Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Mitre Tavern

Burger Reviewed: Mitre Angus Beef Burger

Venue: The Mitre Tavern

Date: 9 August 2013

Resident of the oldest building in Melbourne, the Mitre Tavern (naturally) claims the title of the oldest pub in Melbourne. It is a traditional British-style pub that you would expect to come across in a quiet country town; not in the heart of Melbourne. Out-of-place in sorts; with a mixed clientele of businessmen, tourists and your average Joe; the Tavern does a roaring trade as it traverses social classes and aligns people to the oldest and humblest of origins - the love of beer, hearty food and a yarn.

The venue is split in three. The outdoor beer garden, without a blade of grass in sight, is spacious and offers ample outdoor dining yet seats are hotly contested (particularly on a Friday). The type of place you would enjoy a beer on a Friday afternoon before a short stroll to the MCG. Upstairs is the acclaimed steakhouse, where 'business lunches' run into 'business dinners'. An upper class affair, it's the sit-down-napkin-across-your-lap meal you reserve for special occasions, but we were here to sample the humble burger and such delicacies do not require such grand service.

Given the inclement Melbourne weather we opted for the third alternative - to dine inside. Not a bad choice as we were greeted by a highlights reel of Matthew Burton, the 7ft gangly North and Fremantle ruckman of the nineties. Watching the human praying mantis ply his craft before a feast was a real pleasure. My nostalgia of Spider Burton was overshadowed by the history that adorns the walls inside. An unpretentious and classic interior, you could only begin to imagine the number of embellished yarns that have been shared inside these walls. An authentic pub in the truest sense of the term.

We ordered the house burger at the bar and it felt like before we had sat back down that our meal had arrived at our table. This got me thinking of the speed continuum. At one end of the spectrum, which frustrates all patrons, is the painfully slow, hunger-wrenching burger that feels as though the cow was slaughtered in the kitchen before being cooked. A worry for any patron as you start to fear the incompetence of those in the kitchen. Equally as worrying is the other end of the spectrum, which the Mitre Tavern finds itself, is the super quick, bain marie burger. Fortunately, this burger didn't have the 'pie-warmer' feel to it; rather, a rigorous application of Henry Ford's supply change principles.

Not surprisingly, the speed at which the burger arrived did nothing to assist in the presentation. As the photo attests, do not expect to see this on the front cover of the epicure magazine. But lets be honest, you come to a pub with an expectation of a hearty and wholesome meal, not a dainty image you can post on instagram. In accordance with our expectations, this burger was simple pub food - seasoned prime Angus beef, tomato, lettuce, cheese, caramelized onions, homemade tomato relish on a toasted bun for the reasonable price of $18.

The first bite into the burger left a sweet aftertaste in my mouth. Too sweet. While I am ordinarily a big supporter of caramelized onions, the caramelization coupled with the tanginess of the relish was too much for my liking. Both were in generous supply, which meant that they overpowered the other flavors. Perhaps some mustard on the base of the bun might help to offset these strong flavors.

The bun was thick and fresh, but was not toasted as the menu suggests. It lacked that crunch and contrast in textures that a golden brown bun can provide.

In contrast, the chips were crisp and crunchy. Traditionally cut without any herbs or spices; a little salt wouldn't have gone astray though. We compensated for this with some tomato sauce from the bar; alternatively, you could have gone for an off-the-shelf mayonnaise. Neither were glamorous but were hard to fault.

There was no side salad. Hardly a problem with that. The salad that was on the burger was fresh and met our expectations. As is the key with any salad on a burger, it did enough to be noticed without being noticed - if you've ever had to pick out wilted lettuce or a rotten tomato from a burger, you'll know that going relatively unnoticed can be a good thing.

What you do notice when you sit down to eat this burger, however, is the thickness of the pattie. Albeit this was not as thick as previous visits, the burger takes on an almost rissole like consistency. It is cooked through which can lend itself to being too dry - if you're going to use such a dense piece of meat, it should be seared and retain some pink in the middle. Unfortunately, for mine, this was overcooked and meant that any flavors or seasoning were overpowered. A simple fix would be to cook this on a high heat for a shorter period of time to make the pattie the star of the show it should be.

When working out who to name this burger after, I was inspired by watching the highlights of the North Melbourne dynasty of the 90s on the big screen. In particular, the man colloquially known as 'the Fridge' - Mark Roberts. Although he had stints at Sydney and Brisbane, the Fridge is best remembered for his time at the Kangaroos. The Fridge, like the Mitre Burger, is not the prettiest thing to look at; both are keg-like in their appearance and would look misshapen next to many of their counterparts. But the way Roberts approached his football - rugged, robust and honest - is quite similar to the Mitre Burger. Nothing flashy, just honest. Moreover, were you to combine the Mitre Tavern with the Fridge, I reckon you would happily settle in for a long lunch cum dinner as he would have some ripping stories to share about his career and there would be few better venues to hear it.

