the month would be to drop into Bill's Bar & Burger for Chef Brett's latest concoction - the Meatloaf Burger. Now, I know you are thinking, wait, George doesn't eat meatloaf burgers. WTF? That's true, but in this case I'll make an exception. That's because this is not a silly burger stuffed with eggs and spices, it's actually a slice of tasty meatloaf on a bun topped with caramelized onions! And not just any meatloaf, Chef Brett's meatloaf. Why is it so good? Because Brett told me this afternoon, "I LOVE, Meatloaf..." and he trailed off. Ok, it's not really a burger, it's a meatloaf sandwich and it's only available for the month so enjoy. EBT Kris B.  sure did - he polished his off in just a few minutes. And this thing is huge.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chris Madrid Has Passed Away

I guess I'm a little behind on the news but I just found out that one of my hamburger heroes, Chris Madrid, passed away March 11th. He was the king of burgers in San Antonio and made the refried bean-topped burger world famous. Chris didn't invent the thing, he but he most definitely expanded its fan base and made one of the best 'Beanburgers' around.

I met Chris for the first time in May 2010 while I was compiling burger data for the revised edition of my book. When I pulled up in front of the restaurant he was already outside, hand extended, welcoming me to his 35-year old burger institution, Chris Madrid's. The man talked a mile-a-minute and in no time I had a Shiner Bock in my hand and an order in the kitchen. He was a true host, always smiling and clearly loved everything about the world he had created from the people who worked for him down to the burger he made famous.

"The Macho Tostada Burger is a sight to behold. As you contemplate how to eat this enormous pile of heavenly goo, take a moment to appreciate what is in front of you. The bun, toasted on the grill, can barely contain the brown-and-yellow hues of its contents. The burger patty itself, a thin-pressed wonder made from fresh 75/25 beef, is hidden beneath layer of refried beans and cascading cheddar.

The burger is impossible to pick up. I found that cutting it in half made things slightly easier. My first bite of this legend sent me soaring. As I easily made my way through the macho I wondered why this burger was not replicated in every corner of America. The beans and chips worked so well with the beef and the cheddar tied it all together. Chris said it best when he told me; “It’s like a hamburger and an enchilada plate in one.” What an amazing invention. -Hamburger America 2011

Chris Madrid made a serious impact on the fabric of the American hamburger and will be sorely missed. Rest in peace Chris, and may your Macho Tostada live on.

The Macho Tostada - a sight to behold

Chris Madrid as he accidentally walked into a shot I was taking at the end of a long day at his San Antonio burger institution, May 2010

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Burger Bites Episode Up

It's been a while but I've just uploaded the next episode. Chicagoland Burger Triptych, episode #5, was shot way back in November 2011 and includes 3 of my faves - Edzo's in Evanston, the new Mburger in the Water Tower, and the classic Top Notch Beefburgers way down on 95th St. in Beverly. The entire journey took almost 4 hours to complete but Serious Eats Chicago's Nick Kindelsperger came along for the trip to keep me company. It was a long yet rewarding lunch.

To see episode #5, click here to visit the new Burger Bites page on the Hamburger America website. All 5 episodes are now neatly arranged in one place.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Amazing Gift From Glenn at Solly's

We are in production on a hamburger television show (details coming soon, and Eater broke the story back in November). Without giving away the show, one of our 'subjects' was an old friend of mine, Glenn Fieber from Solly's in Milwaukee. He was happy to be included in the first episode and created for me this one-of-a-kind chef's jacket.

Thanks Glenn! Love the American flag touch. I'll wear it with pride.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Another Classic Burger Joint Is Gone

I hate having to report this but one of the burger joints in my book has closed, possibly for good. I've recently learned that Pak-A-Sak, the nearly 60-year-old Oklahoma burger institution, shut off its flattop over a year ago. I received the unfortunate news from an Enid, OK native and confirmed the story Friday with a call to Enid City Hall.

It was hard to beat the Bible passages, romance novels, and sliders at Pak-A-Sak. And the cheese tots (one of America's greatest gifts to the world). Simplicity and tradition was the name of the game at this Northern Oklahoma burger joint. The burger to get was the regular with cheese and onions, a small smashed patty burger that shares DNA with the original American hamburger. It was an oniony cheese-and-beef bomb that melted in your mouth. I can taste it now and will miss it dearly.

I'm not sure of the details of its demise but this is exactly the type of American institution that needs to be saved. The importance of the American burger joint is rarely contemplated and I hope it is not too late for places with similar predicaments. Once again, the idiom, "You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone" rings true.

Here are a few photos of Pak-A-Sak, as I saw it the last time I was there, July 22nd, 2010:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Steak 'N Shake is in NYC

As if the burgerscape in NYC couldn't get any better one of the best all-fresh-beef burger chains in America decided to open a tiny outpost in the big city. I've always been a huge fan of Steak 'N Shake but had to find myself in the Midwest or Florida to enjoy their smashed doubles with cheese. Now, all I need to do is hop on the subway.

But the new Steak 'N Shake is more than just an urban version of their successful 78-year old burger concept. The new Steak 'N Shake 'Signature' introduces two important menu items that will not be found at any other location: Fresh-cut fries and the Signature Organic Burger. That's right, fresh ground organic beef in a thick-ish 6-ounce patty that is a bit of a departure from the classic thin, smashed patties that I love so much. Regardless, it was a great burger. I was skeptical of the origins of the organic beef (so much comes from overseas). I asked and found out that the powers-that-be spent a lot of time and energy sourcing organic beef in the US. We should all be thankful that a burger chain in the US chose to stick to American beef.

You can still get the classic double cheeseburger with patties smashed gloriously thin and they taste EXACTLY like the ones I've eaten in Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Michigan and Georgia. You can also indulge in their amazing shakes at this location. Hand-dipped shakes, not the kind squeezed out of a soft-serve machine. And true to NYC form, booze will be available. Look for Brooklyn Lager and an impressive wine dispenser filled with bottles of 2007 Ridge.

The location for the new Steak 'N Shake is fitting. Not just because it's positioned to take full advantage of the Times Square onslaught, but because the Indianapolis-based burger company is next door to NYC's most famous displaced Son-of-Indy - David Letterman. My guess is it won't be long before Dave is talking about the taste of home that is just a few steps from his front door.

Steak 'N Shake Signature opens tomorrow at 10am. I'll be there to cut the ribbon (seriously!).