Those of you who watch food or travel channels may have come across this show, or other shows like it, but recently I caught an airing of The Travel Channel's "Greatest Hamburgers of America."
I find these shows intriguing, entertaining, but mostly irrelevant. And they always leave me wondering who came up with the list, what their biases were, and how much research they actually did.
As I watched this particular Travel Channel show, though, I noticed something about many of these hamburger joints. Many of them weren't making "great" hamburgers, they were making ridiculous ones. Let's be honest, slapping an incredible amount of toppings on a patty of hamburger doesn't make it a great hamburger, it only makes it a pile of food with a piece of bun on top and bottom. Throw on the spaghetti noodles, popcorn shrimp, pulled pork, vienna sausages, etc. etc., doesn't matter, I'm not impressed. And if it's impossible to pick up or to take a bite of, then it's even less a hamburger, i.e., it's a marketing gimmick and nothing else. No culinary genius involved.
But if it's a hamburger you can pick up, take a bite of, and enjoy a unique combination of flavors that work in conjunction together, then that is true innovation, and should be lauded.
I've listed below the fifteen restaurants The Travel Channel show featured. Each one has it's own website if you'd like to check them out, and I've made a few notes along some of them that illustrates the point I made above - there is a difference between Innovative and Gimmicky
Greatest Hamburgers in America
15. The Brindle Room - New York, NY
14. The Cowfish - four locations along the Southern East Coast - serves Burguish, a combination of sushi and hamburger, the signature entree of the Cowfish
13. Casper-Runyon's Nook - St. Paul, MN
12. Rockit Burger - Chicago, IL
11. Butcher and The Burger - Chicago, IL - regionally famous for their bison burgers. I've had bison burgers before, so I'd be curious to try one of theirs to see what distinguishes it from bison burgers available in many other restaurants.
10. Shooting Star Saloon - Huntsville, UT - Utah's oldest operating saloon and grill, famous for it's knockworst burger
9. The Oaks Gourmet - Los Angeles, CA
8. Old Homestead Steakhouse - New York, NY
7. Lindy's on 4th - Tucson, AZ - 10-inch tall burger; one of those I mentioned above, just a pile of ingredients thrown on a hamburger patty with some bread buried in there somewhere.
6. Grease Burger Bar - West Palm Beach, FL
5. Mission Bowling Club - San Francisco, CA
4. Louis Lunch - New Haven, CT - claims to have invented the hamburger sandwich. I have no reason to dispute their claims, but the first time I heard the story, it reminded me of the story of how Chop Suey was invented - stranger(s) walk in, ask for something the restaurant doesn't serve, but the owner aims to please and invents a new food. This place also prides itself on no ketchup and all burgers are served on bread, not buns.
3. Dyer's - Memphis, TN --- this place also finished #3 on Playboy's A-List of America's Top Ten Burger joints. Attributes its delicious burgers to the agelessness of its grease, which is strained and reused daily since 1912.
2. Outlaws Cafe - Van Nuys, CA - this place also prides itself on no ketchup. They also don't allow knives to be used to cut the burger. Their specialty burger involves blue cheese and bacon
1. Lunchbox Laboratory - Seattle, WA - this place is famous not only for their tasty burgers, but for their mind-blowing shakes as well.
Locally, I've not nearly come close to hitting all the hamburgers joints in the St. Louis metro area, so my current choice of best hamburger in the region may one day be revised, but after nearly twenty years here, the best hamburger in the area actually comes from a roadside pub called The Defiance Roadhouse located in Defiance, Missouri, along Hwy 94. They keep it basic, without the need to gimmick the meal up with crazy names or impractical ingredients. If you ever find yourself in Eastern Missouri wine country and are craving a hamburger, the Roadhouse is the place to stop.
Until Next Time...
Here's a short video where the current ownership of Louis Lunch tells their story of the invention of the hamburger. I've also include a Man v Food video where Adam Richman visits Louis Lunch to taste it for himself.