This past Sunday I met up with a great group of friends, foodies and food bloggers to take down a burger. This was the first stop in a year long search for the best burger that St. Louis has to offer, based on the input of my readers. You nominated them and I'm eating them, one by one until I crown the best burger in St. Louis in December.
Before we dive into the actual burger, I wanted to take a moment to thank some people who have not only helped me refine this idea, but really improve it. And for that I am very thankful.
Kelli Best-Oliver (South City Confidential / Food Blog Mafia) - By far my biggest supporter since I thought up this project. She's spread the word, encouraged me as I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and coined the term "The Church of Burger" - suggesting that we make each months meeting a Sunday lunch. Inspired.
Bill Burge (STLBites) - For keeping me honest and refining how I compare all these burgers. Originally I was going to eat the biggest and most jacked up burgers I could get my hands on, it was Bill who pointed out to me that's not really a good comparison and got me to change my plan.
Stefani Pollack (Cupcake Project) - For recommending that we start with the pretzel with a side of rarebit at Dressel's. While it had nothing to do with eating burgers, it was a damn good call.
Jonathan Pollack (J. Pollack Photography) - For the photos, which I think bring this project to another level. Please check out his site and think of him the next time you are looking for a photographer.
Finally, thanks to everyone for the votes and feedback that let me put this project together. If you are interested in this project, please leave me a comment or contact me on Twitter or Facebook for more details.
Now, without further ado, welcome to The Church of Burger. In the name of the bun, the toppings and the holy burger, I present unto you the January Burger of The Month from Dressel's Public House.
I arrived early, grabbed a seat at a large table, a pint of cask O'Fallon IPA and contemplated the task at hand as I waited for folks to file in. I was happy to find that Dressel's has an authentic pub feel and is blissfully free of smoke or the remnants of smoking.
Dressel's has two burgers on the menu; "The Dressel's Hamburger" (a 1/2 beef burger with lettuce and raw onion on a brioche bun) and the "5" (lamb burger, chive butter, bread and butter pickle, tomato and lettuce on a brioche bun). Diners can also top their burgers with cheese, rarebit, sauteed mushrooms, onions, red peppers, kraut and a house made bacon.
Around the table folks opted for the beef burger and then added cheese, rarebit, onions and mushrooms to their orders. I kept to the rules and ordered the Dressel's Hamburger as it came, with lettuce and onions. Nobody in our party requested a burger cooked past medium, with the majority opting for medium rare.
A pretzel was delivered to our table shortly after our burger orders were taken and we all dug into this salty and chewy pub treat served with a side of rarebit for dipping. We took turns passing the dish around the table, ripping a piece off and plunging it into the rarebit. The pretzel was crisp on the outside and crowned with salt, a perfect foil for the fresh bitterness of the cask ale IPA.
With the pretzel gone and its rarebit artfully reserved for a forthcoming burger, the conversation turned to all things burger. Where to get them. Where you can't get them anymore. How they should be cooked. Why a burger cooked at home is almost always the best burger you can get. Time passed and I didn't see our waitress approach, arms loaded down with burgers on plates and baskets depending on the side ordered.
So here we were at the moment of truth, the reason we ventured out on a Sunday. Behold the burger from Dressel's:
Listed as 1/2 pound on the menu, the burger looked like a hand made patty that was oozing juice from the top, indicating a good protein to fat ratio, probably 80/20. The first bite was juicy and salty, making an amazing topping unto itself - making condiments an unnecessary addition.
As I mentioned before, everyone ordered burgers medium and medium rare and for a table of seven I only saw one burger that approached that level of doneness. Instead of red to pink interiors, most of the burgers ranged from a light pink to a medium well gray.
"Mine was like a rainbow of beef: mid-rare on the first bite to almost full on well on the last. Fat saved it."
"Mine was definitely medium. I like 'em pinker than that. Luckily, it was still awesome."
"Well, really, the two things that make food taste good saved it: salt and fat"
"A bit salty, came out medium rather than medium rare, but worked perfectly."
I don't care if the burger you are eating is smashed on a flat top or grilled in the back yard, it needs the flavor and crunch that can only come from a good char. For me, the saltiness of this burger did a good job pulling some juice and fat out of the patty before grilling. This led to an impressive set of grill marks which were dark, defined and indicated that the grill-person didn't waste time playing with the meat - it was cooked on one side, then the other, then plated.
To Bill's point, its a little to easy to jack up a burger with all the extras to hide an otherwise subpar burger, so for the purposes of this project I am eating the burgers as they come. In this case, that meant lettuce and raw onion. The lettuce was crisp and fresh, providing a pleasing crunch. The sharp contrast of raw onion made for a good combo. No complaints.
As far as toppings, no two burgers were ordered the same during our visit, but there was a healthy representation of cheese burgers around the table. One taster commented that the, "Rarebit sauce is not to be missed".
Personally I was sad nobody opted for the house made bacon, because I would have been tempted to "tax" a bit of it off their plate had it shown up.
Often overlooked, a bun can make or break a burger experience. Far from being a marquee player of the burger team, it should instead play the part of journeyman, providing solid defense and a pop from time to time. For a burger throwing off as much juice as the one at Dressel's, the brioche bun did a fine job holding things together until the last bite. Like an edible Temper-Pedic pillow it stood up not only to the burger, but repeated two handed trips from plate to pie hole. From my perspective the bun was well done.
However, some of the diners disagreed and commented:
"It was just an oddly bagel-shaped enriched white bun. There was no real egginess to it the way you would expect from brioche. I also wished they’d toasted it more. Someone did do it, but mine seemed like an after thought as apposed to an attempt to actually get it crisp."
Readers voted the burger at Dressel's the twelfth best burger in St. Louis. Given how well rounded and executed I thought this burger was, it seems to indicate that the "best burger" in St. Louis will be orgasmic in a way that is usually reserved for a sandwich at Katz's Deli. And while that works in the movies, I'm not sure it will happen here in St. Louis.
For me, the mix of salt and burger juice makes for a fine burger, one of the better burgers that I've had here in town. To get the best out of a burger from Dressel's I would suggest that readers order their burger a little less done than you really want it, and skip the condiments because this burger does not need them to hide behind.
Others at the table thought that the burger at Dressel's was at best average with a chance of being much better. I can find common ground with that perspective, because it was not a perfect burger. Instead it hangs out in the lukewarm water between run of the mill and potentially great. And lets face it, here in St. Louis, that's not always an undesirable place to be.