Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Burger Lovers: A Korean Burger Cuisine

Editors Note: Apologies for the late post this week.  Occasionally life catches up with all of us, and this week my name came up.  For the two or three of you who regularly read and check back for new posts, sorry.  I really appreciate all the emails, and suggestions; keep' em coming, and I'll keep the burger reviews going up.  Have an awesome Thanksgiving! 

I distinctly remember being very young, probably six or seven, and going to Chinese restaurants, usually with my dad, to order takeout.  Dad would order BBQ pork, shrimp, fried rice, General Tso's, and all sorts of other pseudo-Chinese cuisine; I ordered... a cheeseburger.  I tell you this, not to show you early signs that I was destined to become an amateur burger Gourmet, but, because I think many, many families go through similar rituals with their finicky children.  The point of the anecdote is to demonstrate a phenomenon that should seem rather peculiar, but oddly does not.

Those of you with discriminating little eaters of your own will know the Chinese food burger well.  They are typically relatively cheap, no frills, frozen pattied, ketchup, mustard, and american cheese specials.  I think when I was seven, I loved it.  Kids don't want a gourmet burger, they just want something safe, which even the most Americanized Chinese food often is not.  I am sure some kids will eat a hunk of BBQ pork and a dish of fried rice, but the fact that most Chinese restaurants have a burger on the menu indicates many will not.  You may say the Chinese burger is something of a staple.

That said, EBB is likely not going to review a Chinese food burger any time soon.  If there are any killer versions out there that deserve a nod I will consider suggestions, but no promises.  Now, Korean burgers on the other hand...

Burger Lovers is a relatively unheard of burger joint hidden out on West 7th.  As is clear by its name, Burger Lovers is first and foremost a burger joint, but Burger Lovers is also a Korean restaurant.  Wait... What?  Yep, Burger Lovers is a Korean burger joint, or rather a Korean slash burger joint (see what I did there?  I spelled out "slash" for emphasis).  Burger Lovers, however, is not serving a flimsy, back side of the menu burger; these are real-deal-holyfield burger-joint burgers.

When you walk in, you notice that the place is immaculately clean.  The next thing you notice is that the decor is random as all get out (pictures that make no sense by themselves or in relation to one another, odd old-timey relics, etc...).  Also, there is this weird little side room, where the walls are painted pastel pink, and the chairs and tables are more formal and sort of Victorian looking (maybe it was the Korean dining area).

The owners are the nicest looking old Korean couple you could imagine, and as far as I could tell neither one of them speaks a lick of English; you order by number at Burger Lovers.  It looked to me like the wife does most of the cooking, and the husband is the front of the house guy.

In what was maybe my favorite moment of the night, the husband spent a good five minutes pouring my Ninkasi IPA into a glass (apparently he hasn't quite mastered the art of beer pouring yet), several times scraping the head off with a spoon, and served it to me with a handful of napkins wrapped around it because he had made such a mess.  It was funny, but charming none-the-less (I still only ordered one).  It perhaps tasted better knowing how much love had gone into it.

Burger Lovers marked the first time I had been to a restaurant where the menu made me choose from a list of delicious sounding burgers, beef bulgogi, and  a dynamite sounding kim-chi.  It may seem like a weird dynamic, but for the sake of burger blogging, the place couldn't have been better.

The list of burgers is impressive to say the least, ranging from your regular old "Bacon Cheese Burger", to the "Hawaiian Kahuna Burger" (with ham and pineapple) and the "British Burger" (a ham, bacon, and egg special).  In all, there are twelve burgers, an additional ten sandwiches, and eighteen Korean dishes.  If you recognize some of the burgers names, there is a reason; turns out the owners of Burger Lovers are "friends" (I called to ask after being tipped off that there was a connection) of the prior-owner of the now defunct Jamie's Great Hamburgers: a restaurant that won EW's "Best Burger" distinction several years running prior to its closing.  Burger Lovers claims to have the "Best Burgers in Oregon";  one must wonder if they are simply taking the title with the recipe.

I ordered the Big Bopper Burger (another Jamie's burger); it was $7.50 with fries.  The menu said it was "loaded with cream cheese, bacon, avocado, and swiss," and it wasn't lying; there was a roughly 1/2 inch slab of cream cheese on the burger.  I didn't know what to think about the cream cheese when I first saw it, I mean, there was a ton of it.  I initially thought it was not going to be a good thing, but it actually worked pretty well.  The only problem I could see with having such a giant heap of cream cheese, was that it washed out the taste of, and maybe the need for, the avocado;  the two have relatively similar textures, and taste dynamics, so they fought for space.  The cream cheese won, by its sheer volume on the burger alone.

