burger-o-rama, burgers, cheese stuffed, cooking for the missus, mozarella

Burger-O-Rama pt4: Dream Burger

I dream about food quite a bit. One recent dream had me in an Old Port establishment while the chef came out of the kitchen and was berated by a customer over the quality of the meatloaf (Don’t read Yelp before bed is the lesson to take from this). I have also dreamed about sitting with the Missus and enjoying a seemingly endless plate of Foie Bon Bons at Bresca (This was a few days before we were going to celebrate New Years there). There was also the dream I had of cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen in an Italian country home (Damn you Lidia Bastianich for invading my dreams!). But, I cannot recall ever dreaming about a hamburger. Ever.

So, When A. told us our last round of O-Rama would keep us at home, crafting our ‘Dream Burger,’ I realized I didn’t have one. I don’t have one as burgers just aren’t something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Though, I agree with Kate and her assessment that these rounds of O-Rama have gotten some of us(me) thinking about burgers more than ever.

But, while we were left to the endless bounds of our imaginations, I seemed lost in mine. I couldn’t come up with anything that I would define as a “Dream” or even “Perfect” burger. Honestly, if it’s not overcooked and the meat is of somewhat passable quality(ie, better than the Golden Arches), I’m going to find it pretty enjoyable. So, when I finally gave in to the fact that I couldn’t construct a burger in my minds eye, I deferred to the Missus and asked her to call this round.

She surprised me with her response. I thought it would be a decadent burger with fancy cheese, truffle oil and possibly foie and it was so ridiculously far from it that it was… well, it was ridiculous. Her response to me was:

I liked the one you made that was stuffed with Mozzarella. That was a good one.

That was a complete off the cuff one, kids. I think I made it 2 or 3 years ago. I have the nagging feeling in the back of my brain that Rachel Ray was somehow behind it, though I think I used the Mozzarella because it was the only cheese on hand. I hardly remember it but, apparently, it stuck with the Missus and a small part of me couldn’t help but feel flattered by the fact that she remembered it.

I, of course, did have to put my spin on it and I decided to, rather than cheaping out and buying a bag of rolls, that I would make some homemade Brioche buns for the burgers. I made two batches and they weren’t exactly what I had hoped they would be. I’m mostly convinced that their failure had more to do with loose instructions given in the recipe than anything else. And the Missus also complained that they were too rich because they lacked the airiness that most brioche rolls have. She was right, they were far too dense and would have been better used to sop up a french onion soup or beef stew. So, I went with the old reliable source: King Arthur Flour and used their “Beautiful Burger Buns.

  1. 3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. 1 large egg
  4. 3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  5. 1/4 cup sugar
  6. 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  7. 1 tablespoon instant yeast


  1. 3 tablespoons melted butter


  1. Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough.
  2. Cover the dough, and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours, or until it’s nearly doubled in bulk.
  3. Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball; flatten to about 3″ across. Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, cover, and let rise for about an hour, until noticeably puffy.
  4. Brush the buns with about half of the melted butter.
  5. Bake the buns in a preheated 375°F oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden. Remove them from the oven, and brush with the remaining melted butter. This will give the buns a satiny, buttery crust.
  6. Cool the buns on a rack.

The buns had more thought than the ingredients that went into the burger:

  • 85% lean ground chuck
  • Bosario seasoned salt
  • Ciliengine Mozzarella

Her choice of toppings were simple:

  • Caramelized onions (for me)
  • Backyard Farms tomato (for her)
  • Something Green
  • Pickles (the other something green)
  • Ketchup
  • Mayonnaise

The method was simple:

  • Form 4 4oz patties
  • Top two with some shredded Mozz
  • Combine it with another 4oz patty and form them together into one giant uberburger.
  • Add a bit of seasoning to the top
  • Cook in a searing hot pan on top of the stove.

Butter and toast buns in a separate pan.

The burgers were cooked to a medium temperature–perhaps a bit overdone for me but the juiciness and grease saved the burger from ever having a dry texture. They were served with pickles on the side and a helping of TJ’s Tater Tots.
The Missus took her first bite and, before even wiping away the juice that was collecting on her chin, she turned and said:

This is really, really good honey.

