Berlin: Standing Room Only at Burgermeister

Editor's note: Welcome Conor O'Rourke to A Hamburger Today! After mentioning Burgermeister in his recent guide to Berlin Cheap Eats on Serious Eats, he's bringing his full review to AHT.

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[Photographs: Conor O'Rourke]

Burgermeister

Oberbaumstraße 8, Kreuzberg, Berlin (map); +49 030-23883840, burger-meister.de
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Classic, traditional cheeseburgers in a city where that can be hard to find
Want Fries with That? Yes, and get cheese on them!
Price: Cheeseburger, €3.90; Meisterburger, €4.30; cheese fries, €2.20
Notes: Open until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays

A few Fridays ago, I crashed a friend's party with a bunch of people I didn't know that well. Or at all, really. It's a long story involving various forms of real and perceived social pressure as well as some language-based communication problems, but still in principle not a nice thing to do, and I felt bad about it. I arrived late with about seven or eight people, and after a few minutes, my friend asked us to go somewhere else, because his house was too small. Did I mention it was his birthday party? Yeah, it was rude. We left and I ended up on a weird, not entirely unpleasant adventure involving German freestyle rappers and night buses to strange, unfamiliar places far from the city center, but that has even less to do with burgers.

I ended the weekend feeling a little bad about the whole thing, but what better way to make it up to my friend than by taking him out for some hamburgers? Specifically, my favorite fast-food hamburger in Berlin, at Burgermeister.

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Burgermeister occupies a building under the train tracks near U-Bahnhof Schlesisches Tor formerly used as a public restroom. Yeah, don't ask. The point is, now it's a damn fine hamburger restaurant. Nineties hiphop, the only kind most Germans can abide, plays as burger flippers rush around the crowded interior of the former bathroom, shuttling burgers and fries from one corner to the other. The dining area, such as it is, is standing-only and outdoor, though in the winters they set up a glass enclosure to keep your fries toasty. A DMV-style number screen displays the current order to be picked up, but be warned: This place is popular, and if you come here in the peak midnight-to-around-three-AM-on-a-drunken-Saturday hours, waits can stretch upwards of a half hour.

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Burgermeister hand-forms their 180-gram (about six ounces) patties, but unfortunately the meat isn't ground in-house, though it's from sources with "only the highest ecological standards." They are juicy, sharply peppery, and loosely packed, cooked medium, with a tendency to crumble. On the cheeseburger (€3.90), this tendency was managed quite effectively by the thick, sticky layer of American cheese. Crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and pungent red onions all play their traditional roles perfectly. The thickly sliced, tart, and satisfyingly crunchy pickles are a highlight, and offset with a small amount of slightly sweet house sauce, it all adds up to a classic-tasting, extremely well-balanced cheeseburger.

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The Meisterburger (€4.30) on the other hand, proved too ambitious for its own good. It started off well: The bacon was crispy and thickly sliced, and the lettuce, pickles, tomatoes were fresh and flavorful. But somewhere along the line, a cloyingly sweet and artificial-tasting barbecue sauce had been added to the mix, and when combined with the already-sweet grilled onions, the burger was overwhelmed. Without the gooey cheese to mellow the flavor and hold the patty together, the burger disintegrated into a sweet, sticky, salty mess. Unless you like your burgers to taste like candy, the Meisterburger in its present form is not worth ordering.

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A word about cheese fries (€2.20): I love them! These are straightforward, crispy fries with some melty, con queso-style cheese product poured all over them, they can also be had with such bonuses as bacon, jalapeños, and grilled onions. Though not fresh-cut, they're golden-brown and perfectly crisp. Even without the jalapeños, the nacho cheese is spiced, and the fries have a bit of a kick to them. One can easily see why they're so popular with the late-night crowd: Everyone loves that last minute shot of grease and carbs to soak up the extra beer before you go to bed.

Though my apologetic expedition to Burgermeister was sightly marred by the disappointing Meista Burger, I can happily report that my friend and I both departed from Burgermeister sporting not only full bellies, but a reinvigorated friendship and perhaps a little more mutual understanding than before. I learned that sometimes it's better to just not show up, and also to just go ahead and skip the barbecue sauce. Sometimes uninvited guests can be a bigger burden than you think.

About the author: Conor O'Rourke is a freelance journalist living in Berlin. He can usually be found losing at pub quiz or at home trying to cook the perfect fish curry.

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