The burger itself was really great; the meat was fresh, well-seasoned, and cooked perfectly.  The overall taste combination of the veggies, bacon, and cream cheese/avocado worked exquisitely.  Further, the fries, while frozen box fries, fit the overall feel of the restaurant quite well.  It would have been a bit jolting, although pleasantly so, if the burger had come out with fresh hand-cut fries.  The Sysco fries were tasty and satisfactory under the circumstances.

Also, if you are dying to know about the Korean food, I have a little something for you.  I had the opportunity to try the beef bulgogi, which was excellent.  I have no desire, or the necessary background, to really tell you more than that.  It was tasty, and I would eat it again if the mood struck me.

Really, Burger Lovers is a very good, and pleasantly quirky burger joint.  I would say that it could hold its own against any other burger in Eugene, at least in its price-range.  They offer a great burger selection, and provide fast, fresh and tasty food.  Unfortunately, I think that Burger Lovers location may prevent it from catching on in Eugene.  I recommend going and getting a burger at Burger Lovers immediately if not sooner, because if you wait, you may miss the opportunity.

Burger Lovers
1466 W 7th Ave.
Eugene, OR 97402

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Pleasant Surprise: Terry's Diner

I never really know what to expect when I try a new burger.  Sometimes, I go in with lofty expectations based on some rave review I have heard or read, but most of the time, I go in with a fairly open mind.  The bottom line is that a burger is dependent on so many variables, and what may be a fantastic burger on Tuesday, might leave something to be desired on Saturday.  I try to keep these things in mind when I order a burger.

That said, I also tend to think that a burger might be judged most fairly on its worst day.  Typically the customer has no control over the variables that make or break a menu item, they don't schedule the staff, and have no control over food handling or storage.  So when I get a burger on, what I suspect, is its worst day I am disappointed as a customer, but as a reviewer I couldn't be happier.

It is with this in mind that I make no apologies for any of my past reviews, that were not totally positive.  A restaurant can be fairly expected to offer their best product 100% of the time, and when they don't, they expose themselves.  I would further submit that none of my reviews have treated any burger in Eugene overly negatively (apparently a few disagree).

Similarly, the same logic can be applied to any burger I review overwhelmingly positively; there is always a chance that I had the very best burger the place ever served, or that my opinion of the burger would not perfectly line up with you as a reader.

Remember this last point today when you read about the burger at Terry's Diner, which I am going to go on a limb and call the best burger that the EBB has reviewed to date.

There are actually two Terry's in Eugene, one on River Rd., and one on 18th and Chambers.  I stopped in at the Chambers store, and was pleased from the moment I walked in.  Terry's is set up as a 50s style diner (more or less), and has antiques hanging on the wall as well as a counter bar.  The atmosphere is pleasant, and there was plenty of places to sit comfortably (unlike a restaurant that I recently reviewed, which had the smallest tables ever).

The burger selections at Terry's are impressive if not just a bit overwhelming.  They have three kinds of patties to choose from (two of them vegetarian) and offer chicken breast or salmon filets as well on all their burgers.  The most intriguing patty choice was an in-house made spinach patty that sounded delicious, but, alas, I was there for the beef.

The beef patty is a half pound sirloin patty which is notable because sirloin is considered safely served to order.  I love a burger medium rare, so this was a rare and pleasant surprise.  I ordered the bacon cheeseburger that comes with "a couple pieces of thick cut bacon, choice of cheese, mayo, Terry's BBQ sauce, lettuce, onion, and tomato," all for $8.99.  I ordered it with Bleu Cheese, and a 22 oz. Ninkasi IPA, which is always a treat.

The food came out quick, and hot; the beer, as expected, was cold.  The fries were not made in-house, but they passed muster:  hot and crispy.  The burger itself was big, and a little daunting at first glance.  The sort of burger you look at and think, "how am I going to eat that?"

Never fear, after a quick slice up the middle the burger was much less intimidating.  Further, cutting the burger revealed that it had been cooked perfectly to order.  The sirloin was excellent; words probably won't do it justice, so I will leave it at just that.  The fixings were perfectly proportioned, and the burger was messy without being unmanageable.

