BOTM Review for July: Caprese, Calle Ocho, Mulberry & Hawaiian
We’re champions of creativity here at Burger Days– it’s one of the reasons we highlight the area’s special monthly burgers with our BOTM posts. Not content with just reading about them, we also make it our mission to seek out and throw each of these creations into our faces.
The latest BOTM review comes via Jeb (@jebgavin) who gives the run down of July’s burgers:
When first I heard of this month’s burger specials, my heart sank into my stomach, which then sank into my boots. Two caprese salads, a Cuban abomination, and then for good measure, a Hawaiian one; to say I was not looking forward to eating four burgers (unthinkable, I know) would be an understatement. And yet here I am, upbraided- chastened even by the experience. Not everything was terrific, but I am rarely so pleasantly surprised as I was in trying these four burgers.
The Caprese Burger – BGR The Burger Joint
Insalata Caprese is a basic dish. Tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, a little balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper as needed. Throwing it on top of a burger is both unnecessary and ill-advised, and yet it often happens because cheese, tomatoes and greens are natural toppings. The problem comes from pretending the burger is a sandwich made of toppings that just happens to have a ground beef patty in it somewhere. The focus of a burger is and should always be that ground beef patty, and the balance created when the toppings and sauces play off said patty. A good burger already has salt and pepper, and sometimes a little bit of garlic powder. All these things work quite well with caprese, and could’ve worked quite well on BGR’s Caprese Burger. The basil was fresh, the mozzarella was pretty tasty (unexpected, as under-seasoned mozzarella often tastes like weirdly milky already been chewed gum,) and and the slight drizzle of balsamic worked well with everything. Sure, the basil could’ve been chiffonaded, as taking a bite takes entire leaves, but meh. The thing that really bothered me about this burger, the lynchpin was the tomato.
In the later seasons of the criminally underrated “King of the Hill,” there’s an episode in which Hank joins a co-op and starts getting organic vegetables. The scene that always sticks in my mind is the one where the family is eating fresh tomatoes, and is stricken to think that if they’re just now eating real tomatoes, what were they eating before their revelation? I consider tomatoes edible for five to ten weeks in the summer. Otherwise they’re mealy, whitish orange disks posing as tomatoes, tasting of nothing. They are worthless, a waste of space and sogginess. In this case, the “beefsteak tomato” atop the burger was worthless. In fact, I’m not sure it was a beefsteak tomato at all, just a thick cut, larger than usual hot house tomato. Everything else was on point though. Even the patty was less thick than I’m accustomed to at BGR, a real sticking point for me as their seasoning tends to be fine for a thinner burger, but once you hit an inch thick the salt doesn’t penetrate and you end up with a block of flavorless pink meat sponge in between layers of Maillard reaction. Anyhow, it was a tasty burger; good cheese, basil, balsamic, absolutely pointless tomato. So close.
Oh, and the creamsicle shake does in fact taste like a blended creamsicle. If you like creamsicles, you’ll love it. If you hate the chemically orange flavor and cream mouth-feel, you’ll hate it.
BOTM Rating (out of 1o):
Creativity: 4.5; Overall: 6
Calle Ocho – Burger Tap & Shake
For the uninitiated, Calle Ocho is 8th Street in Miami, running through the neighborhood known as Little Havana. I only bring this up because there are two pretty well known burger places on 8th: El Ray and El Mago, both of which specialize in the apparently little known Cuban burger known as a frita. The frita is entirely different from the Cubano, the classic Cuban sandwich everyone recognizes with its pickles and mustard and ham and Swiss cheese. The frita is a hamburger, spiced a little like chorizo but definitely beef, sauced with a spicy ketchup, topped with shoestring fries and perhaps a little bit of cheese. The Cubano is roast pork, ham, pickles, Swiss cheese and mustard. They were two different things. TWO DIFFERENT THINGS! Yet BTS decided to say, “to hell with that,” and glue them together in a way that offended me to my core… until I ate it.
The burger is a well spiced pork patty, like a mild chorizo breakfast sausage, but seared expertly on both sides and juicy as all get out. You expect pork to be juicier than beef, but it’d be so easy to cook this to death, fearful of pork cooties. Not so this time. This was made all the more apparent because initially I was handed a cheeseburger by mistake, with its reasonably seasoned but dry and overcooked patty. The Calle Ocho demolished their regular burger, and I in turn demolished the Calle Ocho.
I did find it a bit odd that aside from the pickles, it didn’t seem like any one element of the burger had much flavor to it. Decent cheese, but nothing spectacular. The ham was salty, but not world beating. The dijonnaise was all but tasteless, until it was on the bun. Stack it all together, it managed to both feel and taste like a burger, and at the same time a Cuban sandwich, without even acknowledging the existence of the frita.
