1220 SW 1st Ave., Portland OR 97204 (map); 503-227-7342; veritablequandary.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A no-frills "cheffy" burger isn't the most complex burger in town, but beyond the oversized bun, its flaws are minor
Want Fries with That? A large pile of house-cut salted and peppered fries come with the burger, and they're pretty darn good
Prices: VQ Burger with white cheddar & fries, $12
Veritable Quandary is best known for two things: mega-popular weekend brunches, and crowded weekday power lunches for downtown Portland's movers and shakers. The menu leans heavily toward the upscale: pumpkin mascarpone agnolotti, rabbit pate with roasted brioche, duck confit spring rolls. Probably not the first place you'd think to find a really good burger, but with the kitchen helmed by current chef Annie Cuggino, that's exactly what you'll find here.
Looking at that pic up top, I'm amazed I responded so positively to this burger. I mean, it breaks one of the 10 Hamburger Commandments: Thou shalt not place thy beef 'tween the halves of a leavened bread most rustic.—López-Alt 3:16. And I won't deny it, the size of the ciabatta roll here (from Ken's Artisan Bakery) far exceeds the diameter of the patty.
So why aren't I standing on my chair crying foul? Because even though this is ciabatta, it's the softest ciabatta you're likely to find anywhere. A far cry from tough and chewy, its airy texture is actually perfect for a burger of this thickness and offers little bite resistance or meat backsliding. Yes, it's still much too big around for this burger, but given the exquisite flavor of the beef, it was a sin worth forgiving, or at least punishable by no more than a ruler-slap to the wrist.
The burger I was served featured a salty crust on the top and bottom of the patty (less so on the sides) and nice char marks from the grill. Cooked medium as requested, the beef had a somewhat fine grind, but not so small that it turned to mush like a Kobe burger is wont to do. Lacking any fancy seasonings, this burger proves once again that ground beef needs nothing more than salt and pepper to make it sing like Pavarotti.
Good thing the beef is so flavorful, because there's surprisingly little else to this burger. Most noticeably, Veritable Quandary piles on a monster slab of white cheddar half as thick as the beef itself. A smart choice, given how innocuous cheddar can be on a burger. Sheer volume of cheese is never a bad thing in my book, even though the cheddar hadn't quite melted all the way in the center of burger.
Rounding out the burger, a trio of mild: mild green leaf lettuce, mild basil aioli, and mild pickled vegetables, which consisted of onions, squash, red and yellow bell peppers, and green beans (ever had a green bean on a burger? This was my first). The veggies had a very low vinegar element to them, so I suspect they hadn't been pickled very long before they found their way to my plate. While they certainly took a back seat to the beef, they added some nice crunch to the meal once stacked on the burger.
For $12, you'd hope your burger would come with fries, and Veritable Quandary's are quite good. Because they're house-cut, some of the fries suffer from occasional limpness, but they're not overly greasy or burnt-tasting. Dissect one and you'll find a shaft of cumulous potato hiding within the salted-and-peppered exterior. I usually don't finish a serving of fries, but I devoured every last one of these, which should say something about their addictive quality.
I tend to avoid trendy spots like Veritable Quandary because they're often too crowded and the food usually seems like an afterthought. But that clearly isn't the case here. While you may have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with yuppies galore during the wait for a table at peak hours, the just-shy-of-great burger that awaits you as a reward for your patience is suitable compensation.