Ladies and gentleman, I first met Nick Solares, this week's Grilled subject, in late April, when he started sending me a series of tips and links regarding burgers. As he was quite adept at finding interesting beefy tidbits, I thought, "This guy would make a helluva blogger." Mr. Solares must have sensed his own potential because in May he started Beef Aficionado, a site dedicated to all things beef. Most impressive to me was his feat of eating and blogging a burger a day during his premiere month—which also happened to be National Hamburger Month. And so, without further ado, let's get Grillin'. —The Mgmt.
Name: Nick Solares, editor in beef, Beef Aficionado Weblog
Location: NYC via UK
Occupation: Bon vivant
How often do you eat burgers? The month of May excluded, I usually eat 3 to 4 per month, but sometimes I will go on binges and go through that number in as many days.
Where did you eat your most recent one?
In-N-Out burger on SunsetI had a regular cheeseburger and an Animal-style cheeseburger. I am amazed that fast food can be this good. [Note: I'm sure Nick has eaten a few more burgers in the span between when I asked him this and when I published this interview. —The Mgmt. ]
Cheese: American, cheddar, other? Being an Anglophile and a foodie dilettante, I reflexively choose cheddar even though it rarely, if ever actually comes from Cheddar, but I am fine with American. Actually, my favorite burger places serve American exclusively, so I guess that should really be my answer. I love blue cheese in many other applications but find it much too pungent and overpowering on a burger plus burgers places don’t usually get very good quality blue cheese. Anyway.
Ketchup or mustard? With apologies to Monsieur Motz, I go with the pantywaist ketchup. I find mustard so austere and grim; burgers are supposed to be a fun, frivolous food. The mild sweetness of ketchup is wonderful juxtaposed against the charred exterior of the burger, and I also find that it contrasts particularly nicely with the tanginess of the cheese. Mustard tends to darken the entire palate, pulling the burger too much into the yin. I feel ketchup achieves a better balance as an accompaniment for while it is sweet it also has tartness from the vinegar that provides a smoother palate. I am also fine with Thousand Island that is ubiquitous of California-style burgers.
Sesame-seed or plain?
Plain. I like the idea of seeds, but it just turns out that my favorite burgers use plain buns.
Grilled, griddled, or broiled?
Griddled, for anything up to about 6 ounces. Anything bigger than that I prefer grilled or broiled with a slight preference for the latter, although I prefer smaller burgers.
And how would you like that done, sir?
Rare please, unless I am eating sliders, in which case you usually have no choice.
Would you do us the favor of describing your perfect burger? (Price and ingredients are no object.) Broadly speaking it is griddled, using only the freshest ingredients, the patty is from fresh not frozen, beef and is no more than 4 ounces in size. The bun is either a plain white or potato roll, American cheese, pickles, onionseither raw diced or griddle cooked with the burgerand a dab of ketchup. And the place has to have been in business at least 40 years, preferably longer.
The hamburger is a food item with which many people have strong childhood associations. Do you remember your earliest encounter with this delicious dish? It would have to be the Great American Disaster, a small chain of chic restaurants in 1970s London. Located throughout some of the city's trendier neighborhoods like Fulham and Knightsbridge, it provided an experience that, at the time, I imagined was what America must have been like. The restaurants were thoroughly modern with dark stained wooden furniture and raw exposed brick walls, loud blaring rock music, waitresses in tight clothes, low lighting, and, to justify the name, framed newspapers depicting some the 20th century’s greatest disastersthe Hindenburg, Apollo 13, etc. But ambiance only gets you so far, and we kept going back because the food was spectacular. The burgers were massive, fat, juicy flame-broiled patties cooked to order, a charred exterior literally cracked open when bit to reveal the succulent pink flesh inside. The burgers where served on beautiful golden seeded buns with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. The experience reinforced my vision of the grandeur of America and played a not insignificant role in my desire to move here.
What's the most unusual burger you've ever eaten? (Or most unusual burger experience you've had?) Having grown up in England, I have certainly seen some odd-looking specimens, especially outside football (soccer) stadiums in the notorious "burger vans," but the oddest in the UK was at Gatwick airport in 1982 with my brother Mat at a place called Katie’s Kitchen. Katie's Kitchen served what was literally a "ham" burger in that it was made of what appeared to be ground pork. It was so bad that we still talk about it. On these shores, I ate a burger at the now-defunct Italian Bistro Yellowfinger that had a Technicolor bun that really freaked me out, it looked like someone had thrown up Champaign on a Keith Haring painting
What's the most overrated burger you've tried? Most underrated? Regretfully, I have to say the most overrated is Peter Luger. I love the place but for its steak, the burgers there are almost always over- or undercooked. Actually, I find most steakhouse burgers overrated. Burgers tend to be an afterthought at chop houses, a good way to maximize profit by using all the beef scraps and a way to keep the kids happy while the parents spend the big bucks on the prime cuts and bottles of Opus 1. Unfortunately, you don’t get much respect for ordering burgers at steakhouses.
The most underrated is White Diamond in Clark, New Jersey. It is not as quaint as, say, White Manna and is a bit run down, but they use between 80 and 100 pounds of fresh beef a day and the buns are specially made for them. The grill has been in operation for decades. To call the griddle seasoned would be an understatement.
For some crazy reason, you're going vegetarian. Where do you go for your final burger? Sprout Aficionado? Since that is so metaphysically impossible, my answer will break the laws of physics, bending the space-time continuum and throwing this Burgernaut back in time to the Old Fulham Road London 1977 to the aforementioned Great American Disaster Restaurant. I would love to know how the burgers would taste to my adult palate. Barring that, it would be a toss up between White Manna in Hackensack, New Jersey, or All American Drive In, in Massapequa, New York. And I would lace the burgers with cyanidelife without beef is not worth living.
Burger Joints Referenced
In-N-Out: Various locations in California, Nevada, Arizona; in-n-out.com
Great American Disaster: A curious burger concept from 1970s London, now defunct
Katie's Kitchen: Gatwick Airport (now defunct)
Italian Bistro Yellowfinger: Now defunct
Peter Luger Steak House: 178 Broadway, Brooklyn NY 11211; peterluger.com
White Diamond: White Diamond, 1207 Raritan Road, Clark NJ 07066
White Manna: 358 River Street, Hackensack NJ 07601
All American Drive In: 4286 Merrick Road, Massapequa NY 11758
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