The Smashburger Edition

Burgers By March 10, 2016 3 Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: smashed double cheeseburger on an egg bun, american cheese, custom sauce, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle, ketchup
the bucks: $7.99
the coordinates: tested in Austin, TX(locations nationwide)

For some, patience is a virtue. I think it’s kind of overrated. I didn’t always feel this way, certainly not in the days of my moderately spoiled youth where I would turn coming home with an “A” on a book report into a trip to KB Toy Store(that’s the 80s version of Toys R Us in case you’re a Millennial). Harnessing the power to persuade while gingerly finagling is all about patience and patience was so often the key in convincing my parents that a $60 Transformer was instrumental to my path of mastering the works of Ernest Hemingway. Today, in our food crazed world we certainly wait for food, in which case patience is paramount. The other day I waited 3.5 hours in a line for BBQ. This act not only demonstrated my own patience, but that of my wife’s for putting up with a man who single handedly altered her weekend with an act of lunch. Which brings me to Smashburger, a burger chain who I patiently waited to try, even though I longed for their style of smashed burgers when I lived in Los Angeles, a town surprisingly deficient in such style. The great burger of my youth was Steak ‘n Shake, and in the 20 years I lived in LA, I would dream – literally dream about finding a branch of the Midwest burger chain somewhere in the outer environs of Southern California. It took me just over a year to make my inaugural trip to Smashburger. And then it took another two years before I gave it the requisite second and third Bang for your Burger Buck trials. I suppose the reason for my lag in return visits was that I wasn’t initially blown away. And while $8 for a double cheeseburger, not cooked to temp, may not scream deal of the century, I have to say that my patience with Smashburger is indeed your reward because I ultimately did find a version that really exemplifies the smashed burger style. I suppose patience isn’t too overrated but I’m going to let this burger justify all that.


Burgerlords – Los Angeles, CA

Burgers, Los Angeles, West Coast By February 25, 2016 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: two patties of a custom triple cut grass fed beef blend, on a sponge bun with lettuce, tomato, onion and thousand island dressing and american cheese
the bucks: $7
the coordinates: Los Angeles, CA

Last night I dreamt about Zankou Chicken. For those of you who are ignorant to the work of Beck, or happened to have never called LA home, Zankou Chicken is one of those dirty bird chains blessed from the Gods. A Lebanese-Armenian take on the typical fare one finds in a fast casual Middle Eastern/Mediterranean, order at the counter kinda spot. The place not only fed me for my 20s and some of my 30s, but it also served as my first introduction to cheap eats staples like shawerma, falafel and hummus. When you eat at a place for a decade, you can catch off days. And truth be told there were better(albeit pricier) renditions of Lebanese Armenian throughout LA, but I always kept coming back. Now I’m 8 months away from Zankou Chicken and the city that chicken shack calls home, and it doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to tell me that my belly is a little homesick. Which brings me to the burger at hand: a straight outta Los Angeles, in the style of In-N-Out, flat top griddled stackable burger. Fast food in design but not in the ingredients. A burger style that is the standard-bearer of burgers in SoCal. A brilliant design whose appeal to youth certainly carries over into the kind of adult who responds to questions like “Is In-N-Out good?” with a “oh dude, you just don’t know . . .” When I arrived in Los Angeles some 20 years ago I tried In-N-Out and just never got what all the fuss was about. But now, 8 months removed from a 20 year sentence in Southern California, I look back with fondness on the style, and in the case of Burgerlords, I have my own version of In-N-Out that is worthy of some pontification. And pontificate I shall.


Blueberry Hill – St. Louis, MO

Burgers, Midwest By February 10, 2016 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: 7oz ground chuck, soft spread cheddar , green leaf lettuce, thick cut tomato, onion and pickle
the bucks: $7.45
the coordinates: St. Louis, MO

Like great barbecue, great burgers stir our emotions. Unlike exquisite nigiri sushi or a three hour tasting menu that moves at the elegant pace of a ballet, many great burgers do not receive Michelin stars. Rather they are satisfied with lifelong customers, some who may even consider taking their progeny to these hallowed establishments as a rite of passage. Blueberry Hill in St. Louis is very much that type of burger establishment, though for me it might just fall short of the whole “rite of passage” part. Still, when it comes to Bang for your Burger Buck and being a local burger treasure, I feel compelled to include their 7oz of ground chuck into this collection. And frankly after almost 15 years of overcooked burgers in Los Angeles(Umami Burger really changed the game), I will always tip my cap to a Midwest joint that has been nailing medium rare the whole damn time.


