Times were that chefs considered it downright unseemly and uncouth to feature a burger on their menus. These days, that old-school mentality has been ground up and reshaped into a super-sized burger bonanza. It’s practically gauche now if a beefy patty isn’t front and center everywhere you turn.
I should know. One day recently, I embarked on a challenge to eat at three different burger joints in one day. Yes, that’s nearly one burger per hour in a three-hour span with no breaks in between.
But I was on a mission for a story for San Francisco magazine about new burger restaurants in the city, which you can read in this month’s December issue. I, of course, took along my husband, aka Meat Boy, on this gut-busting experience.
Would you believe that Americans consume 14 billion burgers annually, with 41 percent of us chowing down on one at least once a week? In 2008, two market research firms found that 7 percent more restaurants, from quick service to fine dining, offered burgers on their menus than did two years ago. In fine dining establishments alone, burgers have enjoyed a 30 percent penetration growth in the past three years, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.
“People are tired of gastro obnoxiousness,” says Clark Wolf, a bi-coastal restaurant consultant. “The economy falling into the pits has made burgers just a good idea and a good meal.”
Yes, walk into the bustling Asian-Latino supermarket, and make a sharp left to the butcher case, where Anthony Myint and Danny Bowien have rented a small space to turn out messy, drippy, heart attack-inducing ($8) burgers that will leave you speechless after one bite. They’re available only noon to 3 p.m., daily except for Thursdays.
Since they’re behind a butcher case, they grind the meat themselves from aged brisket, short rib and chuck. The meat is extruded, with the thick strands formed into a tight column that’s then sliced into thick patties, giving the burgers a very hearty texture.
The burgers are fried in beef fat (yeah, baby!), then topped with Jack, caramelized onions and house-made caper aioli. It’s a flavor powerhouse, and so rich I don’t think I could eat a whole one by myself. But Meat Boy sure can.
The fries, cooked to order, arrive piping hot and crisp as can be. They are fabulous. Order a mint lemonade and real mint leaves get muddled in your plastic cup.
Once you place your order, take your ticket to any of the grocery store check-out stands to pay, then come back to the butcher case to pick up your burger.
If you’re lucky, you can snag a spot on the old vinyl couch by the worn coffee table, which serves as seating. Otherwise, you have to take your order to go elsewhere, as it’s way too messy to eat while hoofing it around the neighborhood.
For good measure, one dollar from each burger sold is donated to the San Francisco Food Bank.
Next stop, Acme Burgerhaus in San Francisco, where burgers run the gamut from beef to salmon to veggie.
We went bonkers for the crinkle-cut sweet potato fries ($3.95). The cheeseburger ($6.95) and lamb burger ($9.95) were cooked fine, but a little bland. Fortunately, the condiment bar is stocked with copious amounts of both artichoke lemon and pesto mayonnaise, and both hot and pickled peppers.
Our last stop was the chicest – Burger Bar in San Francisco, Chef Hubert Keller’s glam eatery on the sixth floor of Macy’s with gorgeous views of Union Square and mini TVs in the cushy booths.
Big spenders can splurge on the “Rossini” (Kobe beef, foie gras and shaved black truffles – for a whopping $60).
For the rest of us, there’s an Angus burger ($9.75) with a big beefy taste. Buttermilk onion rings ($3.55) were thick and super crunchy with a heavily battered exterior, which may not be to everyone’s liking.
The “Vegas Vegan” ($12) — hey, I had to take a respite from all that meat — featured large Portobello mushroom caps sandwiching eggplant, grilled Roma tomatoes, zucchini and sauteed pepper. It would have been marvelous except for the oil-laden eggplant, which turned the whole thing into a grease bomb.
For real fun, you can build your own milkshake (starting at $7) with a multitude of add-ons from Nutella to fresh strawberries to a shot of 150-year-old Grand Marnier ($30).
My vanilla ice cream shake with Nutella and hazelnuts was a frothy, creamy tower of goodness.
Three burgers in three hours in one day is not something I’d recommend. (Note: Kids, definitely do not attempt this without parental permission.)
I definitely earned my burger bragging rights, though, didn’t I?