Burger Battle: She says plancha, he says charbroil
She says plancha
While I can appreciate the gentle, fire-licked flavor of a grilled patty, there are a few key areas where I feel cooking a burger on a plancha- a.k.a."flat top" (or at home, in a cast iron pan) trumps a grilled burger every time.
First and foremost is the crucial retention of moisture. We all want our burgers to be as juicy as possible, especially if the temperature preference is for medium-well or well-done. With a grill, those important juices—and the flavor that accompanies them—leave the patty, dripping between the grill rack and down into the coals. This causes two problems. It means that your burger is likely to be dry. Also, dripping grease typically causes flare ups during the cooking process, thereby imparting a subtle burnt flavor to the burger that is far less pleasant than the sultry, smoky charbroil you were hoping for.
Another upside to the plancha? Texture. The burger cooked on a plancha doesn’t have to be packed as tightly as the burger destined for a grill. The grilled burger has to maintain its form during cooking with much less of its surface area supported. Perched on the grill as it is, your burger runs the risk of breaking in two, half of it sliding down between the grill rungs and into the coals. Conversely, your gently formed flat top while the buger’s interior will remain tender and moist. While some people may complain about a burger that loses its shape mid-meal, I love it when the burger’s beefy flavor and soft interior contrast with its crispy exterior. Add a toasted roll, along with fresh lettuce, tomato, onion and I rest my case!
Here are a few of Christa's favorite flat top burgers.
Hand ground and hand formed
A custom blend of hand ground USDA Choice brisket and chuck lends a depth of flavor to this burger that no regular, run-of-the-mill ground beef can match. But what makes this burger extra special is the way in which it’s cooked. Chef Louis Zanghi admits the restaurant has a charbroiler, but he prefers not to use it, instead searing each hand-formed patty to perfect doneness on the restaurant’s flat top. This hot new gastropub is selling over 500 burgers a week, many of them sandwiched between Zanghi’s custom pretzel rolls or topped with crispy Spar’s bacon. Tender, and likely to fall apart a little before you’ve managed to finish it off, this juicy burger is of good quality—especially when paired with some of The Delaware’s tasty fried asparagus and a cold beer.
3410 Delaware Ave., Tonawanda, 874-0100
Simply done right
The patty size is reasonable here, weighing in at six ounces. This results in shorter cook time and a better bun-to-burger ratio. And it’s a good bun too; a toasted Costanzo’s roll is “required,” according to owner Corey Gordon. “I like to keep it simple,” he says. “We start with quality ground beef and season with salt and pepper.” As for cooking? “I personally prefer the crispy crust you get from the flat top,” he tells me.
Whether you order your Gordon’s burger on a busy night during a game, or on a quiet afternoon with kids in tow, it’s always a good burger. You’ll also find all the prerequisites of a typical Buffalo bar: pool, darts, a few flat screen TVs, a comfortable friendly broken-in vibe, and a jukebox full of favorites.
2263 Delaware Ave., Buffalo 874-3020
This clean and tidy Transit Road eatery is home to what many consider Western New York’s best burger. Just ask Guy Fieri, who was here to check it out two summers ago with his show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. But quasi-chefs aside, Grover’s burger reputation means there are very few menu offerings beyond it—and the place is still packed all the time. This Certified Angus burger tops the scales at a whopping twelve ounces, and is cooked on the well-worn kitchen flat top. Its sheer size means it takes longer to emerge from the kitchen, but the temp is right and the flavor is there. The burger is juicy, as it should be, but the untoasted Costanzo’s roll stands no chance of holding up under the moist girth of such a ferocious patty. Have no fear: your request for a toasted roll will be fulfilled without complaint. Fries aren’t included, but after a burger of this size, you probably won’t have much room for them anyway.
9160 Transit Rd., East Amherst 636-1803
It’s not just sushi
You’ll have to venture into the swanky Sea Bar at lunch time to sample this pick, but this burger may be worth a day off from the office, so don’t hesitate to do just that. Chef Mike Andrzejewski, a consummate carnivore despite his well-documented seafood obsession, knows his way around a burger. The simply titled “Cheeseburger” features good quality ground beef, hand-formed into luxe patties and cooked on a flat top. Mike A. states all the reasons we’ve mentioned here for his choice to cook à la plancha: retention of flavor and juices, plus that delicious all-over crust; but he also argues that the roll “is almost as important as the burger itself.” He is a strict proponent of Al Cohen’s sandwich rolls, brushing them with butter and toasting them beside the burger, right on the flat top, where they soak up the burger’s flavor. “The way the burger and the roll meld together, and the roll gets all crispy around it’s edge. It’s really just the best.”
475 Ellicott St., Buffalo 332-2928
He says charbroiled
Please. “Plancha?” That’s a pretentious way of saying “fried.”
