In a Burger Drought

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Just like most of the Western U.S., I’m in a drought. It’s not water that I’m missing, though, it’s the void of a really great burger that I’m feeling. I can’t remember the last time I had a delicious mound of ground round that was perfectly pink and placed between bountiful bread.

OK, that was a lot of alliteration from an anxious author. But see what a dearth of burger goodness does to someone?

I tried to solve my burger drought by flying to … wait for it … California. That’s right. I spent last weekend in San Francisco searching for a great burger. Well, it was actually a business trip. But who says one can’t be part of the other.

The initial attempt came the first night I was there when I was joined at Thirsty Bear Brewing Company by friends Iman Naderi and Bob Fabrize. After a pint of the house beers – the Kozlov Stout for me and the Howard Street IPA for them – we each ordered the thirstyburger. I was diligent in pointing out to the waitron that mine should be put on the grill last since I ordered medium-rare, while my colleagues chose medium and medium-well. No burnt food for me, please.

According to the menu, the thirstyburger was 100 percent grass-feed beef topped with hook’s five-year cheddar and a special garlic-tomato sauce as well as a garlic aioli. Mmm, garlic. Sounded promising.

When mine showed up, the thick chunk of meat was closer to medium than medium-rare (probably was still cooking after it came off the grill, but a good cook should account for that).  The burger overall was piled high with the standard lettuce-tomato-pickle toppings, while the brioche bread buns made it even taller. Looked promising.

But as I worked my way through the mountain of a meal, I was not overwhelmed. The fact that the burger was cooked more than it should be was definitely a factor that negatively affected the taste. The double shot of garlic didn’t give it the bite I think it should have. And while the French bread was quite good, it made the filling in between almost disappear. I eventually removed the top half and just ate the burger with the bottom piece.

If the meat had been a little bloodier, the garlic a little stronger, and the bread a little thinner, this would have been a great burger. Instead, it was B– effort. The stout, with some hints of roasted coffee and unsweetened chocolate, got a slightly higher grade of B.

Got a nice Brekle's Brown Ale by anchor Brewing Co. at Maggie McGarry's in S.F. while watching an Arsenal game.
Got a nice Brekle’s Brown Ale by Anchor Brewing Co. at Maggie McGarry’s in S.F. while watching an Arsenal game.

The burger drought extended the rest of the weekend as pizza and Persian were the dining choices made by my colleagues the next two nights. That was followed by an airport food lunch and an airplane food dinner. It seems I’m not lacking for air travel cuisine.

Returning to the ‘Burg I attempted to remedy the situation by trying a restaurant on Thursday that my roommate insists makes good burgers. So off to Union Station we went, quickly finding a seat at the bar. Things started well when I tasted, and then ordered a pint, of the Jeffersons Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout made by Bluegrass Brewing Company. Too often, the bourbon and rum barrel aged beers are overpowered by the bourbon and rum. Hey, if I want liquor, I’d order liquor. When I order beer, I want beer. And this stout was definitely the latter. The full-bodied, dark dark beer had a mocha coffee flavor that balanced nicely with the bourbon to create a smooth, partakeable brew.

The burger, on the other hand, was a no-frills slab of meat covered with cheddar cheese and some onions (which I had to order as “extra” and became the most flavorful part of the experience). In spite of asking for it to be cooked medium rare, it came out medium-well. Certainly not a memorable burger. That said, I will go back to Union Station to try a burger off the full menu because the place has almost half a dozen from which to choose.

Thinking back, now, I believe the last great burger I had was at Jack Brown’s in Harrisonburg sometime in March when we slogged our way through mountains of snow. Perhaps that’s the key – make the quest a challenging one and the result is a better burger. If that’s the case, then I’d love to be in Hawaii right now.

— Eric Van Steenburg

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