Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Burger Quest

I hope you’ll forgive my lack of posting recently. I’ve had a lot on my mind and a lot on my plate as we get close to our cruise date. Today I got the majority of my packing done, and I feel like I’m in pretty good shape as our departure date approaches. Several odds and ends still to be done, but I feel much less harried than I did, and I found myself hankering to write a bit here.

I’ve had this entry percolating for a while, and I’ve also been gathering data. Well, not so much “gathering data” as “sampling.” I don’t recall if it arose from a Facebook conversation or if it was something that Shane and I talked about, but I’ve been on a kick of trying the burgers at various places we go to around town. I don’t always order a burger when we go out...I like club sandwiches, Reubens, that sort of thing. But I still love a good burger, and I decided to try as many as possible in the area.

I have no criteria for what kind of burgers I order other than I prefer them well done (I’m not a fan of pink burgers) and I’m a burger traditionalist: my favorite is a cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato (usually no raw onion because it sometimes upsets my stomach), and I dip it in ketchup and mustard. I have been known to order and enjoy burgers with different toppings on them, like green olives or avocado or even peanut butter. All fun, and I like trying different things, but at the end of the day, I’m a purist. I don’t even order them with bacon!

It’s been a lot of fun to try this little experiment, and it is ongoing. We’re going to a basketball game Wednesday night, and I think I’m going to get a chance to try another place’s burger! Here is a summary of my results so far. Some of these places are chains and some are local, but we don’t really do fast food anymore, so you won’t see anything like that here. I consider Five Guys fast food, and although they do a pretty decent burger, I still consider it fast food and won’t include it here. Same thing for In-N-Out Burger. Heck, I still get a craving about once every five years for a McDonald’s cheeseburger! But those don’t count as bona fide burgers for my purposes here. General rule of thumb: if you sit down and a server comes to take your order, that’s the kind of place that I’m going to be looking at.

BW3 - I liked this burger enough the first time that I ordered one the next time we went. It was juicy and flavorful, and the bun held up well. However, for some reason, I didn’t enjoy the second one as much and even wondered why I liked the first one as much as I did! Was I hungrier the first time? Were my taste buds more primed for a burger? I don’t know, but it wasn’t the same. Would I order one there again? Sure. I’m not a big wing person, and I like getting their sandwiches.

Maxi’s - This is a local place, so if you want a Maxi’s burger, you’ll have to come visit us! Maxi’s is probably our favorite restaurant in town, and you can’t beat it for delicious steaks. It is also locally owned and operated, and that is a big plus in our book. We like to take out-of-town visitors here, so if you head our way, you can probably expect Maxi’s in your dining future. Maxi’s doesn’t do a traditional burger of just a meat patty. They add some spices and stuff in there, and I’m pretty sure that they add chopped onion. Not the kind of burger that I usually like, but these things are very tasty, as well as huge. I think I took half of it home for Ken’s lunch. It was a little on the pink side for me, and next time, I would probably ask that it not be pink, but overall, this was very good. A nice robust bun, because mushy buns suck.

Brothers Bar & Grill - Speaking of mushy buns, I’m lookin’ at YOU, Brothers! We love Brothers, which seems to be a chain that locates in college towns. This is our go-to place before Notre Dame hockey and basketball games. I’ve had a lot of good sandwiches there, and I love both their chili nachos and chicken nachos. I was very disappointed in their burger, though. It was a nice size for me, and I was able to eat it all, but the bun was soft and steamed, and was unable to hold up to the intense pressure of life with a burger. It squished down to almost nothing and although the flavor of the burger was good, the bun really detracted from the whole experience. Get different buns and toast 'em on the grill for a few seconds, Brothers!

TGI Friday’s - Yes, this is a nationwide chain, and we usually try to avoid those. But we had some coupons, and we were going out a lot because of Notre Dame games, so we decided to save a few bucks. I can’t complain a lot about the food there, either...nothing fancy, but it’s decent. Much to my surprise, their burger ROCKED! It had a nice charred edge to it, and I could really taste that charcoal flavor that I love. The bun was nicely toasted and provided a slight crunch. It wasn’t a massive burger, and I was able to eat it all. My only complaint was the chunks of iceberg lettuce (obviously from salad makings) that they piled on the burger. I took most of those off. Just provide a nice, green leaf of lettuce, and a fresher tomato slice (hard to do in Indiana in the winter, though, so no points off for that), and that’s a burger I would eat again.

CJ’s Pub - This is another local place that we’ve added to our regular rotation, often before going to shows downtown. This is absolutely one of the best burgers in town. I don’t know what kind of seasoning they put on their burgers, but the flavor is fantastic. They have numerous varieties and all kinds of ways to customize your burger. This is where I had the olives on a burger, and I liked it...but a straight-up cheeseburger is still king for me, and CJ’s does it great. I always get the Cubby burger, which is a smaller sized burger that is just right for me. My sister seems to like the Juicy Ducee, which is stuffed with American cheese, and there are all kinds of other varieties and combos you can get. It really is hard to go wrong with these burgers!

Hensell’s Oaken Bucket - I have saved the best for last. Another local place, one that sits on the St. Joseph River. When it’s nice out, it’s fun to sit on the patio and look out over the river. Like CJ’s, I don’t know what it is they do to their burgers, but these have incredible flavor. Every time we go there, I think that I should order something different, but I always end up with a burger. The Oaken Bucket is right up there with my all-time favorite burgers, the ones at Breakers in New Smyrna Beach and Port of Call and Clover Grill in New Orleans. They really are that good. It’s a very unassuming place, with wooden booths and college-town decor, but it’s been our experience that sometimes the humblest places have some incredible food. Even if the food isn’t incredible, it’s fun to patronize local places rather than chains, and step outside the cookie-cutter model of what a restaurant is “supposed” to be. I have to give the Oaken Bucket the Best Burger in Town...so far.

Upcoming contenders: O’Rourke’s Pub near Notre Dame and Pat’s Bar in LaPaz (a small town a little to the south of us). Perhaps I'll try one in San Juan, too, before we set sail...we shall see.

The Burger Quest continues.