If you are in the CBD and in need of something to quench your thirst, I definitely recommend stopping at the Mitre Tavern. It's a great pub, in a fantastic location and should you be hungry, try the burger.

Burger Friday Rating: 31.5/50

Mitre Tavern Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Five Guys Burgers and Fries (New York)

Burger reviewed: The Bacon Cheeseburger All The Way

Venue: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Date: 13 August 2013

Currently in New York City, the Burger Friday fellows decided to make a quick stop at the chain restaurant Five Guys Burgers and Fries (Five Guys), on route to catch a ball game at the house that Ruth built.

Having originally opened in 1986 in Washington DC by the entrepreneurial Murrell brothers, the business exploded like an Alfonso Soriano home run when it decided to franchise in 2003. With over 1000 stores in North America and a further 1500 in the pipeline, it is the fastest growing fast food chain getting around.

Perhaps the most important indicator of its influence is that it holds the enviable mantel of being one of the most talked about burgers on the internet. With a focus on quality food and good service, it has gained a cult like status with celebrity endorsements even ringing all the way up to Barack Obama, which is exactly why it was on our list of venues to try.

An example of its commitment to quality is its shunning of twentieth century technology by refusing to have freezers in its stores. The end result is that all meat, potatoes and other produce are fresh. This attitude somewhat reminds me of the Olympic runner Abebe Bikila who just said screw you to footwear and won a gold medal in the marathon barefoot. While I am definitively not averse to technology, it is nice to know that the food is fresh.

The burger reviewed today was the bacon cheeseburger served all the way, which I was reliably informed by the guy behind the counter was in his opinion "the only way". At Five Guys, they give you the option to add whatever toppings you want – for free. With as many as 15 free toppings there is literally 262,143 combinations of burgers available, if you ‘do the math’.

When you go all the way, you get almost all of them. The all the way bacon cheeseburger consisted of a soft sesame seed bun topped with a double beef pattie, crispy bacon, cheese, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup, mayo, and mustard.

And lets just say all the way was almost better than the first time you got past first base. The pattie, which was clearly handmade, was cooked to a very good medium well, with a nice bit of char on the outside, giving it bite and flavour. The bacon was crunchy and complemented well by the sauce combination of ketchup, mayo and mustard. Every bite of the burger was mouth-wateringly good, with seemingly different flavours and textures between the current bite and the one previous.

Ably accompanied by handcut chips with the skin on and endless soda refills, it is easy to see why Five Guys is cult worthy. While your waist line might not thank you, your wallet definitely will. Total cost for the meal came in at under $14USD for what is a very good quality burger.

While a distinction exists for burger purveyors between gourmet burgers (served on a plate, and generally neater in appearance) and fast good burgers (served wrapped and delivered in a bag), of which the Five Guys clearly falls into the latter category, the flavours and quality of their offerings can be held up against any of the gourmet burgers we have tried.

In light of its punch above its weight stakes and not necessarily good looks, this is the Phil Mickelson of Burgers. Mickelson is an unabashed fan of Five Guys who once in a press conference, unprompted, told a roomful of reporters that Five Guys served “hands down the best burger he has ever had.” It was revealed a week later that Mickelson was an investor in Five Guys franchises. Regardless, who doesn't mind a little bit of self promotion when the burgers can back it up?

This is one burger chain I would love to see come to Australia. If in North America skip the Clown (McDonald's) and the Crown (Burger King) and definitively get to Five Guys!

Burger Friday rating: 42.5/50

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Angry Moose

Burger reviewed: The BELT The Moose

Venue: The Angry Moose

Date: 04/08/2013

Is there a better way to spend a Sunday than by taking a leisurely stroll down street to smash a burger? Maybe a "Silly Sunday" session with your footy mates after your season has just come to a end? Although the Burger Friday crew were a part of the former, we still got to sit there and witness the antics of the footy team (let's call them the Bankstown Foaklies) who were drowning their sorrows along side us. Most enjoyably, in true Silly Sunday fashion - one bloke brought his missus.

In light of the rather rowdy crowd making up the patronage of The Angry Moose, a venue known for manly style burger combinations, we calmly sat a safe distance away from the Foaklies and ordered the "BELT The Moose" burger. Settle down Nick Maxwell, this isn't cruelty to animals. It is simply the code name for the regular burger with bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato. Despite the backlog of orders, our burgers came out in reasonable time and the mere sight of burger had me salivating.

The patty was a real winner and provided the centerpiece for the rest of the elements of the burger to work around. It was of the ideal size and thickness, was cooked to perfection and had the crumbly and fibrous texture indicative of a handmade beef patty. Not to mention a nice sprinkling of dried herbage which was worked into the patty mixture. Some burger makers endeavour to impart the majority of flavour through a flamboyant patty mixture whereas others focus more on sauce combinations. We don't have a preference as long as the end result is quality (much the same as our opinion on Josh Kennedy's kicking action).      