And that’s all that mattered to me. Dream burger or not, I made the Missus happy.

Want to read about some other dream burgers, visit the O-Rama gang and their reviews here, here, here and here.

bacon, burger-o-rama, foie gras, fun things with bacon, nosh, piggy angels

Burger-O-Rama pt3: Bars and Pubs

In the first round of this O-Rama series, I set my personal standard for a good burger: simple and well cooked, nothing fancy or over the top. But, when it came time for us to pick our selection for this months theme of “Bars and Pubs” I threw all of that out the window and had my sights set on one location: Nosh.

For one thing, I hadn’t been there in over a year and that was a visit full of mixed reviews and failed to leave an overall impression on either the Missus or myself. It was time to revisit the land where pig fairies(or angels, as it were, like the one in the header photo for this blog) sprinkle bacon dust on your thick cut french fries. And I had a Groupon.

So, the Missus, our friend Rory and myself made plans to have dinner there before we headed off to see humorist David Sedaris at the Merrill. At first, it didn’t bode well as we waited by the door for several minutes before being acknowledged. The Missus grew anxious and I chalked it up to the staff scrambling to organize a table of ten that was shuffling around the back of the restaurant. We were finally told it would be nearly a half an hour wait until a table would be free. We were seated in less than five. Bonus.

While we waited for Rory to arrive, the Missus ordered a Brooklyner Weiss, while I was happy to find a ginger beer on their menu.

Growing famished and enticed by the buckets of fries hitting the tables around us, we ordered our own bacon dusted bucket with a side of cheese sauce. The last time we had them the Missus complained that there wasn’t enough bacon flavor. She had the same complaint but I wholeheartedly disagree with her. The powder, very similar to the powder used in Sweet Marguerities Malted Bacon truffle from her Umami collection, is there to impart a smoke flavor to the fries and our bucket was loaded with it. The first time around, yes I did feel like it was skimped on but here I had no complaints. I found myself licking the powder off my fingers like I had been eating a bag of cheese curls except this was a hell of a lot more satisfying.

When our 3rd finally arrived, eager to eat and have a beer, we quickly ordered a few things to share. R., lost in the flurry of activity, asked what we were having and I ran down the selections:

Bacon Dusted French Fries(x2) see above.

Cured Salmon Crostini: house cured salmon, sweet onion relish and horseradish cream

Zucchini Bacon Hushpuppies: zucchini, smoked bacon fritters with a chipotle mayo.

Apocalypse Now Burger: pork and beef patty, American cheese, house made mayo, pork belly, bacon, foie gras and cherry jam on brioche.

We quieted down a bit as the food start arriving kitchen. I have to confess, there is something sadistically pleasurable about sitting down for dinner @ Nosh with a friend who literally weighs 100 lbs. From the second she sat down, and we demanded that she dive in to the bucket of french fries, to the last sip of her Long Trail Double Bag, Rory was in heaven.

For me, the salmon dish was ok and nothing more than that. It was a nice clean cure but the fish came off as pretty mild and would have benefited a bit more from an added dose of horseradish to the cream. The hushpuppies, however… They were honestly the best I’ve had outside of New Orleans. They, believe it or not, weren’t overloaded with bacon and this worked to their advantage. The inside, amazingly creamy, was a balance of slightly sweet and smoky; the outside shell was ever so crunchy without being over fried. The chipotle mayonnaise was the knockout punch to it, though. Just a bit smokier than the fritter, it also added both a level of acid and heat that really made the dish addictive. It also made for a mighty fine dipping sauce for the french fries. The downside: this was a special appetizer for the evening (though, and I’m talking to the Noshers that Be, I think this would kill as a regular item).

