Note: Today we're interviewing Daniel Zemans, our new Chicago burger correspondent! He's admittedly more of a pizza aficionado than a burger lover, but with "AHT reviewer" recently added to his lists of skills, methinks his burger love will flourish. (Besides, he's an overall "food lover," which is perfect for the Serious Eats community.) If you missed them, check out his reviews on Kuma's Corner and Erwin.
Name: Daniel Zemans
Occupation: Technically a lawyer, but I do it as little as possible.
How often do you eat burgers? Not as much as I should. I tend to go on burger binges. Writing for AHT will cure my burger eating disorder.
Where did you eat your most recent one? David Burke's Primehouse (review forthcoming on AHT).
Cheese: American, cheddar, other? When offered, blue; otherwise, usually cheddar. When American is the only option, I am definitely not disappointed.
Ketchup or mustard? Mustard, preferably yellow but brown is fine too. I'm not going to tell anyone not to put ketchup on their burger. I will judge them, possibly out loud and in a condescending manner, but I will not tell them not to do it.
Sesame-seed or plain? Sesame-seed.
Grilled, griddled, or broiled? Grilled.
And how would you like that done? Rare. I don't like ketchup, but I can understand that some people like corn syrup and tomato paste on their burgers. I cannot understand why people get their burgers cooked more than medium rare. I just don't get the thought process that would lead someone to ask that their food have so much of its flavor cooked out of it. Maybe there's significant overlap between people who get burgers cooked medium to well and those who really like ketchup and they don't want anything getting in the way of their beloved condiment?
Would you do us the favor of describing your perfect burger? I'm a simple man. Just give me 8 ounces of coarsely ground meat, cooked so it's red on the inside, but warm, top it with some aged blue cheese, mustard and grilled onions, and put that juicy sucker on a bun that won't disintegrate and I'll be happy.
The hamburger is a food item with which most Americans have strong childhood associations. Do you remember your earliest encounter with this delicious dish? I'm sure it wasn't my first encounter, but my strongest early burger memories took place at Jimmy's (known to outsiders as Woodlawn Tap). It's a bar in the neighborhood of my youth that I periodically visited with my father.
What's your favorite fast-food burger? White Castle. I cut out most fast food about nine years ago and haven't been to McDonald's, Burger King, or Wendy's since. I do visit local fast food places when traveling, but I crave none of them like I do the occasional White Castle slider.
What topping or condiment, in your opinion, should never grace a burger? Other than ketchup, I don't think I've ever seen anything added to a burger that has really turned me off. You didn't ask about buns, but I will also throw out there that I have never had a burger served on a brioche where I didn't wish for a different kind of bun.
What's the most unusual burger you've ever eaten? I can't single out one, but the collection of burgers at Kuma's Corner is like nothing I've seen elsewhere.
What's the most overrated burger you've tried? Most underrated? Most overrated is absolutely the Billy Goat Tavern, which is pretty much crap. I may eventually review it for AHT just so I can give a detailed report about not just how bad their burger is, but how absurd their schtick has become.
What are your top five burgers in Chicago? David Burke's Primehouse, Kuma's Corner, Rosebud Steakhouse, Select Cut Steakhouse and Hackney's (extra points for the onion brick).
For some crazy reason, you're going vegetarian. Where do you go for your final burger? McDonald's, because if I'm cutting out meat, the importance of taste has clearly been superseded by other food issues. And if that happens, I don't deserve a good burger.