Dare we? Dare we? Yup—we’re going there. We’re going to discuss our favorite local burger.
In honor of our March Westchester Magazine cheap eats piece, 20 Meals Under $20.09 — whose meals, BTW, I’m still digesting – we’re going to announce our favorite burger. Of course, this is a massive can of worms, as local foodies know, and likely to get me beat up if I wander down the wrong alley late at night.
But first, let’s discuss our criteria for a great burger. I’m looking for an intense beefy/steaky flavor that celebrates that this thing walked on hooves – no bland, mystery-meat “ground beef” will do. Second, I want to taste some serious char, or sear, or other evidence of cooking that produced the effects of that geeky culinary school term, the Maillard reaction — which essentially states that things taste better once their sugars have become all golden, brown and delicious. (Basically, no grey slab for me—I’m looking for a well caramelized crust that yields to a juicy interior.) Third, lots of thought has to go into buns. Buns are key. Too dense and firm (like that silly trend of slapping burgers on artisanal bread) and the bread overwhelms the pattie. On the other hand, too light and insubstantial, and the bun becomes soaked with juice and falls apart. To eggy and sweet (like brioche), and the result vies with the notion that this is a savory food – which comes, in its most sublime iteration, with salty, greasy fries. And then there are the add-ons, which must be thoughtful and well executed, and not limited to rubber cheese, salmon-colored tomatoes and iceberg.
Finally, on top of it all, there must be that ineffable, je ne sais quois of a great burger – and it’s usually the flipper’s most closely guarded secret.
As discussed in my WM article, my favorite is Burgers, Shakes and Fries in Byram, CT. But before everyone gets their knickers in a twist because this Westchester Magazine food writer is celebrating a restaurant in Greenwich CT, let me point out that there are no border guards between the two states. Likewise, there are no tolls, wide rivers, or impassable mountain ranges. And since proximate Westchesterites often duck into in Greenwich to eat, we feel that ignoring this town’s restaurant scene performs a disservice to our readers. Anyway, as I point out in this month’s cheap eats piece, Kory Wollins’s ode to Shake Shack might lack originality in concept, but he does take Danny Meyer’s idea and really run with it. It starts with great meat, 100% beef chuck, which might not be low in fat, but packs loads of beefy flavor. Chuck is flavorful, great for stews, but not particularly tender – so it’s the perfect steak to grind up into hamburgers. (And don’t tell anyone, but inexpensive chuck is what I use at home – pricier 90% lean sirloin makes for a tragic burger.)
But what Wollins does with that raw chuck is the best part of his gig: he forms it into loose, 1/3 pound patties (with lots of voids where juices collect), then he slaps it on the griddle and steps back. No squishing down with his spatula, no compulsive fidgeting and repositioning pattie – he just lets that disc spit and sizzle, and form a delicious sear. Meanwhile, he’s taking two slices of good ‘ol pullman white bread, slathering them with a fatty “special sauce”, and tossing them on the griddle, too. When they’re brown, crisp and greasy, kind of like a grilled cheese without the cheese, he loads up that burger and slides it over the counter.
It’s delicious, folks, with run-down-your-arm-juiciness. But another great part of BSF? Those burgers, sans “fixins”, are less that $4 a pop. And, instead of billing poor-quality toppings into price of the burger (when they’re likely to be discarded), Wollins charges for items like tomatoes. This allows him to offer better stuff. Aside from 4 types of cheese, you’ll find sautéed onions, mushrooms, bacon, chili and a fried egg – but there is no charge for condiments, pickles, raw onions or hot peppers.
Okay, Blazer Pub and Pipers Kilt fans: do your worst … I’ll be skulking around the county wearing Groucho glasses and a false nose.