Portland Burger Week
From August 5th through the 11th, the Portland Mercury [a local paper], Widmer Brothers Brewing, and Nicky Farms [a local meat farmer] teamed up with 13 bars and restaurants to put together a $5 burger that wasn’t normally on their menu. Yeah, you read that right. $5. These weren’t your average burgers either. They were spruced up versions of the classic burger or their delicious and creative relatives. These creations could have easily been sold for $10-$15. We took the vow of “seven days, seven burgers” as soon as we heard about it [Andrew went nuts and had two for lunch, bringing his total to nine].
The best part about this experience, other than the obvious eating of burgers, was getting me out of the normal places I go. I love an excuse to try something new. Let’s recap shall we? [They’re iPhone photos…]
First stop was Alberta Street Pub. This place was recently revamped both inside and out, menu included. I’ve been here on a couple of occasions, mostly for drinking [and some dirty lamb fries], so it seemed like a logical first choice since it’s near the house. The goods: an elk burger, chanterelle mushroom mayonnaise, pickled cherries [!!], caramelized onions, arugula, and a smoky blue cheese sauce. There was supposed to be a Fluer de Lis brioche bun, but as you can see they had run out by the time we ordered. Day one was a nightmare for most places. They were understaffed and underprepared for what chaos Burger Week was going to bring. There was an estimated 2,600 burgers sold event wide on Monday, with several restaurants selling out completely. Insane. The burger was really, really good. I love ground elk, but the rest of the condiments really dressed this burger up to something good. It was a little greasy but nothing that isn’t quelled by the drippy blue cheese sauce. I almost didn’t miss the bun.
Pause. A local neighborhood spot that I forget about more often than not. It’s really, really good. I love their soups almost as much as I love their burgers. They contributed a 1/2lb house ground Painted Hills beef burger, house-smoked Tillamook cheddar, homegrown roasted jalapeño aioli, house pickles [my favorite!], and lettuce on a Portland French Bakery bun. They took a good old standby and made it better. Why mess with what’s good? There wasn’t an ounce of grease on this burger. The 1/2lb size wasn’t daunting at all. It was a good beef:bun ratio. The smokey cheddar was subtle. The jalapeño aioli was much more about flavor than spice, and their house pickles are seriously some of my favorite in the city.
Hands down my favorite of the week, which was almost too hard to pick. Tilt was totally new to me. It’s hidden down in the land of warehouses, so there isn’t a reason to ever go down there. Until now. They went wild with their burger choice. It’s based on a Big Mac, only with good ingredients and a breakfast twist — two beef patties, a custom baked three layer bun, special sauce, two slices of applewood bacon, two slices of American cheese [guilty pleasure!], fried egg, pickles, tomato, onion, and shredded iceburg. As you can imagine, it’s a beast of a burger. It’s serious comfort food. There is a slight sweetness to that bun that I can’t quite put my finger on. If you smashed it down, you could totally put it in your mouth. No knife and fork here. The burger and melty cheese seriously made me swoon. I am a total sucker for double cheese burgers. The best part of this trip was seeing that we ordered at 6:07pm and had finished our burgers by 6:17pm. Killed it.
Thursday was like hitting the wall. Not because I was tired of burgers, but the trials and tribulations leading up to getting said burger. The traffic in Portland can be atrocious after work, but you needed to go as soon as possible to beat the rush that could inevitably lead to your burger being sold out. Priorities. Ate Oh Ate Hawaiian Restaurant has incredible $5 Mai Tai’s in pint glasses from 4pm-6pm. That helped. This was another restaurant I hadn’t been to. They made a fun Hawaiian spin on a burger with a spam musubi burger — a Laurelhurst Market ground beef patty, slices of fried spam, a fried egg, furikake [toasted sesame and seaweed], iceburg lettuce, onion, and spicy mayonnaise on a sesame seed bun. Delicious, delicious, delicious. The spicy mayo and the spam made this burger. It was a salty and spicy with every bite.
I think Foster Burger comes in second place. Ranking the burgers is so hard, though! Their Kimcheeseburger was rad. An all-natural beef patty topped with pepper jack cheese, an American cheese sauce [swoon!], bacon, huge chunks of locally made kimchee, and cilantro mayo. De-freakin’-licious. It was another solid burger, quite literally. Like the Tilt burger, I love when the burger is easily held within two hands and doesn’t fall apart. It never became soggy. The kimchee was a seriously great addition. I fell in love with the American cheese sauce [have you ever read the wikipedia entry for American cheese?]. Did I mention we had a side of pork belly poutine? My belly was in heaven.
Slow Bar, an old standby. They’ve been a burger eaters dream for a long time. They have their classic Slow Burger and then a seasonal one. They’re so good. They pulled together another good one for Burger Week — a beef patty, thinly sliced Finocchiona salami, Italian dressed arugula, caramelized onions, and provolone cheese. Is that a glass of Sangiovese next to it? Yeah it is. Italian burger meets Italian wine. The burger was super good, as expected. The salami and provolone were such a good salty kick for the burger. It’s a good thing I don’t seriously have to rank these because they get hard after the Kimcheeseburger.
So we were going to Rockin’ Robyn’s Sassy Burger. Unfortunately, they were closed due to a family emergency. I hope everything was okay. Family emergency trumps a buffalo burger. There were a few places left we hadn’t tried, but none of them were all that compelling. We gave each other that knowing look. We were going back to Tilt. No Shame. The burger was even better than before. Last time’s tator tots [hash browns mixed with shredded cheese, eggs, and spices] were traded in for their french fries. So good.
The week was so, so good. Never once did I leave with a gut bomb that sometimes is associated with burgers. I fully point to the high quality, local ingredients that kept that at bay. These were all amazing burgers from some amazing restaurants. I hope that they do this again next year. Now everyone knows what to expect. This city knows how to get creative with a challenge.