Cheeseburger Cheeseburger, 1, 2, 3
Let's start with the basics: There are three types of "eat-out," as opposed to homemade, burgers. One is the slider, a thin two-biter that slides down the digestive tract so fast even skinny supermodels need to order a six-pack. White Castles (Krystals for Southerners) are the classic sliders.
Two is a variation, bigger but also characterized by that certain eat-out premolded patty flavor you just can't duplicate at home with hand-formed prime beef, a quality shared with number ones. Big Macs are number twos.
Three is what I call the Big Fat Burger. These are eat-out variations on the eat-in burgers you make at home. Burger King's "have it your way" gimmick is an attempt at Big Fat Burgerness that fails; Whoppers are just characterless number twos. Tommy Pucchi's Cheeseburger Baby, by contrast, turns out a number three that works.
My favorite is the bacon cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and an excellent crisp pickle wedge that tasted like a fresh deli pickle. What made the burger outstanding was that as fun as the adds were, the ground Angus beef (cooked perfectly rare) was flavorful enough to make condiments unnecessary. Astonishingly, though, a vegetable burger was almost as good, so meatlike in texture and rich taste that the shock nearly gave my vegetarian friend a heart attack.
But the truly sublime item here is a non-burger: a Philly cheese steak. All too often outside of Philadelphia these steak hoagies are screwed up by pretensions. In actuality, just as Dom Perignon makes a worse Bellini than a $10 Conegliano prosecco, thick-cut rare filet mignon, artisan cheese, and authentic baguettes make much worse Philly cheese steaks than the well-done but tender, thin-shaved generic beef slices, plebian blended cheeses, and soft torpedo rolls used in Philly's best steak stands -- and here. The sandwich's humble ingredients combine into an essential fast-food essence.
Where Cheeseburger Baby falls short is when it tries to be what it's not, which is a slider joint. At six for $11 or $2 each, these faux sliders are just too expensive. You can order these squashed golf balls "your way" more or less -- specify rare and you get something pinkish -- but still, there's no real number one- or number two-ness about them.
To wash down a good cheeseburger/ steak, only two substances will do: beer served very cold, as they do here, or the great milkshakes you'll also find here -- housemade, not those prefab chemically thick jobs. Normally I'm a chocolate shaker, but among the five flavors, I strongly recommend instead vanilla, swoonfully rich with flecks of real vanilla bean all through. It couldn't be better.
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