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Belly Busting Burger Brackets

October 22, 2015

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Fussy Little Tour de Burger will never happen. Hopefully we don’t have to rehash the reasons. But I’m still excited about doing a winter tour of chicken wings in downtown Schenectady. That, however, is many months away.

People do love hamburgers, and I can’t say that I blame them. I love a good burger too. My favorite one locally is still the deep-fried Buffalo burger at Swifty’s. But my all time favorite may be from The Original Joe’s in San Francisco.

Somehow all of my favorite burger joints always seem to burn down in grease fires.

The Capital Region has seen a massive influx of higher quality burger chains in the recent months. Smashburger opened up by Trader Joe’s. Burger 21 set up shop on what used to be the ice cream stand just outside the Hoffman’s Playland parking lot. BurgerFi is brand spanking new up the street in Latham. Of course, there is Sonic, but they aren’t playing in the same league. You know who is? Five Guys, even though this chain has been in the area for a while.

It just so happened that All Over Albany put together a tasting panel to figure out which of these burgers reigned supreme. It wasn’t just for burgers, but included the fries as well. And once again, I was able to go on a food outing with some of my favorite eaters, including one who I’ve only taunted online.

AOA Greg brought together Albany Jane, Jon in Albany, and Lady Welshofer. Together we drove from spot to spot trying to get ostensibly similar burgers at each stop.

The sensible solution was to eat half a burger at each stop, and a couple of fries for evaluation purposes. In the end, that’s really only two hamburgers over the course of an afternoon. It doesn’t sound like it should be a gut wrenching experience. But gut wrenching it was.

Naps were taken. Dinner was skipped. Even a post dinner time snack was nixed.

I’m not sure why these tastings always make a moderately heavy amount of food feel like such an ordeal. The same thing happened with The Best Dozen series. My best guess is that it has something to do with the pace of eating. By going slowly, your body has time to tell you it’s full and that you should stop.

But you can’t stop. There’s work to be done.

You can read the full story on All Over Albany, including the scores for the burgers and the fries. The winning shop I suppose depends on how you cut the numbers. But BurgerFi and Five Guys were heaped with praise.

I seemed to hold the minority opinion. This happens more than you might think.

My burger at Five Guys had yet another small fleck of bone in the patty. I swear that every burger I’ve had from the chain in the past year has contained some unwelcomed bit inside it. Albany Jane dismissed it as a piece of cartilage until I pulled it from my mouth and showed it to her. I’m classy that way. I suppose it also helps that by now we’re old friends. Anyway, upon further inspection she agreed it was bone.

At the table I suggested that I just chew my food more thoroughly than most people. I suspect that’s true, because my luck can’t be that bad. Or maybe it’s that most people just don’t mind bits of bone in their burgers.

For me the biggest surprise was Burger 21. Jon didn’t like it because it had too high a grind of fat. Too much fat? Pish posh. There’s no such thing. Biting into the burger released a wellspring of buttery rendered beef fat. And I loved it.

However, the bun was far too stiff for the burger. I’m looking forward to getting back and triangulating my way to something amazing.

This AOA tour also gave me a better appreciation for just how good McDonald’s french fries actually are. The two examples we had of shoestring fries (from Burger 21 and Smashburger respectively) fell flat. They were all one note. And that note was crisp. But what sets fries apart from potato chips is that tender center. That critical textural element was missing from these fancy burger joints who attempted a thinner style fry.

Of the thicker fries, the batch we had at BurgerFi won my heart. Which is funny, because I recently had an underwhelming batch at the same location. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the one bad batch was a fluke. At their best, these fries are soft and creamy in the center with a delicate crisp exterior layer holding them together. It’s delicious and delightful.

I just wish BurgerFi would smash down the burger to loosen the grain of the patty and get more crust on its exterior.

Really what I was left wanting was some kind of franken-burger. I want the quality beef at BurgerFi, ground into a Burger 21 style patty, and served on a Five Guys bun. Of course, the thing I want most of all is another deep fried buffalo burger. Man, I’ve got to get one of those soon so I can just shut up about them already. It’s been far too long, and now swimsuit season is over. No more excuses.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Ewan permalink
    October 22, 2015 12:07 pm

    If you want a long spiel on the neuroscience of satiety, I’m your guy :-).

  2. October 22, 2015 2:16 pm

    If you want a great burger in SF, try the one at Nopa. In Albany, I like the ones at Dave’s on Fuller Road as well… but seriously give some consideration to the ones at Dan’s Place II on Washington Avenue. Nothing fancy about them, but totally great.

  3. October 23, 2015 12:22 am

    I know you’re “kinda” kidding about the maximum levels of fat in a burger. At some point you’ll cross over from burger to suet and I don’t think you’d like it. Who knows…maybe you would. I get that fat is flavor, but there was a LOT of fat in the burger I ate.

    Nice to know I wasn’t the only one that passed out after the tour.

    • October 23, 2015 12:44 am

      I’ve been known to cherish well rendered pieces of beef fat, and eat them just on their own. The thought kinda makes me salivate a bit. But I do try to restrain my fat eating tendencies as I’d like to live long enough to get another trip out of my 10-year visa to China.

      • -R. permalink
        October 23, 2015 10:50 am

        As much as I’ve enjoyed my trips to China, Japan and Southeast Asia, the narrow flavor palette can become a bit monotonous after a while (not that I don’t enjoy their culinary sensibilities). We just got back from three weeks in Paris. In a city that cosmopolitan, the variety of food and the quality was just astounding. Man did we eat. Fortunately, the amount of food and wine consumed was offset by the lack of good IPAs and prodigious amount of walking we did on a daily basis. I came home at the same weight upon departure.

  4. Debra permalink
    October 23, 2015 12:03 pm

    Have you tried Juicy Burger yet Daniel? I’d like to know your opinion of their burgers and buns.

  5. October 23, 2015 12:20 pm

    As you know, I’m a huge fan of Five Guys and it pains me to hear that you’ve had bad burgers there.

    Nevertheless, I’ve yet to be persuaded that there’s any other chain that ‘gets’ what a great burger is as much as Five Guys does.

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