The bun was one of the better ones we have tried in the great state of Western Australia. A lightly toasted Turkish style bun which was solid enough to hold the burger together but light enough to soak up all of the juices. It was the type of breadage you would happily dunk in a container of hommus for a light Sunday snack.

The burger was complemented by a simple yet very effective sauce combination of Heinz Big Red and mayo. The two seemingly plain ingredients combined into what can only be described as "fancy sauce". And like Dale in Step Brothers, "I like it".

The remaining ingredients for which this burger gets its name added to the already solid set of flavours while not overpowering the stars of the show. The runny yolk of the egg added a creaminess which was complemented by the saltiness of the bacon and the sweetness of the grilled onions. In my opinion, the lettuce and tomato are out of place on a manly burger - which would leave bacon and egg as the additional ingredients in what would be called the "BE The Moose" burger. Just food for thought.

Some additional food for thought - Tiger Woods' ex-wife, Elin Nordegren, currently sits fifth on the PGA tour money list for the 2013 season behind Brandt Snedeker - this automatically qualifies her for all four major championships in 2014. I thought this was worth a mention.

The chips were the highlight. An extremely generous serving of well sized chips accompanied by some garlic Aioli. The most enjoyable facet of these chips was the superb crunchiness you got from the outer chip while maintaining the appropriate level of fluffiness inside. The outside of each chip was slightly blistered and when consumed, these blistered spots seemed to burst with crunch and flavour. Anyone in our readership know how this is accomplished? Perhaps someone whose parents owned a fish and chip shop?
Overall, this burger hit all of the right notes. The flavours were all there - the bitterness from the patty, saltiness from the bacon and sweetness from the grilled onions were complemented by a texturally complete burger.

One warning I will give in relation to this burger is the dreaded "food baby" you have to deal with afterwards. Both times I have had the Angry Moose burger for lunch, I have felt so full for the rest of the day that I have not eaten dinner. Therefore, I imagine that this burger would not be one you would prefer to consume before or during a big afternoon on the sherberts. This phenomenon left me feeling sorry for the Foaklies.

I enjoyed everything about this burger but left a bit full. So the sportsperson this burger will draw comparisons to is the much maligned English offspinner Monty Panesar. A man known for his passion for the game and extravagant wicket celebrations, Monty recently landed himself in hot water for relieving himself on a nightclub bouncer when he too found himself a little full. A revenge a number of people would like to inflict on a power tripping bouncer I would imagine.  

Honourable mentions for people who have landed in hot water for relieving themselves in public - Brendan Fevola, Mark Williams (during a VFL game), Nate Robinson and R Kelly.

If you find yourself on Beaufort Street, don't think twice about stepping in for a quality burger.

Score: 38/50

Monday, August 12, 2013

In-N-Out Burger

Burger reviewed: Double Double Burger Animal Style

Venue: In-N-Out Burger; Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

Date: 5 August 2013


Continuing Burger Friday’s American burger adventure, our next stop was the famous In-N-Out Burger.

Originating as a drive-thru some 60 years ago, it is now one of the most iconic of burger chain restaurants on the west coast of the USA. As the chain expanded over the years, it, unlike many other stores, has avoided adding products such as chicken or salads to its menu. Neither has it changed its preparation methods. This is, simply, good old-fashioned food.

The fact that it is only available on the west coast had eluded us until we realised that we were about to leave the state of California and this burger opportunity could be gone for a significant amount of time. With FOMO striking (fear of missing out), it was a somewhat frantic state that we raced to the Fisherman's Wharf store in San Francisco to see if the burger was going to be the best thing since sliced bread or just over-hyped like Michael Hurley.

Located right on the bay of San Fran, the hype was evident from the big line streaming out the door. Having done some solid research while in the queue (i.e., five minutes of googling on the iPhone), we stepped up to the counter and duly ordered the double double burger and asked to turn it animal style. While turning it animal style sounds like we were asking to go all Grant Hackett and start flipping grand pianos, it is actually referring to the cooking style and toppings of one of the most popular ways to have an In-N-Out burger off the Secret Menu.

This Secret Menu is actually not so secret afterall because they advertise it on their website. Instead of a broad menu like other competitors, In-N-Out just has a real simple menu with maybe ten items, but also has unadvertised variations of its burgers that are based on customer preferences. These include: double meat, 4 x 4, grilled cheese, protein style and animal style.

The Double Double burger animal style is two mustard cooked beef patties, double American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, ketchup, grilled onions and a spread sauce (somewhat similar to a thousand island dressing or perhaps more literally, like the sauce you get on a Big Mac).

