Thursday, February 20, 2014

Burgers I Have Known

Last June, I hobnobbed with a group of people I know mostly, if not solely, via the Internet. When you hang out with people you’ve befriended in this fashion, you discover you know all sorts of little things about them--preoccupations that crop up over and over in their online life. And they know similar things about you.

Turns out, just about everyone knows I love burgers.

This surprised me. Yeah, I do love burgers, but I didn’t think I was terribly open about it. I won’t eat any old burger; it’s gotta be quality, baby, or I’ll have none of it. I so seldom come across a specimen that meets my exacting standards that my burger-love tends to fade into the background most of the time.

When I do find a perfect burger, though--a rich mouthful of juicy goodness topped with the most delectable add-ons in all the land--I tell everyone. I go on and on and on about it, both in real life and on social media. I keep on talkin’ it up years after the fact, because there is no statute of limitations of beefy awesomeness.

And my friends cottoned on to my enthusiasm. Imagine that.

I have three particular burgers I just can’t shut up about, so I thought I’d share ‘em with y’all today in descending order of awesomeness.

3. BurgerFuel’s whole menu; various locations throughout New Zealand, Australia, and the Middle East

BurgerFuel is northern New Zealand’s big burger chain. I had the good fortune to live five minutes’ walk from their Parnell store and couldn’t help but marvel at the diverse and mouth watering menu every time I passed by.

Like I said, though, I’m frickin’ particular about my burgers. I can forgive a certain amount of hoopla with the bun and the toppings, or even with the quality of the beef, but if a burger joint adds onions to their patties, I’m out.

So I moseyed up to the counter and asked the teller if they put onions in their burgers. "Not on them," I stressed. "In them. Like, mixed with the beef."

The woman looked at me like I’d just asked if the burgers were made of ground babies. "NO," she gasped, clearly as horrified at the idea as I myself was.

I decided I could eat there.

And I did. BurgerFuel provided my Sunday supper for most of the year I spent in New Zealand. Alas, my beloved Studnut Stilton (a burger with Stilton sauce and avocado alongside the usual lettuce and tomato) has been remodeled off the New Zealand menu, but such delights as the Ringburner (bacon and jalapenos), Bio Fuel (egg and beetroot), and the Peanut Piston (satay sauce) are still present and accounted for.

BurgerFuel also does delicious limited run burgers. El Camino, the Mexican-inspired burger they released in early 2010, convinced me potato chips belong on a burger, not beside it. For that, and for so much else, I am forever grateful.

2. Prime Rib Burger at The Keg; various locations around Canada and select parts of the US

A Keg Prime Rib burger piled with letuce, tomato, bacon, avocado, and cheddar cheese. Sweet potato fries and coleslaw are visible in the foreground
Presenting: the only top burger I've eaten since I acquired a camera phone.

I ain’t much for steak, which is mostly what The Keg does, but I never pass up the chance to eat one of their prime rib burgers with cheddar, bacon, and avocado (hold the red onion). Each component is so perfect in relation to each of the others that I can’t help but wax rhapsodic about it whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s a relatively simple burger, but a good ‘un. A damned good ‘un.

If I’d never made the acquaintance of the last burger on the list, this would be my ultimate meal.

1. Tropical Swine at Fergburger; Queenstown, NZ

Mere seconds after I checked into my Queenstown hostel, the desk clerk fixed me with a Very Serious Look and said, "If you eat meat, you have to go to Fergburger. Best burgers ever."

I can’t argue with Very Serious Looks. I went.

The first burger I sampled, the Fergburger with Bleu Cheese, was pretty damned good; maybe Top Twenty material, but not the Best Burger Ever I'd been promised.

Still, Top Twenty ain’t bad, and Queenstown is kind of boring if you aren’t into binge drinking and/or extreme sports. I figured I might as well make burger tourism a thing while I was killing time until my flight home. The next day, I headed on back and ordered a Tropical Swine.

It changed my world.

Beef; bacon; cheddar; lettuce; tomato; aioli; pineapple. Oh Holy God, the pineapple. The burger would’ve been stellar even without a ring of grilled fruit, but that pineapple cinched the deal. It was a culinary revelation; an experience I speak of with the utmost respect years after the fact.

I ate at the bar and was midway through my burger when the grill master leaned over. "How’s it tasting?" he asked.

"This is the best burger I’ve ever had in my entire life," I said, as best I could with a stuffed mouth.

He just smiled. I’ll bet he gets that a lot.

There have been other burgers over the years. Big Dorothy’s, a haunted whorehouse-turned-restaurant, fed me my first bleu cheese burger and thereby ignited a lifelong passion for non-cheddar cheeseburgers. Various restaurants throughout downtown Calgary feed me a steady diet of perfectly cooked Alberta beef whenever I visit the city. And I enjoyed a raveworthy bacon cheeseburger at Bill's Bar and Burger in NYC during the very trip that inspired me to compile this list.

Nothing measures up to the three above--not yet--but I’ll tell you: I can’t wait for the day the Tropical Swine becomes my Number Two burger. Whatever supplants it is gonna rock.

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