3146 East Camelback Road, Phoenix AZ 85016 (map); 602-522-2288; deluxburger.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: This gastropub burger spot needs to work a little harder perfecting the union of meat and cheese.
Want Fries with That? Nah. The middling fast food style fries don't deliver on the crisp.
Prices: Standard Burger, $9.50
Notes: Open daily 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
If you must have your fries, consider mixing in the sweet potatoes.
Recently, things seem to have changed. Perhaps you've noticed it too. The world feels a little different today than it did yesterday. Sure, our problems persist, but the way we are facing them seems to have shifted. It's not just hope that our new president points toward, but also a renewed sense of responsibility. President Barack Obama exhorts us to change ourselves—our behavior, our commitment—right along with this sea change in our governance.
What does this have to do with a hamburger? Well, at first blush, it seems fair to say not so much (our new President's recent lunch order notwithstanding). Then again, as many of you have noticed, my burger reviews are not just about burgers—they are about my experience of the burger. A burger story, if you will. Sometimes it's a romance; sometimes it's action packed. This time, it's personal. In this installment, the particularly personal turn is related to the recent political shift.
It begins here in Los Angeles, but all the burger drama happens in Phoenix at a self-styled gastropub called Delux Burger. I'm not sure why the lack of an "e," but then again, I'm not sure about a lot of things about Delux. Sit back, I'll tell you the story.
A Family of Different Colors
Let me back up a bit and give you a little bit of background on me and my family. I grew up in New York City and I like my burgers medium rare. Those are two of the important details. The third is that I come from a mutltiracial family. It's a strange thing to have to qualify, as though the simple fact that we shared a home and loved each other isn't enough to explain who we are. The thing is, it isn't. In America, growing up different colors means a lot.
My older brother and sister are biracial. Their mother (who is also my mother) is white. Back in the mid-sixties she fell in love with a man from Montserrat who—as many men from Montserrat are—is black. He played soccer, had a beautiful accent, and eyes for my mother. She barely stood a chance. When she told her parents who'd be coming to dinner, they told her he wasn't welcome. It was too much for my mother's racist, Italian-American family. She was undeterred in her love. She married and quickly had two babies—my older brother and sister. They were beautiful and healthy and loving and they—like me—would never meet their mother's parents.
After a few years of dealing with a brand new family, very little money, and diverging dreams, they divorced. My mother met a new man, my father. He too is a white Italian-American. They fell into something like love and while the affair didn't go the distance, they did manage to make a fat, jolly baby who would one day review hamburgers. One can barely imagine their pride.
My brother, sister, and I grew up together. We laughed and fought and loved each other more than anything else. Perhaps you know the feeling. The thing was, all along no one could make sense of our relationship. Since we were different colors, our experience must have been different, right? Yes and no. We were different because the world saw us differently. We were brother and sister just the same.
The story of my family continues, but I've got a burger to get to, so I will get to it.
Finding A Bit of Los Angeles in Phoenix
Mom came to Los Angeles to check in on her boy and his new digs. That, and to make the trip to Phoenix and watch the inauguration of that amazing "skinny kid, with a funny name" with her daughter. To watch—in real time—her country honor an identity that forty years earlier not even her own family would accept. And she'd do it in her daughter's home in her daughter's adopted city: Phoenix.
You know Phoenix, right? It's the biggest city in a state that famously refused to observe the holiday designated to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The then-governor of Arizona, Evan Mecham, received most of the attention for opposing it. He even inspired a rocking protest song by Public Enemy that is the inspiration for the title of this post. Funny story. You know who else opposed it openly (even voted against in congress) until it became politically untenable? Arizona's own John McCain.
In our family, revenge is a dish best served with burgers, so we headed over to Delux Burger on East Camelback to find out just what is so deluxe about their beef. It's been open for a number of years and has garnered numerous "Best Burger" accolades from the local press. This will sound like a bit of LA snobbery, but the first thing I noticed (and later confirmed) is that their "signature" burger is a facsimile of the burger at Father's Office. Much of the place takes its, um, "inspiration" (called that for legal purposes, I imagine) from Father's Office. It's a slick, gastropub with lots of beers on tap and menus that stylishly avoid the final zero in the price. Yawn. Wait—sorry—that was snobby. It's like, totally, blue plastic and stainless steel-hip in there.
