1933 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA (map); icongrill.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: 8-ounce burger featuring beef dry-cured overnight in a mixture of spices is worth trying for a special treat, even for burger purists
Want Fries with That? Shoestring fries are twice-fried for extra crispness
Price: Icon Special Grind Burger w/fries, $11.99; w/cheese or bacon, + $1
Notes: Burger is only on the lunch menu and isn't included during happy hour
Icon Grill's Special Grind Burger steps away from burger tradition with a spice blend that takes cues from masala and uses chiles from the Southwest. It's a burger that argues just because it's seasoned with a complex mix of spices, it doesn't take away from the genuine experience of a beloved classic.
For ten years Icon Grill has been serving American fare to the city along the busy stretch of 5th Avenue that gets as many locals as it does visitors. The large restaurant is decorated from floor to ceiling with unusual artwork, Northwest mementos, and the prerequisite Chihuly-styled hand-blown glass chandelier fixtures. You'll easily notice the sign from a distance, the vertical marquee hanging off the side of the brick building, topped with a mythic winged lion, a symbol of the city of Venice and a nod to Seattle's own appreciation for Venetian glass. As ten years can do a bit of wear and tear, excuse the scaffolding that's propped in front of their entrance—they've been in an ongoing renovation process, but they remain open.
Burger purists turn their nose up at heavily-spiced burgers, but the Special Grind Burger may change some minds. Icon finds the balance between seasonings and the natural flavor of the beef. Head chef Nick Musser says their process starts with a large cut of beef clod, or shoulder—his preferred cut of meat for burgers—which is sliced into large chunks for it to be dry-cured overnight in a special in-house "Mystic" blend of seasonings, and then ground in-house before being formed into 8-ounce patties. The dry cure arguably enhances the flavor of the beef, as the process not only adds flavor and tenderizes, it wrings out excess moisture in the meat, intensifying the flavor of the burger.
The Mystic Blend is comprised of sixteen different herbs and spices, including familiar ingredients like garlic and oregano, but also unique items like ground dry chiles from New Mexico, which gives the burger a distinctive earthy, almost oaky depth of flavor. Musser says the blend is sweet and savory; the use of sugar not only heightens the flavor experience, but it helps produce a heavier char and a more pronounced crust. The chile powder—the primary ingredient in the blend—gives the meat a distinctive blush, making for a pleasantly bright-looking beef patty. It might appear undercooked, but even if the burger is grilled to well done-ness, the color of the Mystic Blend persists.
Originally served on foccacia when the burger was introduced on the menu years ago, it's since been modified to be served on a Kaiser roll, a heartier bread that can hold the heft of the patty and toppings, but is spongy enough to absorb all the drippings. The burger is presented open-faced alongside classic toppings—tomato slices, lettuce, thin slices of white onion, and pickles cut lengthwise—which were hidden below the pile of fries served with the burger. You can add cheese and/or bacon to your burger for a dollar each, but those add-ons would drown out the patty's flavors. I recommend letting the meat speak for itself.
"Special sauce" and ketchup come on the side. The special sauce is a typical fry sauce/Russian dressing—mayonnaise with a bit of ketchup and relish—and gives the burger creaminess and tang. The ketchup goes best with the fries; its heavy acidity would likely overwhelm the burger.
The fries are shoestring-cut and twice-fried—they have that extra-crisp, almost batter-like outer texture from a partial dip in the oil, then a final, longer session in the oil right before being served.
It's not an everyday burger given the $11.99 price tag, but it's good for a special treat. And besides their burger, Icon Grill offers sensory overload from their decorations and artwork. Don't forget to check out their bathrooms; Icon Grill has cheeky décor everywhere, showing vintage clips from 1950s public service announcements in the women's restrooms and videos of waterfalls and running water in the men's restroom. Not that I admit to going into the men's room to check it out...