Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thunderdome: MBQ vs. Professional Hamburglar

Sadly, The Hamburglar Touch led to the Hamburglar Restraining Order and the Hamburglar Tamper-Proof Ankle Monitor.

As has been frequently documented, Man B Que has a borderline-unhealthy fixation with burgers. This is something we share with Kevin Pang, who, no kidding, holds the title of Chicago Tribune Cheeseburger Bureau Chief. While I still think Professional Hamburglar is a much cooler title, being the the host of The Cheeseburger Show isn't exactly a bad resume line either.

Aside from being a dream title, I imagine that Pang has a pretty tough job. Imagine it - you love cheeseburgers, then suddenly you have to grind through tens of dozens of them on deadline. And I'm guessing it's not all top of the line gourmet jobs. Anyone's who has had a ketchup-drowned hockey buck on a soggy bun would likely agree. Point being, the man's got some authority, and has used it to create 16 observations on the state of Chicago burgerdom.

I applaud this Herculean cheeseburger effort, but it's apparent that Pang and Man B Que have somewhat diverging taste. And given that Man B Que is no slouch in the burger category, we're going to throw in on the matter. So herein, we are going to use the beauty of Fair Use to offer our comments on Pang's final sermon in Hamburglary. No hard feelings, and no veggie burgers. Our comments in italics.

Pang's Cheeseburger Commandments

1. Ketchup and mustard are overrated as condiments. Too acidic and pungent, respectively. If you must, add a little. Underrated: mayo.

Agreed about the criminal overuse of ketchup in a lot of burgers. Have you been to Portillo's and ordered a burger? It's like eating a ketchup sandwich with beef garnish. But mayo? Underrated? Mayo is a disgusting abomination, and putting it on a burger detracts from its original intended use - as salad dressing for ridiculously fat people.

2. Tallgrass beef, for the most part, lacks the unctuousness, moisture content and brawny flavor I seek. That said, the Tallgrass beef burger at Harry Caray's Tavern, above, is most excellent (3551 N. Sheffield Ave., across from Wrigley Field). Order it rare or medium-rare.

Second one in, and you're starting to lose people. Not a lot of people refer to a burger by the name of the purveyor. Strike one. Strike two - unctuousness. Sure, you get what he means, but that doesn't change the fact that he's saying it sort of like a douche. And if you don't get it, that means it's two things you have to look up. That's a lot of work for a line in a burger article.

3. Texture and mouth feel are important considerations. Easiest way to improve this: Ask for toasted buns (buttered, preferably). You can actually taste the difference between toasted and untoasted buns.

Again, a good lesson wrapped in a thin candy shell of fancy-pantsery. Toasted buns are good, soggy burgers are gross. Why must we bring "mouth feel" into it? A lot of people who love food and cooking would still sooner punch you in the back of the head than listen to you rave about "mouth feel."

4. Favorite casual sit-down chain restaurant burger? Red Robin's A.1. Peppercorn Burger.

This tip brought to you by Red Robin.

5. Favorite turkey burger? Found at Marc Burger, Marcus Samuelsson's food court burger joint on the seventh floor of Macy's in the Loop.

Favorite turkey burger? That's like saying "least painful root canal." Also, many may not feel like going up to the 7th floor of that godforsaken store to eat a food court burger.

6. When they say "Kobe" ... With very few exceptions, any burger labeled "Kobe" is essentially a burger that costs $5 more. (Also, the "Kobe" label is misleading. It probably doesn't come from the Hyogo prefecture in Japan. It's like wrongly labeling sparkling wine as "Champagne" when it didn't come from the Champagne region in France.)

Excellent tip - also of note: that Kobe business costs $16-30 an ounce. So that $6 plate of "Kobe sliders" at Finn McCool's is just a plate of lies.

7. The best patties I've had are cooked on a griddle top. Something about stewing in their own fat.

Amen! Hallelujah! Steamed Hams!

8. Fries? Glad you asked. Although french fries fried in duck fat are in vogue, serious gourmands know potatoes fried in beef tallow are far superior. The flavors are more robust, buttery, savory. Top Notch Beefburgers (2116 W. 95th St.) and Labriola Bakery Cafe (3021 Butterfield Road, Oak Brook) do excellent beef tallow fries, pictured above.

Honestly, most of us are never going to seek out fries on the basis of the substance in which they were fried, but those Hot Doug's duck fries are tasty. Chicago's a good town for fries. It's a good town for heart disease too, but that's a separate story.

9. Consider balance. Don't just pile your favorite ingredients and accouterments between two buns. Example: The smokiness of bacon demands to be paired with American cheese (or perhaps a less-sharp Cheddar). The earthiness of mushrooms pairs better with a milder cheese, such as a Swiss or provolone, perhaps Gruyere.

And this marks the first time someone's ended a sentence in a cheeseburger article with "perhaps Gruyere."

10. Steer clear of feta, bleu and brie as cheese options. They just end up overpowering the burger.

Agreed. Feta can be alright, but bleu tastes like kitchen chemicals and brie smothers the sandwich like the haughty judgment of a chain-smoking Frenchman.

11. Lettuce and tomatoes end up getting in the way.

Damn straight. A big piece of lettuce ends up acting like an emergency exit for the more delicious toppings.

12. There is no greater flavor combination than bacon plus cheese plus caramelized onions.

I call subjective. It's the food blogger equivalent of calling someone a witch.

13. Look out, bacon. Egg with runny yolk is the new sexy topping.

Here we find that Kevin's been spending a little too much time around other food industry people, and a little too much time eating a sit-down burger places. What your bok choy-loving friends might find cute doesn't translate to the rest of us poor schlubs. Also, "look out bacon"? Don't warn meat. It's unseemly.

14. Best bang for your buck. Schoop's (19 locations, mostly in northwest Indiana and Calumet region of Illinois), and Illinois Bar and Grill, above, (4135 W. 47th Ave. in Chicago's Archer Heights; 1131 S. State St. in Lemont; and at Midway Airport).

This tip brought to you by ... oh, wait I made that joke already. Maybe we can go with 14 commandments next time?

15. Favorite fast-food burger? A tie between Steak 'n Shake, above, and Schoop's. Both have something in common: beef patties with thin, crispy edges that accentuate the "steak" flavor.

Do I hear 13? 13 commandments? Also, Steak 'n Shake is a cop-out answer. That's not your classic fast food. Casual sit-down or diner, perhaps. Although give it to Steak 'n Shake, their northwest burbs branches have enough surly, toothless waitstaff to compete with any fast food place in pure customer service misery.

16. The biggest rule of all: There is no rule. If it tastes good to you, it tastes good.

So to sum up, we have 4 rules that are really just the names of places to eat, and 1 that negates all the previous rules. And an editor couldn't have cut this down to an even ten?

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