Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's something of an afterthought...

Originally uploaded by jaceman4
Wendy's was always considered that "other" fast-food burger place growing up. Maybe it's just me, but my family only ever really debated over whether to go to McDonald's or Burger King for fast food, with the occasional Taco Bell craving thrown in there, however, whenever it came to fast food burgers it was always McDonald's or Burger King. Not to knock on Wendy's but honestly other than the commercials with Dave Thomas in it, I really didn't know a whole lot about the franchise besides it selling burgers. I remember my uncle saying he liked it more than McDonald's or Burger King after having it a bit during a cross-country drive.

Anyways, when I did start going to Wendy's more (but not often) in college, it was more for the cool stuff on the 99 cent menu. You just get four things on there and it was a pretty good meal. I think part of me didn't have a great impression of Wendy's because I had a friend who commented that in the commercials the square patties were always depicted as "edges-to-the-bun" whereas in actuality it was "corners-to-the-bun". My most recent experience showed me something in the middle, the corners (though there were only really 3 of them, so it wasn't really a square) were a little past the bun but the edges weren't quite there yet either.

About the burger itself, I don't know that the burgers are significantly different aside from the number of patties and what goes on them. In terms of the patties, I thought they were decent, but in all honesty, a little on the flavorless side. I was trying to think of something to comment about in regards to the meat while I was eating it, and I honestly couldn't really figure out what exactly was going on inside of my mouth. It tasted like... stuff... Really, I have no other words for it. The packaging has a little label on it that says "Always Fresh Never Frozen" or something along those lines, and I can see how that's true, but honestly where it applied really was just the fixings.

I felt that the lettuce, tomatoes, and onions were pretty fresh, and honestly, I was looking forward to finding them more in my burger than the burger itself, since that's where a lot of the flavors were. In terms of the condiments I thought it was pretty unnoticeable, not really subtle, just not really there. I can't honestly say I remember there being ketchup, mustard, or mayo on my burger, except for the fact that I think I remember seeing it of all things. The bun is a kind of a kaiser bun kind of thing, I thought it was good, a nice change from the kind of normal mushier enriched white-bread bun. Overall, not a bad burger, but it's so nondescript and unremarkable that it's pretty much... well, I guess I kind of think of it as just "another fast-food chain" like I used to, the only difference is that I don't think of McDonald's and Burger King first.

Rating of the Burger:
Meat: C
Bun: B
Fixings: B+
Condiments: C
Sides: C+
Price: $0.99-$8
Overall Grade: C+
Recommended Burger: 1/4 Pound Single

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mrs. Lu, you ought to be proud

Mr. Lu's
Originally uploaded by jaceman4
I recall when this place used to be a different place, but I don't remember what it used to be, maybe a gyros place? Anyways, now it's this bright orange hole-in-the-wall place called quite simply Mr. Lu's Burgers and Seafood. It's a rather interesting combination, but not really when you think of it, I guess, kind of budget surf-n-turf, though I don't know that they really have that kind of a combo as a menu item, but considering the target demographic is in fact college students, that shouldn't be too big of an issue.

I had a friend who refused to eat here because of the color of the shop, I think she finally had it at one point in time but I never got around to asking her what she thought of it. The menu is a fairly straightforward chalkboard affair. They have a variety of little side things (like I noticed they were offering green tea milkshakes which sounded interesting), but the brunt of the menu are food items. The menu can be aptly divided into 3 different categories: burgers, other sandwich items (such as chicken), and seafood. The first and third items here are obviously part of the name so you figure you gotta try one of those. The burger selection is fairly diverse, but also nothing so out of the ordinary that you wouldn't have seen it at another burger place, the typical specialty burgers like Hawaiian, bacon, jalapeno, etc... All burgers come with a side of fries but drinks are extra, not sure if there are free refills, so I usually just get some water.