Another fun note about Rory is that she’s never had foie gras before. When she told us this, the Missus and I nearly squealed with joy–or from the over consumption of pork products. We’re still not sure. But, when the burger arrived, I stole a bit of the lobe, smeared it on a crostini, handed it her and watched her face. It could only go one of two ways, really, as foie isn’t an ingredient you can really be ambivalent about. And, when she finished chewing, she beamed. I repeat: There is something sadistically pleasurable about sitting down for dinner @ Nosh with a friend who literally weighs 100 lbs.

Satisfied, I cut the burger into threes and we dug in. Or, rather, they did and I sat there for a few seconds inspecting it. I mean, there it was, the Apocalypse Now Burger. The burger made famous on Man Vs. Food, which actually ordering it in the restaurant brings a preface from the waitress that he had the Quad-Apocalypse: a four horseman patty version and that if we wanted one similar to the burger that Adam Richman ate, we could add the additional patties at a cost. The single patty version sat in front of me and I hedged on eating it.

Was it because my brain(or at least the better working parts of it) knew that it was just way too over the top? It was everything I loved in an interpretation that my instincts told me I should hate. So, when I finally shut my brain off and just bit into the damn thing… well, I thought I heard those little piggy angels singing. I loved it. I loved the juiciness and the flavor of the ground pork in the patty, which was reminiscent of a garlicky Italian sausage, but the red meat was near impossible to pick out. The bacon and thick cut pork belly were crispy and fatty, though the foie and cherry jam was completely lost in the pile of pork. While I do love some foie, those livers need to be as fat as David Crosby’s to stand up to the other components of the burger, otherwise it just acts as a textural element instead of a flavor one. Luckily, all together, it reached beyond being a novelty and made for a pretty satisfying bite.

And what did our 100 lb wonder think of it? To quote her: ‘Favorite burger ever.’ I do believe they have a convert in Rory and, for us, it was a decadent and delicious burger, but I’d be more likely to go back for the fries and hushpuppies.

Nosh Kitchen Bar on Urbanspoon

Want to read about some other burgers, visit the O-Rama gang and their reviews here, here, here, here, here and here.

burger-o-rama, district, new restaurant, o-rama, restaurant week, trying new restaurants

Burger-O-Rama pt2: Fine Dining

I’ve been looking at the lights of District for over 4 months now. Literally a stones throw from our apartment, the Missus and I have found ourselves saying over and over again, “We really need to check it out.” But, as days became weeks and then turned into months, we found ourselves still saying but never going. So, when the ‘Fine Dining’ was the next theme of our reviews, and I saw that District was available, I chose it to finally force our stomachs into going– especially after hearing a friend call their burger one of the best in the area.

I will say that my one regret is that we didn’t go at night, instead opting for a lunch visit late last week. The space, which was extremely quiet at lunch time, has a larger interior than the outside lets on and I could easily imagine the space packed with happy, buzzy diners. I wanted to see it at it’s full stride because it felt like we were seeing it a bit out of context. It’s not that the service lacked(in fact our waiter was very sweet and engaging and obviously loved working there) or that the food was sub-par(nothing could be further from the truth, in fact)–it was just the space itself seemed awkward not full of people. Of course, this desire to see it at it’s full potential just motivates me more to get us over there for dinner sooner than later. The quality of the food also already has me wanting to go back.

Falling at the beginning of Restaurant Week, we had their lunch menu available to us–which included a full offering of their apps and a few sandwiches–as well as a special 3 course (app, entree and dessert) offering for only $15. I will say that I was a bit miffed that my burger cost($12.00) nearly as much as the Missus’ choice for the special menu, but that was soon dissolved when her choice of in house made charcuterie arrived and she cared enough to share it with me.

A perfect quinelle of duck rillette, paired with caperberries, cornichons, mustard and crostini. From the first bite, we were believers. The rillette, one of many offerings of in house made charcuterie, was one of the best we’ve had in Portland–and we’ve had some damn fine rillettes in this town, from the former Evangeline to Bar Lola. It was creamy, flecked with whole grain mustard and cornichons and had the perfect amount of gaminess from the duck. I wanted to walk upstairs to the kitchen and give a giant hug to the chef who made it and ask him for a mason jar of it for the road.

