Get a group of frequent restaurant-goers together, and soon enough their note-sharing will reveal the small things that can diminish an otherwise nice experience. Are we talking #FirstWorldproblems here? Absolutely. Does that stop us from venting? Absolutely not.
We need to have a talk about these over-the-top burgers.
Take the burger that appeared on Provision 14’s opening menu, now removed. It was topped with goat cheese, foie gras, truffles and lobster. When it arrived at our table, it was already slumped over, a victim of its own aspirations. All the too-rich ingredients canceled each other out. It fell apart as soon as I picked it up. It cost $28.
It’s like an arms race of burgercraft: Instead of putting a few carefully chosen embellishments on the patty, maximalists are thinking “YOLO” and piling on everything they’ve got. And while these concoctions are eye-catching and can command high prices, are they any good?
“What I don’t like is experimentation for its own sake,” said Jackie Greenbaum, owner of the Quarry House, beloved for its unfussy but damn good burgers. “It still has to work, and it still has to taste good. That’s where I draw the line. Some of the more ornate and more froufrou toppings are a bit too much.”
Remember all the publicity for DBGB’s SpongeBob-inspired “Crabbie” burger? When Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema tried it for his First Bite column, he called it “a letdown” because of its “damp, barely-there pancake of seafood in the high-rise.” It, too, was removed from the menu.
In a different category are the burgers with more-familiar accouterments that try to hook you with their eye-boggling size (the more-coherent but towering Greene Burger at Stanton and Greene, a double-patty burger with bacon slices, bacon aioli, smoked Gouda and onion rings, which three people could not even finish together) or just their quirkiness (Holy Cow’s bacon-egg-and-cheeseburger on a dougnut; the ramen burger).
The burgers that make best-of lists tend to be on the basic side, prized more for their high-quality ingredients than for their head-turning collection of luxe toppings.
“I prefer, if I’m eating the burger, something a little simpler. I want to taste the meat, taste the bun,” said chef Michael Schlow of Tico. “When you pile it high with 47 ingredients, it’s hard to see if it’s a good burger or not.”
Greenbaum, for her part, doesn’t mind a bunch of ingredients. Her forthcoming burger joint Slash Run will have a Hawaiian burger and a Mexican burger on the menu. But she has taste-tested each combination to make sure it doesn’t fall apart, and, most importantly, makes sense.
When it comes to burgers, it seems like chefs should take a tip from fashion designer Coco Chanel, who famously said about accessories: Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.