For the fifth time this year I gathered up a group of friends and food bloggers to take down a burger, this time on the first real steamy Sunday of the year. This was the next 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 this coming December.
Joining me were Church of Burger alumni Bill Burge (STLBites), Stefani Pollack (Cupcake Project), project photographer Jonathan Pollack (J. Pollack Photography), Kelli Best-Oliver (South City Confidential / Food Blog Mafia), Stephanie Tolle (Iron Stef / Food Blog Mafia) and first timers Kyle Harsha (Sippin' Saint Louis) and Evan Benn (St. Louis Post Dispatch / Lager Heads).
With the introductions out of the way its time to welcome you all back to The Church of Burger. In the name of the bun, the toppings and the holy burger, I present unto you the May Burger of the Month from Michael's Bar & Grill.
Michael's Bar & Grill resides inside a nondescript brick building in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood. If it was not for the green awning running along the front of the restaurant, it would be all to easy to pass Michael's by -- it's largely indistinguishable from the other store fronts running along Manchester Avenue.
Passing through a small patio area and into the front door, Michael's opens up into a bar and several dining areas. An open kitchen runs along the wall, providing views of the grill and a tall spit turning a healthy slab of gyro meat. Once you move past the bar section, which doubles as the smoking section, a heady scent of grill takes over -- a mixture of smoke, char and spice that speaks to the Greek lineage of Michael's. It is in many ways a classic diner, albeit it is dressed up a bit.
Our group assembled in the bar area before moving to the first of several table arrangements for our party of eight, eventually ending up towards the back of the restaurant where tall piles of used plates waited for washing in large plastic bins. The amount of cleanup hiding just out of sight of most customers was a bit surprising to me as we had arrived and were seated a few minutes after the advertised opening time.
Our inauspicious dining location aside, we quickly dug into the menu to assess our burger options. Around the table almost everyone ordered up the house specialty -- The Michael Burger -- topped with scoops of soft cheddar, thick cuts of feta and grilled mushrooms. Burgers were ordered rare to medium rare. As usual I ordered the Michael Burger as is came, medium rare and paired with lettuce, a while slice of onion and several pickle strips.
In true diner fashion glasses were refilled long before they were fully drained. It seemed that there was a never ending stream of pitchers moving around the room, which was nice at first but quickly became an annoyance. The smell of burgers arrived a few seconds before the actual plates, as if to announce to all that these massive 10 oz monsters (after cooking) had arrived.
Behold the Michael's Burger from Michael's Bar & Grill:
The Michael Burger is advertised as 10 ounces of hand formed chopped sirloin, which upon inspection is more than accurate. Its a really big burger. What is not advertised is that 3 ounces of the Michael Burger are most likely fat, which makes for an incredibly juicy / greasy burger. The patty was seasoned well enough, but I could have used more salt to match all the fat in the burger. The patty was cooked a perfect medium rare. Its honestly one of the better looking beef patties that we've seen so far this year.
"At 10oz, this is one of the biggest burgers in St. Louis. It's right at the line where going any bigger edges into a comedic territory where going bigger means Eating Contest. And really, who the fuck needs even a 10oz burger?"
"Unfortunately, my medium rare request was fulfilled medium well. Again. Will no one serve me a mid-rare burger in this town?"
"This is my favorite "meat" burger so far. It's not the kind of burger I would normally want to eat, because it's insanely fatty, but it's the kind of thing I'll definitely be indulging in again."
"I appreciated the option of a 5 oz. Junior Deluxe burger. The Junior burger is nice when you only want to take a small nap after lunch rather than being in a meat coma for the remainder of the day."
"This is the first burger I've had on the quest that was temped exactly as I ordered it and, looking around the table, it appeared that everyone's burger was accurately cooked."
"The patty seemed to be hand-formed. As I grasped that 10oz burger in my hand, the juices dripped down and covered the plate below...the temperature is spot-on: rare, as ordered."
"It's the kind of food you wish you could get till 2:00AM because it would go down smooth with a heavy dose of intoxication. It reminded me of the type of burger you'd get at any number of college hangouts only at Michael's, it was cooked right."
