42 Shotover Street, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand (map); +64 3-441 1232; fergburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Big buns and intense toppings may suggest total decadence, but the classic Fergburger with cheese is a well-balanced, damn tasty burger.
Want Fries with That?Skip. They're limp and undersalted.
Price: Fergburger with cheddar, $12 NZD; Chief Wiggum, $14.50 NZD; fries with one sauce, $4.50 NZD
You're basically not allowed to leave Queenstown without going to Fergburger first. The gorgeous, lakeside town is a destination for adventure travelers of all stripes: skydivers, mountain bikers, bungee jumpers, luge-ers, and, if you're me, eaters.
Fergburger may not be the most extreme of food choices (it is a burger joint, after all), but they've got a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and some seriously aggressive sandwich choices for the adventurous glutton in us all. The mobs of people crowding the small restaurant's table-filled entryway at all hours is a testament to the appeal of this approach for Queenstown travelers, and in many cases, for the tastiness of the grub.
Wanting to get to the bottom of Fergburger's burger rep, I started simple, ordering the Fergburger with cheese ($12 NZD for cheddar, $12.50 for blue, Swiss, or brie). The medium-cooked patty (by default) comes topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, tomato relish, aioli, and here, sharp cheddar cheese.
My attention was immediately directed to the bun, which looked massive (the burger is 4 inches tall, and 5.5 inches in diameter, I was told), especially when compared to the relatively thin beef patty (about a quarter to a third pound). But lo and behold, the bun seamlessly squashed down to be a perfectly proportionate fit for the burger's fillings, while keeping them relatively in check...at least for the first half.
Those fillings, too, all fused together into a beautiful whole of burger-friendly flavors: the pliant, chewy bread; the fresh crunch of lettuce-tomato-onion; the sharp punch of cheddar cheese; the creamy sweetness of the aioli (which, thankfully, was not overwhelmingly applied); and the smokey, almost barbecue-sauce-esque note from the tomato relish. The cheese could have been applied more uniformly, but ultimately, I deem these burger accoutrements to be pretty damn successful.
As for the beef itself, it's not terribly distinctive in terms of flavor or texture, though Fergburger does work closely with a local butcher, who grinds the beef fresh daily. The patties are hand-formed, then seasoned and cooked on a griddle. But what really drives this burger into great territory is the aggressive peppering of the underpatty—the burger is entirely covered in roughly ground peppercorns. This lends a major pack of flavor to both the beef itself and a burger as a whole, making it a good fit for the rich toppings.
The Chief Wiggum ($14.50 NZD) lacks any such balance that the Fergburger may have achieved. Admittedly, this is a pork belly sandwich rather than a ground meat burger, but the amount of insanely fatty belly present is significant enough to include it in our Fergburger assessment.
The belly, which is slow-roasted, is served with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and apricot seeded mustard on the same great bun. Oh, and in case the massive amount of fatty pork wasn't enough for you, they put a hash brown on it, too.
Extreme, right? The thing is, this sandwich is just too fatty to be thoroughly enjoyable. If there had been half the amount of pork belly, it would have been a different story. As it was, you could pretty much feel your heart slowing down as you worked your way through the sandwich (see: the grease-coated paper). The mustard, though, was sharp and fantastic—I'd have loved some of that on the burger, too.
The fries ($4.50 NZD, with choice of sauce) were pretty limp, definitely undersalted, and overall uninspired. Our sweet chili sauce was good, though—the fries were a useful vehicle for that, and for the aioli-tomato relish blend dripping from the burger.
Had we one more eater, or a whole lot more stomach room, perhaps we would have given the Big Al ($17.50 NZD) a try (instead, I sneakily tried to capture the massiveness over this person's shoulder mid-bite). A half-pound of beef is topped with bacon, two eggs, beetroot, lettuce-tomato-onion, and, per the menu, a "whole lotta cheese" and "a big wad of aioli."
Excessive? You bet. But when it comes to adventure travel, that's kind of the point sometimes, isn't it?
About the author: Lauren Sloss is a bicoastal food-lover who is based in San Francisco. Some of her favorite things include The Black Keys, goat gouda, and guacamole. You can follow her on Twitter @laurensloss.