Hog & Hominy
707 W Brookhaven Circle, Memphis TN 38117 (map); 901-207-7396; hogandhominy.com
Cooking method: Grilled on a flat-top
Short Order: Named for John T. Edge, this nostalgic burger pays tribute to flat-top seared, classic Oklahoma onion burgers
Want Fries With That? Not an option, but if you can talk the kitchen into making an order of the golden hushpuppies served with red eye mayo, do it!
Get a load of the John T. Edge burger ($8), an oh-so-succulent sandwich now offered late nights Thursday through Sunday on the juke joint-style back porch at Hog & Hominy in Memphis. The wonderfully messy creation is chefs Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer's meaty tribute to John T. Edge, the head of the Southern Foodways Alliance, prolific author (whose page-turners include the 2005 title Hamburgers & Fries: An American Story), occasional Iron Chef America judge, and all-around tastemaker. A few months ago when the chef duo was struggling to come up with a signature burger, John T. just happened to stop in at Hog & Hominy for lunch.
"We didn't want to do a chef-y burger," said Michael. "Not that we don't love them, but we wanted to do something different."
The pair had already played around with various renditions, but nothing was quite right. Then, John T. served up a suggestion: What about an Oklahoma-style onion burger, cooked crisp on the flat-top grill? A straightforward burger, 100 miles from fussy, with a laser focus on the flavor of the ground beef.
"We started doing research and loved that this burger had history," Andrew said.
The chefs' first order of business was sourcing a hindquarter of Angus beef from their favorite local rancher, Claybrook Farm. They broke it down and wore out a Kitchen Aid trying to come up with the right grind before investing in a Hobart and setting it to medium coarse.
After the beef is ground, it gets rolled up into loose five-ounce balls and chilled. When the orders come in, those balls are smashed onto the sizzling hot flat-top and seasoned with a combination of salt, ground pepper, and housemade garlic powder. Before the patties are flipped, the uncooked sides get topped with thin slices of raw onion; after the flip, the onions caramelize under the patties as they cook. A slice of American cheese goes on top. Yes, American cheese.
"We experimented with all sorts of cheese, but those slices gave us the crispy, almost burnt edges we were looking for," Andrew said.
The patty is covered during the last few seconds of cooking to steam and allow the cheese to get extra gooey. Cooked medium-rare, the patty is loaded onto a toasted Wonder Bread bun and finished with a squiggle of French's mustard. Shredded lettuce dressed in pickle juice makes for the burger's brilliant finish.
Here's what makes it so darned satisfying: the meat, plain and simple, flattened so maximum surface area gets that crispy crust. Minimalist toppings play a supporting role, like The Jordanaires backing early Elvis. They're there, but they don't overpower the star.
This would be a three-napkin sandwich if it weren't wrapped in waxed paper, adding to its nostalgic, almost home-cooked-by-grandma quality. It's the perfect thing to savor while sitting at picnic tables and listening to the house DJ spinning classic vinyl at Hog & Hominy's back porch bar, the Holding Pen.
The John T. Edge burger made its debut last week, but I got a sneak preview while in Memphis for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, aka The Superbowl of Swine. It was an absolute miracle I managed to eat even half of this stellar burger, only because it came at the tail end of a magnificent marathon meal consisting of nearly everything on the menu at this crazy-popular neighborhood joint that specializes in pizza and craft cocktails, among other things on the ever-changing menu. (If it's available, don't miss the stunningly rich poutine—fries smothered in pork neck bone gravy—the sublime housemade, cheese-stuffed hot dog; the Caesar salad tossed with crispy chicken skin instead of croutons; the ultra-rich pork belly pizza; the salty-sweet parmesan gelato; and the elegant charcuterie plate. Oh, and the crackling, wicked spicy Buffalo pig tails, too. Lard Have Mercy!)
No wonder these clever cooks wound up on the cover of June's Food & Wine, called out as some of the best new chefs in the country. So far, one of the highlights of this honor was shaking hands with Thomas Keller at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic last month: "He told us we were the future and we'd better not 'F' it up," Michael said. Not to worry, chef Keller. I bet that Keller, a big fan In-N-Out, would flip over the super-juicy John T. Edge burger.
About the author: Seattle-based food and wine writer Leslie Kelly is a regular contributor to Seattle Magazine and Citysearch and writes about fan fare for the Seattle Mariners Magazine. She was formerly a restaurant critic for the Memphis Commercial Appeal and is a long-time member of the Southern Foodways Alliance. She also wrote a series for Serious Eats in 2009 called Critic-Turned-Cook.