There are different genres of burgers … the thick-pattied, grilled gourmet-type burger, the thinner-pattied, greasy, griddle-type burger, the fast-food burger and of course the homemade burger. I love them all and go with whatever specific burger-type craving I’m experiencing on a given day. Years ago, my then buddy, now boyfriend Mike and I committed ourselves towards an ongoing quest for the best burgers in Houston and beyond. We’ve eaten plenty. We endeavored to experience a great burger in Boston at a place called “Mr. Bartley’s” last September only to find them closed for the holiday weekend (huh?) after a complicated odyssey to find the place. It was like a Seinfeld episode. Over the years, I have to say, Mike has brought me around to give more credit to the thinner-pattied, griddle-style variety as a formidable competitor to the thick-pattied gourmet-style burger. It is worth noting, there are some hoity burgers around – the Kobe beef burger with seared foie gras at Mockingbird for example. But at $29, I just can’t consider this burger as a “regular” option. Max’s Wine Dive has a Kobe burger as well – yeah, yeah … back to regular burgers.
Dry Creek Café on Yale (at 6th) serves my current favorite gourmet-type burger. (My old favorite was The Stables, now sadly gone). At Dry Creek, the burger is made from fresh angus beef and the key is to order it cooked ‘medium’ at the most (I like medium-rare actually). If you don’t tell them otherwise, they’ll cook it well-done and then it’s just not the same great-fabulous-juicy burger so don’t forget this important detail. We share the cheeseburger and order it with bacon (thick-cut, applewood-smoked and wonderful). They also have one called the “bleu boy” with (you guessed it) blue cheese and that same yummy bacon. The wheat bun is the perfect balance between soft and sturdy and the fries are typically hot and crispy. Don’t forget to order the wonderful fresh lemonade. This place is BYOB and very casual. It’s all good. The runner-up in this category is Houston’s (actually we love these burgers but it’s a pain to eat at Houston’s because of the crowd!).
Our current favorite greasy, griddle-style burger comes from Cahill’s (903 Durham, just south of Washington). This sports bar serves a really fantastic burger (have your napkins ready). Juicy and full of flavor with just the right amount of condiments and toppings and meat to bun ratio, this burger makes us go, “mmm”. Nice bun and the fries are hand-cut with the skins on and fried right (not limp, which can sometimes be a problem with homemade fries). Runners-up in this category include Lankford Grocery, Christian’s Totem and Otto’s. I'm anxious to try Adrian's in the 5th ward so I'll report back - I hear there is a great, juicy burger to be found there along with others in this ongoing adventure. (*Update - Adrian's wasn't all I had hoped; somewhat dry/overcooked).
Also in what should probably be its own category is an honorable mention of sorts for Bellaire Broiler Burger (5216 Bellaire) … even though the patties are from frozen … there’s just something about this burger we have to have sometimes. Plus it’s like the place is frozen in time and we like that. Burgers we wanted to love were from Roznovsky’s (not bad, just not great), Little Hip’s Diner (not consistently great but such a trippy, cool place ... I will keep trying), Jax Grill (I like this one more than Mike does) and Niko Niko’s (overcooked in spite of my request but it might actually have potential) and St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin (too much bun).
When I make burgers at home, I like to use ground chuck (preferably 25% fat), let it come to room temp for 30-45 minutes before I “fluff” the meat, season just a bit (I like Penzey’s Prime Rib Rub (http://www.penzeys.com/) and then (key!) is to gently create the patty without mixing or mashing much at all. This was a revelation to me after years of mixing a zillion different ingredients into meat that I would squish between my fingers and pound with a vengeance. It’s so much easier to do it this way and one sweet payoff ensues. These babies are held together just enough to make it through a trip to the grill which entails a hot, clean grill and a single flip (no pressing or repeat flipping!). Fleur de sel (French sea salt) to finish them off and voila! With a thick slice of cheddar cheese and some great bacon (Holmes Smokehouse thick-sliced, baked at 375 on a foil-lined pan for about 25 minutes) takes it to the next level. If at all possible, I venture to the Mid-town Farmer’s market (http://www.tafia.com/mfm.html) and pick up some fresh challah burger buns from Shade Bakery (of Shade Restaurant; http://www.shadeheights.com/), which are literally insane and they freeze well. There. The Perfect Burger at home.
I feel obligated to say that every now and then I need a Whataburger and Mike would give anything if there was an In-And-Out Burger around here for the occasional fast-food burger fix. I said from the beginning I am not a snob! A great burger can mean different things to different people on any given day but it is always one of life’s most magnificent pleasures!