The Halloween Whopper at Burger King: “The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors”

Burger King Halloween WhopperBecause I fucking had to, that’s why.

In September 2014, pictures surfaced online of a Japanese Burger King Whopper variation with a black bun, black cheese and a black sauce, called Kuro, which is Japanese for — no shit! — black. The bun and cheese are tinted with bamboo charcoal, and the sauce is made from squid ink. To add to the blackness, the patty apparently had a ludicrous amount of black pepper mixed into it. Everyone stateside had a good laugh about silly Asians and what’ll-they-come-up-with-next?! until late September 2015 when Burger King announced they’d be selling a black bun Whopper in the US for Halloween season, and America shared a collective gasp.

Of course, Americans wouldn’t dare to stomach a sauce made with squid ink, so they went with an Uncle Sam-approved alternative: A1 Sauce. It’s baked into the bun and sauces the burger in lieu of ketchup (the mayo’s still there, too), but the whopper is otherwise unchanged: lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, standard Whopper patty, and American cheese — the usual yellow kind.

I had to have one. So I went and got one.

It was…a Whopper. [shrug].

The A1 sauce added a hint of extra tanginess, and was unnoticeable in the piece of bun I tore off to taste; it just tasted like bun. Otherwise, it was a Whopper. [shrug].

Which is not to say it’s without its merits, most notably the “Flame Broiled” process, or “Fire Grilled” as they’ve rebranded their cooking method to highlight the fact that they don’t griddle their burgers like damn near everyone else. To date, I haven’t eaten a grilled burger for Burger Fetish. Flat tops have an advantage of creating that sear I can’t stop talking about, and they keep a patty juicier, but grilling creates a unique taste at the sacrifice of moisture. When your patty heats up, its fat melts and drips out. When the fat hits the heat source (whether charcoal or gas, the effect is the same), it causes a small flare-up to jump up and lick the patty, giving a tiny char. You don’t want too much fat to drip out at once, causing too much flare and too much char, giving it an overcooked bitter burnt taste. But a tiny amount of fat dripping at irregular intervals causes just the proper amount of char, and a smoky flavor that cannot be achieved on a griddle. Fat loss, of course, is an integral part of this phenomenon, but that’s your trade-off.

These are the things I think about. [shrug]. Welcome to Burger Fetish.

One of the cold comforts of fast food is that you can walk into any Burger King anywhere in the world and a Whopper’s going to taste exactly the same. Besides some minor A1 flavor notes, this remains true of the Halloween Whopper, which is good, but not noteworthy. Perhaps this was intentional; the visual interference of a black-colored bun is disorienting enough without the Whopper tasting vastly different. I love Whoppers. I always have, and I loved this one, too, but for the same reasons I’ve always loved Whoppers. It’s good, it’s weird-looking, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty much a Whopper.

And, because you asked*, it turned my poop green.

___

*no, of course you didn’t ask, but I really wanted you to know.

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The Cease and Desist & The Blucy at Blue Door Pub: a Hooker with a Heart of Gold

Blue Door Cease & DesistHands down, the coolest fucking thing in Minneapolis* is the Midtown Greenway, a bike trail on an old train route spanning the entire city that I can take all the way from my place in the Whittier neighborhood to the Mississippi River in less than half an hour. Then, it’s just a quick ride across the bridge to St. Paul, a suburb of Minneapolis.

Calm down, everyone, I’m kidding. Jeez.

I used to live in St. Paul, I love St. Paul, and I don’t get back there nearly enough. I don’t have a car, I live and work in Minneapolis, and I’m usually tired when I’m not working. If nothing else, Burger Fetish is going to bring me across the river to eat some fucking St. Paul burgers, starting with that one, up there.

Madeleine was in St. Paul and I took the magical Greenway to meet her at the Blue Door Pub in the Merriam Park neighborhood. They opened in 2008 in the old location of shuttered Puerto Rican restaurant Puerta Azul and named it in translated homage to its former occupant, slinging sexied-up pub grub. Apps are all fried everything: ten flavors of wings, battered green beans, cheese curds, zucchini fries, a variety of loaded tater tots, and muhfuggin Spam bites — spam, pickles, and cream cheese breaded in a panko & potato chip crust. And — oh! — burgers. And — oh my! — lots of burgers.

