1431 SOM Center Rd.
Mayfield Heights, Ohio 44124
by Beau Cadiyo
The first time I saw Fatburger it was in San Diego, at the corner of Garnet and Mission in Pacific Beach, sometime around 2003. This was long before I heard Biggie advise that “If (you) wanna squirt her, take her to Fatburger,” and I never went, nor took a date there, which probably hindered my early-20s dating. Last Halloween in Chicago, I heard Kanye was trying to bring one to the city, and Chicago’s free paper waxed about Fatburger’s glorious reputation. Then, three weeks ago, I was driving down SOM Center Road and saw it. I did a double-take, thinking it must be a mistake, or some trademark infringement, but no – it was Fatburger, solidly in the middle of middle-class middle-America. I immediately called Scarlet.
The burgers arrived in their respective baskets, half-wrapped in paper. They were big, but not massive – three half-pound patties (pre-cooked weight) stuffed in one large bun with all the trimmings. The beef was crisped on the outside, but not burned, and looked partially breaded. The buns seemed freshly made and had absorbed some of the beef juices; lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, mayo, mustard and pickles all blended harmoniously. The first bite was inviting, delicious, with several textures all mixing in together, and the burned taste endearing the burger to me. The rest of the bites were just as good, sometimes flavored by a surprise pickle chunk or burst of mayo, sometimes almost entirely beef. Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub should take note – the best way to make a large burger is to make several small ones. At the same time, Scarlet and I theorized that the problem was not the size at Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub – it was the ingredients. The ones at Denny’s seemed almost reconstituted, and we doubted they used the same beef for their regular burgers; Fatburger used the same high-quality ingredients they otherwise would.
Frank was the first to finish in about seven minutes; Frank finished in eight, and I was at 9:55. After that, I didn’t pay attention, except to see Scarlet struggling for perhaps a half-hour at the other end of the table. I passed around the Johnnie Walker Black I’d brought and we congratulated ourselves on a job well done. In retrospect, though, I disappointed myself. I ate too fast, not savoring it nearly as much as I could have or should have. I was focused on the destination, not the journey, and I lost out in the end.
I began to silently compare a Fatburger to the burgers at Lola or Lolita, and Fatburger came out on top. Symons’ burgers are gourmet, and it comes through in the tastes, textures and presentation. Fatburger has good ingredients, but not gourmet, and brands itself as a “burger shack.” At the Ls, one gets a fried egg with the yolk ready to be broken; at Fatburger, my yolk was pierced and cooked through. However, the Triple King is easily twice or three times larger and far more accessible, with more options. You can get the Triple King at any time, whereas the Lolita burger is available only during Happy Hours, and, depending on the waitress, might only be available at the bar.
Thus, all things considered, I put Fatburger ahead of both Lola and Lolita. What it lacks in “quality” it makes up for in price, accessibility and size. This truly is the last great burger shack.
by Scarlet Pumpernickel
Perhaps the most gratifying part of completing the Triple King challenge was hearing Beau comment that perhaps Fat Burger may have a better burger than Lolita. Of course this comparison is a fallacy. Think of it as the equivalent of comparing Bourbon and Scotch. They may both be whiskeys, but they can’t be paired up next to each other, they’re too different. The key is to learn to appreciate each for what it is, and you discover that ultimately there is no best, only a favorite.
We took a crew of hungry people to Fat Burger to take on the Triple King challenge. They take a standard King burger (with a ½ lb patty) and pile two extra ½ lb patties on top. Of course, that’s pre-cooked weight, so the final burger was probably less than a third the size of what Beau and I took on in Pennsylvania. You can adjust fixings to taste, and there was no time limit. It wasn’t a challenge like the last giant burger, but I don’t think that’s the point.
Normally they have a big challenge day on a Saturday at one of the local Fat Burgers (they made an exception for us because they’re really nice). People eat, certificates and tee-shirts are distributed and a good time is had by all. It’s also a great add for Fat Burger. Since the Triple King is just an expanded normal burger, it tastes just as good as a regular Fat Burger. They hope those contestants will come back to eat a more regular meal in the future.
And they probably will; the burgers are tasty. Best burgers? Well, not quite. Fat Burger is a type of establishment that is quite common in L.A., the upscale burger joint. They don’t have gourmet burgers, but they are a clear step up from your typical fast food place. They make the extreme of what can be done with the base components of a burger. Start with a patty, not to thick, and cook it on a griddle. Top with cheese, nothing fancy, just good American. Lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles. Mayo and mustard, with maybe some ketchup. Everything is good and fresh, and they don’t cook it until you order it.
So how does this differ from a standard gourmet burger? The key is in the shape of the patty. It’s very flat. This dramatically changes the ratio of meat to toppings in each bite. In a gourmet burger, the meat is a massive anchor in the center of the sandwich that dominates every bite. You have to use good beef and cook it right, or else the burger is unpleasant. The advantage is that it serves as a base for other strong flavors: sharp cheddar cheese, apple smoked bacon, BBQ sauce, etc. Flavors you learned to appreciate as you grew older and you palette developed.
A Fat Burger is a much more visceral experience. Rather than slide between strong, complex flavors or trick the mouth with interesting textures, a Fat Burger takes flavors and textures that appeal to the instinct. These flavors your body knows because you’ve evolved to eat them. Juicy beef, gooey cheese, sweet tomatoes, crisp lettuce; it satisfies on a very deep level. It’s what you eat when you’re damn hungry and you don’t care to savor each bite. You savor the act of eating the burger because you feel it in your whole body, not just your mouth. Then, later, you’ll crave it, in a way you can never really crave a gourmet burger.
The good news for both types of burgers is that they each have a place in the world. We’re the ones who confuse things by trying to lump them together. Some days you want the more sophisticated burger and some days you want a Fat Burger. Ultimately, understanding the differences between them makes them both more enjoyable.