Anyways, I came to write about the burgers and about such burgers will I write. The burgers here are actually of a fairly good quality. They have that good kind of homemade feel to them. The concepts are safe and fairly well thought out, though some burgers, such as the Cajun burger, are a little over the top with the sauce and stuff, but I mean that in a good way. The meat quality overall is pretty good, but there's nothing really special about it, it's a tad on the greasy side, but overall it brings out the flavor of the meat. The bun again is nothing to brag about, but it doesn't detract from the burger either. The fixings are fairly fresh, though somewhat sparse depending on the burger you order. They do bacon pretty well, but it's hard not to, it compliments the burger quite well. The condiments likewise have the same effect, you're going to have to try the different burgers for the different ones, but like the Cajun burger is a good Cajun sauce mix. I like it. It's hard to say a lot about the burger, because, honestly, it's a fairly nondescript burger, and again, I mean that in a good way. When you look at something on the menu and order it, it's pretty much what you expect.

Rating of the Burger:
Meat: B+
Bun: B-
Fixings: B
Condiments: B+
Sides: B
Price: $6-$10
Overall Grade: B
Recommended Burger: University Deluxe Burger

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Consistency isn't always a good thing

Originally uploaded by jaceman4
In planning for this post I thought it was kind of ironic. Ironic because invariably at the mention of burgers and fast-food the golden arches always come to mind. Maybe it's because it was so iconic growing up, that it was inevitable. The irony of it all is that most people I know that go to McDonald's (myself included) don't go, and really haven't been going to this establishment for the burgers. I know some go for breakfast, some go for the dollar menu, some go for the coffee, some (used to) go for the fries, or chicken nuggets, or something like that, myself, I go for the sweet tea. I was half tempted to have the McChicken sandwich be the "recommended burger" for this one just for kicks.

With the advent of side salads, chicken sandwiches, breakfast items, and of course the newly introduced McCafe, it's pretty hard to think of McDonald's a strictly a burger joint anymore, in fact, it's pretty hard to think of McDonald's as a burger joint, period. Nonetheless, this was kind of their claim to fame, and so yes, they still have burgers, well, at least something that looks and tastes moderately like one. I didn't really intend for this to be such a burn on McDonald's but honestly, I can't really beat around the bush and feel that this post is a quality product that I put out. Nonetheless, when you go to McDonald's you've got a pretty good idea of what you're going to get, there's not a lot of deviation, you can't really go wrong, but by that same token, you can't really go right either.

Invariably I believe that there are really only four types of burgers available for purchase: the basic hamburger (with or without cheese, of which the double cheeseburger and quarter pounder are simple reiterations of), the Big Mac, the Big 'n Tasty, the Angus Third Pounder. Generally there's a signature flavor to all McDonald's burgers, and I think it's in their "beef". Honestly, I think McDonald's patties are as close to real beef as Spam is to real ham, but for all extensive purposes, we'll call it that. I can't really define the flavor other than describe it as "extremely processed". The patties are universally dry, but not flavorless like overcooked beef, but rather, salty like it was always pre-processed.

Generally speaking, everything else runs generally along the same lines, the fixings, the buns, the condiments, they're really nothing to brag about. With the Third Pounder and Big 'n Tasty you generally notice the fixings more, but that's how they were designed, to be the "balanced" burger. The Big 'n Tasty originally came out as a rival to the Whopper from Burger King, and then with the advent of Angus beef burgers they decided to take a hand with their Angus Third Pounder. Honestly speaking, the Big 'n Tasty is passable, but because the Third Pounder is a bigger patty, it's just more processed flavor per bite, and honestly, it's just that much more distinctive, and not in a good way.

The Big Mac, the original burger that started it all, is two patties, lettuce, pickles, diced onions, and a special thousand island sauce on basically three buns. The sauce gives it flavor, and honestly, everything else is just something to have the sauce on. Overall, it's probably the best and most original burger of the lot. In terms of the quality of everything, you've already read about the meat, the buns are generally those generic enriched buns you get at like Safeway or something, meaning, the do the job, but they're nothing special, as for the fixings, they're not fresh at all, but I understand that they do sit around for a while, but still, there's a patented quality difference, you can tell, this stuff is really not that great or fresh, condiments like the buns, are what they are, aside from the special thousand island sauce, not much to say about it.

