Yearning for the Perfect Burger

by Ann Summers | February 19, 2015 10:41 am

“When Alexander saw the breadth of his empire, he wept because there were no more burgers to eat.” -culinary version, misattributed to Plutarch

What’s better than a good burger? If you are ‘Merican with a capital M, I would say not much. The Ancient Greeks produced as many schools of philosophy as they did clay pots and olive pits, but all of them, even the much-bashed Epicureans, believed that moderation in diet was essential to bodily and spiritual happiness.

So, what are these food cravings we have? And why are they thumbtacked to culture or generation? The Romans (who repeatedly friended and unfriended the Greeks) were so lost without their pickled fish sauce, called garum, that they hauled it along by the ton as far as the North Sea.

Emigrants universally pine for a taste of home. But whether these desires come from geographic longing, vitamin deficiency, or a game of snatch-that-ephemeral-memory, there is almost nothing as fine in life as when we sate that urge.

You know how it is. We approach the table with a dish in mind. But not just any old slop. We expect something particular, with a near OCD level of specificity. And we fear the food will not hit the mark, but hope it will, maybe, it will be just right.

For me, the most iconic craving is the desire for a really good burger. A good burger sounds easy, doesn’t it? Ground meat between bread. Big whoop. Maybe some Germans from Hamburg invented it, maybe some Italian dude at the St. Louis World Fair; Its origins are immaterial. The proof is in the burger. A good burger is meaty; It isn’t too greasy; it isn’t too dry. It isn’t dwarfed by toppings, and it isn’t a skyscraper that unhinges your jaw. It isn’t drowned in sauce, or slaws, or claw-like fried spears of kale. It doesn’t have any bread in the patty.

Let’s be perfectly clear: meat with bread in it is called a meatball; if it’s really big, a meatloaf. Get it right. And although I enjoy all sorts of meats in my own home-cooked burgers, a really good burger, the one my husband brings me when life reduces me to the fetal position, is made from beef. Moooo…

Don’t misunderstand. I love a good black bean, a chickpea, a mushroom. I love a good lamb. I love a nice grilled turkey or salmon … but really, beef is just so delicious in a burger. And it is American (North) and blue-collar, and street food, and comfort food. So bring on the cheese, with some pickle and lettuce and onion and mustard and mayo and ketchup (because we’re ‘Mericans) but hold the special sauce and the fake smoke please, and just behold: the cheeseburger. It’s so beautiful, I may cry.

Recommended burger for Omaha? Try eating a burger made by someone who not only loves burgers, but also actually cares about how they are made. The love is evident in a B & G Tasty Foods burger. If you check their site ( you’ll see something called loose meat, which is ground beef simmered in seasoning. But lots of people couldn’t hack the Midwestern-ness of loose meat, and what people really wanted, it turned out, was a good burger. Nothing pretentious, nothing surprising or confusing, just a simple well-prepared burger. Owner Eddie Morin explained.

“We were famous for loose meat, but when people came in, some of them were like, ‘What the heck is this?’” So, he says, they would want a burger that was just as good as their friend’s loose meat sandwich. “What they would get was a consolation prize. It was a sort of pathetic burger. So, I thought, if a burger is what people are really going for, then that’s what we need to do really well.” Wow! What a concept! Feed your customers what they are craving? Pshaw!

I don’t know where Eddie got this crazy idea. Maybe it was from working at B&G for years through high school and college, and then loving the place enough to buy it when the original owners retired. Let’s just say he knows his customers. And guess what? He told me the secret, and I’m not ever telling. Oh, I tell a lie, I am.

Never frozen beef, always fresh and freshly ground, hand-pressed patties (not those dreadful paper things and frozen hockey pucks), no pre-seasoning and then only a light season while cooking, and a flat-top grill. An American-style soft burger bun (it’s about the burger), American-style cheese, red onion, pickles, lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, ketchup, and – oh, that’s it. Eddie says, “It’s American, it’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s like an extension of me. I don’t do fancy. I don’t do buzzwords.” Now that sounds like an ancient burger philosophy I can buy into.

I was at B&G recently with a bunch of kids (not all mine) and a friend and I had the double cheeseburger with onion rings. I didn’t cry, I fought it. But I can tell you, it’s not delicious. It’s sublime. And it is, in all ways, exactly and precisely and perfectly what I want in a burger. And the place is really cute too. Right on Dodge and 79th, order at the counter New York deli-style, sit at adorable fifties tables or those little spinning stools at the counter – everyone’s friendly, everything’s tasty. And did I mention the burger is perfect?

And that’s what I want in a burger. I really like burgers. The problem is, I can’t eat out every night, and I can’t eat just one kind of burger. I remember a restaurant that had a burger for every day in the week, but none of them sounded good to me. I never thought caramelized onion had any business in a burger (maybe they have no business being in anything except French onion soup, but you can take that up with the French…) And Swiss cheese and avocado is great, but not on a burger. Not for me baby!

My classic at home is pretty similar to Eddie’s at B&G, but at home, I go for natural charcoal-grilled grass-fed beef, a sesame bun, and some sharp cheddar cheese. But maybe that gets a little old once a week. So here’s what you do: you get yourself some ground turkey, and some lamb, and some veal, and some chickpeas, and you go to town. Make a burger that may not be a classic, but it’s one that you will like.

I like turkey burgers (never the white meat only kind, unless you like eating cardboard, you need a little fat) with Moroccan seasoning (garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, anise, mustard, cinnamon, and cloves.) Slap some tahini on there with a little focaccia bun and it’s really good.

I love a ground lamb burger with Greek seasoning (garlic, oregano, nutmeg, dill, thyme, lemon,). Put that onto a nice whole wheat flatbread, with some yoghurt and diced cucumber. Take me back to the Adriatic, that’s what.

Or a nice little bison burger (this may require bacon for just a little added fat) on a crusty roll with a little Dijon mustard and some cornichons.

Or, know what else? A spicy black bean or chickpea burger (can of beans, garlic powder, onion powder, egg to bind) pan-fried in a little clarified butter and served wrapped in a Boston lettuce leaf with some alfalfa sprouts. OMG.

And if you’re into that sort of thing, you can do veal, salmon, or shrimp, but in my opinion, it’s not really a burger. But hey, you have your own opinion. Maybe you hate ketchup (hater) or you loathe mayo (weirdo), but whatever, I don’t care! The truth is, a good burger is a simple thing. A thing we crave. And there is nothing more wonderful, filling senses with just that thing we were imagining, just what we wanted. Just smile, savor, wipe your mouth and drop the mike. You are now complete and happy in body and mind. That’s not philosophizing, though, it’s just burgers.

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