But, you’re here for the burger, right? Now, I will admit that this is probably the first and only time I’ve ordered a hamburger at an upscale restaurant. I don’t equate the two at all in my head. Upscale dining gives you dishes you can’t make at home while it tends to be the greasy spoons that give you the burger you rave about for the rest of your life. However, it can easily be said that District makes a hell of a burger.

House cured bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato confit and the ever popular brioche bun combined with a huge 1 1/2 inch thick patty cooked to a beautiful–just slightly over rare–medium temperature and a whopping side of fries. I assume, because so much of what District offers on it’s menu is house made and local, that the beef was ground on site and traveled less than 100 miles to get to their door. Beautifully marbled meat made for an interesting time of trying to out pace the juices that ran down my chin. Though, I must admit, it was a bit odd to be wiping it away with a crisp linen napkin instead of a throw away paper one. But, it was worth the effort as the burger was beautifully seasoned and satisfying.

The ‘buttered bun’ was a fine vessel for the dense patty, airy crumb and slightly toasted. The bacon, thick cut,slightly smoky and crisp seemed to melt into the fat of the burger and made for the perfect meld of beef and pork. The cheese, a cheddar, was something I actually never order on a burger, was alright though it didn’t seem plentiful enough, or sharp enough, to really stand up to density of the whole thing. But, we know my affinity for cheese and sometimes it needs to be pretty definitive to stand out. The only thing that was kind of ‘meh’ about the whole thing was the tomato confit–which I’m still not sure that was the dressing on the burger– that was below the bibb lettuce leaf beneath the patty. It gave a slight acidic note the whole burger but, for the most part, was lost beneath the richness. After a week of barely eating,the whole meal proved to be too indulgent and half the plate came home that evening to also be my dinner.

Now, was it the best burger in Portland, as a friend mentioned? Sadly, it was not–but I didn’t really expect it to be. I expect them to rock my face off with bone marrow salads, braised beef and Schnitzel–not a burger. In fact, I would say that the pulled pork sandwich that the Missus had as part of her RW menu was a slight step above the burger as far as all around enjoyable. But, because the burger was as good as it was, and because that little taste of the duck rillette sent us over the edge with joy, we’re more likely to pop around the corner for a bite to eat–and you should too. It’s obvious, by the care, flavor balance and presentation, that there’s a hell of a lot of talent in that upstairs kitchen and I can’t wait to see what else they can do.

District on Urbanspoon

Want to read about some other burgers, visit the O-Rama gang and their reviews here, here, here, here, here and here.

burger-o-rama, burgers, falmouth, harmons lunch, perfect onions

Burger-O-Rama pt1: Diners and Sandwich Shops

A bit of a back note to this, A asked us what our 2011 O-Rama theme should be, just around the same time that all of Portland was at a stand still with our first snow storm. Rational people lost their minds and it took many over an hour to get across town. Like many connecting events, people posted their disgust over the weather on facebook. Joe Ricchio was one that I noticed in my feed, stuck in the middle of the storm. An hour later, after his post of disgust at the snow and the drivers, he posted:

I’m currently having a cheeseburger at 555 that is so good, I had to tell a lot of people immediately. Seriously – do yourself a favor here…

And there it was. Burgers… what a better idea for a theme. One singular dish with a ton of interpretations, which should make for a wider and, hopefully, more enjoyable review series for our readers. Joe planted a craving in my head and I passed it along to the group. So, if you have issue with this series, blame Joe. In fact, do it in person… he’ll love that.

But, on to our new task: Burger-O-Rama. The rules are a bit different this time kids. Instead of A. picking the restaurant we go to, or deferring to us for a suggestion, we’re going by theme like “Diners and Sandwich Shops”–the theme of this first entry–“Upscale,” “Alt-Burger,” etc. I believe he has about 6 different themes, with a V-day wild card thrown in there for an early break. So, with these theme months, all based upon burgers, it’s in the hopes that we open up the scale of the restaurants reviewed. My “Pub Burger” choice will probably be a different than Dawn’s or Malcom’s. It’s a win/win for both writer and reader (hopefully).