The burger came out presented in a cardboard container and unlike every other chain restaurant burger actually looked like the pictures you see of it. Its presentation was flawless. The burger was cooked to a medium well and was very very tasty. The bun was soft, in an almost velvet-sledge-hammer-style, and with the addition of pickles, tomatoes and onion this was a full flavoured and well balanced burger. The combination of ketchup and the spread was spot on.

My criticisms would be that the double double American cheese just overwhelmed the burger taste a little bit too much. While the cooking methods haven't changed in 60 years, I think you could tell that this burger was not going to be good for the cholesterol levels.

We accompanied our burger with some excellent homemade fries which you can actually see still have the potato skin on to evidence they may have really originated from real the vegetable. Coming in with an endless soft drink refills at a total of sub-$8USD, this clearly gets full marks for value.

In honour of In-N-Out originating in 1948, I will dub this burger after NBA hall of famer Nate Archibald who was also born in that fabled year. Archibald was a willing passer and an adequate midrange shooter. It was his speed and agility, however, that made him difficult to guard in the open court. Like Nate, the In-N-Out burger franchise is a very good burger by itself, but the speed of service, consistency, presentation and price make this burger great.

If on the West Coast of USA make sure you stop by In-N-Out Burger and see what the hype is all about.

Burger Friday rating: 39.5/50

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Burger reviewed: The Meisterburger

Venue: BurgerMeister, San Francisco, CA

Date: 2 August 2013

One of the first stops on this American burger tour of joy is the city of San Francisco, famous for its hills, food and home of the 49ers and San Francisco Giants.

The venue of choice for our first burger review in San Francisco is BurgerMeister in North Beach.

 As a fan of both food and sports, it certainly feels like at the moment, being organic in this way would put BurgerMeister in rare company. Whilst the Windy Pills saga has raged on in Melbourne, doping scandals in US sports are part and parcel of every sport it seems. So it is fantastic to see a restaurant who wants to buck this trend and give people real food.

Set out in a classic American style diner, serving up as they put it, "real American classic comfort food". BurgerMeister has an astonishing 18 burgers on the menu, and, if that’s not enough, you even have the additional option to make your own. This means the combinations are virtually endless and definitely not for the indecisive.

While Australia has undergone a burger revolution of sorts in recent years, the Burger Friday fellows are continuing our mission to sample burgers far and wide. This means going beyond the land girt by sea, to visit the home of the burger - The United States of America.

Currently spanning six stores, this Bay Area burger chain specialises in burgers made with meat sourced from Niman Ranch; meaning that they are guaranteed to be all natural and free of hormones, steroids or antibiotics.

The burger reviewed by the Fellows was the signature MeisterBurger, awarded as the best Burger in San Francisco an astonishing 6 times in a row. An admirable dynasty, but still quite a way from arguably Australia’s greatest ever female athlete, Heather McKay, who went unbeaten in competitive squash matches from 1962 to 1981 and only lost two matches for her career. Only 15 more burger titles to go…

The MeisterBurger is a 1/5lb Niman Ranch beef pattie cooked to choice, topped with crispy Niman Ranch Applewood smoked bacon, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions, fresh avocado and cheese on a traditional sesame hamburger bun. Served with crispy cooked fries and your choice of ketchup, mustard or Dijon mustard condiments at your table, this burger is an absolute winner.

While perhaps the sloppiest burger I have ever tried to eat, meaning structural integrity was an issue for even the top burger management experts, this critic was over shadowed by the exceptional flavours.

The toppings on this burger were first class. The crispy bacon was cooked perfectly and provided beautiful crunch to offset the softness of the burger bun and the sautéed mushrooms and onions. I was a little hestitant about the addition of fresh avocado (which was literally a whole avocado) on the burger, but was pleasantly surprised with how well it worked with the juiciness of the mushrooms and onions and the mustard sauce.

The star of the show was the beef pattie, which was cooked perfectly to a medium and was undoubtedly one of the best tasting patties I have experienced on my burger Friday journeys. Large in size, organic, perfectly seasoned, it just ticked all the right boxes and was simply excellent.

Given the sheer number of ingredients going on in this burger full marks must be given for the synergies that they have managed to create. A fantastic combination of sweet, savoury, crispy, soft, and tangy make this burger an absolute ripper.

In honour of the local San Francisco NFL team the 49ers, I am going to dub this burger after its quarterback Colin Kaepernick. After being drafted in 2011, Kaepernick lead the 49ers in 2012, breaking various individual post season records, all the way to the Super Bowl, only to be defeated narrowly by the Baltimore Ravens. Just strolling the streets of San Francisco and seeing the sheer number of people wearing clothing with his name can tell you he is the people's champ. And I am going to bet by the time his career is over, he will have an awards listing similar to that of BurgerMeister.

If in San Francisco I highly recommend you get around this burger now.

Burger Friday score: 42.5/50