The bleu cheese/bacon combo, while not new to me, was refreshing after the last few weeks burgers.  It's a really simple, but effective twist on the traditional bacon cheeseburger that isn't always an option, but probably should be... because I say so.

I'm gonna give the burger at Terry's two solid thumbs up.  This burger itself blew me away, and the service was awesome. They even tried their hardest to answer all my questions about the production methods of their beef (more on this to come later; stay tuned, because it might get interesting).  Go get one this week, and then come back and leave your opinion in the comments.

Terry's Diner #2
1810 Chambers St.
Eugene, OR

(541)343 0485

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Double-Burger-Feature: Cornucopia.

Eugene is a city of interesting dynamics.  You have a city that on one hand is known for its politically progressive leanings, and on the other hand is closely associated with mega-corporations Nike and Weyerhaeuser (who are not historically known for left-friendly policies).

It's a city that is known as a training destination for the worlds most promising distance runners, yet, as Lane County is also famous as a grass seed producer, many runners have a hard time training at all in the spring because of allergies.

So, it shouldn't have surprised me to see this week that Cornucopia, a business formerly only known to me for its vegetarian,vegan, and/or organic food items available at various local coffee shops and delis, was the winner of this years Best of Eugene Best Burger selection, but it did a little.

I have a deeply ingrained subconscious opinion, that although proven wrong on myriad occasions, forces me to be immediately skeptical of foods that are healthy, natural, or organic.  For some reason, when I see "all natural," or "organic" on an item's description, I immediately assume that there has been some essential flavor left out, and the food is going to suffer.

Of course, this feeling is total hogwash.  Often organic foods not only taste better, but you get the added benefit of having the satisfied self righteous smugness only found by doing the environmentally conscious thing, which is great.   

As it turns out, Cornucopia is a restaurant equally well known for having dynamite food as for its commitment to environmentally friendly practices and the healthy food.  Who would have known?

With that I move to the burger... err... burgers.  I had previously committed to some of my major supporters that at some early juncture I would try the "vurger" at Cornucopia, because it is, as far as I know, the only in-house hand-made vegetarian burger in town.  Thus, purely in  the name of science, this weeks review is, as the title suggests, a review of not one, but two different burgers (there was no way I was going to pass on a beef version of the "best burger" in Eugene).

Cornucopia uses free range beef grown locally at the Knee Deep Cattle Company without hormones or antibiotics in its hamburger patties.  The handmade "vurger" patties are made from fresh, locally grown tempeh that has been "seasoned to perfection."

I ordered a Big Boom Swiss and Shroom Burger (beef), and a Voluptuous Verna Vurger (veg).  The Verna is a tempeh patty with standard cheeseburger fare, while the name says it all with the Big Boom.  Both come out in a basket with a pickle and a generous portion of seasoned fries.

The fries were  crispy and tasty, but seemed like they just as easily could have come from Arby's as a sit-down; they were my least favorite part of the meal.  They have this orange seasoning coating on them that just seemed cheap.

As for the actual burgers, both were very good, but neither came very close to the high bar that had been set by my expectations of the "best burger."

I am not being totally fair to the "vurger" here because really it was quite tasty and to have had any expectations of it was probably a bit misguided on my part, but it just didn't knock me out.  Everything was super-fresh, and hot, but something about the tempeh... meh.  It was seasoned well, but the flavor just isn't... well, it just isn't a burger.  I genuinely thought coming in that the "vurger" was going to knock me out, but it came short of that.

If you are a vegetarian (or vegan, or neither), and have an opinion leave it in the comments as I am clearly not an optimal judge on the issue.

The beef burger was also really good, but not the cold-killer I would have expected a "best burger" to be.  I get the feeling that the beef patty with the standard fixings would have been really, really good (and probably warrants a re-do fairly soon), but the mushroom-swiss combo fell flat.

The actual beef was great, but the mushrooms were limp and not terribly flavorful;  the whole thing just seemed a little flat.

Cornucopia is clearly good eats, and they have a very good beer selection.  Unfortunately, through no fault of Cornucopia's, I came in with very high expectations, and felt a bit let down.  If you haven't been there, I recommend it, but go expecting a very good burger, and maybe not the "Best Burger."

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