I have eaten a lot of burgers. My mother was the first manager of Fast Eddy’s when it first opened in Fremantle, before moving on to work in and then own and operate her own burger franchise.
Her strategy was to try to burn us kids out, telling us to eat as much as we liked in the hope that we would grow sick of the taste of burgers in a short while.
Instead the opposite happened. With a commercial kitchen as my playground/laboratory, I developed a rather keen taste for burgers. I did eventually get to a point where I could not stomach another burger. That phase lasted six months, then I returned to my default state – forever on the lookout for the next burger. I am also on a parallel quest for the perfect chocolate milkshake but that is a story for another time. This affection for burgers was no small part of why visiting the US was an excellent idea.
To be clear: we are talking about beef burgers here. Keep your chicken, your tofu, your chickpea. I will concede that these may – may – be burgers, but they are indisputably a lesser variety. Your tastebuds will thank you for being under no illusions about this. Anyone that buys their first Ferrari in a colour other than red is doing life wrong. The same goes with burgers. Your first burger at a new establishment should be beef. No exceptions. OK? Good.
After repeated loud and profane demands from Dan, I was eager to sample In-N-Out Burger. It wasn’t good. The structural integrity was abysmal, and the condiments were too speedily applied. The patty lacked flavour, and the bun was awful. A good bun holds the burger together, and adds to the flavour without overwhelming it. This bun did not do that. This bun was flimsy. Soft. Too porous and absorbent. It fell apart in my hand.
Next was a burger at the Ripplewood Resort on California Highway 1 near Big Sur on the way from LA to San Francisco. The quality of the burger here was hampered by location more than somewhat. Fresh beef patties will always taste better than frozen. Freezing tends to considerable reduce the flavour of the patty, and so it proved here. Beautiful spot and lovely service though.
Lori’s Diner in San Francisco has a ‘Famous Burger’ menu. They use 100% Black Angus beef, though it did taste like the patty was frozen. I might be lying. The burger was magnificent but that is probably because I had it on October 22 after witnessing the San Francisco Giants defeat the St Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park to qualify for the Baseball World Series so everything tasted like smug sprinkled joy.
Upon returning to LA, I stumbled across Five Guys Burgers. It’s a newish chain that began in Washington DC. Each outlet has a board where they write where the day’s potatoes are coming from. Beef is always sourced locally, and never frozen. The chips were excellent. The burger was outstanding. Tasty, just greasy and fatty enough to remind you you’re eating junk food, but not so much as to render the bun a disintegrated mess before I was halfway through eating. This is everything the burger chain experience should be, down to the decor and staff uniforms.
The last burger stop was Burger on Smith in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Bespoke hipsterburger. Artisanal bun something. Spiced Cajun fries. A ‘Friday Night’ burger you can buy on any day of the week. The condiments tasted fresh, and the sauce was interesting without dominating the flavour overall. The burger was good, but no better than good. It was just not in any way outstanding. Quite forgetaburger.
I don’t feel as though my search in New York yielded the best burger it could have. I blame Sandy. And therein lies a good excuse to go back. I’m hungry now.
Photo: Pink Sherbert