Des Moines’ Ultimate Burger. Cast your vote and learn about the history of hamburgers in central Iowa.8/31/2016
|Each fall, Cityview opens a contest to let our readers select the ultimate local version of a popular food. Sandwich lovers picked B&B Grocery Meat & Deli’s pork tenderloin as the ultimate sandwich. Steakhouse fans went with Chicago Speakeasy, noodle lovers chose Noodle Zoo, and barbecue aficionados selected Woody’s. Twice we held pizza runoffs, with Gusto yielding its title last year to Taste of New York. In this, the most contentious of political years, we decided it was time to let you pick the ultimate burger in town.|
They are contradictions in a bun. Simultaneously the scourge of nutritionists and the piece de resistance for low carbohydrate dieters — hold the bun, please. Although they have been around for at least 800 years, hamburgers recently celebrated their 100th birthday. Despite being the most popular meal of the masses, they fulfill any gourmet criteria.
Hamburgers have it all: hot (meat) and cold (lettuce); sweet (ketchup) and sour (pickle); acidulous (onion) and alkaline (bun). Textures range from charred to soggy, and every color of the rainbow is stacked between their buns — even Maytag blue. They account for four out of every 10 sandwiches served in restaurants, and almost half of all burgers are consumed during the summer.
In America, they are a guilty pleasure for which no one apologizes. After a New York City restaurant gained notoriety by claiming the most expensive burger in America at $41, a war of decadence broke out, with prices reaching $100. Now $100 burgers are the greatest contradiction of all, for the simple sandwich is the long-time poster child for affordable food in America. In the last 50 years, fast food systems made it possible to raise a baby calf from 80 to 1,200 pounds in 15 months, rather than the five years it took a century ago. Iowa was ground zero for that revolution, first with king corn changing the feeding habits of cows and then with the innovation of modern meat processing, which began with Iowa Beef Processors (IBP) in Denison.
Hamburger is Iowa’s birthright. The state made it the cheapest protein in the history of the world. But modern food systems had a downside. Concerns about E-coli bacteria, which lives in the acidic rumens of corn diets, created a new market for the old-fashioned grass-fed burger, plus elk burger and buffalo burger. Mad cow scares made agencies trace carcasses to their origins, since parts of scores of different cattle can wind up in a batch of burger that comes from the modern processors. The fatter, tastier flesh of corned, feedlot cattle also raised the red flags of cardiologists.
Despite their Tartar origins and German name, hamburgers are the most American of sandwiches. Like all great contradictions, the invention of the modern hamburger has been claimed by several different cities all over the USA. Towns in Texas, Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, Connecticut and Ohio all claim its origin. Burgers were definitely sold at the St. Louis World Fair of 1898, but perhaps even earlier at Ohio’s Erie County Fair. The name derived from the fact that the minced meat was popularized in northern Europe and brought to America by 19th century immigrants, most of who debarked for the New World from Hamburg, Germany. A German from that city also invented the first machine that could mince or grind beef economically. Before then, ground beef dishes cost almost twice as much as steaks.
Mechanical meat grinders and the great cattle empires of the American west turned burgers into an affordable food. Placing such chewable meat between slices of bread was an invention of convenience. Visitors to fairs wanted food they could eat while walking around. By the heydays of fast food in the mid 20th-century, Americans wanted food they could eat while driving. Burgers became the most popular dish of all time by meeting those needs.
Each fall, Cityview opens a contest to let our readers select the ultimate local version of a popular food. Sandwich lovers picked B&B Grocery Meat & Deli’s pork tenderloin as the ultimate sandwich. Steakhouse fans went with Chicago Speakeasy, noodle lovers chose Noodle Zoo, and barbecue aficionados selected Woody’s. Twice we held pizza runoffs, with Gusto yielding its title last year to Taste of New York. In this the most contentious of political years, we decided it was time to let you pick the ultimate burger in town.
Hamburger lovers are a most subjective lot. As with pizza, taste standards are often formed at a young age. If you learned to love burgers at a local diner that smashed patties on a hot flattop stove, chances are good that is still your favorite style. Same thing with charcoal grilling, open flame grills and pan frying.
Some people like cheese on their burgers, others don’t. Some cheese lovers only like American cheese, others only blue cheese. The same division exists with condiments like mustard, ketchup and mayo. Some folks only like cooked onions, others raw. Some don’t like onions at all. Pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, jalapenos and banana peppers all have advocates and detractors. Those are just the basics. At Jethro’s, one can order an Adam Emmenecker, which includes cheese, cheese curds, bacon, brisket, pork tenderloin, pickle, cheese sauce and buffalo chicken tenders. Zombie Burger includes sandwiches made with macaroni and cheese buns, with eggs, fried bananas, fried pickles, chicken fried bacon and peanut butter. Django serves a burger with foie gras, truffles and demiglace. Trostel’s Greenbriar will serve any classical French sauce with burger.
Some of the best restaurants in Des Moines include burgers on their menus, some with extraordinary specials. Alba’s burgers sell for just $5 on Mondays. Prime Land and Sea sells its on Mondays for $5, and that includes a pint of craft beer. G Mig’s serves build-your-own prime rib burgers on Mondays. Both Jesse’s Embers and Maxie’s have burgers so famous they bear the name of the restaurants.
Burgers are specialties of many of Des Moines traditional bar and grills. Kathy’s East 14th Street Tavern, Kelly’s Little Nipper, Gerri’s Tavern, Daugh’s East 25th Street Pub, Dino’s Bar & Grill, Park Avenue Pub, Club 2000, Highland Park Country Club and University Tap all feature burgers with their old-fashioned neighborhood charm. Some of these were nominated by readers for our top 64 list. Some weren’t.
With such a rich diversity of burger options, this year’s ultimate contest will be competitive. As in past years, readers will whittle down the contestants until a Des Moines’ Ultimate Burger has been chosen.
Here’s how the contest works: The top 64 nominations for Ultimate Burger are listed here. Readers will select the top 16 from those nominations, and the results will be published in the October issue of Cityview. The winner will then be announced in November.
Good luck and bon appétit.
Readers can cast their votes here.
|Ultimate Burger contest top 64 favorite burgers (in alphabetical order)
Readers can cast their votes here.