As Nick Solares rightly pointed out in his review of Father's Office, their burger is barely a burger so I'll only mention the Delux version to encourage you to seek out the original. I went for their Standard Burger. which is eight ounces of fresh ground beef from Harris Ranch. Along with the beef you get an egg bun, lettuce, tomato, red onion, dill pickles, and your choice of cheese—in my case, American.
We got some fast food-style fries mixed with some sweet potato brethren, which are served in a mini shopping cart. This too is a direct rip-off from—I mean, homage to—Father's Office. They're sprinkled with parsley and have a good hit of salt, but aren't standouts. There was a particular lack of crispness all around.
I decided on a Coke rather than a beer as I was staring at a five plus-hour drive back to Los Angeles after lunch. My sister, ever wiser (and older) decided on a shake. I used my burgering expertise to guide her toward a black and white. Of course, that option served her little brother's penchant for metaphor, and had the added virtue of being the best kind of shake. Delux makes their shakes with Häagen-Dazs ice cream and tops them with whipped cream and a cherry. As you might imagine, my opinion is that chocolate and vanilla work well together. It was an excellent shake.
Overcooked, Then Undercooked
The burger arrived on a square plate deconstructed with a little stick popping out of the meat informing me that the server had chosen to put in my order as "medium" rather than medium rare. This was strange for two reasons. I can barely imagine that I'd misspeak my temperature order on a burger, though to be fair I am aging and as I did live in England during the Mad Cow Summer, my brain could be going. The other thing that made this odd is that Delux recommends their burgers be eaten medium rare. I agree. "Please make me a new one."
The replacement was in front of me just a few minutes later. All was right in my burger world until I cut into the new burger. The cook seemed to overcompensate the first mistake by undercooking the second burger. Although not a crime, just a misdemeanor, it was strange from a place that must serve hundreds a week.
Once constructed to my specifications (everything it comes with plus ketchup), I went for it. It was a hearty and pretty tasty burger. The bun was fresh and added a hint of flavor. The meat was high quality with some good fat. All the pieces fit, but as I continued to eat there was just something missing. I took a bit of the meat on its own and realized that it was a bit light on the seasoning. For those of you playing along at home, I just can't stress enough how important it is to properly season your patty.
Our lunch wound down and from the TV in the corner I spied the Arizona Cardinals edging past the Eagles to make their very first Super Bowl. The place went up in a quiet cheer. I took in this pleasant, mixed group of Phoenicians rising from the ashes of their senator's presidential defeat. I congratulated them.
I thought about my burger and my country. Delux is not at all bad. Truthfully, it gets a lot of things right. The ingredients are quality and the atmosphere is friendly. It just seems to have gotten a little caught up in the bells and whistles of New American excess. Maybe that's fading everywhere. Our new president encouraged us to not simply hope for a better America, but to sacrifice for a better America—to focus on the things in our life that matter. Delux would do well to take this sentiment to heart. If you want to make a great burger restaurant, focus on making great burgers.
I made my way to the car and prepared for the long drive home. One more hug for mom and sis. The kind you hold for an extra beat because you know it will be too long until you get another.
We laughed and talked one last time about the coming inauguration. Tuesday would bring a new day in America. One that would feel like a promise kept. We would change from the last thing people imagine when they think of the word "family" to a version of what they see when someone says, "The First Family."
On the drive home the sun set across the landscape in those impossibly beautiful colors that remind you why an earlier generation of Americans dreamed that going West could only lead to a new and better life. To be honest, I moved to Los Angeles with a version of this dream. I remembered that as I stared across the landscape. I was tired and still had a long way to go before I'd arrive at my new home, but somehow that felt okay. I knew I'd get there.