1979 E Maple St
North Canton, OH 44720
by Scarlet Pumpernickel
At Best Burger I saw something I haven't seen since my days in Los Angeles, a Pastrami Burger, which I had no choice but to order. The restaurant is an interesting place. It has that clean cut post-Chipotle look that small fast food places all have these days. The one anomaly to the uniform style of the place is a mural on one of the walls that disturbed my temporal sensibilities by having a 1920's hobo wearing an advertising sandwich billboard thing and a 1970's taxi cab. What year is the theme anyway? It was fascinating because the more I looked, the more it seemed like a collection of disparate elements that are all interesting but don't seem to belong together. Why was the statue of Liberty on one side of the mural? Was this a painting of New York, or was the artist just trying to be patriotic?
I enjoyed my burger, but left feeling somewhat unsatisfied. Later that day, while I was reflecting on the burger, I realized that the problem was that the pastrami was being treated as a topping, and not as a full partner in the construction of the burger. This is a problem because a topping has to have a distinct enough flavor profile without being overpowering to work in a sandwich. Pastrami, being a beef product itself, is not distinct enough to be a topping like bacon or ham. So, much like the mural, I was left wondering what the plan was. Did they just throw together a bunch of things they liked without any idea how they would fit together in the end?
Let me explain more thoroughly. A burger is, at its base, a ground beef patty on a bun. You can top that burger with a variety of things, cheese, lettuce, onions, etc. You can top it with special things that give the burger a special name, like Southwest Burger. These toppings do not change the fundamental nature of the burger. They are flavor/texture agents added on top.
Some things sitting on top of a burger can fundamentally change the sandwich. When I ordered a Pastrami Burger in LA at my favorite place to order Pastrami Burgers, they would put 8oz of pastrami on it. Not 8oz by weight, 8 fluid ounces. They literally took an 8oz Styrofoam cup, packed it with pastrami, and set it next to the grill to be added to the sandwich when it was done. You didn't walk in wanting a burger and then just decided to get the one with pastrami; you went in there knowing you wanted to order it because it was more than twice the sandwich of their regular burger.
Chili burgers are another good example. Just taking your restaurant's soup chili and sloping it on top of a burger is unacceptable. Beans have no place in a burger chili (exception being on a vegetarian chili burger). Chili on burgers is an all meat affair, and the chili has to be made extra viscous so it doesn't run all over to hell and back.
Changing the nature of a burger isn't limited to just meat. Down south, they can slap a wad of coleslaw on a burger big enough to count as a full side in most places.
The point is, there is a great deal of experimentation to be done and I feel like no one is doing it. I want to see experimentation beyond just a second (or, gasp, a third) beef patty on a burger. What about some kind of beef-pork-lamb triple-decker? What about a burger with a crab cake on it? I'm not saying these things would be any good, but shouldn't somebody try? If they're out there, I want to find them. I want to eat on the fringe of the burger world and discover new sandwiches whose consumption in and of itself is an experience.
Otherwise it's just a tasty burger with some pastrami on top that makes for an otherwise unremarkable lunch.