"I like just a bit more "snap" when biting into the patty - it seemed a bit mushy. Seasoning was fine, maybe could have used a touch more salt &pepper. I think I'm still sweating the grease."
"I ordered my burger medium and there was no pink at all."
"This is a burger to eat at 3 am, after consuming vast amounts of beer and Jack."
"The 10-oz monster was too beefy for its bun, leaving about a 2-inch protrusion poking out of the bread. The menu claims the meat is chopped sirloin, but I couldn't really tell a difference in consistency or flavor from ground beef. That said, it was definitely a flavorful, satisfying burger -- cooked an as-ordered medium-rare with the juices running wild and attractive grill marks on the exterior."
"The patty - was heeeYUGE and shiny. Mine was cooked perfectly, medium-rare. So juicy. I noticed several of the church-goers using forks towards the end of theirs. I never resorted to that, but it sure was a messy meal, which I like. I napped hard for nearly 3 hours after eating it...and I hadn't even eaten the whole thing!"
"The only flavor present in this patty is beef; I don't detect salt, pepper, garlic, or the Greek seasoning that my mind somehow misappropriated to Michael's burger."
"A huge fatty burger is like a special occasion wine. The once-a-year bottle as apposed to the Tuesday bottle." The Michael's burger is the finest special occasion burger I've had outside of the Kuma Burger at Kuma's Corner in Chicago."
"The burger had no flavor. It not only wasn't seasoned, as far as I could tell, but the meat itself didn't seem to have flavor. The predominant flavor was grease. Grease to me is different than juice. Burger juice is full of flavor and comes out when you take a bite. Grease hovers on the outside of the burger like lube and leaves me feeling like I should do penance by eating nothing but vegetables for the next three days."
Without a doubt the fat contained within this burger leads to the impressive char on the patty. I would have liked to see one cooked as it must throw off an amazing show of flames when the fat drips out of the patty and meets the fire of the grill. The clean and well defined hashmark pattern on the patty suggests an experienced grill person is at the helm and they understand how to cook such a fatty piece of meat without scorching it.
"Good char on this burger"
"I am not a huge fan of the heavily grilled burger, typically, but this one had a ton of grill flavor that went well with all that fat. It reminded me of a huge Steak 'n Shake burger, cooked to temp, which makes sense in that they said it was "ground sirloin" on the menu."
"My burger didn't have much caramelization that I could tell... it was well cooked and tasted good, It just didn't have any crunchy or charred edges. Not surprising for such a thick, fatty burger."
"A tablemate said he would have liked to see more charring on the outside of the burger, and another one replied that he thought his was perfectly charred. Personal preference, but I can make sense of both arguments. On one hand, the burger did have visible grill marks that imparted a smoky, open-flame flavor to the meat; but on the other, the big, juicy patty was fall-apart messy -- an issue that may have been avoided if seared on a flattop griddle instead of a grill. I didn't mind eating a few pieces of meat with a knife and fork once they fell off the mainland patty, so I guess the caramelization from the grill was adequate for me."
As ordered the Michael Burger comes with lettuce, tomato, a hearty whole slice of raw onion and several strips of crinkle cut pickles. The kick of onion and pickle, present in almost every bite is a great complement to the massive beef patty. The lettuce was crisp, hand torn from the head and largely unremarkable. The tomato -- well its May here in St. Louis and while in season tomatoes are starting to show up in the farmers markets, they are nowhere to be found in most restaurants and on most burgers.So very depressing. I would gladly trade what kingdom I have for a decent slice of tomato on my burger.
Diners offered up the following thoughts on their burger toppings:
"I got Feta cheese on mine, as a nod to the restaurant's Greek-ness. The tangy fresh cheese complimented the rich meaty burger well. My tomato wasn't as mealy and pink as my neighbors, but it was still a yucky out-of-season flop. Claussen pickles sliced length-wise were a nice, salty touch. "
"Topped with that scoop of cheese a picture of the Michael's burger, with it's piece of lettuce so small it might as well be garnish, is the very definition of 'this is why you're fat'."
