Pedigree with your burger? Seattle-area bars soup up the humble sandwich
The humble bar burger has gone gourmet at Seattle establishments, with artisanal cheese, locally sourced greens and other fancy toppings and pedigrees.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Many bars don't simply list burgers as such anymore. Lots of adjectives anoint them.
Their certification or pedigree is listed, as in "USDA Prime." And if they come from such acclaimed beef brands as Painted Hills in Oregon or Thundering Hooves in Walla Walla.
That humble burger at the bar is souped up like never before. Topped with pork belly instead of bacon. Made from grass-fed or aged beef. Always with local artisanal cheese. (Never American.) Spread with an aioli or secret sauce instead of ketchup. Buns baked in-house, even.
And those bartenders — bragging that the beef was ground earlier that morning, telling you your burger will be served medium-rare.
Such fuss is expected at burger paradises like Lunchbox Laboratory in Ballard, or to fancy restaurants catering to your 16-year-old's birthday bash or a boys night out.
But I speak of the burger at the place where you would grab a cold one or a Cosmo after work. You can find this burger on the happy-hour menu — it's usually the last item, usually around $10, maybe even $20 with all the extras. This burger goes against what we usually associate bar food with — cheap, small bites, no-fuss grub.
Bars used to make burgers simple — a slap of American cheese, generic-brand pickles, yellow mustard or ketchup for a burger that goes for as low as 99 cents.
Partly, bars were influenced by the chain McCormick & Schmick's, whose then-$1.95, half-pound cheeseburger-and-fries deal drew big crowds daily during happy hour, spurring other bars to offer cheaper burger deals.
Then came the mini-burger trend, started in 1999 by chef Kerry Sear at what was then his Cascadia restaurant in Belltown. It arguably became the city's most influential bar food this past decade.
Now, bar burgers are big again and they've gone gourmet. Partly influenced by high-end chefs such as Daniel Boulud in New York City, partly influenced by the eat-local mantra. (Most, if not all, ingredients — from lettuce to cheese — are locally sourced and listed on the bar menu.)
Below are some of the souped-up burgers served at the bar or during happy hour. By no means a complete list.
But after work, with a beer, you can't do much better than a burger at Tavern Law in Capitol Hill or at El Gaucho in Belltown.
and Spur Gastropub
Chefs Brian McCracken and Dana Tough, of Tavern Law in Capitol Hill and Spur Gastropub in Belltown, make different variations at each bar.
I think Tavern Law's burger is the better of the two. Grass-fed beef, with red-wine onion jam, thyme aioli and gobs of provolone, topped with two sous vide pork belly.
Spur's version tastes a bit saltier, but still is impressive. Similar burger and pork belly but with stone-ground mustard aioli, caramelized onions and smoked cheddar. (Add truffles for an additional $10). A mound of shoestring fries comes with the order. Tavern Law serves the burger with a salad.
Tavern Law, 1406 12th Ave., Seattle (206-322-9734 or www.tavernlaw.com).
Spur Gastropub, 113 Blanchard St., Seattle (206-728-6706 or spurseattle.com).
One of the best and biggest in Seattle. Also one of the city's most popular happy-hour burgers. A half-pound, aged filet mignon, ground and grilled. Topped with bacon, cheddar, onion, tomato, lettuce and Thousand Island dressing. Served on round, crunchy focaccia. All held together in a wrapper so the toppings don't slide off, so every bite tastes consistent. (Note: The burger at the El Gaucho in Bellevue is more modest.)
El Gaucho, 2505 First Ave., Seattle (206-728-1337 www.elgaucho.com).
Bastille Café & Bar
Lamb sliders have become popular in the past 16 months. Bastille serves the full-size version. It's the best-seller at the bar. A thick, juicy lamb burger with harissa (hot chili) aioli, arugula and pickled shallot, topped with feta — a salty, acidic and peppery delight.
Bastille, 5307 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle (206 453-5014 or www.bastilleseattle.com).
Burger from grass-fed local Wagyu beef — I'm convinced you can taste the blades — topped with acclaimed Estrella cheese, a fried egg and two crispy bacon strips. Word of wisdom: Take that first bite over the plate of fries, or that egg yolk will drip on your lap. The melted cheese, yolk and caramelized onions add a warm, gooey layer of sweet and salty decadence. I think it tastes better without the bacon.
Emmer&Rye, 1825 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle (206-282-0680 or www.emmerandrye.com).
John Howie Steak
Serves one of the most popular happy-hour burgers on the Eastside. A half-pound USDA prime sirloin burger, served with gourmet Kurobuta bacon strips, Beecher's cheddar and a "drive-in sauce" on its house-baked bun. My beef is that the burger usually gets served well-done no matter how bloody-red I request it. Still, a good value — comes with fries — at $8.
John Howie Steak, 11111 N.E. Eighth St., Bellevue (425-440-0880 or www.johnhowiesteak.com).
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or email@example.com
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.