Again as an aside, their red, white, and blue milkshake was OK, but nothing to write home about. The red and blue (perhaps some sort of raspberry and maybe blueberry jam?) were unevenly mixed, so it was either a pretty decent vanilla milkshake, or a just OK melted raspberry vanilla hard candy thing.
BOTM Rating (out of 10):
Creativity: 7; Overall: 9
2200 Pennsylvania Ave NW | DC | burgertapandshake.com
Another burger named after a street. This time it’s the main drag in New York City’s Little Italy, hence another stab at a caprese burger, but minus the tomatoes, sort of.
In Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything, he makes an impassioned bid for ketchup as the perfect condiment. It balances salt, sour, bitter and sweet– all with an intense tomato flavor. It is a perfect condiment for burgers, as the balance works well a properly seasoned patty, and ketchup easily takes the place of a watery, flavorless tomato. The thing is, you don’t have to make ketchup out of tomatoes. You can use bananas, blueberries, mushrooms- I gather with proper seasoning, some sugar, vinegar, and xanthan gum to make it gel you could blend up real basil ketchup. But rather than ponying up for real, fresh tomatoes and then making basil ketchup, BBP gives us regular tomato ketchup flecked with minced basil. Feh.
The best part of this burger was the burger itself, cooked to medium rare, well seasoned, with just a hint of garlic. The more I eat here, the better the burger patty gets, perhaps due to the grill seasoning, perhaps the skill of the cooks. That said, the basil ketchup was far more ketchup than basil, the mozzarella was flavorless (though they did melt it onto the burger, unlike BGR where it was just rounds of cold mozzarella,) and the arugula was peppery when eaten alone, but overshadowed by the pepper on the patty. Supposedly there was some Parmesan involved, but I didn’t even notice. Good burger, but not worth the complications.
BOTM Rating (out of 10):
Creativity: 4.5; Overall: 5
2121 K Street, NW | DC | bobbysburgerpalace.com
Hawaiian Burger – Dogwood Tavern
Oh how I hate Hawaiian-style anything. It seems passively racist for ham or a ham-like substance paired with pineapple automatically making something “Hawaiian,” like how folks refer to any Hispanic or Latin food, up to and including Taco Bell, as “Mexican.” Coincidentally, I think pairing ham and pineapple originated in Central Mexico, with pork marinated in spices and pineapple juice (if my love of al pastor tacos is any indication.) Anyhow, I’m not a fan of the pineapple-ham combo.
The idea is sound enough: salty, meaty ham and tangy-sweet pineapple on just about anything. It could work. It should work. But if you throw it on a burger, you have to account for the saltiness and meatiness of the burger itself, not to mention other toppings, sauces, the bun, whatever and what have you. Also, almost any kind of pork on a burger turns into a waste of a burger. You see it most often with bacon, where a bacon cheeseburger turns into a bacon sandwich with cheese, which happens to have a relatively flavorless burger in it. The whole thing’s a minefield, and everything I’ve experienced tells me to loudly proclaim this is a bad idea.
Well Dogwood shut me up good.
The burger was slightly under seasoned, as though the salinity of the ham was expected. It’s so uncommon I’d go as far as to call it weird when a restaurant can actually balance pork and beef in the same dish. Even though the patty was grilled (rather than griddled,) it was exactly medium rare, with gorgeous grill marks on either side (a rare feat.) The pineapple was cooked through completely, warm, sweet, but not to the point of rotting one’s teeth. And the sauce? I have no idea what’s in that barbecue sauce. Spent 20 minutes puzzling over it, licking the plate, thinking it over. I want to say there’s pineapple in it, but a less than cooked pineapple as it was a little tart, but not overly tart. The sweetness was neither cloying nor did it blow out the flavor of the pineapple itself. It perked up the ham and the burger without adding undue salt. It mixed perfectly with the burger juices, just as a sauce should. Fascinating to find a flavor and texture balance so well thought through and executed in a flavor profile so overdone.
If I had to be finicky (and let’s face it, that’s kind of the point,) they should just leave the lettuce and tomato off the plate entirely. The burger comes open faced, with onions, lettuce, and tomato as unwanted options. The lettuce is fine but wasted on this burger, and the tomato was one of the aforementioned ghost tomatoes. The fresh raw red onion rings weren’t bad for the textural contrast, but the sweetness and bite of the onion was lost in the mix of sauce, ham, and pineapple. I rarely turn down a red onion on a burger, but you won’t miss it.
BOTM Rating (out of 10):
Creativity: 3; Overall: 9.5
132 West Broad Street | Falls Church | dogwoodtavern.com
July BOTM Rankings:
1) Burger Tap & Shake – Calle Ocho (8)
2) Dogwood Tavern – Hawaiian (6.25)
3) BGR The Burger Joint – Caprese (5.25)
4) Bobby’s Burger Palace – Mulberry Street (4.75)