Now, burgers are a bit of a sacred thing to some, like a sports teams or caffeinated beverage. For me, they have always made me think of my mother. She is a ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of lady with very singular likes and a few simple rules:

  1. Food can’t touch.
  2. It can’t be spicy.
  3. All components have to be identifiable upon first glance.

Fair enough. On the rare occasion, like her visit to Maine this past October, she does have her palette and mind blown. She’s probably still plotting a way for me to ship her Caiola’s Homemade Pop Tarts and Gelato from Maple’s Organics. But, if my mother knew she were going to leave this world tomorrow, I am 99.9% sure that a hamburger or cheeseburger would be her last meal. Oh, and there would be a hot fudge sundae to end it all. I mentioned the new ‘O-Rama’ theme to her and she said back, “Oh, I was just thinking of a cheeseburger. I know what I’m having for dinner tonight!” My mother is a burgerholic. But, don’t go mucking it up with weird toppings, fancy rolls or any meat outside of beef. She is a purist.

So, Mom came to mind when I was looking over the list of places on A’s site. There were a few places I considered, like Steve and Renee’s, Becky’s and Artemisia Cafe. But, I wanted simple. I wanted the burger that would live up to my mom’s strict scrutiny. So, I said “Fuck it,” and ignored the list all together. Instead, I took the 15 minute drive out Washington Avenue, just beyond the Portland/Falmouth border, to Harmon’s Lunch. And there, in a very non-descript building, sits probably the best burger in Southern Maine.

Harmon’s is no frills–seriously, I’m sure there will soon be a sign hanging declaring frills unnecessary and bothersome. See, for those who haven’t been in, there are signs everywhere reminding you that this is just a lunch counter and your bullshit will not be tolerated. An example reads:

New record: 2/23/2009 2 people tying up a 4 person table with others waiting to sit. 2 hr 3min–Please have some consideration.

They take no gruff(and no credit cards–this is CASH ONLY, kids). In fact, I was a bit scared to take any photos for fear of being sassed out the door. Don’t go there asking for medium rare or ketchup or a gluten free roll because you will probably be told to read one of their other signs:

This is not Burger King. You do not get it your way. You get it my way or you don’t get a damn thing.

And, you know what? You don’t need it any other way but theirs. After 45 years doing this, between two different owners, they’ve got it down and chances are, if given too many options, we’d just ruin their perfect burger.

I’ve only ordered a burger one way from them: Loaded. Diced, perfectly caramelized onions, mystery red relish, mustard, meat and plain hamburger bun. Simple enough and insanely inexpensive to boot. But, let’s dote a little more on the burger, shall we? All of the components make this easily one of the best balanced burgers I’ve had because Sweet+Savory+Acidic=Satisfying. You would think that the burger, a quite respectable patty–cooked medium–all on it’s own, would be lost somewhere under all of the toppings, but it’s not. And the plain bun? It too serves a purpose, acting as a sponge for the greasy goodness and toppings that will, despite your valiant efforts, be running down your chin within a few bites. I found myself, alone at the table, giggling as I went through napkin after napkin trying to clean myself up.
And what’s a burger without it’s companion of fries?

Hand cut, fried to order and served hot in their little cardboard home. They, too, are just exactly perfect the way that they are. If there was salt on them, it was extremely light and barely noticeable, which was fine by me. There is ketchup at each table, if you so desire, but popping them in after every bite of burger was enough to sauce them up a bit. It’s nice knowing that these were not taken out of a bag delivered from SYSCO and that they put as much attention into their fries as they do their star burgers.

And how much, sans beverage, did this cost? Around $4.50. For the price of a Venti Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks, I had a lunch that kept satiated until dinner. A double patty, double toppings or cheese will cost you a wee bit more but it still puts it at the best deal in, or rather near, town for such a satisfying lunch. Something else mom would approve of.

Harmon's Lunch on Urbanspoon

Want to read about some other burgers, visit the O-Rama gang and their reviews here, here, here, here, here and here.