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On Burgers and Not Burgers

September 22, 2017

Happy New Year! I have to say, the Fall is a weird time to pick for the birth of the world. But then again, so is January. Spring makes much more sense. But oh, those April fools.

Hope your day without Fussy was just a little extra productive, because today’s post might generate a little bit of conversation. Although sometimes when I pick fights on the Internet, people don’t play along. We’ll have to wait and see.

This post was inspired by a few things.

One, since the Amazon takeover, I’ve been shopping a bit more at Whole Foods to see what these “new lower prices” actually look like when the rubber hits the road. And that has meant that I’ve taken advantage of some lower priced, Whole Foods animal welfare graded ground beef. So when it was hot earlier this week, the Fussies had burgers on the grill.

Two, in early October, I’m going to be heading out on a blogger tour of New York beef farms. It’s a trip that is organized and sponsored by the New York Beef Council, and I think the price of beef is going to be one of the things that comes up in discussion.

Three, Eric Paul of The Cheese Traveler wrote to let me know that there are two more Friday night cookouts for the season. Unfortunately, I can’t make either of them, which means yet another year when I missed out on these incredible menus. Tonight’s is helmed by Josh Coletto, so this will be the second pop up of his in a row that I’ve missed.

All of these things came together into one pointed thought when I looked at tonight’s menu. Well, maybe it was more of a series of thoughts. But let’s start with this one.

Wow, hamburgers have gotten expensive.

Who would order a burger when for the same price you can have an order of sous vide pork shoulder with butter braised radishes and turnips, Eve’s Cidery redux with charred apples and guanciale? I mean, maybe Steve N. would get the burger, because that man really loves burgers.

This isn’t meant to single out The Cheese Traveler and its burger program. Burgers are crazy expensive all over the place. Even ones that aren’t using the insanely high quality beef and lamb that Eric uses for these Friday night cookouts.

I’ll spare you the rundown of high priced burgers.

Perhaps, when you are at a fancy restaurant, these $15+ sandwiches of ground beef can still feel like a relative value, given the prices of everything else on the menu. And it’s not as if the charms of a gourmet take on a hamburger are lost on me, nor are the joys of having a well trained chef apply their skill to a beef patty and bun. But as prices continue to climb, the idea feels less fanciful and more comical, bordering on the absurd.

Which also isn’t to say that I haven’t lusted after one of these burgers. I have.

And maybe I’m burying the lede here. Perhaps the real story is tonight only, Josh Coletto is serving a seasonally inspired, locally sourced, sous vide pork shoulder for just $16. But look up to the top of the post and check out inspiration numbers one and two.

There’s some pretty good ground beef out there. The current mantra at Whole Foods regarding its beef is that the animals were raised with no antibiotics ever, no supplemental growth hormones, no animal byproducts in the feed, and raised on pasture or range for at least 2/3 of the animal’s life.

That’s pretty much most of what I want in my beef. And I think on my last trip there, it was about $4 per pound for the 85/15 mix.

But even mass produced burgers are oddly expensive these days. Those $5 meal deals at places like McDonald’s are no longer the norm. The quarter pounder with cheese costs more than $4 on its own, and it’s $7.50 as part of a combo.

When a McDonald’s meal was $5, I would gladly pay twice that for a superior burger. So it should follow that the $10 grassfed burger of yesterday, tracks pretty cleanly to the $15 gourmet burger of today.

Part of me thinks that a contributing factor to my consternation is that burgers have simply become too popular, and demand is driving more and more restaurants to put more and more expensive burgers on the menu. I mean, why not. If people will buy them, what’s the harm?

Well, I’m arguing that people have lost sight of a burger’s crowning glory. It should be an inexpensive way to enjoy the flavor of beef, with a tender texture and juicy fat, all while helping to minimize waste.

My answer is to join the resistance. I’ll go to Crave and grab a great burger, or I’ll buy some ground beef and cook them at home. But when I’m at a proper restaurant, as good as that burger looks, I’m going to get something else. Who is with me?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2017 11:08 am

    Thick “restaurant” burgers have always irked me. Loosely packed diner burgers made of ground beef of dubious provenance slapped on a griddle and fried crisp are the true expression of the form. The big “juicy” burger restaurant thing is a shame because I’m sure there are better preparations for some of that meat (un-ground) that people could enjoy at the same price point. But whatever, if people like it and it drives business? God bless.

  2. September 22, 2017 12:38 pm

    Re Whole Foods, expect to see more changes. They are discontinuing the relationships with local producers who come into the stores to do demos and work on the presentation of their products; more efficient to manage everything on a higher level. This isn’t a Bezos change but something that was already in the works and is endorsed by the new owners.

    Re burgers, not with you, sorry. Josh Coletto’s $16 pork sounds fantastic and I’d order it myself tonight if I were there. But in places like 15 Church or Max London that $16 burger is usually balanced against other entrees that cost twice as much. It’s a very attractive opportunity to see what the kitchen can do at a budget price, and in my case it offsets the $48 dry-aged loin my wife typically is ordering.

  3. September 22, 2017 12:42 pm

    One more thing. Those who are interested in exploring the current state of the “better” burger–not $16 but priced higher than McDonalds and its ilk–are invited to join us on the Better Burgers of Latham tour on Saturday, October 7 from 11:30 to 1 pm. We’ll visit five places and split burgers at each and see who reigns supreme in the higher end of the faster food market. There’s no cost other than paying for the food we will share.

    Read the details and sign up here: https://www.yelp.com/events/latham-uye-the-better-burgers-of-latham

  4. Josh permalink
    September 22, 2017 12:54 pm

    Man do I love a good cheap burger! Butttttt if we look further at the actual value of food, what is it worth? Buying grass fed beef from a quality local farm will cost most people around $7/lb. With that you are supporting an economy of farmers who are trying to raise animals to be more healthy, happy and delicious. As a chef I want to show people the importance of supporting these farmers, by preparing the meat in the best possible way. After all…the farmers become attached to these living things, and for them to do the major task of raising and killing them so we can eat is a huge sacrifice.
    Anyways… for me I see that maybe the problem is in the way that we expect food to be cheap…and It can be (eat more beans), but the cost of meat should be looked at in a whole different way.

    • Josh permalink
      September 22, 2017 1:06 pm

      wow I get worked up about meat sometimes 😂
      Anyways I suggest anyone who eats meat should kill an animal they raised themselves.

  5. September 22, 2017 5:10 pm

    Since Daniel gave me a shout out, I’ll weigh in, and take the opportunity to praise “The Burger” at Roux in Slingerlands.

    It’s expensive at $16, but that high price does include house cut fries, which puts the price of the burger itself closer to $12. And thankfully, it remains on the menu after a recent Chef change.

    The Burger is a sorta Big Mac clone, minus the third bun. It’s everything a great burger should be. Look at the photo of it on their webpage (on the dinner menu), if that photo doesn’t make your mouth water, then you simply don’t love burgers. It’s right up there with the best burgers in the area. Really, it’s that good.

    http://www.rouxny.com/dinner-menu.html

  6. Karen O permalink
    September 23, 2017 5:49 pm

    I’m definitely someone who’d rather make my own burgers at home-I’ll use 90-93% beef usually. $16 burgers? That’s insane! I’ll have something I don’t usually make at home.

  7. Don permalink
    September 25, 2017 11:46 pm

    While we’re paying more than $7/lb for kosher ground beef here in the Capital District, I had the best burger of my life for $32 at Mocha Burger in Greenwich Village. A 12 oz Prime Short Rib burger. It had been more than 20 years since I had a restaurant burger. https://orders.9fold.me/mocha-burger.html

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