The commonly accepted tale is that the burger came of age in the 1990s with Chef Daniel Boulud’s db Burger of short rib and foie gras. Now the burger has taken another significant step toward culinary respectability with the inclusion of Superiority Burger on The James Beard Foundation’s list of semi-finalists for Best New Restaurant.
Yes, Superiority Burger is a vegetarian restaurant and its burger patty is a mashup of beans, nuts and grain (with Muenster cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomato and a dill pickle). And, of course, like the Beard Foundation it’s in New York City, which helped it get noticed and placed alongside 25 more-upscale restaurants on the list of semi-finalists. But Superiority Burger’s presence on the list is a milestone. It supports my belief that chefs need not shy away from the challenge of creating a burger that earns a menu spot with any cuisine, no matter how haute, and that burger bars ought to be considered for more restaurant industry accolades. A few of this year’s semi-finalists took on that challenge; perhaps more will do so in the future.
Eater.com restaurant critic called Superiority Burger “the fast food project of Brooks Headley, punk rock drummer, cookbook author and former executive pastry chef at [Mario Batali’s] Del Posto.” Keeping with punk theme, his assessment of his meal there was, “Like a Sex Pistols song, it’s all sharp edges and dissonance, but you can’t help going away humming it.” I can’t imagine than any of the Beard judges came away thinking of Johnny Rotten, but here Superiority Burger is, on the semi-finalist list. Congrats from everyone in the burger business.
Four other semi-finalists aren’t afraid to put a burger on their menu, if only at lunch or brunch. For that they also deserve recognition.
Bardot Brasserie, Las Vegas
Chef Michael Mina, a longtime burger fan and owner of nearly two-dozen restaurants, opened Bardot Brasserie in the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. You’ll find Le Steakburger ($19) on the lounge and brunch menus. The burger: Prime rib patty, Comté cheese, garlic aïoli, watercress and bordelaise onions with hand-cut fries.
The Blanchard, Chicago
Chef-Owner Jason Paskewitz’s bistro defines itself as “refined French brasserie-inspired cusine in a comfortably elegant atmosphere.” And yet he isn’t afraid to menu a burger between the Boeuf Bourguignon and Cassoulet. The Blanchard Burger ($16): Prime beef, slab bacon, Butterkäse cheese, shallot confit and garlic aïoli with fries.
Eloisa, Santa Fe
Executive Chef John Rivera Sedlar’s menu celebrates New Mexico’s culinary heritage. But he made a place on the lunch menu for a signature Eloisa Burger: Sirloin, green chiles, Cheddar, bacon and Kennebec potato crisps.
Your restaurant can’t put on airs when it’s housed in a former gas station/launderette, but Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki created a spot that’s stylish, smart and very popular. The dinner menu categories are “Snacky Bits,” “Toasts,” Vegetables” and “Specialties.” One of those specialties, available at lunch and dinner, is Launderette’s Plancha Burger ($9): American cheese, special sauce and pickles on challah.
The 21 other semi-finalists earned applause as well, of course. They are:
Baroo, Los Angeles
Bracero Cocina de Raíz, San Diego
Cala, San Francisco
Cassia, Santa Monica, Calif.
Coquine, Portland, Ore.
The Dabney, Washington, D.C.
Death & Taxes, Raleigh, N.C.
Girin Steakhouse & Ssam Bar, Seattle
Helen Greek Food and Wine, Houston
The Honey Paw, Portland, Maine
Kinship, Washington, D.C.
Liholiho Yacht Club, San Francisco
Mabel Gray, Hazel Park, Mich.
Público, University City, Mo.
Shaya, New Orleans
Shepard, Cambridge, Mass.
Wildair, New York City