Big-meat burger at Miller's Guild.

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Connoisseurs know that amid the head-spinning variety of burgers currently loosed upon the market, there is really but one meaningful distinction: The meat burger vs. the fixin’s burger.

You know the difference; it’s about ratios. The fixin’s burger is the old-school tribute to goop and accoutrements: think Dicks as the apotheosis. Oh, they contain beef—just not as the primary or most memorable player. Red Mill’s are fixin’s burgers. (That bacon!) So are L’il Woody’s, with their delectable combinations on slim patties that are frequently overcooked…but not so anyone has stopped going.

There is a trend afoot, however, as burgers move up the pretension scale and land in greater numbers on menus that wouldn’t once have considered them. No longer mere cow, the burger is now cash cow—and it’s hard to think of an American-themed restaurant to open lately that doesn’t have its version.

The hallmark of these upmarket burgers is extreme meatiness: Thick chunks of beef throwing off the old goop-to-meat ratio that vaulted spectacles like the Big Mac into the stratosphere. It’s the meat, it would seem, that justifies their promotion to the big leagues.

Take Jason Wilson’s new steakhouse, Miller’s Guild, where a huge chunk of Montana Wagyu thoroughly taxes, then finally overcomes, its rich bun. Yes it also features sautéed mushrooms, cheese, thick bacon, and aioli made from the drippings of the roasting beef…but the beef—sumptuous, memorable—is the primary takeaway.  

Across downtown at Thierry Rautureau’s Loulay is a more delicate burger—it is a French restaurant—with a toothsome hunk of smoky house-ground beef capped with Gruyere and a civilized little ruffle of Bibb lettuce. Bacon jam and aioli make an appearance, but its fine meat is the point of the thing.

Ethan Stowell’s Red Cow in Madrona features a burger amid its list of steaks whose three-quarter-inch-thick patty might as well be a steak, for its firm meatiness and glorious flavor. Yes bacon (is there a burger in this city without it?), yes onions, yes white cheddar—but the key supporting player is, literally, this burger’s support: its Grand Central potato bun, firm enough to hold it all together.

The hitch with the new big-meat burger is that it can be tough to cook with restraint, and taste dry to those who’ve grown fond of their fixin’s. A recent meal at Eureka!, the new U Village outpost of the California chain, consisted of a Cowboy Burger with luscious flavor in its fatty patty, thick bacon, crunchy onion frizzles—and sadly overcooked meat, unrelieved by its stinting hand with the barbecue sauce.  

Anyone else had a big-meat burger lately? Share with the class.


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