The Special Sauce October 10 2022
It takes some doing to make something simple. The process for 33 Burgers was a lot of fun, and took me on quite an adventure as I explored the topic literally from coast-to-coast. Come with me on a virtual journey and I'll share some of my book process along the way.
I sometimes describe myself as a "method designer," after the acting school where actors try to live as their character as much as possible. My process is pretty immersive, and it usually takes a few forms:
- Reading: Tim Ferriss says if you read three books on a subject, you're an expert. I'm not sure I totally buy that, but it's usually where I start. And for 33 Burgers, I read four. My favorites: Josh Ozersky's The Hamburger, and George Motz' Hamburger America.
- Watching: YouTube is a great source for information, as long as you're not investigating pandemics or the deep state. I watched about 1,000 videos from George Motz (aka "The Burger Scholar") on the topic of burgers, and they are totally worth your time. Seeing him make an Oklahoma Onion Burger, and then making it yourself - I'll just say "You're welcome," in advance.
- Tasting: I mean, it's a tasting journal. At some point, you have to put the rubber to the road ... err, tongue to the table? And boy, did I eat some burgers!
I was in New York this summer for the Fancy Food Show, and chasing burgers was a really fun way to experience the city in a new way. I did some research beforehand on some places I wanted to hit, and started with Joe Junior, the home of "New York's Best Burger," according to Eater. I felt a little like Will Ferrell drinking New York's Best Coffee when I walked in the door, but it was a solid, simple diner burger. It didn't blow my hair back, but it got me to the lower East Side, one of my favorite neighborhoods anyway (McSorley's, Burp Castle). It was also the place I tested my first draft.
My second New York burger wasn't on my pre-show list, but someone in the New York meat business told me to visit Keen's Chophouse for their bar burger, and I think I found my new favorite fancy restaurant in New York. When a restaurant has been around since the 1880's, you know it's good. New York is a tough restaurant market and there are a million places competing for your dollar. If you can make it here ... for almost 150 years? You're doing something right. Mine was an equally simple burger, but every single ingredient was top notch. A perfectly ripe tomato ... in June? I have no idea how they do it, but make this a stop on your next trip, and not just for the ambiance. Go for the blue cheese burger. Avoid the overly-friendly Connecticut lawyer at the bar.
My last burger on this trip took me to the West Village and Emily, a pizza restaurant now known for another contender for "The Best Burger in NYC." Apparently, that guy that went to Joe Junior's didn't get the memo). Pretzel bun, Pat LaFrieda aged beef, caramelized onions, cheese ... and of course, a secret sauce that's alleged to contain cheffy faves Kewpie mayo and gojuchang. It really was incredible (the service not so much), and next time I go to NY, I'll definitely go back. Maybe for the pizza ... but that's another book.
Back in Portland, I couldn't omit some local favorites, starting with SuperDeluxe, aka Portland's answer to In n Out (which is slowly creeping north from California, but hasn't yet reached Multnomah County). I love me some fresh crinkle cut.
Portland is known for its food carts, and one of my favorite burgers in town is the SmashyBoi from Mid-City Smashburger. It's drunk food you can eat in the daylight, and at $5, it's easily the best value I encountered.
And of course, I had to make some burgers at home, too. We buy our beef by the half-cow, so we always have a lot of burger in the house (thanks, Farmer Tim). George Motz' Oklahoma Onion Burger is a new family favorite - quick to make and truly delicious.
I'm constantly hearing from people that they love my books because they are a challenge contained between two covers. I've heard of people filling a book by traveling Africa tasting coffee, falling in love over 33 ice cream dates ... I had a great summer bingeing burgers!
Working to fill out and design 33 Burgers challenged me to explore restaurants and cities in ways I never otherwise would have, and I hope this book will be the backbone of your next burger barnstorm.