Burgers are the blue jeans of food.
Back in the day, jeans were prized for their easy-going durability while men worked in the mines or the fields, just as burgers were once the lowbrow, quickie staple meal of the masses. Denim was sold at the five-and-dime and burgers were pushed at diners and drive-ins – humble food for a cheap date.
Calvin Klein’s magic fashion wand transported the workingman’s uniform of indigo-dyed denim into the fashion stratosphere – going from Montgomery Ward’s to sleek boutiques worldwide. Jeans moved indoors; they were suddenly everywhere, paired with everything from high heels to Converse high tops. They left the amber waves of grain for the alabaster city, where jean-clad legs strutted into the clubs and sat down at white-tablecloth restaurants.
In the culinary tastemaker world, two chefs generally get the credit for pulling a Calvin Klein and turning what was once basic into a modern, upscale remix of comfort and creative. L.A.’s Sang Yoon of Father’s Office restaurant and Daniel Boulud of db Modern Cuisine in New York each pioneered the gourmet burger trend breaking inward across the continent like a bicoastal tidal wave. In 2000, Yoon’s created a burger featuring dry-aged beef accented by arugula and bleu cheese with nary a bottle of ketchup in sight, while a year later, Boulud’s ground-meat extravaganza featured braised short ribs and a dollop of foie gras for $27. And from there off we went into the dizzying heights of evermore inventive and nontraditional burgers.
Grass-fed, Wagyu, and hand-ground have become common punctuation marks on every upscale menu that serves the iconic sandwich. Even the definition of “burger” is wide open; there are turkey burgers, salmon burgers, veggie burgers, chickpea burgers, chicken burgers, and on and on.
And the accoutrements! Just as jeans used to simply be deep blue or acid-washed, burgers were either just bare or cheesed. Now it seems there’s nothing that can’t be slipped between bun and burger: jalapeno ketchup, baconaisse, pesto, peanut butter, fried egg, sprouts, avocado – in addition to slices, nuggets, and shavings of every type of cheese in the world.
Not one to be left out of the party, Columbus has witnessed a burger boom in recent years. Whether the sit-down patty parade of Bareburger, or the steady march of Five Guys and its organic, grass-fed, never-frozen beef, burgers are as big as the Buckeyes. Independent, chef-driven kitchens are ponying up to the ground-meat bar as well. In this package, we highlighted a baker’s dozen of standouts from 11 restaurants all around the city.
Sometimes it takes years and dozens of brands to find the jeans that fit just right; hopefully this list will give you a head start in finding your own favorite upscale burger, one that matches your palate like only a classic can.
Plus, watch these burgers make their TV debut on Fox 28’s Good Day Columbus, here. You’ll even get a first look at the October issue of (614) before it hits stands.