Food Fight: battle of the bacon cheeseburgers

In-N-Out, Five Guys, Louis’ Lunch and Shake Shack – the burger possibilities seem endless, but whose burger reigns supreme? This week, I gave myself the laborious task of scarfing down bacon cheeseburgers from Paresky, the Red Herring and the ’6 House Pub to determine the best grillers in town. Admittedly, there are some notables missing from the bovine round-up, but in a span of only two days, there was only so much my arteries (and wallet) could take. If you are what you eat, then this week, all I have to say is: “Moo.”

The art of burger degustation must adhere to the most stringent criteria – I call it the Goldilocks Rule: a burger is easy to mess up, but when done right, it’s just right. I prefer my burger cooked to medium rare because, honestly, a well-done burger’s oxymoronic name is deceiving. In the end, it’s just a poorly-done burger. The patty’s exterior should be seared to form a well-seasoned crust (browned, not gray), with just enough char to lend a smokiness to the beefy flavor of its still-moist interior.

The true burgermeister must understand that the beef is the star of the show and the bun only holds a supporting, yet absolutely crucial, role to keep it all together. The bun should preferably be toasted or grilled, soft and squishable, but not so soft that it gets soggy and collapses to the patty’s juices and condiments. If it’s too tough or chewy, like a crusty baguette, then everything slides out the back, and before you know it, you’re left teary-eyed and burgerless.

Most importantly, size does matter. A bun shouldn’t be so large and obtrusive that it interrupts the almighty and sacred bun-to-meat ratio. In this food fight, our contenders are all of the bacon cheeseburger breed, so the bacon better be crispy and the cheddar properly melted.

I decided to start at home base: Whitmans’ in Paresky, a place that probably flips more burgers for Williams students than any other grill in the area. The Blue Sage Burger featured a few strips of bacon, cheddar (not blue, sadly) and Williams’ own secret sauce: Frank’s Red Hot mixed with mayo (or is it Ranch?).

Considering how many burgers are served up each day, I was thrilled to see that my burger was cooked to medium. I do like them on the rarer side, but given the dining hall venue, this was more than I could ask for. The meat was well-seasoned and the grillmaster got his marks down without losing the juicy center, a notable feat for a patty of that thickness. Even so, it ultimately could not make up for the bun’s failure to attain the ideal bun to meat ratio.

In theory, it could have been a great bun – super fresh with a soft interior – but there was just too much, creating doughy mouthfuls that threatened to overpower every other aspect of the burger. One of the dining hall chefs was eating his with double the patty and I think he had the right idea. It’s still a good burger and since it comes with fries, two sides and a soda for just $7, it’s a steal.

Down Rte. 7 at the ’6 House Pub, the Bovine Burger Bazaar boasts a great variety, ranging from the Belted Galloway (your classic bacon cheeseburger) to the Mediterranean Cow (with roasted red peppers, Gorgonzola, grilled Portabello and tomato basil aioli). I liked that I could choose either a 5-oz. or an 8-oz. burger depending on my carnivorous cravings, and for just a buck more I could sub in sweet potato fries for the chunky well-seasoned pub fries.

I went with the Belted Galloway, to keep the eating-field level with Paresky, and ordered it medium rare. My burger came disappointingly cooked to medium well, but then again I wasn’t very surprised. I’ve had ’6 House Pub burgers before and they have come overcooked without fail. The gray patty was much greasier than was needed, which did not make up for its lack of juiciness. Plagued by an inconsistent char, some bites were overwhelmed with an acrid burnt taste.

Aside from these shortcomings, the bun was just right (great consistency and perfectly sized) and the bacon (thickly cut and crispy) was the best by far compared to its limp competitors. It’s a tasty and satisfying burger, an 8-oz. going for $8.96, but the meat could definitely be prepared better.

Dinner on Spring St. seems limited to two options: Thai or Indian. However, many students don’t realize that the College’s favorite bar, the Red Herring, offers good grub to go along with its pitchers and cocktails.

I ordered the Deluxe Burger, medium rare with bacon and cheddar, which goes for $8.50. It came in a basket with some average fries and to my delight, when I cut into the hefty burger, it was perfectly medium rare. The patty was much thicker than the others, which allowed for a good sear without compromising the moistness of its interior. It was served on a toasted Kaiser roll that was the right size for the amount of meat, but that was just not as satisfying as the buns at ’6 House Pub. I was happy to see that the burger came with buttery bibb lettuce, which was a nice change from the romaine most places serve. I had a bite of my friend’s burger with Brie, sautéed onions and mushrooms and it was equally appetizing.

The Herring’s Deluxe was the most satisfying and substantial of the burger bunch and washing it down with a pint of Blue Moon just put it over the top. Don’t let the Herring be an underrated food venue: beef up that Two for Tuesday date and take your special lady or gentleman to dinner downstairs at the Herring. It’s a low-key atmosphere free of prying pedestrian eyes, and even if the cups are plastic, the napkins are cloth.