July 25, 2009
The Best Burgers in America?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Searching for the best burgers in America is one of the (many) silly things that foodies do to entertain themselves, but some picks are more credible than others. Lunchbox Laboratory in Seattle, for example, looks like it could be worth a trip, but the recently minted list at Epicurious contains one obvious pretender:

Atlanta: Holeman & Finch
2277 Peachtree Road, Atlanta, GA (404-948-1175)

Best flipped upside down and eaten as fast as humanly possible to manage its gushiness, the burger created by Chef Linton Hopkins is as much an event as it is a sandwich. A bullhorn sounds at 10 p.m. (official burger time), and the crowd goes wild. Hesitate a minute and the limited quantity (they make only two dozen a night) will be gone. The glossy buns baked in their bakery next door contain two patties of freshly ground, grass-fed beef (chuck and brisket in equal proportions), a slice of Kraft American cheese, a pinch of raw red onion, bread-and-butter pickles, homemade ketchup, and yellow mustard. Crisp golden fries are part of the deal. Those who miss out on the burger can always come back for Sunday brunch, when the kitchen makes 72 of them.

This sounds like fun, what with the bullhorn, the limited quantities, and the late hour to accentuate the unhealthiness of the whole experience ... but Kraft American cheese!?!

No, no, no, no! Automatic disqualification.

The point of this list was to reveal the best burgers in America, not to provide a roadmap for "how to ruin an otherwise fine burger."

By contrast, check out the review of Judy Rodgers' burgers at the Zuni Café in San Francisco:

San Francisco: Zuni Café 1658 Market S. (near Franklin) San Francisco, CA (415-552-2522) When anyone mentions hamburgers in San Francisco, one name immediately comes to mind: Zuni Café. While Bay Area residents can't agree on politics—or the best burrito, for that matter—the general consensus is that this is the best burger. Chef/owner Judy Rodgers buys chunks of chuck and liberally salts the meat before going home at night. The next day she and her crew grind the meat, salt and all. The salt seasons the meat so the thick grilled patty releases a gush of liquid with each bite. It's served on a square of grilled rosemary-scented focaccia, generously slathered with garlicky a ïoli, and accompanied by house-made pickled zucchini ribbons and onion strips. The burger can be ordered with Roth Kase Private Reserve (an Alpine-style raw-cow's-milk cheese aged ten months), Mountain Gorgonzola, grilled onions, or portobello mushrooms, but why mess with perfection? Note: The Hamburger is served at lunch and after 10 p.m. only.

Note to critic: adding fine cheese to a burger is not messing with perfection, but rather completing the creation.

Ok, back to the burger ... Roth Kase is not the best cheese from Wisconsin, but it puts Kraft American to shame. If you want to make a great cheeseburger with Wisconsin cheese, I would recommend Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company. It's a Gruyere style cheese that is great for melting.

I know what I am having for dinner ...

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Comments (7)

1. Posted by ben smith on July 25, 2009 @ 10:56 | Permalink

If you ask me, the best burger cheese is a young Gruyere. It is mild enough to not overpower the beef, but still hints at its budding earthy complexity. Also, I find it melts better than just about any cheese out there without wilting.

2. Posted by Greg Hao on July 25, 2009 @ 22:18 | Permalink

Gruyere is indeed a great cheese for burgers but just in SF there is Barney's Gourmet Burger that is IMO much better than Zuni and then down here in LA we have Father's Office. It sounds to me Holeman & Finch is selling a novelty more than anything else.

Their burgers probably aren't bad (and are probably very good) but in its very scarcity it is that much more in demand.

3. Posted by Gary Alan on July 26, 2009 @ 19:15 | Permalink

Taste is most certainly subjective...but I agree with Ben that a younger Gruyere tends to be more suitable on a burger. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a nice piece of cheese, but is better reserved for a cheese course. Roth Kase makes an excellent (younger) Gruyere that is aged 4 - 5 months...as do the Swiss. Personal favorite burger cheese of the week: a smoked Blue.

4. Posted by Spencer on July 27, 2009 @ 16:02 | Permalink

Will I fail the next class I take from you if I let me unrefined taste show and admit that I prefer a slice of pepper jack on my burger? Nothing against a budding earthy complexity.

5. Posted by Gordon Smith on July 27, 2009 @ 20:51 | Permalink

Ben and Gary,

I would have thought the same about the younger Gruyere, but one day, when I happened to have some PRR lying around, I slapped it on a hamburger and wow! It was great. The big disclaimer here is that PRR is my favorite Wisconsin cheese, so I would probably enjoy it on a piece of cardboard.

Spencer, I will try to forget your comment and pretend it never happened.

6. Posted by John Shelly on March 8, 2012 @ 6:30 | Permalink

Gruyere is my favorite. I love to eat this burger because they filled this burger with delicious cheese and cheese is my favorite as well. Thanks

7. Posted by Anna Belkind on September 16, 2013 @ 8:32 | Permalink

Hi, I created a Roojoom track about the hamburger
would love your input


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