The Fireside Cellars at Willows Lodge
14580 NE 145th Street, Woodinville WA 98072 (map); 425-424-3900; willowslodge.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: This lamb burger has the chops to make lamb fans happy and convert any lamb naysayers
Want Fries with That? Comes with good sweet potato fries
Price: Chef B's Lamb Burger, $9 during their Happier Hour (4-6 p.m. Mon. to Fri., 9-11 p.m. Mon. to Thurs.), $14 on regular menu
Some hamburger purists may prefer beef for their patties, but many have welcomed the delicious, heady flavor of lamb and seek out burgers that celebrate it. Enter Fireside Cellars at Willows Lodge, located in the woodsy, winery-filled city of Woodinville, east of Seattle. Fireside Cellars is the bar nestled past the large two-way stone fireplace in the hotel's main lobby. Don't let preconceptions about hotel bars fool you—the menu from the Fireside Cellars is top-notch, under the guidance of executive chef Bobby Moore, a celebrated Seattle area chef who also runs the neighboring Northwest cuisine restaurant, Barking Frog.
One of Moore's specialties is Chef B's Lamb Burger, a grilled half pound of ground lamb topped with melted slices of Gruyère cheese, a relish of pickled red onions, and fresh arugula, set in a brioche bun smeared with aioli.
Cooked medium with a bit of pink in the center, the 1/3-pound hand-formed ground lamb patty made from Australian lamb is tender and has earthy flavor. The onion relish and aioli complement the lamb and balance out its pronounced flavor, while the peppery arugula lends a fresh, richness-cutting bite. The shiny egg-washed bun from local Seattle bakery Macrina has a delicately crisp crust and a soft, sponge-like interior that soaks up the patty's juices.
Chef B's Lamb Burger comes with crisp sweet potato fries, an ideal pairing with the lamb. The fries' natural sweetness stands out against the bold burger.
There's a Northwest Local Beef Burger on the menu if you insist on being a burger purist. The beef is sourced locally from Ninety Farms from Arlington, topped with cheese and bacon onion jam, a twist on a typical bacon cheeseburger. It's prepared in a similar way as the lamb burger and equally delicious, but the lamb burger sets itself apart as something different and worth trying.
Fireside Cellars may be too fancy to be an an everyday burger destination, but it does have one of the best happy hour deals for the quality of ingredients they use. If you go during their "Happier Hour" from 4 to 6 p.m. on the weeknights, the lamb burger with sweet potato fries is $9. The Local Beef Burger is $10. By enjoying it in a bar, you can have your burger with wine, and a local Pinot Noir or other fruity red that goes perfectly with the lamb burger. It's even nicer when you're taking advantage of their wine specials.
The setting for a meal can be as much a part of the experience as the flavor, and the Fireside Cellars is as cozy as the food they serve. There's a scattering of small tables and sofas set up around the fireplace. It's picturesque in the summer, when the long hours of daylight keep the space well-lit with a view of the Lodge gardens outside, but it's especially welcoming in the winter, when the lighting is low, the fireplace is aglow, and you're swirling a glass of wine and tucking into a burger. Friday nights usually feature live musicians, making it feel like you're on a romantic date with one of your favorite foods.
About the author: Denise Sakaki is a freelance writer, photographer and designer, blogging and eating her way through as many adventures as her stomach can handle. When she's not exploring the world of hamburgers for AHT, she's thinking about what burger she wants to tackle next...