Always Trust a Burger Chef

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My mom is a burger Luddite. Well, sort of. That doesn’t mean she prefers to eat burgers by candlelight. That would make her burger Amish.

No, she’s more Luddite. You know, that leaderless movement of passive resistance to consumerism and the increasingly bizarre and frightening technologies of the Computer Age. At least that’s what their manifesto says they are.

Yes, mom wants her burgers plain and simple. Basically, meat and bun. I’m not even sure if she goes for the L-TOP, my shorthand for lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle. Though the last time we had a burger together – which is, of course, the most special of mother-son bonding moments – I think she went LT-O, as in lettuce, tomato only. And definitely no cheese. Cheese is right out.

What to put on your burger might be one of the only things my mom and I don’t just naturally agree on. After all, great minds do think alike.

The grill at Jack Brown's lights up with its variety of burger options.
The grill at Jack Brown’s gets crowded with its variety of burger concoctions.

But when it comes to enjoying a burger, I’ve learned to trust the chef, no matter what they plan to put between the buns. (Pause here as some might want to enjoy a “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” flashback to “Those aren’t pillows!”)

Case in point: I’ve corrupted my partner in crime so much that she craves a good burger about once a month. Comparatively, my burger requirements are typically one every two weeks, so she’s not quite at my level … yet. In terms of being a burger aficionado, let’s say she’s a burger yellow belt.

So when we went to Jack Brown’s – a burger joint in Harrisonburg that is well-known up and down Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley – she told the watron that she wanted the day’s special, The Greg Brady burger, which comes with mac ‘n’ cheese and potato chips on top. But, she wanted (gasp!) the chips on the side. Being a burger black belt, I, of course, knew to trust the burger chef and ordered mine with the chips on top.

Two minutes after the burgers arrived, she tasted mine and realized the error of her ways. I immediately gave her a field promotion. She’s now a burger brown belt.

Now, some restaurants try to put too many things on top of their burgers. These are simply efforts to try to “trick up” the burger, and are usually just a ploy by a chain restaurant to make a tasteless burger taste better. A real burger joint – not a chain restaurant – doesn’t need to trick up its burgers. They’re simply making delicious burger concoctions.

To put it another way, efforts to trick up a burger are akin to what today’s college football teams are doing to their uniforms. Just because you “candie up” your uniform – to quote my friend Gaylon as he channels his inner Darryl Royal, the legendary Texas football coach – doesn’t make you a better team, nor a better university. You can’t buy class.

So the chain restaurants found in Generica with their “Double Wheezy Fresh and Cheesy” burger don’t cut it. You’ve got to go to a real burger joint, order a real burger, and eat it however it’s prepared. I’ll say it again – always trust a burger chef.

Here’s another example. Both Jack Brown’s and Local Chop & Grill House – the excellent restaurant and bar that is literally (and unlike most people under the age of 20 I’m using that word correctly) 210 feet from our front door – have burgers dedicated to those who like their mouth lit up like an Aggie bonfire. (For those of you who don’t know, the Aggie bonfire is a pile of logs about 12 stories high that would be torched the week Texas A&M played Texas in football.) In other words, the burgers are a bit on the spicy hot side. But both have drastically different ingredients.

A buger with a donut for the bun. Yes, you canfind that at Jack Brown's too.
A burger with a donut for the bun. Yes, you can find that at Jack Brown’s too.

Local Chop has the Inferno Burger, for which you get to choose ground chuck or bison that will be topped with habanero pickle relish, cheddar cheese, cayenne bacon, and chipotle remoulade. Cayenne bacon? I don’t know whether to say “yikes!” or “yum!”

Jack Brown’s has the Shocker, ground beef topped with fresh jalapenos, fresh habaneros, pepper jack cheese, and shocker sauce, a closely held secret in-house creation that is guaranteed to set your mouth (and later your pants) on fire.

I’ve had them both. Each is outstanding. And even though the toppings are different, the results are the same – an enjoyable, delicious burger that makes you appreciate that God had a sense of humor when she gave us edible things like habaneros. These burgers were so spicy, this transplanted Texan loses 5 pounds in sweat each time I have one. Each is so hot that my friend Melanie, who drinks the hottest sauces in the world like the rest of us drink water, might even release a bead of sweat. But they’re also so delicious, it’s worth it. And hey, it’s better than going to the gym, right?

Most importantly, they taste great because the burger chef knew what he was doing. He picked the ingredients that he knew would taste great together, and cooked the burger with that in mind.

And my point is, that’s what we all need to keep in mind. Whether you’re a purist or an adventurer, always trust the burger chef.

— Eric Van Steenburg

CODA: My hot sauce slurping friend Melanie has a great blog on wine. If you’re into that sort of thing, check her out at DallasWineChick.com.

CODA CODA: Thanks to Lisa at Jack Brown’s for the burger photos.

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