1139 NW 11th Ave., Portland OR 97209 (map); 503-517-7778; metrovinopdx.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A colossally messy burger belies the upscale restaurant's swanky digs. But it's good. Really good.
Want Fries with That? Yes, I do. Too bad Metrovino doesn't make them. Instead you get a salad. Ay yi yi.
Prices: 12-ounce double cheeseburger, $14
The double cheeseburger at Metrovino first entered my radar when Nick Zukin, co-owner of Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen, rated it the best burger in Portland. Better than the one at Grüner?, I wondered. To quote the immortal Vizzini, "Inconceivable!"
Still, saying something is the best of anything is the surest way to pique my interest. And what better time to satisfy that curiosity than the present, now that I'm back in good ol' Portland?
I knew going in that this was a big burger. How big? Two six-ounce patties big, that's how. So in preparation of this 12-ounce behemoth, I abstained from consuming anything other than water for the 12 hours leading up to my 8 p.m. date with destiny. Good thing, too, or else I never would have been able to finish this bad boy.
According to Metrovino's proprietor, Todd Steele, the restaurant grinds the 12 ounces of Painted Hills chuck in-house to a 20 percent fat ratio. After a brushing of olive oil and generous proportions of salt and pepper, the patties hit the hot griddle and sear just until a crust forms, leaving the inside very much in the medium-to-medium-rare range. The tender beef arrives at the table on the verge of falling apart and bursting at the seams with juices, making the execution of a successful cross-sectioning a dicey endeavor indeed.
Thankfully the restaurant anticipates the deluge of liquid flavor and provides you with hot, dampened hand towels. Now that's flying first class.
A single layer of creamy fontina cheese melts between the patties, and surprisingly its nuttiness isn't lost in the massive slabs of beef (although a second layer on top of the patties would really take this to the next level). The patties rest upon a patch of crisp shredded iceberg lettuce and are covered in crunchy diced onions. A "fancy sauce" consisting of housemade mayo blended with Dijon mustard, housemade ketchup and pickles, and Sriracha gets slathered on the underside of the top bun, only to ooze down over the sides of the burger, spreading bold, tangy deliciousness into every little cranny and crevice on the way down to the bottom bun.
If I had to lay one criticism on this burger, it's that housemade bun. Not the flavor, which is actually excellent, but because it has the texture of a sponge. It's almost rubbery in that regard. But on second thought, the bun probably needs that sponginess to keep from disintegrating from all the juices pouring out of the burger. Even nearing the end of the burger, when most buns have long since dissolved into a pasty breadlike sludge, this bun was nearly as solid as it was when it first arrived at the table. So it definitely has that going for it.
Working your way through this mighty work of meat art, you're hit with a cycle of flavors, with each component of the burger coming to the forefront from one bite to the next. You still taste every aspect of the burger with each bite, but sometimes the onions dominate the palate, sometimes it's the sweet-yet-almost-imperceptibly-spicy fancy sauce, and sometimes it's the intense beefiness of the twin patties. It's a roller coaster ride of the sweet, salty, and savory, and I found myself anticipating with some eagerness which ingredient would take charge with each subsequent bite. If only more burgers were as fun to eat as this one!
What a shame that this great sandwich doesn't come with fries. I have no doubt Metrovino could concoct some seriously great high-end fries, but the menu is utterly devoid of them. Instead you're served a tasty wedge of housemade pickle and a simply dressed salad on the side. Which is fine and all, but the salad doesn't really go with the burger. True, it's probably a good idea if for no other reason than to somewhat counteract the nigh-excessive brick of flesh and grease and fat you're ingesting, but good old-fashioned fries, even cheap frozen ones, are sorely missed here.
The burger sets you back $14, and that ain't chump change. It is, however, worth the cash, even sans fries. A single-patty version is available on the happy hour menu for $9, but I think one patty would be a mistake here. The bun is so substantial and the flavor of the fancy sauce and onions so strong that I think one patty would throw off that equilibrium. Stick with the two-patty version, even if you can't finish it in one sitting. If nothing else, the other diners around you will be impressed that you tried.
So, better than the Grüner burger? In the end, it all comes down to personal taste. Zukin isn't wrong to say it's his favorite burger in Portland, but I think the burger at Grüner is just a bit better (and the bun several times better). Regardless, it's still one of the major destination burgers in Portland, and one any burger lover in the area would be foolish to miss.