Trifecta Tavern + Bakery
726 SE 6th Ave., Portland OR 97214 (map); 503-841-6675; trifectapdx.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Two grilled patties, Thousand Island, and pimento cheese = one of Portland's best burgers
Want Fries with That? The handcut fries are nicely salty but unevenly cooked and a touch too oily
Prices: 1/2-pound Pimento Double Cheeseburger, $15
Ken Forkish is no stranger to success. His bakery is one of most beloved and most popular in the city. Same goes for his pizzeria. Branching out wasn't necessary, but rather than rest on his laurels, he opened Trifecta Tavern + Bakery, a dimly lit tavern and bakery in Portland's budding Southeast Industrial District that serves, among such enticements as a "big-ass steak" and free freshly baked bread, a pimento double cheeseburger ($15) that knocked my socks off.
Like signing Aaron Rodgers for a five-year contract or scoring front-row seats to a Paul McCartney concert, greatness doesn't come cheap: you'll be dropping 15 bucks for this beauty. Where is all that money going? It starts with house-ground brisket and chuck, loosely packed into four-ounce patties, seasoned with salt and pepper, and cooked over a wood-fired grill until a smoky crust forms around a juicy, tender, medium-rare center. So many of the complaints I hear about grilled burgers—that they're overcooked, or too thick—simply do not apply here.
Then boom goes the dynamite: a dollop of housemade pimento cheese for each patty. Why more restaurants don't top their burgers with this salty, piquant, creamy greatness is beyond me. Trifecta's take on this classic Southern specialty uses a blend of one-year aged cheddar and aioli, subbing out the traditional pimentos for Calabrian chilies. The result delivers a sharp hit of casomorphins to the brain while pockets of heat from the chilies pop on your tongue, much like good Texan queso. Seriously, how can anyone go back to flavorless sheets of mild cheddar after this?
This is Ken Forkish we're talking about here, so of course the brioche buns are prepared in-house. Baked to a golden brown an hour before service, the thin blistered crust hides an airy, squishy interior perfect for absorbing juices without breaking down. The buns sit a spell on the grill for added crunch, then receive a smear of spicy Thousand Island dressing with chopped dill pickles. The pickles are important, because along with the chilies, they help balance the rich fats of the meat and cheese.
If you like salt (and if you have any interest at all in this meal, you had better), then you'll love the fries that accompany the burger. Hand-cut and fried to a deep bronze, they receive a liberal dusting of sea salt and come with ketchup or aioli, although neither is needed. The nature of hand-cut fries almost always means uneven cooking, so expect a few burnt ones and a few that could use a bit more time in the fryer. The vast majority elicited an appreciable crunch, though they were a tad on the oily side.
Trifecta's Pimento Double Cheeseburger seems a simple affair, but the chile-spiked cheese and the pickle-studded Thousand Island render all other toppings and condiments superfluous. You can grouse about the price, but I have no problem paying it. I also have no problem saying that this was the best burger I ate in 2013, and a tough one to beat for 2014.