P. Terry’s Burger Stand – Austin, Texas

Austin, Burgers By December 1, 2015 1 Comment

The Vitals:
the burger: Double w/ Cheese: Two 100% all-natural black angus beef patties, two slices American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion(upon request)
the bucks: $3.95
the coordinates: Austin, TX

Burgers can be many many things. Like all food should be, burgers live in a dynamic state. Some appear in formal dining halls worthy of rap moguls or royalty, some are served on street carts. Some cross culinary genres like a Bulgogi topped burger or a burger conceived to taste like carnitas. Few burgers can be called “authentic”, a term not universally embraced as a good thing but a powerful one regardless. P. Terry’s, the celebrated burger chain in Austin whose reverence to quality ingredients frankly belies every negative connotation one could have to that dirty “C-word”, serves up a burger that can simply be described as authentic. And that summation conveys the very best that word has to offer. At $4 for a cheeseburger of this caliber – it’s a slam dunk when it comes to Bang for your Burger Buck – but more importantly it is a slam dunk because of the quality first and foremost. The price point just happens to be the cherry on the sundae. And a cheap cherry at that.


Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen – New York, NY

Burgers, New York City By November 4, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: Schnipper Old Fashioned: a flat top classic 5 oz griddled patty topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, house sauce, double cheese(American) and griddled onion
the bucks: $6.99
the coordinates: New York, NY

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I supposed that could best describe how Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen fits into the burger narrative of New York City. One bite, Hell, one glance at their burger will have you thinking Shake Shack faster than a line can form at the Madison Square Park location with David Chang thrown into the mix. The building blocks of burger cookery at Schnipper’s and Shake Shack are certainly similar enough to call the two restaurants rivals. Though I believe much thought went into the creation of the burger at Schnipper’s; namely the epic food road trip that brothers Andrew and Jonathan Schnipper embarked upon prior to conception and opening, it’s not hard for many to simply call Schnipper’s a Shake Shack clone. Unlike that lingering issue with the chicken and the egg, there is no debate on who came first. Shake Shack captured the hearts of burger lovers in New York City back in 2004 and no one has looked back since. But in a city as big as New York, there has always been room for a little competition. By the way, Shake Shack ain’t hurting for business, cue those infamous lines of people waiting up to an hour, locations opening up nationwide and the company going freaking public. And really what’s wrong with making a clone of something awesome? I suppose the aversion we have to clones comes down to all those sci fi movies coming out of Hollywood where clones, especially of ourselves, turn out to be really evil and cause wanton destruction and mayhem. And since real life seldom serves up a Will Smith or Bruce Willis to handle these evil clones, we remain generally weary of them. Well I say don’t think of Schnipper’s as a clone. Think of it a necessary intervention by the powers that be to make awesome burgers more accessible, like how the New Deal provided jobs for an out of work populace. Only this time instead of jobs it’s quality burgers for John Q Public who are on the clock with an hour to spare. Whatever you call it, you will be paying $7 for a near perfect cheeseburger. Cloning might be an evil thing in Hollywood, but when it comes to cloning an iconic cheeseburger style at Bang for your Burger Buck – clone on.


Hat Creek Burger Company – Austin, TX

Austin, Burgers By October 8, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: The Big Hat – double cheeseburger featuring cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion and house pickles. Custom add ons included bacon and a mustard based house sauce.
the bucks: $7.20
the coordinates: Austin, TX

My first impression of Hat Creek Burger Company took about 30 seconds. It more or less amounted to a slight glance to my left, as I drove north on a dusty restaurant row called Burnet road, surveying my new home base of eating. Playgrounds at restaurants were still a new and under appreciated X-factor for me. The bright red colors and logo screamed corporate branding. Even the shape of the establishment made my Spidey sense tingle with the presence of a chain restaurant. Turns out, while I bare little other resemblance to Spider Man – I was right about my initial suspicion: the Hat Creek on Burnet used to be an Arby’s. Besides sharing a similar baseline price point, the similarities thankfully end there. It may sound strange for you to hear this but Hat Creek Burger Company makes good burgers, not necessarily great burgers. I believe the true burger lover comes to Hat Creek for reasons beyond the food – like the playscape, the decent craft beers, the option of wine(recommended only in case of emergency), the flat screen TVs, and the general ambiance of the outdoor seating area whose appeal just increased exponentially with the arrival of Fall, in a now, somewhat subdued, sweltering Austin. Now this search is about finding burger gems that toe the line of quality and value, and it would be unfair to include Hat Creek unless it held true burger promise. Well, fear not my faithful, promise I did find. Wade deep into their crowd pleasing menu and you will find some sauces, respectable bacon, and a proud practice of pickling that are worthy of a burger add on. Oh yes, I am recommending add ons. As much as I preach against the ordering of extraneous or excessive burger toppings as they deter better taste and plunder your burger budget, it is equally criminal to ignore options and upgrades that will make you smile with Bang for your Burger Buck satisfaction. I suppose you now want to bite into these juicy upgrades. Well, start your scrolling.