Thursday, August 12, 2010

I'll Learn You Some US of A - Lesson One

You may have been wondering what happened to further posts from the US of A. Well, the long and short of it is, I was waylaid. I mean I was seriously distracted by the whirlwind that is TOTC. That and I really don't want to reveal too much of the content that I'll be using in October's issue of Australian Bartender magazine.

I thought what I could do is share a couple of my learnings and inspiration from my latest soused adventures. Here's the first:

Lesson One: The burgers - they just taste better.

Absolutely the most revolutionary part of my voyage to the US was my encounters with one of the greatest American inventions of all time - the hamburger. It's arguably the best drinking accompaniment behind the humble bar peanut.

Burgers-shmurgers you say? Well even here in Australia we have an obsession with this masterful minced meat sandwich. There's Hungry Jacks and the Golden Arches with their new 'fancy' Angus beef burgers, there's a rash of gourmet burger chains like the Kiwi owned franchise Burgerfuel (which is now also in Saudi Arabia and Dubai - go Kiwi!) and Global Burgers. And there's the joints that combine Australia's obsession with burgers with their obsession with the dirty bird - think KFC, Nandos an Oporto.

There's also the new Grill'd 'Healthy Burgers' franchise. They're great (great fit out, service, toppings, buns)! Except for the burger part of their burger. No fat really does = no flavour. It's reminds me of a Gary Larson cartoon with the caption: "Gary Larson Lite. Not funny, but good for you".

David Blackmore Full Blood Wagyu Hamburger - Rockpool Bar and Grill, Sydney
It's not just franchises that love a good burger. Find me a pub which doesn't have a burger on their menu. Or if you fancy going a bit more gourmet the 'David Blackmore Full Blood Wagyu Hamburger with Bacon, Gruyere Cheese and Zuni Pickle' at Rockpool Bar and Grill was, until recently, the best thing I'd ever put in my mouth. I'm yet to find a better burger on Australian Shores.

The States turned my burger world upside down. For starters even an average 24-hour diner buys in their own quality meat to make their burger pattie. No one would dream of ever buying anything frozen or pre-made unless the were MacDonalds. The meat is quality too. Grimy take-away joints will offer Kobe beef and buffalo burgers. You'll always be asked how you'd like it - rare, medium or well done - a concept alien to Australia.

I tried no less than five burgers, two 'hoagies', and three sandwiches (I'm not counting hotdogs) over my week of travels in the US. They were all fantastic but had I stayed another week in the US I might have died from an overdose of grilled bovine goodness (if my arteries didn't clog first).

The Bula Burger: bacon, Swiss, mayo & spicy pineapple teriyaki sauce
In San Francisco, hunt out Pearl's Deluxe Burgers near the corner Jones and Post. Their award winning Kobe beef Bula Burger gets the Booze Braggart seal of approval. Order some fountain soda, a side of onion rings and help yourself to the free pickles on the counter. Under $15 USD for the lot.

Nopa's Grass Fed Beef Burger
Nopa (560 Divisadero St, San Fran), which you'll be reading about in October's Bartender, also has an amazing grass fed beef burger served with French Fries and the obligatory pickles. You can add bacon and choose from a selection of cheeses like Roquefort, Gruyere or Cheddar. What's more the drinks program at Nopa is as good as any in Fog City. I washed down this bad boy with a Russell's Reserve 6 year old rye Manhattan. The burger is $13 USD, plus 10 percent for tax and don't forget to add another 18 percent for service!

An infamous 24 hour joint, the Pinecrest Diner on Geary Street (near Union Square), was another stop on my three day San Francisco burger binge. The Story goes that back in '97 a young lady placed an order for poached eggs despite the fact that the item wasn't on the menu. The chef, one Hashem Zayed, obliged much to the disgruntlement of one of the waitresses - Helen Menicou who had worked with Zayed for nearly 20 years.

Menicou berated Zayed for making the order in front of the rest of the Pinecrest staff. Zayed went out after work on an all night gambling binge losing several thousand dollars in the process. The next logical step was for him to purchase an .380 semi-automatic handgun which he then proceeded to take to work and shoot Menicou with. Five times at point-blank range. Menicou died from her injuries in hospital one hour later.

Well the burger here was great. All the better at 2am after drinking Speakeasy Prohibition Ale and Four Roses Bourbon Boilermakers at Goldust around the corner. Go for medium rare, grab hold of your pickle and enjoy. Just for Christ's sake don't order poached eggs man!

Yo Mama's in NOLA
New Orleans, despite its many charms, soulful-jazz, and great cocktail history, is a veritable wasteland for good eats. Save for a handful of notable exceptions. Yo Mama's (727 Saint Peter Street in the French Quarter) is one such exception. Well almost. The burgers are mighty tasty if swimming a little in sauce and if you really like you can order sides of Gumbo and Jambalaya as is mandatory (though not recommended) for any passing tourist.

ACDC my Aussie accomplice and I devour our burgers that have been unceremoniously slapped down on the slightly grimy counter. We enjoy a pint of local cold, though not memorable ale, admiring the extensive range of Tequila on the shelves of what can only be described as a real dive of a bar (Don Julio 1942 is $12 USD for a pour that looks close to 3oz - 90ml!). As soon as we're done the bar girl slaps down the check. She has to cash out her till and it's her day off anyhow - she's off to go drinking. Heck even our receipt comes with a 'Yo Mama' joke: "Yo Mama's so fat she's on both sides of the family!".

I waddle out of Yo Mama's feeling slightly dirty into the wet 35 degree heat. But I'm oh so satisfied. The place is a real gem and a perfect escape from the cocktail buffs that have over run this town during Tales of the Cocktail. I feel enlightened and emboldened too. I've come to the self-realisation that I'm on a quest - a quest to spread the good word about the burger. To lift it from the banal to the extraordinary. To find 'The One'.

Would you like to know more about hamburgers? Visit