"Grilled" is our series of Q&As of burger-related people. It's been a while since we've done these regularly, but we're starting up again by interviewing our contributors so you can get to know the people behind our site. Today we're grilling Todd Brock, our Atlanta correspondent since last December.
Name: Todd Brock
Location: Atlanta (Okay, I'm really out in the suburbs with a wife and kids and a minivan, but I'm of a certain age now and that's the law.)
How has writing for AHT changed your burger-eating habits? How often do you eat burgers now compared to before? I've been a semi-professional burger-eater for over two years now (AHT plus another site), and I can probably count on one hand the number of burgers I've eaten in that time that DIDN'T turn into a review. So I don't often eat burgers purely for pleasure anymore. And while I don't make repeat visits to my favorite burger joints as often as I would if I had a different job, the reviews have
allowed encouraged forced me to broaden my horizons and try places (and burgers) I probably wouldn't have bothered with before. If I'm out and someone at my table orders a burger, I can't help but crane my neck for a better look, ask (more than) a few (more than) casual questions, and end up doing a little mini-analysis. Luckily, most people I'm around know what I do for a living and (thankfully) either get a kick out of it or otherwise take it in stride. Also, I can no longer go out to eat and not pay attention to things like where to sit for optimal lighting and what would make a nice photo to accompany a review. Yeah, I'm a boatload of fun on date night; just ask my wife.
The hamburger is a food item with which most Americans have strong childhood associations. Do you remember your earliest burger encounter? My earliest remembrances are of places, not necessarily the burgers eaten there. I was born on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, so my first burger joint was almost certainly The Triple XXX Family Restaurant. It holds a special place in my heart, as does Steak n' Shake, which was a frequent wee-hours stop for my parents as they dealt with full class loads, third-shift jobs, and a newborn with whacked-out sleeping habits.
When did you realize you loved burgers? Burgers were always there, but nothing I felt more passionate about than any other food type. That changed upon my first visit to The Vortex Bar & Grill shortly after moving to Atlanta. I'd never seen a menu with that many specialized burger creations on it, and I was instantly hooked. It's still my #1 burger joint.
Cheese: American, cheddar, other? Say what you will, cheese snobs. But nothing melts like American. It is quite simply the perfect burger cheese.
Ketchup or mustard? I was very anti-condiments/toppings/spreads/sauces growing up. Give me a McDonald's cheeseburger, and I'd need a stack of napkins with which to go in and wipe everything off. While my palate has evolved since to embrace many things, I am still rabidly averse to both ketchup and mustard.
Preferred bun? Sesame seeds just don't do much for me. I like a squishy bun that still manages to hold its own. The buttered-and-lightly-toasted treatment is always appreciated, thank you very much.
Grilled, griddled, broiled, or other? I'm a grilling fanatic, so I gotta give the nod to anything cooked over a flame. But I'm becoming more appreciative of a skilled griddleman's techniques. Char is good.
How do you like your burgers done? Medium rare. End of discussion.
Would you do us the favor of describing your perfect burger? I could describe it...or I could link to it. And I'll do just about anything for the click. My perfect burger is the Double Bypass from The Vortex Bar & Grill, which I reviewed in March 2011. While I can't prove that they invented fried eggs on burgers (they didn't) or using grilled cheese sandwiches as buns (they actually might have), this behemoth is as perfect as it gets for me. Plus, I'm a sucker for any restaurant where I have to walk through a twenty-foot skull just to get in.
What's your favorite fast-food burger? For a long time, it was Burger King's Bacon Double Cheeseburger for its near-perfect ratio of meat-to-cheese-to-bun. But on a road trip last year, I discovered Jack in the Box and his Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger, which is even better, in my book. And just recently, I had my first ButterBurger from Culver's, a chain I completely fell in love with for the way they do pretty much everything. Alas, neither Jack in the Box nor Culver's has a location anywhere near me, so these fast-food burgs have managed to attain somewhat mythological status in my mind. I'm sure if ate one once a week, they'd lose their luster.
What topping or condiment should never grace a burger? BBQ sauce on a burger just doesn't work. And please save the fried onion in all its forms (rings/straws/tanglers/petals) for the side.
What's the best burger you've eaten this year? I have to go with my beloved Double Bypass. But the Apache from Grindhouse Killer Burgers, the burger from Muss & Turner's, and the double-stack from Bocado are all up there as well.
What's the most unusual burger you've ever eaten? Probably the Elvis from (of course) The Vortex: bacon, creamy peanut butter, and fried bananas. Hard to imagine why The King needed drugs when he had a personal cook who would whip up one of these bad boys whenever he wanted.
What's the most overrated burger you've tried? Most underrated? I never watched the reality show Richard Blais was on, so I'm not as starstruck by him as everyone else in Atlanta, but for all the hoopla, I was totally underwhelmed with FLIP Burger Boutique. A5 Kobe beef and foie gras added up to nothing more than a $40 disaster for me.
The most underrated burger is tough, since there are so many great burgers toiling away in anonymity. One that comes to mind is the cheeseburger I had at Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I went to witness Adam Richman take on the monstrous Fifth Third Burger for a taping of Man v. Food in 2009, but wasn't about to attempt it myself. (Food challenges aren't my thing. I like a big/hot/crazy dish more than the next guy, but as soon as you throw in a speed/quantity element, I'm no longer interested; I'm in it for the taste.) The regular old double cheeseburger they hand out at the concession stand was a thing of grilled, charred, melty, cheesy beauty.
Imagine that for some crazy reason, you're going vegetarian. Where do you go for your final burger? As much as I love the Vortex and always will, I'd probably ask Miss Ann of Ann's Snack Bar to crank out one last Ghetto Burger for me to go out on. There's something to be said for a burger where every step and every ingredient is lovingly prepared by hand by a lone septuagenarian who's yelling at the douchebag next to you to take his damn cell phone outside. A visit to Miss Ann's is as much dinner theatre as it is a crazy-good lunch. Same with the Big H Burger at Harold's on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Replace the feisty grandmotherly type with your sharp-tongued uncle and you've got Harold's. Nothing like getting an impromptu comedy show with a world-class burger.