Before I go on, let’s get it clear that hamburgers are hard to screw up. Even the bad ones are pretty decent. And I love me some fried burgers—I crave In-N-Out Burger and make it a must-visit destination on trips to the left coast. Closer to home, I’ll go way out of my way to grab a cheeseburger from the excellent national chain Five Guys (coming soon to Transit near Maple).
But those are fast food joints. When I’m paying more than $5 for a burger and eating away from the gas pedal and gearshift, I much prefer the texture and flavor of a charbroiled burger.
In the U.S., we treat grilling meat like it’s some special occasion; it becomes an event. We grill meat at family reunions or when we’re camping. We love our outdoor gas grills, hibachis, and Webers, paying close to a thousand dollars for the better models, having invented in the last several years the concept of the outdoor dining room.
Homo sapiens have eaten meat cooked over a flame since before we could write. Cooking meat over a flame seals in the juices just swell, leaving them enveloped with a crispy outer char that gives the meat a mouth-feel that can’t be duplicated on a flat top. The notion that grilled burgers can’t be thin is, incidentally, proven wrong daily and deliciously at Ted’s locations throughout WNY.
The natural fat and juices from a hand-formed 80/20 burger—seasoned or not—don’t need the extra fry grease to satisfy. It’s frankly a healthier way to prepare the burger, using and enhancing its own natural flavor so that you can, as Hank Hill famously put it, “taste the meat, not the heat.”
Below are a few of Alan's favorite charbroiled burgers.
Bar food right done
It suddenly occurs to me that Kenmore Avenue just east of Delaware is something of a mini-restaurant row. Vizzi’s is located there, and it makes a solid charbroiled burger that has been named the best in Buffalo by, among others, the Buffalo News. Vizzi’s decor is classic ’50s-era Buffalo neighborhood bar—there’s nothing phony about it. You will go and you will order the appropriately named “monster burger,” a half-pound of ground awesome, hand-formed and cooked over a flame to a crispy perfection, and served on a soft, fresh bun. Vizzi’s backs a dump truck’s worth of fries on the plate; they’re good skin-on fries, but the human stomach can only brook so much. Vizzi’s burgers come with a lot of hype, but sometimes the meat is a bit plain and sometimes a bit dry. Service is brisk and responsive, and refreshingly unpretentious in a world where restaurants can get a bit precious. Burgers come with lettuce, tomato, and mayo and cost about $6. Do yourself a favor, and keep it simple—let the burger do the work.
967 Kenmore Ave., Kenmore, 871-1965
Ruzzine’s Rock Bottom
The creme de la creme
Let’s get two things out of the way: the service can be slow, and the building could use some work. As far as its hamburger is concerned, however, Rock Bottom’s is the tops. It’s the Tiffany’s/Mercedes-Benz of local grilled burgers. The patties use 80/20 beef and are hand-formed, incorporating Montreal steak spices that give the meat an extra kick of flavor. And it’s a bargain. The large twelve-ounce grilled burger is only $6.99 (cheese is an extra dollar, and substituting fries for chips is a dollar more). So, for $8.99 you can have a massive feast of a burger that is so juicy and delicious, you’ll not just savor every bite, but you’ll soon find yourself craving it once you’re gone. Served on a fresh, soft Costanzo roll, it’s by far one of the best burgers in town, if not the region. These burgers are also broiled over an open flame, so the exterior develops a crispy char that adds character to the meat and helps to enhance the flavors around the edges. Rock Bottom has a lively bar scene and a comfortable back patio. They’ve also begun experimenting a bit with its burger selection, adding a Southwestern burger and a stuffed banana pepper burger to the current Cajun and BBQ variants. You should avoid these clever purported enhancements. Don’t mess with perfection—the plain grilled burger with some melted American cheese and maybe some grilled mushrooms or onions is among the best you’ll have, anywhere.
6261 Transit Rd., East Amherst, 204-4004
The burger the Whopper wishes it was
What’s most unfortunate about this restaurant is its name. Any Sopranos fan can tell you it’s the name of Silvio’s strip club, where Tony kept his office. It’s a good name for a Chip Strip meat-market bar, but doesn’t exactly connote a great place to take the kids. Despite the silly mob imagery, Bada Bing has been working hard to improve its menu and its image in recent months, and its grilled burger is a winner. There’s only one burger on the menu, and it comes with bacon, shredded lettuce, onion, tomato, and melted American cheese. The 1/2 pound of meat is unseasoned, but the char from the grill gives the meat a really nice flavor and texture, sealing in the juices and offering a satisfying, crispy mouthfeel that’s enhanced by the copious delivery of bacon. A little dollop of ketchup is all this burger needs to resemble what you’d imagine a flame-broiled Whopper is supposed to taste like. It’s served on a soft bun that doesn’t overpower its fillings. The burger comes in at $8.95 with a choice of one side; I got the cole slaw, which clearly was spooned from a bucket rather than homemade. This makes for a great lunchtime alternative to fast food. Service was attentive, although the kitchen was a bit slow.
115 W. Chippewa St., Buffalo 853-2464