Mac's Astrolabe Brew Bar
82 Manganui Road, Mount Manganui, 3116, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand (map); 07 574 8155, astrolabe.co.nz
Cooking Method: Grilled, then finished in the oven
Short Order: Too much mayo and too lean beef threaten to diminish this burger, but good toppings and a great bun come through.
Want Fries with That? Absolutely. They're beer battered, salty, and delicious, perfect for dipping in aioli and enjoying with a beer.
Price: Astrolabe Burger, $12 NZD; side of fries, $5 NZD; bowl of fries, $9 NZD
Notes: Bring your sunscreen—the outdoor patio is definitely the place to be.
On a recent trip to New Zealand, I spent a lot of time in Tauranga, a smallish city two and a half to three hours south of Auckland. By default, then, I spent a lot of time at Mac's Astrolabe Brew Bar*, an indoor-outdoor restaurant located in the Mount Manganui part of town, featuring a wide selection of Mac's beer on tap (definitely one of the more ubiquitous Kiwi beers), a solid menu of drinking-appropriate food, and a burger.
Made with about half a pound of ground beef (it's grilled then baked to "requested doneness"), the Astrolabe Burger ($12 NZD) is topped with lettuce, tomato, "Betty's BBQ Sauce," sharp New Zealand cheddar, and a thick swath of mayonnaise. Thinly sliced pickles are served alongside.
Let's get the problematic parts of this burger out of the way first. You may not be able to tell from the photo due to the bun, but there was just too much mayo here. I get that this is a cultural thing (and a decided personal preference), but I'll never understand the desire to put a lot mayonnaise on anything, let alone a burger that involves sharp cheddar. Let that shine! This mayo application was heavy enough that the flavor of the cheese was drowned out. I get that some added richness and fat is a good thing, and particularly important on this burger (more on that in a moment). But letting the flavors of each individual topping to come through is essential, especially when one of those ingredients is sharp cheddar cheese.
Then, the beef itself ended up being a little too dry. Cutting into the patty revealed a nice, pink interior. A gush of juice was promising as well, until it became clear that much of the burger's moisture had escaped with that initial cut. While I couldn't get details on the specific cuts of beef used here, my suspicion is that a too-lean blend was responsible for the patty's dryness (which was definitely most evident towards the outer edges, where the pink color noticeably decreased). While the mayonnaise (and cheese, theoretically) provided something of an antidote for this, I'd rather the rich flavor to start with the beef itself, with any toppings acting as accentuations of such.
Now, on to the good news. Those patty problems aside, the beef was well-salted, had a very nice texture from the grind and the crust, plus a good grilled flavor thanks to the pre-oven sear. The beefy flavor managed to come through well, too. The vegetable toppings were fresh and crunchy—the tangy-sweet pickles were especially standout. And Betty's Barbecue sauce was smoky and sweet without being cloying or dominating the flavor profile.
The bun is worthy of its own shout-out. While it certainly looked bready and unwieldily, the soft, sweet bread (which was buttered and toasted, too) easily squished down, balancing out the meat-bread-toppings proportions while managing to hold in the burger elements without falling apart.
The fries ($5 NZD for a side, $9 NZD for a bowl) were nothing short of great, too. Beer battered and fried crisp, the excellent, nubby crust shattered to reveal creamy potato innards, perfect for dipping in a side of aioli**. We definitely went through bowls of these at a time—they're basically beer's snack time soulmate.
Does Astrolabe make the best burger in New Zealand? Probably not. But it's an awfully tasty one, and something I'd eat again should I find myself in Tauranga again, out on the patio with a beer in hand.
* Full disclaimer: My boyfriend's brother works as a cook at Astrolabe, though he doesn't make the burgers. It's a spot I'd want to hang out at regardless of nepotistic ties, though!
** Confession: I'm pretty uninterested in mayo generally, but if you load it up with garlic and call it aioli I'm way more likely to get on board. Although, even if it had been aioli, there should not have been that much of it on this burger.