Rating of the Burger:
Meat: D
Bun: B-
Fixings: C
Condiments: C+
Sides: B
Price: $1-$9
Overall Grade: C-
Recommended Burger: Big Mac

Monday, February 22, 2010

I'd Like to Meet "the Guys"

Okay, so here's the first post. As you can see, I'm working hard to try to figure out witty titles for these things. This is something of an experimental post, as I'm still trying to work out exactly how I want to go about writing these posts. I like this blog already because it's a great excuse for me to go out and eat burgers.

So the first place I wanted to review was Five Guys Burgers and Fries. This is a Virginia based franchise that seems to have met with general popularity across the country, that is, if all the news articles and placards in the establishment itself are to be believed. I personally now have the privilege (or hazard, depending on how you look at it) of living less than a block away from one of these joints. My first experience with Five Guys was actually during a layover at the Washington Dulles International Airport. I was waiting for my flight, and I was hungry, and saw Five Guys and decided to give it a try. Earlier, Five Guys had opened a restaurant in my hometown in upstate New York, but I never had an opportunity to go, so I seized the moment. I was blown away. My first impression was literally this: "This is the East Coast In-N-Out."

Now they're on the West Coast too, good for me (in moderation of course). The menu in Five Guys is fairly straight forward, they have a burger section, a non-burger section (including hot-dogs and stuff like that), and finally the sides (fries) and drink section. There are also complementary peanuts by the entrances. As a quick side-note, the fries are designed for sharing, you'll notice everything comes in a brown paper bag, that is because the cup that you order cannot contain the fries. Oh, and make sure you order the Cajun fries.

Anyways, we're here about the burger, it's all about the burger, so I'm not going to go on and on about the other stuff. So here we go. The concept of Five Guys I feel is really to go for kind of that "backyard BBQ" kind of burger. The meat itself is substantial, a "regular" burger entailing 2 patties (a single patty is "little") and of a fairly high quality. It's a little on the greasier side, but only just enough to flavor the meat, not render consumers to a state of queasiness. The bun is a pretty run-of-the-mill sesame bun. Where they "excel" I feel is the fixings. They have a relatively large selection, the default is "all-the-way" which is lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, and pickles, the condiments include mayo, ketchup, and mustard. Additionally, you can mix-and-match amongst such options, but also with additional fixings of raw onions and jalapenos as well as condiments of A1 steak sauce, hot sauce, relish, and BBQ sauce. I might be missing a few, but they have a list at the register when you go order. What makes the fixings is that everything is incredibly fresh. You know the onions and mushrooms were grilled to your order, everything short of the pickles (which are supposed to be pickled are fresh). If you like a little kick in your burger this is good. Most burger places slap on a bunch of deli-cut pickled jalapenos on their burgers (if they add jalapenos at all) but at Five Guys the jalapenos are fresh.

So the question now is this: how does it all work together? My summarized as thus: the burger is too much for the bun. That is perhaps the only critique I can make of the thing, I think it's probably one of the premier fast-food burger chains in the country. However, the grease plus the other stuff on the burger does have a tendency of somewhat dissolving the buns, making it difficult to hold and consume, especially towards the end of your dining experience. However, that being said, the entire burger is something worth having. Just make sure you eat it with something underneath as a lot of stuff leaks out while your eating.

I suppose I should have this section so that there can be some comparison:

Rating of the Burger:
Meat: A
Bun: B-
Fixings: A+
Condiments: A+
Sides: A
Price: $6-$10 (depending on if you get fries and/or a drink)
Overall Grade: A
Recommended Burger: Cheeseburger, All-the-way, no ketchup, no mustard, A1, hot sauce, and jalapenos

