The humble burger. Burgers have been a standing item on my top 3 “trapped on an island” foods since I was about 15. (My other two island foods are apple pie and pretzels, case you are wondering).
I heard once on a burger competition a true burger mix is made only of meat. Nothing else mixed in. No chopped onions, bacon or herbs inside. Although I grew up eating some tasty blends my mom invented (her Mexican Burger and Meatloaf Burger) and they were delicious. For our purposes here though, I agree and I am a purist. A true burger is the perfect blend of meats (without anything else added) showcased on perfectly coordinated bun and toppings. Extra bonus points for the perfect side =)
CURRENT CHAMPION: The Loop-N-Blue @ the Loop in Jacksonville, FL.
The Loop owns the grill. Anything off their grill is par excellence. They have a piece of grilled salmon simply grilled with salt and pepper and it’s off the charts. Their Loop and Blue is bang-iddy-bang goodness. Perfectly grilled burger, ample salt. Crispy green leaves and red onion atop. And finished with blue cheese. Nothing crazy or complex. Just perfectly assembled. And stinkin’ delicious.
UPDATE: March 2016
CONTENDER: The Pearl @ Father Tom’s Pub in Cookeville, TN
We were heading to Kansas City, MO when dinner time rolled around and I found this place on Trip Advisor. The Pearl immediately caught my eye. You can read and see why below. Although, I get very emotionally torn when it comes to pretzel buns. I love them. They are just so filling. A good pretzel roll is a like a meal unto itself. But I digress. Back to the Pearl. It’s a solid burger. However, the brie cheese overwhelms the ensemble, so much so I was not even sure mine came with bourdon poached pears (the whole reason I got the Pearl). Anyhow, good try Father Tom’s, but the Loop & Blue still stands on top.
UPDATE: March 2016
CONTENDER: The Bacon Blue Cheese Chipotle Burger @ Maggie’s Bar & Grill in Boonville, MO
On our way to Kansas City, we had a stop over in Boonville. The town was founded by the sons of Daniel Boone. As I always do, when lunch time rolled around I asked the Hotel Receptionist THE big question. If she could only eat one last meal of her life in Boonville, where would she go for the best meal of her existence (no pressure). Her answer, “Maggie’s Bar & Grill, she has won AWARDS for her burgers and chicken tenders”. Ok, I’m in.
As a foodie traveling with 3 little kids and no baby sitters, I have resolved there will be no fancy on this trip. So I look for local places, cafes and such. Maggie’s was a little more on the “bar” side then I was used to. But hey, they have a lady storm-trooper on a bike in the window. This has to be a win!
Inside, it felt like 2 AM in the middle of the night, even though it was a bright sunny afternoon. All good. A pub is a pub. I’m just here to taste an award winning burger that possesses the power to change the course of history (or at least have me raving about it for a few weeks).
The menus are sitting on the table waiting for us. Like a fish in a barrel, immediately my target reveals itself to me. With the current Champ boosting bold blue cheese goodness, if there is any chance of a great match, this is it.
Shortly after the contender arrives. She looks promising. And the fact that the hotel lady talk about some sort of “burger awards” combined with the mysterious and seemingly unrelated lady storm-trooper in the front window, I fully expect I am about to taste something completely out of the norm. I’ll curtail the drama. No such luck. The Bacon Blue at Maggies, while an enjoyable and well priced lunch, will soon be forgotten by my taste buds. The hunt goes on…
UPDATE: April 2016
CONTENDER: The Durango Bison Burger @ 5280 Burger Bar in Denver, CO
Confession. Ok, so I am a huge Food Network Fan. I remember when they had their first season of “Next Food Network Star”. I watched every episode. Routed for Guy Fieri the whole time, while also convincing myself I could win next season. Anyhow, for those of you who don’t recall Guy was just a regular guy. Passionate cook. Who wanted to be a Food Network star.
Guy went on to win the first season, which was all the way back in 2005, and the rest is history. My wife and I have watched Guy over the years. He started with Guy’s Big Bite. And then was on some other shows here and there before settling in to his sweet spot with Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Anyhow, season after season as we surf through the channels we’d watch guy eating more and more greasy roadside food. And you could literally see it on his face. It’s not a knock on guy. There’s just no way you can eat that kind of food on a regular basis without punching your heart in the face and having your skin lose it’s “glow”.
I say all that to say, I am feeling like Guy today. Dinner time. Not enough groceries. Still getting the kitchen unpacked in the airstream. As I hit my trusty Tripadvisor, the closest, best rated and family-friendly place to grab some eats is 5280 Burger Bar. I haven’t eaten so much red meat in about a decade. But the quest MUST go on (and I plan to get a turkey burger and a beef burger and go halfsies with Char). Conscience appeased. Game on.
5280 Burger Bar states their core value right on the menu. “We are dedicated to delivering the freshest, highest quality ingredients”. They source all their meat from Colorado and local farmers, including Colorado Bison. I don’t see turkey on the menu. Who cares. The promise of bison already has my conscience sufficiently distracted.
The waitress comes to take our order. I ask her the usual question, “If you were going to die and could only eat here one last time yada yada… what would you eat?” My wife goes to order. I mishear her, thinking she wants to order a quinoa burger and rudely interrupt and high-jack the order for our whole table. One Colorado Beef Burger with pulled pork on top. And a Durango with Bison as the pattie. The Durango comes with a jalapeño cream cheese, fried onion strings and some other goodness.
There is something special that catches my eye as this burger arrives at our table. And believe it is not, it’s isn’t the meat. It’s the bun. If you really think about it, the dream burger is the perfect bun, burger and toppings all in a perfect combination. 5280’s menu boasted of their “fresh baked burger buns”, but then again what hand crafted burger joint doesn’t. However, this was different. The bun was golden and gorgeous. A work of a true baker. Perfectly domed top and airy. The burger itself was just spot on. Juicy, salty bison. Slightly sweet cream cheese with a little jalapeño sting.
We have got a NEW CHAMPION friends!
Yes, this mission is about finding the most bangin’ burger, but it’s more than that. The fact that 5280 delivered some crispy, aggressively salted, fresh cut french fries. And they also had an adjoining gourmet ice cream shop all bolstered the experience to something very special. Loop & Blue I love you. But if I got a serious burger craving and could push a magical burger button (powered by the juice of a thousand Angus cows) and I could teleport anywhere for a burger, I am going to 5280.
As if the Mile High City somehow knew, on the drive home from 5280 Burger Bar we passed this dazzling lighted street. Not sure if the Denver folks are super lax with taking down the Christmas lights or what – it being April and all. Or just maybe someone somewhere sensed something special as going on tonight. A Champion was rising to it’s proper place.
(Note: Like a challenger lurking in the shadows, after eating 5280 I cannot resist remembering the burgers my buddy Chris and I ate in West Palm at a place called Relish. They kinda remind me “philosophy-wise” of each other. But totally different in appearance. And Relish brings Alpaca burgers and the occasional camel or kangeroo burger to the party. I can’t let Relish compete just yet because this is about discoveries on our road adventure. Let the record state though, there will be a day the Paperdoll Pioneers return to Florida and head down south. When that day comes, I fully expect Relish will be a top contender for the title!)