12 Unquowa Place, Fairfield CT 06824 (map); 203-557-9393; thechelseaff.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Both burgers are good, but for the extra dollar the Chelsea Burger is the way to go
Want Fries With That? Well executed skin-on fries come with the burger
Price: Salt and Pepper Burger, $12.95; Chelsea Burger, $13.95; both come with french fries and pickles
When I heard that Matt Storch, the chef/owner of Match in South Norwalk, was opening a more casual sister restaurant in Fairfield called The Chelsea, I was excited. I've enjoyed many meals at Match, and the combination of The Chelsea's more casual atmosphere and menu plus Storch's talents should be a winner.
The Chelsea has seating for 80, whether you want to grab a drink in their English-style pub area featuring a long wooden bar with about a dozen seats, or sit at a table in their airy and inviting atrium. Their menu includes a wide variety of gourmet bar-food options plus eclectic and fusion dishes, all under $25. It offers two burgers: the Salt and Pepper Burger ($12.95), a plain and simple char-grilled patty on a seeded brioche bun, and the Chelsea Burger ($13.95) featuring a "cheddar dip," sweet-sour onions, and chopped bacon on an onion brioche bun from Good Bread Bakery in Port Chester.
The hamburgers at The Chelsea are definite A-Listers. I ordered each medium-rare and the kitchen complied with perfectly grilled patties. The burgers came pre-cut—not as ordered, but as done to all of their burgers. When I asked about the pre-cut process, I was told, "We like the customer to see the meat and the juice." Separating the halves revealed a promising pink interior plus a coarse, tender grind.
The meat is a 75/25 blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib from local organic purveyor Saugatuck Craft Butchery that is dry-aged for two weeks. The seven-ounce burgers are ground with an extra-coarse die and hand-pattied each morning and again before dinner. The gas-fired grill imparts a crispy char on the exterior, while the coarse, loosely packed interior stays juicy.
Since there aren't any toppings on the Salt and Pepper Burger, it's all about the flavor of the beef. And aside from being neither salty nor peppery, it succeeds with pronounced smokiness from the grill and a deep, rich, beefy flavor. The burger is served on a toasted seeded brioche bun that makes the meat-to-bun ratio a little heavier on the bun side, but the flavors of the meat balance well with the buttery brioche bun.
The Chelsea Burger elevates the basic burger with the addition of numerous toppings—cheddar dip, sweet-sour onions and chopped bacon—and a switch to an onion brioche bun. I was concerned that the flavors would fight each other, but they work in perfect unison. The cheddar isn't just a few melted slices but a complete cheese-wrap due to the finished patty getting dipped into a bacon-cheese Béchamel sauce before being placed on the bun. The crumbled bacon lends salty-smokiness and crunch while the onions add the desired onion flavor improved with a kick of sweet and sour, plus a soft texture that complements the crunchy bacon bits and the patty's char. Everything balances perfectly with the bun's soft texture and buttery flavor. This is one of the most flavorful combinations of meat, toppings, and bun in the area.
The accompanying fries were very good—crispy on the outside, moist and soft on the inside, and well salted. They come sprinkled with parmesan for more saltiness and parsley that added more color than flavor. I enjoyed the fries more with the Salt and Pepper Burger than the Chelsea Burger—maybe the additional flavors presented in the latter were a little too powerful for the fries.
For a delicious basic burger the Salt and Pepper Burger is a great option, but to truly appreciate The Chelsea's burgers, go for the Chelsea Burger.
About the author: Jeff Schlesinger's first memory of hamburgers is carrying a single dollar bill to White Castle for a 6-pack (around 10-cents each), fries, and a Coke. Many years later he still enjoys the flavors of a great hamburger. His wife of 32 years and two daughters make sure he balances his love for hamburgers with plenty of exercise and other great foods in their home town of New Canaan, CT. Read more from Jeff at Jfood Eats and CTbites.