In this era of increasing availability of gourmet goods, I’m finding it harder than ever to get my hands on a good burger.
Our local outpost of Kidd Valley is closing next week. Kidd Valley is a long-running Seattle chain (a dozen locations) with a predictable 50s soundtrack and decent fast-food burgers. They used to have a logo featuring a young girl in an absurdly revealing pose. Note also the shoes. Eventually someone realized this logo was more pornographic than actual porn and changed it to this.
Maybe the reason I’m so often disappointed by burgers is that there are three (admittedly indistinct) categories of burgers, and you have to figure out what you’re dealing with before you cast judgment.
* Kidd Valley is an example of the fast food burger (FFB), the lowest end of the spectrum. The Kidd gets props for decent-tasting beef and for offering real grilled onions. The top of this genre is In-N-Out Burger, which pretty much gets everything right. In Oregon, Burgerville is great.
* Next is the burger-with-aspirations (BWA) category. It’s not a fancy burger, but it doesn’t want to be associated with fast food, either. Think Red Robin for a pedestrian example. In Seattle, the undisputed heavyweight champion in this category is Red Mill Burgers. Red Mill has a pile of bacon that is much larger than Iris. They offer varieties like the Verde, with grilled anaheim chiles, and my favorite, the Red Onion Jam burger, with lots of caramelized onions. Many people call Red Mill the best in town, but I’m a little snobbier than that, as you’ll see. (You could also argue that Red Mill belongs in the FFB category, but when anaheim chiles get involved, it’s no longer fast food to me.) There is a doomed restaurant space down the street from me that currently houses a Polish barbecue place that puts out bad vibes but was previously an Irish pub that served a fantastic burger of this type. It may be possible to get a BWA served medium-rare, something that will never happen with a FFB. The best BWA I’ve had in Seattle is at Geraldine’s Counter, in Columbia City.
* Finally you have the gourmet burger. Here’s where you start to hear about the house-made bun, the 100 percent organic ground chuck, and so on. Daniel Boulud’s db Burger, stuffed with foie gras and short ribs (get it with double the truffles for only $120), falls into this category, but so does the $13.75 burger at Union Square Cafe and my favorite burger in Seattle, the $12 Palace Burger at Tom Douglas’s [Palace Kitchen](http://www.tomdouglas.com/palace/). The Palace Burger is an awesome thing. I’ve never had it arrive anything other than perfectly medium-rare, nicely salted, and accompanied by a delightful condiment rack featuring pickled green tomatoes. The fries are also good. The Palace is only open for dinner, or I would probably accidentally wander in there at lunchtime way too often.
None of this is groundbreaking analysis, I know. But tonight, while we were eating at Kidd Valley after Iris’s checkup (she’s tip-top), something occurred to me. There’s this bar down the street from us, The Deluxe, where I’ve been avoiding the burgers for a while, partly because they were always changing the bun and the fries, and partly because the patties were always perfectly round and I prefer a hand-formed patty, for no reason that I can verbalize. Anyway, what I realized was: if they had served me a Deluxe burger at Kidd Valley, I would have been dancing on the table with glee, to the tune of that great 50s hit by Tommy Peacock and his Shurlettes, or something. In other words, unless there’s something quite wrong with it, a burger can only disappoint within its category.
The corollary is: if you served a db Burger to an unsuspecting kid at McDonald’s, he would puke.