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Burger Manifesto

I had a friend tell me that I should have an entire blog dedicated to this since I apparently have so much to say about it. Maybe it just means I should shut my mouth. Anyways, so I decided to take him up on the challenge, and basically share my love for one of America's great comfort foods: the hamburger. Actually, I'm not sure it's really American, and I really don't know much history behind it, but it doesn't matter, because I love burgers. I'm not going to regale you all on where burgers came from, because you don't need me rehashing everything that you can look up yourselves on Wikipedia, and frankly, I could care less where it came from in a historical context, I just know where they're going, into my stomach. A friend once asked me what my favorite food was, knowing that I liked cooking and was something of a gourmand, or "foodie", he was genuinely surprised when I said frankly, "Burgers." I was dead serious. Quite simply, I can't really imagine myself ever really getting sick of burgers. There's just something about a well-made burger. A few weeks later my friend and I had a get-together where we made some homemade jalepeno-cheddar-stuffed cheeseburgers. After we had a couple, he said, "Now I understand why burgers are your favorite food."

Now that I've gotten all the anecdotal stuff out of the way, let's go through exactly how I intend to go about doing this. Some of you might be wondering at the name "The Burger Snob" and why I decided to go with that. So, since I'm a "foodie" of sorts, or so I've been told (I'm not entirely convinced of it enough myself), and burgers are my favorite food, I decided that this would be a venue to share good burgers with everyone, but since burgers are my favorite food, I'm going to be somewhat critical about the places I go to. My intention with this blog is not necessarily to figure out how to create the tastiest burger, but rather, who does make the tastiest burger around. So with every post I intend to do a mini-Yelp kind of deal where I only deal with burgers. Hopefully I'll have some pictures and stuff to go with my posts and hopefully you don't get tired of my writing style.

I suppose this is the point in time where I divulge the criteria by which I will determine how I will judge a burger, simply put: how I like my burgers or what I think goes into a good burger. If we think about it conceptually, the fundamental construction of a burger is really quite simple, and can be broken down into what I consider 4 distinct parts.

The first and foremost is obviously the beef. Call it what you will: ground beef, chopped steak, whatever, the beef is what makes the burger, because unless there's beef in there, it's not a burger. This isn't really a bash of boca or turkey burgers, but honestly, I don't believe they taste anywhere as good as a legitimate all-beef patty burger. According to Adam Richman the best burgers have an 80-20 lean-to-fat ratio, because you need some of that fat to flavor the burgers as you cook them. I generally agree with the concept, dunno for sure about the number precisely, and in this case, it doesn't really matter, since it's not like you'll be able to tell if it's 80/20 or 70/30 beef or anything just by eating it. However, let me reiterate, the beef makes the burger. When you bite into a burger, what you want to taste is the beefy flavor of the burger patty. However, if that were all you wanted to taste, why make a burger? Obviously, there's a sense of balance that is to be had in dealing with the concept of a burger, otherwise, we'd just be eating ground beef patties the same way we eat a normal sirloin steak.

The second part that I consider to be important in a burger is the "holder" of the beef, or the bun. Generally, if you have a normal bun that's fine and good since the beef makes up for everything, and some places have fancier buns, like onion kaiser rolls and French style rolls and stuff like that in fancier places like Red Robin, but what is important isn't necessarily the flavor of the bun but rather the balance it has. I can't exactly specify what the proportion of bun to meat should be, it should be enough where the noticeability of the bun in the overall flavor of the bun is subtle but not overbearing. It's really hard to describe in words. However, additionally, the bun should serve a functional purpose, that is, to hold the burger. Ideally, in the perfect burger you'd be having both bun and meat in every single bite.

The third aspect of the burger is something I simply call "fixings", which is basically the "other stuff" in the burger. This is inclusive of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, etc... Like the bun, you don't want this to be overbearing the meat as well, and it's pretty flexible what you can put on it. It's really a matter of preference then at that point. I personally prefer some fixings as opposed to none, but I sometimes don't mind a plainer burger, but the meat then has to compensate for more.

The last aspect of a good burger are the condiments. Ketchup, mustard, mayo, steak sauce, BBQ sauce, even Sriracha chili sauce, I've seen it all. Hopefully you don't go around mixing ALL of these together. Like everything else, there needs to be a balance. You want the condiments to flavor the beef and burger, but you don't want the condiments to be the flavor. So, there needs to be a balance.

Thus in my ventures, I hope that I can find a good burger, and share that with you.