May 25, 2006

The Alchemy of Meat

by peterb

"I want a hamburger. A really good hamburger."

This is me, talking to psu.

"Go to Tessaro's. They have the best burgers in town."

That's psu, talking to me.

But Tessaro's doesn't have the best burgers in town. In the abstract, yes, a Tessaro's burger is almost the platonic ideal of a great hamburger. The meat is cooked perfectly, over a wood fire. It's big and juicy. It's perfect. Except...

Except they don't have french fries. Therefore, their perfect burger sucks.

This is, perhaps, an entirely pre-rational belief. Obviously, I don't really think that the Tessaro's burger sucks qua sucks. But when I crave a hamburger, when I need a hamburger, that's not a mere desire for a certain type of food. It's a spiritual thing; it's the quest for the Great American Hamburger. And listen, the Great American Hamburger does not come with potato salad. It does not come with disgusting, soggy home fries that are some sort of punishment for all my former sins. It does not come with broccoli and cauliflower.

The Great American Hamburger comes with french fries, and anything else is second rate.

This is beyond issues of mere taste. It is magical, alchemical: even bad french fries make a good burger taste better. It's just like transubstantiation, except it actually improves your life.

We ended up going to the new burger joint (part of a chain) called "Five Guys", in Oakland. They made a good burger — very good. The meat was thin and cooked through, but still juicy. The buns weren't too big. They had fried onions, and good relish, and good mushrooms, and other things to put on the burger. It wasn't as good as the $11 burger at Eleven. But then, it didn't cost $11, either. And, most importantly, they had french fries.

Their fries weren't that good, but they were there, and that made their very good burger taste better than Tessaro's great-but-fryless burger would have.

What I somehow need to do is convince Tessaro's and Dee's to open up a shack somewhere midway between the two places. They'd serve Tessaro's burgers, and Dee's fries, and they would make a million dollars every night.

But until then, see you at Five Guys.

Posted by peterb at May 25, 2006 06:59 PM | Bookmark This

Five guys also wins for having jalepeno peppers as a topping.

Posted by psu at May 25, 2006 07:18 PM

Do the Five Guys in Pittsburgh have signs like "Do not take any peanuts outside the premises! They are LETHAL to neighborhood children with peanut allergies!"

In my opinion, the mark of a great restaurant is in their ability to kill children, and Five Guys excels like none other.

Posted by Adam Rixey at May 25, 2006 07:47 PM

Indeed there are exactly those signs.

Posted by psu at May 25, 2006 08:24 PM

That's exactly the problem I have with Tessaro's. I love their burgers, but the sides all suck -- it's not just that they don't have fries, but that they don't have anything particularly good to go with the burger.

The service is also pretty variable, but I'd happily excuse that for a delicious burger and fries.

So yeah, I'd much rather go to Five Guys.

Posted by Nat at May 25, 2006 08:28 PM

Pardon my blasphemy, but are they serious about feeding vegetarians, or do they fry their fries in lard, and grill the grilled cheese on a bucket of beef fat?

Just in case I find myself in a group of carnivores, to know whether I should try to deflect them towards or away from there.

Posted by Benoit at May 25, 2006 08:35 PM

I adore the fact that T's doesn't have a fryer, and I've found great picnic comfort in one of those magic piles of meat and bread stacked next to a healthy lump of their potato salad or cole slaw. Added bonus: you can then sneak some of the slaw onto the burger!

It's good to hear good things about Five Guys, tho' - I ought stomp down there.

Posted by Goob at May 25, 2006 09:34 PM

Dee's, how I miss you.

Posted by Kristen at May 26, 2006 03:43 AM

So Pittsburgh is finally getting a Trader Joe's...

When are we going to get an In-n-Out Burger?

Posted by Mark Denovich at May 26, 2006 09:12 AM

Benoit, they fry their fries in peanut oil, so no on the lard, and they don't have grilled cheese. But they're still good burgers and reasonable, if excessively salty, fries.

Posted by Julie at May 26, 2006 09:33 AM

I don't even like Tessaro's as a burger qua burger. It's bland, not fatty enough, and the bun is bad.

Posted by rmitz at May 26, 2006 09:40 AM

I believe Tessaro's is the only actual restaurant in Pittsburgh - service + rare meat + alcohol + pleasurable space. But then I'm cheap and, lucky me, I don't like fries.

Posted by zp_alabasium at May 26, 2006 10:08 AM

With respect to meat sandwiches (not only or necessarily burgers) what I really miss about Pittsburgh is Fat Heads. I never really understood the Tessaro's phenomenon.

Posted by daw at May 26, 2006 11:55 AM

Five Guys originated here in the DC area. The secret to the fries is adding malt vinegar. Seriously.

Posted by Tiffany at May 26, 2006 07:04 PM

Please report to the Shake Shack for burger quality normalization checks and report back. Thank you.

Posted by joshua at May 27, 2006 02:48 PM

Tiffany is entirely correct. Their fries require malt vinegar and for best results should not come into contact with ketchup.

Posted by Nat at May 28, 2006 04:36 PM

If I may cloak myself in the mantle of Internet righteousness: you philistines. A pile of Tessaro's home fries -- crusty black on one side and fluffy on the other, covered with what dribbled out of your burger as you ate it -- is perfection.

Not that I have anything against fries, of course.

Posted by Andrew Plotkin at May 30, 2006 12:04 PM

While Five Guy's fries are adequit, why settle for them, when you are right next to the "O"? There the fries are cooked twice like they are supposed to be. Wish they did it in lard though. Sigh.

Oh, don't bother ordering a hot dog in Five Guys. Man, was that a dumb idea. Almost no dog toppings. I might as well show up to a gun fight with a knife next.

Speaking of chains, what about Fat Burger? (for you In-and-Out Cali-forn-eye-a transplants) One in Robinson, one in Cranberry. Choice of steak fries, or regular.

Posted by Amos the Poker Cat at June 1, 2006 10:11 PM

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