The Burger Wars

Be it ever so humble, there’s no food that quells the appetite like a humble (or not so humble) burger. It’s a dish steeped in history as well as mythology, its origins ranging from Mongolia, through Germany to the Americas.

We can trace ground meat to the Mongols who, eager to conquer the world, did not stop to have a meal. Instead, they placed raw meat under their saddles to tenderise it during the ride. After a time sandwiched between beast and man, the meat could be eaten raw.

Obsessions 5_general burger photo

So began ground meat, adapted by the Russians to ‘steak tartare’, by the Germans (who at that time were reputed to have the best steak in the world) to become the ‘Hamburg steak’, placed into a bun in the New World (America) to become a hamburger. That’s the simplistic version of the story, or at least one version of it!

“Whatever!’’ we say. “In the late 1800s, somewhere in America, the components came together and the hamburger was created!”

So, why do we love burgers so much? With an ‘unknown origin’ meat smashed into a bun there’s a lot of trust that goes into that first bite! Or so it seems…

Look beyond the obvious and you’ll see that humble beginnings have led to very creative works of art. Little wonder, then, that everyone has their own favourite.
With lots of competition for the burger crown, chefs have gloves off, doing battle. We’ve taken a look at a few of the contenders. Biggest, hottest, fattest, most traditional, most exotic; take your choice from this list. Or you’ll have other favourite contenders which we didn’t include!

‘The Biggest’

Ze Pickle, Cnr Park Ave & Connor St., Burleigh Heads Ph: 07 5659 1091

Ze Pickle 2_12 stack

In Burleigh Heads, the suburb dubbed ‘the new Byron Bay’, there’s a laid back vibe and lots of funky eateries. It’s here that the Gold Coast’s first craft beer bar, and one of the first communal dining venues, began: Ze Pickle. This eatery is award-winning ‘burger central’, and also the home of the biggest burger. Aaron Wilson, part owner of Ze Pickle with Nathan Zukerman and Joey O’Day, relates how the burger challenge started:

“Our beef burger competition started out with our menu having a Double Double burger which is still on today: double hand pressed wagyu beef patties, double jack cheese, double maple smoked bacon and ZP sauce. This morphed into a Triple Loco, a ‘Widow Maker’ which kept growing in size, ingredients and attention-seeking names.

Ze Pickle 3

Then the challenge scene really hotted up with people wanting the Double Double with two extra patties so we would continue the stack: extra pattie, extra cheese, extra maple smoked bacon, extra sauce. From four to six to twelve… the record grew and then sat.

One day Alex Canavan came in and didn’t want anyone to touch his record so he did a 15 stack of hand pressed wagyu beef patties weighing in at 185g each, 15 slices of jack cheese, maple smoked bacon to every layer along with sauce to every layer. Alex is now our sponsored “foodthlete” and we will be flying him to our Sydney opening to smash a 20 pattie version soon.”

Job description: Foodthlete. Now that would take some training! Good luck, Alex!

‘The Hottest’

Obsessions, 37 Thomas Drive, Chevron Island Ph: 5570 1221

7 circles of hell 2

A relative newcomer to the Coast’s burger scene, Obsessions’ fame spread through their burger challenge. Named the ‘7 Circles of Hell’ it’s not the largest burger on the menu, but it is the hottest! Obsessions’ signature brioche bun disguises a beef pattie laced with the hottest chilli in the world! After signing a release form and donning gloves to protect their hands, over 300 people have attempted the challenge, scoffed the accompanying yoghurt and milk, but few succeed.

Obsessions 2-001

“So, what’s the trick?” we ask Obsessions’ owner Chris Vakanas. “Have you tried it?”

He laughs. “No. All the contestants have their own trick, but you should feel the vibe around here when someone gives it a go. The whole restaurant is involved and everyone joins in, clapping and cheering them on.”

Obsessions 3

The champions’ names are etched in history on a board at the back of the restaurant: 24 men and one woman who have been bitten by the scorpion-like heat of the hottest chilli in the world and still finished the race! Hot stuff? Let’s not ask too many questions about the after-effects. After all, there’s a price to be paid for glory!

‘The Phattest’

Longboards Laidback Bar and Eatery, Hamilton Avenue, Cnr Garfield Terrace, Surfers Paradise Ph: 5538 2559

PHAT 001

Ze Pickle might be loading up the patties, but Longboards’ PHAT Bastard Challenge is just that – fat! Fat is flavour, and having at least 10 per cent fat content (preferably more) is crucial to flavour. Pass on the fat and you’ll end up with a dry, tasteless burger.

