The Whiskey BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger at VFW Post 246: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”

VFW Whiskey BBQ Burger

This is a tough one for me.

The James Ballentine VFW Post 246 is my hang. I’m not a veteran, but from what I can tell, the Uptown VFW is a bit more inclusive than other veteran halls, mixing local culture with the veteran scene rather seamlessly. I’ve danced my ass off there on many an occasion, I’ve drank countless pints of Grain Belt Premium, I’ve sung my fair share of karaoke, and I’ve met a lot of my best friends there. My crew heads there by default to meet up and drink a little too much, then stumble a few blocks homeward. But the only thing they had for my drunk ass to eat was Heggies and popcorn.

Last year, they started renovating, and more than tripled in size, adding a huge-screen TV, a bunch of dartboards, and a Big Buck Hunter machine. The old bar is still intact, they still do karaoke, my favorite bartenders still know I’m about to order a Premium, but the rest of the place isn’t mine anymore, and all of a sudden, they’ve got a full kitchen. And I wouldn’t be real, true burger blogger if my favorite hang didn’t end up in the crucible. And, hey, even if their food sucks the Premo’s still $2.75 a pint.

They’ve got seven burgers on the menu, but only one is starred as a “Post 246 Specialty”, so I went with the Whiskey BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, which is fairly self-explanatory: barbecue sauce, bacon, a whiskey-battered onion ring, and cheddar.

VFW Whiskey BBQ cross section

It isn’t going to end up on anyone’s best burger list, but–oh, sweet relief–it’s pretty damn good. It’s a hefty half-pound patty cooked accurately to a solid medium-rare, the sear was lacking, and it could have used more salt. While underseasoning a burger is historically my number one criticism, in a casual mass-appeal bar food setting, I can forgive erring on the side of you-can-add-more-salt-at-the-table, which I did, but it isn’t the same. By the same measure, barbecue sauce can mask underseasoned beef, but–to their credit–they didn’t drench the thing, allowing all of the flavors some presence. The sauce itself was sweet and nicely peppery. The onion ring was initially omitted, and a few bites in, I asked my bartender and he came back from the kitchen with two onion rings to make up for the mistake. Not mad about that! But even doubling up, the whiskey flavor in the batter was lost, but it’s still a nicely crispy onion ring whose batter holds up but gives way enough that it doesn’t do that thing where the onion slides out on your first bite and you’re left with an onionless crispy shell. Bacon was nicely cooked, crispy, smokey, and bacony. Cheddar’s necessary on this type of burger. Against a bunch of other bold flavors the sharpness balances everything else out. Holding it together is a buttery toasted bun with that essential squish I love so much.

I’ll be back regardless ’cause I love this place, but I’m pleased to dig the new grub offerings, because it’s usually a good idea to eat something when you’re drinking, and I drink here a lot.

 

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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.