"Are you going to write something to teach people how to eat a burger like that?"
The words reached the table I was seated at, announcing the arrival of the man behind what I think is the best of all the burgers nominated by the readers of this site.
I looked around the burger I was holding -- stacked high with thick cut bacon, mushrooms and a blissfully runny fried egg -- to give a smile that can only belong to a person who has found themselves in a situation that was unfathomable just a year before. You see, this project was simply an idea I had driving to work one morning, a personal challenge to make sure I wrote on this site at least once a month, an innocent plan to eat hamburgers with friends. What it has turned into is so much more, reinvigorating my desire to write and providing me with a collection of new friends and mentors who have helped me along the way, a group that have taken to calling themselves The Church of Burger.
Twelve burgers, tens of thousands of words and a year's worth of fun had placed me in this mildly surreal moment -- grinning like a goon from behind a hamburger -- essentially using it as a shield to hide at least some of my face from the camera lens pointed at me from across the table.
Truth be told, its hard to muster a decent reply when burger juice and egg yolk are running down and around your fingers, mixing in the deep tributaries of your palm before making their way to the cuffs of your dress shirt.
Truth be told its hard to formulate a decent reply when you are using a burger you really want to tuck into as a prop for a photo shoot. After all, I started this search to eat the best burgers in St. Louis, not pose with them.
However, we can finish this story a bit later*, but its time to get down to the business at hand and finish what we set out to do a year ago; to find the best burger in town.
So, where exactly is this burger -- the one that for me -- is the best in St. Louis?
At Long Last - The Best Burger In St. Louis:
Congratulations to chef Anthony Devoti and the staff at Five, your burger is my pick for the best St. Louis has to offer. It is everything I look for in a burger; beef that is ground and hand-packed before cooking, dressed with simple greens and a home made pickle and condiments, riding inside of an oven-blistered house made bun. This is not a burger that you eat on the run. This a burger that you slow down and make time to eat.
A theme that keeps resonating within our group is how this burger is special because its the one we strive to make at home, especially if you have an interest in where your ingredients are sourced, or perhaps enjoy the past time of curing pork belly for bacon, pickling cucumbers and baking your own rolls. I think we associate this burger with home because it symbolizes how we would like to eat in our daily life, and more importantly how we would like to feed those we care about.
If this is the burger that Chef Devoti makes for his restaurant, one can only imagine what the one he makes at home is like.
I wrote about the Five burger in October after shuttling between the now closed Newstead Tower Public House and Five, where the dish was added to a new lunch menu. My goal was to see if the change in Devoti family owned locations would change the burger as well. It did not, and that is why I was able to pick it from the small group of burgers we tried this year that were in consideration for my personal top pick.
Of note, since being transplanted to Five, an already great burger has gotten even better with the addition of a kicked up version of the Newstead burger named the Five -- topped with bacon, mushrooms, fried egg and cheese. The patty is a blend of beef chuck and short rib that takes the best burger in St. Louis to another level. Diners should know the Five is not a regular menu item, but when its there, it is not to be missed.
And to finally answer Chef Devoti -- there is only one way to eat this burger -- and that is one bite at a time.
Some Parting Thoughts:
Looking at all the burgers The Church of Burger ate this year, it's possible to place them all on a bell curve because so many of the twelve were so very average. The hamburger may be the quintessential American dish, but have we reached the point that just having it on a menu meets some unspoken requirement for dining in the United States? Is it as simple as, "if you cook it, they will come?" I honestly hope this is not the case, but a year's worth of burgers would suggest that is exactly what is happening.
Time again we saw variations on the same average burger, smothered with toppings to hide the fact that the dish itself is not very good or worse yet, a bad impersonation of what was once a great burger. Perhaps a take away for me from this past year has been that many times toppings are to burgers as botox is to aging movie stars -- not really an improvement.
The best of the best on our list were able to stand on their own, devoid of toppings. Readers may disagree with my choice of Five as the best burger in St. Louis, and honestly that's fine with me. I'd only ask that next time you are ordering your favorite burger, order it without toppings or perhaps with just cheese. After stripping away the grilled onions and mushrooms, the bacon, guacamole, bbq sauce, eggs, pickled beets, pineapples and whatever trendy nonsense is being crammed on top of patties these days -- give that burger an honest assessment. Is it actually good beef that has been well seasoned and cooked to the temperature you requested? Does the burger itself throw off not just fat but juice, mixing with the bun as you eat, making the addition of condiments unnecessary? Can your favorite stand on its own?
I promise you the burger from Five can, as can this group of burgers that didn't take the top spot on my list, but are deserving of your regular patronage anyway:
Brasserie by Niche makes an outstanding hamburger that gets my nod for best date night burger in St. Louis. Better yet, meet a friend there at lunch and eat at the bar. Just a fantastic burger. Don't miss the pickled onion that for me, is the best part of this burger.
Michael's Bar & Grill is my choice for best burger to induce a coma and/or soak up the booze after a night of gratuitous drinking. It is big. It is mean. It is amazingly fatty. Most importantly it is delicious. Hands down the best "sometimes" burger in St. Louis.
Dressel's Public House always seems to get overlooked when people talk about great pub burgers in St. Louis, which is a shame because it vastly outshines the burgers at McGurk's and Llywelyn's. Its the first burger we tried and remains the one I suggest to people when they are looking for a solid pub burger to share with friends.
One More Thing:
Finally, to wrap up the story I was telling at the beginning of this post, the photo shoot I participated in was at Five (*obviously) and is part of the "something extra" I've been talking about for the last few weeks.
I'm excited to share with you that the cover story of the February 2011 issue of St. Louis Magazine is all about hamburgers here in St. Louis and it promises to be a good one. The issue should be hitting mailboxes around the time this post goes live and shelves in the days after that. Be on the lookout for my own contribution to their burger search, the top five neighborhood joint burgers in St. Louis. Without a doubt my top pick in this category would give the best on this list a run for their money. I really hope you pick up a copy.
Thanks for reading!