I’ll reserve the disputed history and proper spelling of the Juicy Lucy for a future post, but the crucial information is this: the cheese is on the inside of the patty. Construction involves making two very thin patties, sandwiching a piece of cheese between them, and pinching the edges shut. You griddle this epiphany, cooking the meat and melting the cheese, serving the masterpiece on a bun with your choice of hopefully corresponding toppings and sauces, and put the cardiologist on speed dial.

The Blue Door’s contribution to the Juicy Lucy conversation is the Blucy, of which they have 11 varieties on the menu, and a rotating special, ranging from basic (the Classic: a patty stuffed with white American cheese) to the not-fucking-around (the Bangkok Blucy: a patty stuffed with coconut-soaked mozzarella topped with pickled ginger served with a side of curry sauce). After my recent case of the blah-blahs, I needed an ooey-gooey cheeseburger with a capital CHEESE, and Blue Door knew exactly how to hit that spot: the Cease and Desist.

They take a patty stuffed with White American and diced pickles, then they top it with standard yellow American and grilled onions, shredded iceberg lettuce, and “‘Merican sauce”. Let’s not split hairs: they’re going for the flavor profile of a Big Mac here, and they kill it. Our burgers came flying out of the kitchen bafflingly fast, but upon further inspection the speed was consistent with quality of the patty. They must be using a hell-hot griddle to cook the patties for a couple minutes a side, achieving a crusty sear without making the molten cheese tongue-murdering lava-like. The American on top was a great mix-up to the mouthfeel, giving cheesiness on cheesiness enveloping the patty in the traditional sense while the stuffed cheese is good and melty in a way that stays creamy and oozy and, hell, cheesy. The pickles added acidity, and worked remarkably well with the molten cheese inside the patty, not skimping on heating them up in the usual fashion by putting them on top of the meat for residual heat. ‘Merican sauce was what you’d expect: some combo of mayo and ketchup for tangy sauciness. Add lettuce for crunch, onions for sweetness, and I loved it so much that I got another.

What? I was hungry, and we didn’t get any of the aforementioned apps. I got some hand-cut fries with my first burger, which were okay. Kinda chewy, not so much crispy, a tad overseasoned — I typically complain the reverse, but it happens — but nothing to write home about. And when Madeleine didn’t get her own fries, I should have guessed she’d eat half of them. Plus, I don’t know when I’m going back here, so fuck it: two burgers, punks!

My stupid phone died, so Madeleine came to the rescue and took this picture with her phone.

For round two, I got the eponymous Blucy, a straight-up patty stuffed with blue cheese and garlic on a bun, no toppings. Blue cheese pairs stupid-great with beef, and of course garlic goes great with everything. I put a little ketchup on the side for dipping. This time, the methodology revealed itself. The cheese was oozing out of the cracked patty, confirming my suspicion the grill must be hot as fuck, which can work great, but once seared, expansion and contraction continue, and the crust can strain. I wasn’t mad, though; It was well-seasoned and Lucys start falling apart at first bite anyhow. I really only brought it up to show how smart I am.

So, two stuffed burgers that I dug the shit out of, and a bunch more on the menu means I’ll definitely be back. They opened a second location in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood (whew!) in 2013, offering a few burgers exclusive to each location, which means even more burgers to eat without having to cross the river into Shelbyville.

I’m just kidding again, St. Paulians. Get over yourselves.

_____

*I reserve my right to hyperbole. Also, please note that I consider the “coolest fucking thing” in Minneapolis an easy way to bike to St. Paul.

The Uptown Burger at Uptown Diner: “Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”

Uptown Diner Uptown BurgerI’m worried.

I just posted the second story in a row of a burger I didn’t dig that other people raved about. I wanted this blog to be cheeky and dickish in tone, but at the end of the day burger-positive, and it fully sucks when I don’t like a burger. I want to like every burger. But I don’t. I hope I’m not overanalyzing things, or that I’m creating unrealistic expectations and standards. I’m literally trying to eat and talk about as many burgers as I can fit in my mouth — not at the same time — and I don’t think I’ve hit the wall yet but I’m worried I’m becoming a burger snob, when I really wanna be a burger slut.