"A scoop of soft cheddar. And by "scoop," I mean a wallop (not dollop) of the orange-colored, tangy, spreadable cheese. I'm a cheddar guy in most any form, so I enjoyed this, although probably not as much as I would have with a regular slice of cheddar or -- like my table neighbor -- a square of feta. Obligatory-but-shouldn't be tomato (out of season), lettuce (limp), onion (raw) and pickle sandwich strips (score!) came on the plate."
"I wish I wouldn't have ordered the soft cheddar- there was just too damn much of it, so that was almost all you could taste."
"I like the option of feta cheese at Michael's. The salt from my cheese added some semblance of taste to the lump of cow."
"I think getting that scoop of cheddar was cheating. It was yet more fat and it oozed everywhere as you ate it. For me that was the biggest reason the burger worked and I think that's because of the two things that make food taste good: salt and fat. It needed more pepper, but the salt and fat were there--especially with that heap of cheese -- and it made for a success."
In many ways it seems like the Michael Burger bun is designed for obsolesce. The kaiser roll is a classic and welcome addition to backyard burger cookouts, but for a burger this large and fatty, it is ill equipped to last from the first bite to the last. The bun is quickly overwhelmed by juice, turning from soft bread to an amorphous mess. Halfway though the burger it became unclear where the bottom bun ended and the patty began. With a quarter of the burger left I abandoned the bun as any sort of handle or transport vessel and opted to knife and fork the remaining burger.
"The bottom bun was so soggy that I could barely lift it. The bun was unable to support the weight of the burger."
"The top of the bun held up okay. Nothing special... fit the burger. The bottom bun...it didn't as much fall apart as it was just completely absorbed by the extremely fatty, juicy patty. Almost as if it had never existed!"
"The bun was fine- would have been nice if toasted. The burger didn't fit onto it, but the top one was big enough to soak up most of the grease."
"The bun was a disaster. It was damn near a Wendy bun and it didn't remotely hold up to the burger that I'd guess was, at minimum, 30% fat. It disintegrated halfway through and I took to the fork and knife for the last quarter."
"The bun is the same one we've all seen on Wendy's sandwiches -- a kaiser roll with a dusting of something (fine-grind cornmeal?) on top. Kaiser is my favorite carb vessel for homemade, backyard-BBQ burgers because its doughiness gets even more flavorful as the bun absorbs all of the meat juices. The Michael Burger was a runaway juice train, with even more liquid than the bun's underbelly could handle (the soft cheddar provided a protective layer for the top of the bun). I still think it held up better than any bun could have, I'm proud to love kaiser bread, so this was a highlight of the burger for me."
"As I continue to take bite after bite, I notice that I also can't feel the bottom half of my bun. It obviously could not hold up to the patty and surrendered to its juices, becoming a sloppy mess in the process. By the time I was done, I was finishing this burger with a fork and knife, and I needed a stack of napkins to aid in the cleanup effort."
Readers not only voted the Michael Burger the eighth best burger in St. Louis, it is also one of the burgers that I'm asked about most often by folks who did not participate in the voting. It is clearly a crowd favorite and for good reason -- its a greasy mess of a burger -- and who does not like that?
As I sum up my experience with the Michael Burger, I'm keep coming back to a comment from a member of our group who offered, "Uhhhhhhhhhhh…It was juicy, salty, and plenty fatty. So fatty, in fact, I had to put my head down mid-meal, even after fasting all day, and I left two bites untouched. It may have bested me." While I managed to finish my burger, I would tend to agree with this sentiment.
The Michael Burger is a challenge to eat, both during the dining experience and for hours afterward. If this burger were a girl, she sure would be fun to hang out with, but you might think twice before bringing her home to meet Mom -- unless your Mom happens to be a fan of big greasy burgers. In many ways the Michael Burger might be the best "Sometimes Burger" in St. Louis. While I might not be back for some time, I'm looking forward to tackling it again, perhaps after consulting with and being cleared by a cardiologist.