What is the shape of a hamburger?
Not so much.
I mean, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, which really isn’t a rule at all; it’s more of a norm. Or, is it?
In 1969, Dave Thomas made the square patty hip when he introduced them on a round, seeded bun at the first Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio. If I have my facts straight, the square patty was inspired by Thomas’s childhood favorite burger and malt stop, the “Kewpee,” which is still in operation today (the website is a hoot).
It’s not hard to understand why the square patty was particularly alluring – with the corners of the filling hanging over the sides, no bite goes meatless.
And, of course, there are those wonderful munchkins of the burger universe, the White Castle burger. They’re square too – even the buns. They call them “Slyders.” (By the way, did you know that they have (square) chicken and fish sandwiches too? They’ve also got “chicken rings”–ranch and barbecue. *shudder*)
Sure, a very good bun can be exciting. But nobody eats a burger for the bun. Everyone knows that the main event is what is tucked between it. The bun is just for convenience and to keep things “together.” By that logic, the bun should be minimized. Or, the patty should be maximized.
But lately, I’ve found that (non-chain/non-fast-food) restaurants in Kansas City are cutting corners by adding them.
Meet the square bun with a small round patty–like a blue cheese-topped tenderloin burger I had at JJ’s (website is temporarily down) ($10). The novelty is that they used a rustic grilled country bread (even though the menu says it’s an onion roll) that added a nice toasty crunch to the experience. And, they did keep the corners tight. That is, the bun was not overly-big. But, there were four corners. For me, that’s four too many. Even so, the tenderloin burger was moist and juicy and the dressings kept simple and neat. Too bad the fries were soggy.
Then there’s the long rectangular bun with the round patty. This appeared at the newly opened Bristol Seafood Grill in the Power & Light District, our city’s latest heave towards urban splashy ($6.50).
Unlike JJ’s burger, which was thoughtfully square, this one was absurdly so. The twin-size “Cheddar burger” patty was pretty good, but the king-size “hand-made” focaccia was like plywood–stiff and flavorless. And I don’t know anyone who eats jumbo pickle log, halved lengthwise, with their round burger.
Talk about fitting a square peg in a round hole.
This next one is the most curious of them all: a triangle bun with a meatball for a patty. These “fococcia sliders,” offered on the happy hour menu at Pierpont’s, a steakhouse in our city’s renovated Union Station, move quickly past awkward and straight into the absurd file, along with fruit sushi and vegetarian steakhouses ($4 at Happy Hour).
I’ll tell you my version of this logic (feel free to come to your own conclusions): Focaccia is usually baked in sheet trays–especially at a high-volume restaurant. Cutting rounds out would be wasteful. It would take too much energy to make croutons, or something else, out of the scraps. So, you cut them into squares. But, you don’t want to offer an entire burger at happy hour. And you probably want to seem “hip with it.” So you cut the squares in half, diagonally, and use the buns for “sliders.
Of course, it would make too much sense to also shape the patties into triangles. So they stick a perfectly round ball of meat in between.
Whereas the Bristol’s foccacia was dry and hard, Pierpont’s is dry and spongey. Three to an order, these awkwardly shaped puppies with teeter-tottering tops aren’t sliding any where. They should call them “chokers.”
For a better example of a slider, take note of the ones served at lunch at The Raphael Restaurant inside the boutique hotel of the same name ($15). These three amigos are just about the right size–maybe three to four bites each.
Although the bun-to-patty ratio is high, you manage to get some of everything– meat, Cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce and cornichon–with each bite.
And unlike the crudely assembled burger at The Bristol, or the cranky creatures at Pierpont’s, the ones at The Raphael manage to be pretty.
Taste is another matter. The “Kobe” patties were moist, if not a tad bland, but the cheese was gummy–sticky almost. The buns were like a cross between an English muffin and a bagel.
So, now we come to another issue: Is a burger defined by the presence of the patty or the bun, or both? I tend to think that you have be have both.
For instance, a bun between sliced bread–like the “Turkey Burger” at the newish chefBURGER (also in the Power & Light District)–is a sandwich ($7.99)
And, anything other than a patty of ground-something on a bun–like pulled pork–is a sandwich. So, even though I love it to bits, I’m not sure you can call the Pork “Burger” at the newest (only?) gourmet burger outlet in our city, blanc burgers + bottles (I wish they’d hurry up with building their website) a burger ($8). But, they seem to “get” that, unlike so many others.
By the same token, anything served in a long, torpedo-shaped bread is called a “roll” (if it’s filled with lobster), “hot dog” (if it’s filled with a casing-style sausage), or a “hoagie” or “subway” (if it’s filled with anything else, including vegetables, deli meats, or even patties or meatballs).
But, all of this is straying far from the initial purpose of this post, which was to talk about Kansas City’s two most recent burger outlets–the last two mentioned here: chefBURGER and blanc burgers + bottles. I will do so in subsequent posts.