Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Tale of Two Burgers

We went to Hamilton Tavern specifically to eat their Crosstown Burger. We'd both been jonesin' for some beefy goodness after eating mostly poultry and fish for the past several weeks. Word around town was that Hamilton Tavern had some of the best burgers in town and we needed some of that.

We also heard that the Tavern got crowded, so we got there just after it opened on a Saturday afternoon, took one of the few tables in the small restaurant, and settled back to admire the Art Deco bar back and the old tools that decorated the walls while we waited for our food.

Not long after we got our beers (Brewer's Art Resurrection for me; the owner is a partner in that restaurant, too), our fried pickle appetizer arrived.

The juicy slices of sour pickle slices coated in an armor of batter and deep fried were accompanied by a tangy goat cheese dip. Personally, I think a sweeter dip would have provided more of a contrast in flavors and would have worked better, but I enjoyed the pickles in their rather hard crusts.

After a bit of a wait (perfection takes time), we got our burgers. Mr Minx got his as advertised, but I opted to add sweet spicy bacon to my burger and swapped out the fries for a side of Boh-battered Os.

The burger portion of the meal was outstanding. The fat patty was juicy and moist inside, pink but not quite medium. The Tavern did not skimp on the horseradish cheddar, and the cheesy flavor was prevalent in every bite. The bacon added a bit of sweetness that I really enjoyed. My only problem with the sandwich was the bun from nearby Hamilton Bakery; it tasted terrific, but shedded something awful. Not exactly fell apart, it was sturdy enough to withstand the weight and moisture of the burger, but pieces of the crust adhered to my fingers every time I put the burger back down on the plate. Eventually I was left holding the insides.

The onion rings were a huge disappointment. If I thought of them as donuts filled with onion, they worked better, but as onion rings, they were a failure. They were too doughy, not crispy enough, and too sweet. Mr Minx's fries were bland and a bit undercooked.

Overall, however, a stellar burger experience that we're eager to recreate over and over again.

Flash forward to the following weekend, when we once again had a hankering for red meat. Not wanting to be boring and go back to Hamilton Tavern, we decided to head to Piv's Pub in Cockeysville. Their online menu listed a 10oz char-grilled burger on a brioche bun, which sounded pretty tasty.

And it was tasty. The meat had a good char on it and the grilled flavor took me straight to Summer cookouts. But, unlike the burger at Hamilton Tavern, Piv's burger was as dry as a desert. There was a slight tint of pink inside, but it was nowhere near the requested medium. And the burger was as flat as a pancake, with a dense, compressed, texture, which tells me that it was smashed unmercifully against the grill, which produced a nice crust but allowed all of the meat's moisture to escape into the flames.  

Honestly, why do people do that? Are they stupid? Are they in such a rush to get the food out to the customer that they willingly let quality slide? Eating this dry burger made us realize why the wait for our burgers at the Tavern seemed so long. Because they were cooked with care.

We also tried the slider sampler, which included one each of shrimp salad, crab cake, and pulled pork in addition to the horribly dry beef. The best of these was the crab cake, which was moist and had nice chunks of crab. The shrimp salad was bland, and the pulled pork was very salty. The rolls had been toasted, which might be a nice touch for larger burgers, however, these were very dry as a result. And the fries, the kind with the little bumps on them, what I call "shrapnel," clearly came out of a bag from the freezer. Disappointing.

Slightly less disappointing was the wedge salad, which inexplicably came deconstructed, with bland bleu cheese dressing and mass-produced croutons. Once everything was cut up and mixed together, it tasted fine, but it wasn't $8.50 worth of salad.

Neither meal was perfect, but you can probably guess where we'll be spending our money in the future.

Hamilton Tavern
5517 Harford Rd
Baltimore, MD 21214
(410) 426-1930

Piv's Pub
9811 York Rd
Cockeysville, MD 21030
(410) 666-7487
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