Monday, November 07, 2022

Best Burger in Baltimore

spicy buffalo burger from Alonso's
On toast, brioche, or on a ses'me bun
And crown'd with molten gold, or bleu, or bare
of cheese, instead top'd thick with more than one
wet squirt of sauce: ketchup? mustard? compare
the benefits of each plus mayonnaise.
Relish the addition of onion,
raw or sauteed, I can have it both ways.
Mushrooms are great, in my opinion.
Now comes the matter of temperature.
Well done's a cruel thing to do to good beef!
Nice med'um rare is what I do prefer,
and not too lean, fat's fine in my belief.
Now to my eager lips this juicy beast,
I sigh and bite into a beefy feast.

The burger is so universally loved, it inspired Shakespeare to write a sonnet. Well no, that's not true--I wrote the sonnet--though had burgers been around in Elizabethan England, the Bard may well have tossed a rhyming couplet or two its way. Of course, a burger in those days would have been a different animal entirely. Literally. It might have been made with mutton or pigeon, maybe a soupcon of eel, and as the sandwich wasn't invented until nearly 200 years later, it would not have been served on a bun. More than likely it would be enveloped in a crust of some sort. Yes, an Elizabethan burger would probably have been a pie, or a pastie. 

Yeah, sooo...there was no such thing as a burger in Shakespeare's day. In our time, however, burgers are everywhere. Chain restaurants dedicated to churning out mass-produced burgers are legion and even fancy restaurant menus include hifalutin versions of the ubiquitous beef-and-bun creation. There's the Black Gold "burger" from H Bar in Houston that involves black truffles, foie gras, and a pound of sliced wagyu beef, served on a 24K gold-leafed black brioche bun, with a bottle of Dom Perignon on the side...for $1600. I'm not sure why they call it a burger if it's actually a steak sandwich, but the price is ridiculous either way. I've eaten Daniel Boulud's signature burger at db Bistro Moderne in NYC and was not impressed. For about $30, I got a sirloin burger stuffed with short rib and foie gras on a parmesan-crusted bun. Sounds good, huh? Except the burger itself was maybe 3 ounces of underseasoned meat, the short rib had zero flavor, and the perhaps teaspoon of foie had completely melted out. The sandwich was about 4" in diameter and at least as tall, which made it difficult to pick up and bite into without first cutting it in half. Much better is the Minetta burger at Minetta Tavern, a well-sized patty topped with cheddar and sauteed onions and served with pommes frites for $30. (There's also a "Black Label" version made with dry-aged prime beef for $38.) 

While the Minetta burger was pretty damn fine, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the best burger I have ever eaten comes from Alonso's, in Baltimore. This Cold Spring Lane stalwart has been around seemingly forever. When I was a kid, we'd go there for pizzas but even then their 16oz burgers were legendary. I've never tried the enormoburger, though I did watch two relatively scrawny men attempt--and fail--to finish one apiece at a meal there about 25 years ago. I had the smaller, but still very large (8oz) burger and don't recall it having been anything particularly special.

Alonso's has gone through a few owners in the last 20 years or so, which has led to menu changes and expansions, and even Indian food (the current owner is the proprietor of Namaste, next door), but the burger remains, and is as close to burger perfection as I've eaten. I don't know what exactly makes their burgers so good. A mere $13 gets ya 8 thick ounces of juicy meat (see photo above for evidence) and a decent amount of fries, so it's not fancy beef, though it is nicely seasoned and flavorful. I am not wild about brioche buns, so I have to ding them on that. There's no point to consuming what is essentially breakfast or dessert* with a burger, and brioche doesn't always hold up to dripping fat and meat juices. That said, the buns at Alonso's are always impeccably fresh. 

On occasion, we eat at the restaurant, but more often that not we get delivery. The burgers and fries arrive in compostable containers, which is nice, but we always put them on plates because they are special and deserve to be eaten with respect. Apart from a few of Alonso's signatures that involve specific sauces like the Russian dressing on the Rachel or the herbed mayo on the Frenchie, the burgers are condiment-free. No ketchup, mustard, or mayo. They are moist enough that they do not need any of that wet stuff. And there's always plenty of cheese. I like bleu cheese with my beef, so my normal order is either the spicy buffalo (bleu, buffalo sauce, green onions) or the black and blue (bleu, sauteed mushrooms and onions, Cajun spices), cooked to medium or medium rare. Even though Alonso's is not a steakhouse, when one orders a medium rare burger, it arrives at the table medium rare. Astonishingly, even a delivery burger arrives medium rare. So...juicy meat, cooked perfectly, lots of bleu cheese, no sauces to hide the flavor of the beef = my favorite burger. 

Now if they would only put it on a non-brioche bun....

*Brioche is made with what is called an enriched dough, containing milk, butter, eggs, and sugar in addition to yeast and flour. Most breads contain only flour, water, and yeast, with a tiny bit of sugar added to feed the yeast.

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