Managers Patrick Hanrahan and Justin Allie with Chef Laurence Bowers (who concocted the burger recipe) dreamed up the challenge as a fun PR stunt, a unique attention-seeking drawcard for their burger and beer bar. Sign the waiver and eat the ‘PHAT Bastard’ (a 1.8kg burger laden with enough protein, carbs and fat to stop the hearts of a nation) and the burger is free.

PHAT 002

Be the first to win within the rules in the annual time challenge and you’ll take home $500.The challenge is huge: the PHAT is a 900g wagyu burger, 8 woven rashers of bacon, 8 battered onion rings, 200g pulled pork, 6 slices of melted cheese, salad (for colour), coleslaw and mayo, all sandwiched together in a dinner plate sized cob loaf, served with a side of chips. Doesn’t sound too bad if you say it quickly, but this is one mother of a burger, gargantuan in proportions. The thought crosses my mind that this would feed 100 Biafrans for a day, or me for a week. 9,000kj!

The annual contest is a torrid affair. Seconds count as knives and forks are discarded – not enough traction; mostly it’s down to hands grabbing, left plate, right plate, crushing and lumping the food, shoving it into mouths, smearing across faces, sloshing down water between gulps, standing up to digest without stopping, bending as hands smash, jab, cram, all the while chomping and swallowing…The contestants are carnivores in a feeding frenzy; machines! Manners shoved aside, it’s about making the most food disappear in the shortest space of time. It’s usually the kid who charges home, leaving the big guys behind. All that training with ‘37 Weetbix’ mornings sure pays off handsomely!

‘The Most Traditional’

Brooklyn Depot, The 4217, 10 Beach Road, Surfers Paradise Ph: 5526 7666

Brooklyn Depot 1

Crust pizza founders Michael Rose and Michael Logos sensed a future for classic American-style burgers served in a local hub where people could go to hang out, share a bite to eat and a few drinks in a smart casual venue.

Before long the word was out: Brooklyn Depot’s buns are up there with the best. They’re not the biggest or hottest, but when we talk traditional, they’re American classics packed with quality ingredients: a succulent juicy patty with fresh salad and sauce sandwiched between a just right soft brioche bun, its sweetness a balance for the savoury patty. Though the menu carries a variety of burgers, central spot is taken by the Brooklyn Classic: a grass-fed beef pattie topped with American cheese, hickory smoked bacon, grilled pineapple, butter lettuce, tomato and Depot special sauce. Feeling hungry? Then double up the filling with a Depot Burger to fill in the gaps. Either way, the classic got our tick of approval as a ‘great burger’.

“You need to do the classics well,” Manager Jeremy Davidson tells us. “If you can’t do a good basic, what’s the point showing off the frills.” We have to agree. Sometimes simple is best.

‘The Most Exotic’

Boom Boom Burgers, 7-9 Burra Street, Chevron Island Ph: 5538 3718

Boom boom 9

Seasoned restaurateurs Meyjitte Boughenout, former owner of Absynthe French Restaurant, and Chef Arnaud Ollivier, have raised the bar on the Gold Coast burger scene with their Smoking Hot Burger.

“I worked with the butcher for one month just to get the beef patty right for the burger,” Meyjitte tells us. “Exact recipe, fat content and seasoning – they had to be just right! It’s our own signature beef patty.” And with the brioche buns (both regular and gluten-free) as well as their special sauces made in house, a lot of chefs will have to stand up on their tip toes to see what’s going on.

If Michelin stars could be awarded to dishes, rather than restaurants, the Smoking Hot Burger ($15) would win it. It’s a dish you’d travel 20 kilometres out of your way to eat. Mystically sexy, juicy and brimming with seductive taste, this burger could be summed up in one word: Superlative!

Boom boom 6

Served beneath a glass dome which, when lifted, releases a haze of smoke from the burger, this is food as performance, full of drama as well as playfulness. Serious in flavour, the dish carries the depth of mushroom umami, the freshness of cucumber and spinach contrasting with a lingering smokiness of organic grain-fed 150 day aged beef laced with the chef’s signature sauce, on a house made not-too-sweet brioche bun. It’s perfect in balance and depth, its savoury haze lingering on the tongue long after the burger has disappeared. Dream territory, even for non-burger eaters and miles from the sweaty saddles of the Mongols. Now that’s evolution. Bam!

Sources
Avey T 2013, A brief history of hamburgers, August 5, Accessed 14 May 2015, http://toriavey.com/history-kitchen/2013/08/a-brief-history-of-hamburgers/
Kuban A 2005, ‘The history of the hamburger’, Serious Eats, August 6, Accessed 14 May 2015, http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2005/08/the_history_of.html
The hamburger through time 2008, Chow, June 19, Accessed 14 May 2015, http://www.chow.com/food-news/54564/the-hamburger-through-time/

NOTE: This review has also been published on More Gold Coast.

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Gold Coast QLD, Australia