So upon completion of writing my last post on the eve of publishing it, i went for a bike ride. I remembered a great article I saw on Thrillist and I locked up my bike and sat down to re-read it. David Blend gives a fantastic analysis of the unapologetic lack of pretense to be found in a diner burger. And that’s what I needed. With burgers getting too complicated and my brain going with it, I needed to simplify my brain with a simpler burger. But due to geography and time restrictions, I went to Uptown Diner.

There’s no chef to speak of, and its history can’t be found. It isn’t strictly a diner in the greasy spoon sense as much as a family restaurant whose bread and butter is the weekend brunch crowd, and whose 24-hour status on weekends has led me to stuff my drunk face post bar-close amongst likeminded Uptown Minneapolitans. I’ve literally seen someone puke here. They have a few other locations with the exact same menu and logo design under different names and no overt association between them for no apparent reason. I think they’re trying to establish each location as its own independent thing, but they’re lazy about any other aspect of branding or menu design. Their main “spin” on traditional diner fare is a few cajun-lite breakfast dishes — mostly the addition of cayenne pepper and andouille sausage to hollandaise-drenched hashbrowns and eggs. But I wasn’t there for breakfast.

At the Grandview Grill (don’t click this link unless you loooove when websites autoplay shitty music), it’s the Grandview Burger, at the Louisiana Cafe (don’t click here, either), it’s the Louisiana Burger, and at the Uptown Diner, it’s the Uptown Burger, but they’re all the same: half-pound patty with American and Swiss, applewood smoked bacon, tomato, lettuce, and mayo on sliced sourdough.

It’s a hot mess. The burger is very clearly obviously a prepackaged preformed perfectly round patty that was decently seasoned and seared, and they didn’t ask how I wanted it cooked — which I like — and it came out medium well — which I don’t. Swiss cheese was basically nonexistent under the dominant American, but double cheese means double-cheesiness. Bacon was nice and crispy and smoky. Mayo’s probably my favorite sauce option: smooth and creamy, fatty, mostly tasteless except for a slight egginess. It doesn’t overwhelm anything, and makes things saucy, which is all it needs to do. Romaine lettuce for crispiness, tomato slice for tomatoiness, and it came together to make a fairly tasty if basic burger except for the stupid sourdough.

Let’s talk about the bread for a second, because it’s second only to a well-seasoned patty in importance. Its role is to hold the burger together and sop up the juices and balance the meatiness with carbiness, and sliced sourdough is such a dumbshit choice. I mean, come on. Look at it! The surface area of the sourdough is roughly twice the size of the burger, and upon picking it up, the patty broke through the flimsy untoasted surface. Like, come the fuck on! What did you think would happen? It’s far too much bread hanging off the sides. Toasting the bun is all you can do to it, increasing flavor and texture and butter. It could have used a piece of lettuce between the bun and the patty to keep the bun dry so the damn thing didn’t fall through, and they could have toasted it — are you fucking kidding me right now? — but when it comes down to it, it really fucking needed a more properly-fitted, heartier bread choice, like Texas toast if you’re going for sliced bread, or — I don’t know — a fucking bun.

Waffle fries were frozen and fried and perfect in that overprocessed, properly seasoned, battered and spiced way. I’m not a french fry dude. If given the option, I usually go with option b, but waffle fries or curly fries are my goddamn well-seasoned mealy chewy battered-fry jam. A little ketchup for dipping and I’m set.

This burger did the job. It helped me get over the dumb feels I had about this blog by kind of sucking in a way that was pretty fun to talk about. It’s a burger I had just the lowest expectations for, and it did not disappoint on that front. It certainly isn’t redefining the burger, and in direct opposition to the article that inspired its consumption, it is nowhere near being better than “fancy” burgers that are redefining themselves already and becoming simpler and better in ways that bring them even closer to nostalgic ideals of burgers that keep us eating burgers. I didn’t learn anything new from this burger, but maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe sometimes I just eat a shitty burger and it doesn’t have to mean something, and I carry on with a meaningful wonderful relationship with burgers at large that’s sometimes great and sometimes rough, but we’re working on it, and trying to do right by the other.

And unfortunately, that’s what love is to me.

