206-877-2248; check their Twitter feed or website, skilletstreetfood.com for current location (which changes daily)
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The beef is good, the cheese is pungent, and the roll is soft yet durable, but the real star here is the sweet, smoky, salty goodness that is the housemade bacon jam
Want Fries with That? Handcut fries that aren't limp and flabby? The correct answer is yes
Prices: Grass-fed cheeseburger, $12; with herbed fries, $14
Skillet, owner Joshua Henderson's increasingly popular mobile kitchen, has gone through a lot of ups and downs to get to where it is today. What do you expect when you gut an old Airstream trailer and convert it into a portable grill serving elevated versions of the classics to anyone willing to work with its itinerant nature? If nothing else, it screams for attention, as evidenced by mentions in Time Magazine, USA Today, and here on Serious Eats.
The menu's undergone a number of changes (and price hikes more in line with the troubled economy) over the years, with its current iteration focusing on its highly regarded grass-fed cheeseburger. That's only natural, given Skillet's greatest claim to fame: the house-made bacon jam. Rendered bacon is simmered with spices and onions for about six hours before getting puréed, blast chilled, and spread on a hot burger patty. It's sweet and smoky like barbecue sauce, but it also maintains a level of saltiness that mingles well with the lightly seasoned beef.
Biting into the burger, you get three distinct flavors. The first, of course, is that bacon jam, hitting your palate with sugar from the reduced onions and salt from the hunks of bacon suspended in the luscious brown spread. The second is the char on the patty, courtesy of the full grill crammed inside the little silver Airstream. And the third is the funkiness of the cheese, a creamy blend of bleu and brie that cuts through the bacon jam and beef. Personally, I think a Gruyère or an aged fontina would pair just a little better with the bacon jam, but it's hard to complain too loudly with this choice. It's assertive and delicious.
A quick (constructive) criticism: The burger could use some bread-and-butter pickles. The arugula's fine for adding a few greens into your diet, but it's barely noticeable beneath the powerhouse of that bacon jam. With so many decadent fats at play on this sandwich, the tartness of pickles is necessary to cut the richness and provide a change of pace to prevent palate overload. Pickles are exceedingly simple to make, so hopefully they start including them sometime in the near future.
After trying the ones at BuiltBurger and now Skillet's, I've had a good run with well-prepared hand-cut fries lately. Like BuiltBurger's, the fries are occasionally overcooked, but the perfectly prepared ones greatly outnumber the imperfects. Each crunchy-exterior/feathery-interior fry tastes like it was julienned from an actual potato and not some reconstituted starch substance (what a concept!), without the typical glut of grease from the deep fryer. They're dusted with sea salt and a medley of herbs (parsley, mint, and dill) that really make them a cut above the average basket of fries. And if you eat your burger over them, allowing the meaty juices to drip down and become absorbed into the potato, they're even better.
The dessert, a chocolate pudding cream "pie in a bowl," was a failure of execution. It's irresistible on paper: a big glop of chocolate cream pie filling topped with real whipped cream and a "crust" of crumbled shortbread and toasted walnuts. And to be sure, the whipped cream and shortbread/walnut "crust" are both impeccable. It's the chocolate cream filling that's unsuccessful here. Besides being uncomfortably rich, it's spiked with far too much sea salt. As anyone who's tried the incomparable butterscotch budino at Mozza in Los Angeles knows, sea salt can elevate a dessert from good to orgasmic. But here it was applied with far too heavy a hand. All it took was one bite of the pie with a huge cluster of salt crystals tagging along to lose any desire to finish the dish.
Dessert snafu aside, Skillet makes a very fine burger and fries, and that's exactly what I suggest you order when making the trek to this cart's current location, wherever that ends up being. But if you don't feel like chasing after them, fear not; they just opened a brick-and-mortar offshoot on Capitol Hill. Rejoice!