For the seventh time this year I rounded up a group of friends and food bloggers to take down a burger on a lazy Sunday afternoon. 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 Kyle Harsha (Sippin' Saint Louis / Epiphany Wines).
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 July Burger of the Month from Llywelyn's Pub.
There are handful of Llywelyn's locations in St. Louis, but for me the Central West End restaurant speaks to what a Welsh pub should be -- old, dark and decked out in well worn wood from the floorboards to the bar back.
Our group grabbed a table in the dining room, ordering drinks and swapping stories before digging into the burger section of our menus. Personally I was looking for the "Pub Burger" -- a pan seared patty topped with caramelized onion, bacon, sharp cheddar cheese on a thick English muffin -- or more specifically a host of toppings that are out of bounds for this burger quest.
As folks voted for the Pub Burger in numbers, I would have to order it, requesting no cheese and onions and bacon on the side. Given that I knew I was taking the things that make the Pub Burger good off of the dish -- I hoped for lettuce, onion and a good July tomato -- the toppings that normally come on the side of a burger but are in no way a required accouterment.
Around the table folks ordered Pub Burgers and the self titled "Llywelyn's Burger" topped with onions, mushrooms, bacon, cheddar and rarebit before returning to conversations about babies, vacations and bachelorette parties. In short order plates began to appear on our table and we dug into our burgers.
Behold the Pub Burger from Llywelyn's Pub:
The burger at Llywelyn's is without a doubt hand made. The patty I was served was loosely packed and oblong -- almost as if it was missing a piece and reminding me of the kind of burger you pull off of a grill at home. I ordered my burger medium rare and that is how it arrived - a thick band of red and pink beef visible with each bite. The patty tossed off some juice early in the eating, but not enough to make the bun hard to handle. Like many of the burgers we've tried this year, this burger lacked the salt that is required for a really good burger. Seasoning was sorely missed.
"I was a bit skeptical when I first saw my burger - the patty didn't look pretty. Perhaps that's where Llywelyn's got things right. They didn't focus on having a burger that looked like a round disk, they focused on a burger that tasted like a burger should taste. This burger made me happy. It had salt, but not too much, it was well seasoned, it was prepared to a perfect medium as I ordered it, it had grease (but the grease didn't ooze out of it and dribble down my face), and (while this wouldn't please everyone) the burger was smaller than some of the other ones we've had so it didn't leave me feeling overly stuffed."
"The patty was bigger than the bun, but that's not a big deal. The patty was cooked a little more than the medium rare I requested, but still had some pink. I tried to taste a non-rarebit section to see if the patty itself was seasoned, and it was. It was kind of dry, though."
"I appreciate a hand-formed patty so much. Here was no different. If a patty is hand-formed, I feel like it doesn't matter if it's a little overcooked, which mine was. However, it was the closest to mid-rare I've had yet for Church of Burger."
"Hand-formed, seasoned with care, juicy but not disgusting, and served at the temperature ordered"
"My burger was basically not seasoned. Thank god it wasn't a preformed patty again, but it did seem to have been packed a bit tight as the texture was a bit stiff. Ordered mid-rare, it was once again medium. That's closer than most places so I won't fault them for that because I'm not sure I could do better. It wasn't very juicy though which makes me wonder if they mashed it down."
"Bland. It just didn't seem to have any seasoning on it at all, could have really used some salt. I did appreciate the fact that it was a hand-formed patty though. Of course, I got the pub burger, so it seemed like the beef was simply a delivery vessel for the cheese and other stuff. I ordered medium rare, and that's exactly what I got."
"Fairly juicy, but could have really used a dose of salting."
For me, the best way to really get a char on the burger is to slap it down on a rocket hot cast iron skillet. True to their advertising, the Pub Burger lacks the familiar hash marks of the grill in favor of a even swath of dark crust. Overall the person preparing this burger did a decent job balancing charring the burger against satisfying a medium rare order.
"The patty had a good char on it."
"Charred to perfection."
"Minimal "crunch" when biting into it. I would have liked more sear to it."
For the last six months I've been eating plain burgers as they come - with lettuce, onion, pickle and tomato. This is the first burger where I had to specifically ask to leave the toppings off - namely the onions and bacon, which I asked for on the side. I also asked for no cheese per all my previous orders. Essentially I asked for a plain Pub Burger, which was confirmed by our waitress. Sadly my burger arrived with the bacon on the side and onions on the patty, which I moved off to the side. However, this was a small issue compared to what came next. It was apparent from the entrails on the plate and the bottom of the patty and bun that this burger originally had cheese on it. Cheese that was semi-melted into the patty and bun and then pulled off before the plate left the kitchen. Unacceptable, lazy and annoying.
"Big ups for the rarebit. I will eat almost anything smothered in the tangy, cheesy, savory ambrosia of Llywelyn's rarebit."
"Rarebit = delicious liquid crack."
"Annoying was the fact that I honestly couldn't taste much of the cheese and, those onions...the ones that were supposed to be fucking caramelized when really they were just sauteed because caramelizing onions is a multi-hour investment few restaurants actually take the time to do--couldn't taste them. Might as well not have been there."
"Rarebit should be on everything. It's hard to judge the burger itself, because I mostly tasted this delicious cheese and beer sauce. I believe the rarebit was mostly responsible for me enjoying the burger. It added flavor, saltiness and moisture."
"Bacon on a burger is typically like a hot guy at a party who doesn't bother to dress up because he knows he looks good in anything. It just sits on the burger and expects you to like it even if it's sad and soggy. The bacon on my pub burger, however, was classy. I received two large strips of it on the side of my burger - each crispy and flavorful enough to stand on its own without the meat. Other bacon could learn a thing of two from these fine fellows."
The Llywelyn's Pub Burger rides inside a thick English muffin that is slathered in a fat and grilled on a flat top. The bun is dense enough to handle the juice thrown off by the patty, but beyond that it adds little to the overall burger besides being different from other burgers. Overall it is pretty standard, if judged against other English muffins.
"The bun was slightly toasted and held up to the large (but not juicy) burger."
"Often, I am disappointed with sandwiches served on English muffins - the muffins come out too buttery, overcooked, and smashed flat so that the ratio of bread to meat is all wrong. Llywelyn's got their English muffin right. It was buttered, but not overly so, and it had the proper girth to support the burger. This was no egg McMuffin English muffin. I would choose their English muffin over most buns in town."
"My "toasted" English Muffin also wasn't toasted so it appears that Llywelyn's likes to skip out on several of their menu items. Already not a fan of an English Muffin as a vehicle for a burger, it's even worse when it's just dry and bready."
"I liked the english muffin, but I could taste the fat used to grill the muffins, and it was distractingly artificial--like margarine."
"Although I appreciate the fact that they were using an english muffin, it could have been toasted more. Mine was almost undone. Plus, the greased soaked through it and made the bottom half fall apart 1/2 way through eating."
Readers voted the Pub Burger at Llywelyn's the sixth best burger in St. Louis and several in our group seemed to agree. However, I'm inclined to disagree with the crowd on this one. True - with onions and crispy bacon it is elevated a bit, but this is not the Church of Toppings - its the Church of Burger. Stripped down it is sadly average at best. Points are given for being hand formed and seared on a skillet, but points are taken away for a lack of seasoning and the aforementioned issue with the cheese placed and then removed from my burger.
I'm left thinking about one comment I received, suggesting that this was "a serviceable burger". Indeed as a burger it does fulfill its function in an adequate manner, but is that really enough to be the best burger in St. Louis?
I think not. The search continues.