The Cheeseburger at Lake & Irving: “And if you want beef then bring the ruckus”

Lake & Irving Cheeseburger.2I used my ten-cup Chemex to brew one, single goddamn 5-oz cup of coffee, which is ridiculous, but that’s all the beans I had, and no other way of brewing a small amount of coffee. And I needed fucking coffee.

I drink coffee every day, mostly because I drink coffee every fucking day and don’t take away my fucking coffee. Since I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t bat an eyelash at $14 burgers, I get excellent fucking coffee from Dogwood at Calhoun Square.

There’s two burger spots on the list at Calhoun Square, and I was literally walking toward one, then stopping and turning around and walking toward the other, then going back, then going forth, mumbling to myself the entire time, still wearing my bike helmet to complete the psychopath pastiche until I ditched Calhoun Square entirely and went to Lake & Irving.

Executive Chef Chris Ikeda trained at the CIA (the food one, not the spy one), before cooking in Hawaii for a few years. He brought Hawaiian influences back to Minnesota when he opened his modern American restaurant with his brother, Andrew — also a non-spy CIA alum. Lake & Irving has been open since Fall 2013 in Uptown Minneapolis at [joke about the name of the restaurant and the intersection].

I got a Rush River Bubblejack IPA, because I’m transitioning out of shitty cheap beer season, and I hadn’t noticed that Bells Two Hearted is $4 all the time. Bubblejack is a fantastic beer, but $4 for Two Hearted is the kind of dumb on their part that I’m surprised that they’re able to sell any other beer to people other than inattentive burger bloggers. And I ordered the cheeseburger. It’s two Pat LaFrieda patties on a Patisserie 46 brioche bun with Wisconsin Cheddar and a “secret sauce”, and for $2 I, obviously, got it with Duroc bacon, because bacon, obviously.

This burger, though, is all about the beef — to their credit — but not without issues. First and foremost, this is good fucking beef. To my knowledge, by which I mean since I gave a shit and since I knew a damn thing, this is my first LaFrieda burger, and the famous butcher knows how to blend a patty. It had an unexpected sweetness on top of excellent beef flavor with fat content that kept it juicy. Unfortunately, it was underseasoned, and I really had to seek that flavor out. You really gotta salt the fuck out of a burger, people. It was super-well cooked, though: excellent sear, hot pink center. Two patties means twice the sear, which was good, but if you’re gonna use awesome beef, showcase that shit! Big fat patty, keep up the good sear, but beef beef beef. Double patties also means double cheese, but I’m not sure about cheddar. I’m trying not to be too evangelical about my religious devotion to American cheese, but I just love the way it feels, and how it pairs with beef with an excellent not overwhelming cheesiness. Cheddar’s too sharp, and it melts, but congeals too quickly so it sits on the patty rather than enveloping it. And the brioche bun was just too much. I want a bun to carry the flavors, but not be a flavor. I like a bit of butter on the bun, and, fuck, I love a butter burger, but having a butter-based bread makes it stand out where it shouldn’t. The bacon was crispy, and tasty, and I liked how it contributed in both flavor and texture. Secret sauce was a nice hint of flavor, not too strong, that lent just a little sauciness. It had me wishing the rest of the flavors were as subtle and complementary. It’s such good beef, I wished this burger was even more beef-forward.

The most confusing part of the burger was that old-school inclusion of the lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle on the side. It’s a carry-over from a bygone era of burgers put on a menu as a formality rather than a chance to shine. I don’t know what to do with them at this point; put ’em on or leave ’em out, but don’t leave it up to me. I ended up putting a pickle on halfway through, but it was too sweet of a pickle and threw off the balance. I want a show-me-what-you-got burger. If they want me to eat tomato, they should put a fucking tomato on it.

In the past couple of years, chefs have applied all of their skills, their experience, techniques to making very straightforward, but precisely designed burgers, and Lake & Irving is part of that movement. I appreciate and respect how much thought they put into it, even if I don’t agree with all of their choices. It wasn’t bad, it just felt like it was trying too hard. It seemed overthought, combining elements I dig with ones I don’t with ones I usually dig but didn’t in this case. It was ahead of its time two years ago. Double patties were revolutionary; everyone’s doubling up now. But in today’s burger culture it mostly just tastes like a pretty good burger.