Burgers are one of my endearing passions. As I look back over the past year, these four burgers stand out above the rest:
1. The Galley Boy at Swensons Drive In, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
This is the burger I waited over 10 years for. Lebron James totally likes this burger, too, and mentioned Swensons is the first place he stops when we returns to Akron. He took his Trainwreck co-stars Amy Schumar, Judd Apatow and Bill Hader to the drive-in for Galley Boys and shakes when the film premiered in his hometown.
Akron isn’t my hometown, but almost feels like it. We visited often to see our grandparents and always stopped at Swensons. This fall I road tripped to Cedar Point for a conference and made a burger pilgramage. I’m happy to report that the car hops still sprint to your car and the Galley Boy tastes like it always has. The bun’s buttered and toasted and the two burger patties taste like they’re seasoned with a hint of brown sugar.
What really makes the Galley Boy unique is the combination of sauces. One tastes like BBQ and the other like tartar, which may sound strange, but totally works. And then there’s the cheese. Finally, it’s garnished with a big, green olive so that sort of makes it like a burger martini.
2. Blue Cheese Burger, Jimmy’s Pro Billiards, Minneapolis, MN
I was invited to join Heavy Table on this leg of their Central Avenue Food Crawl. Our last stop landed at Jimmy’s Pro Billiards. The interior opened into expansive pool tables. We perched at high tops near the grill window. I think it’s safe to say that we were all surprised by how much we liked the burgers. Soon after, HT Writer Amy even returned to Jimmy’s wrote this piece focusing on the burgers.
The young woman who took our order also cooked our meal. She was friendly and hospitable. We didn’t specify burger doneness and they did arrive cooked-through. Still, they were tasty and prepared with care. This blue cheese burger sandwiched between a toasted bun and homemade blue cheese dressing was my favorite.
The hand-cut fries were sprinkled with a seasoning salt with a intriguing hint of sweetness that made me want to return for more even though I was really full. One member of our party ordered a side of ranch dip that was less like salad dressing and more like a sour cream dip. With french fries, it made a delightful combination.
3. Cheeseburger at R.J. Grunts, Chicago, IL
This cheeseburger just barely snuck onto this year’s “best of” list last week. While staying at the Hotel Lincoln, we walked down the street to R.J. Grunts for pre-Star Wars burgers. Inside the tables and booths were arranged closely together and every inch was packed with customers like the other restaurants we visited that weekend.
I was surprised to learn that R.J. Grunts is the oldest restaurant in the Lettuce Entertain You empire that also includes chains like Big Bowl and Maggiano’s Little Italy, plus non-chains like Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba and Tucci Benucch in the Mall of America. RJ Grunts has a very non-chainy vibe that reminds me more of Cheers than a soulless, over-produced concept. We loved our server, a woman who’s worked here for 34-years. She’s featured in this Eater article highlighting restaurant industry “lifers.” The menu is charmingly illustrated and to-the-point. Ordering is a breeze and diners don’t have to listen to scripted up-sells or promotions.
I ordered a simple cheeseburger with American cheese and it was a stand-out. In fact, everybody’s burgers were. This juicy burger arrived perfectly medium-rare as ordered. I understand the risks of rare beef and take them anyway. Heck, I’d even sign a waiver. I figure if R.J. Grunts has been serving burgers since 1970, it’s a pretty safe place to order medium-rare beef. Everyone in our party of eight ordered burgers with different toppings and stated how each might be the best burger he or she has ever eaten.
Also notable is the salad bar. It’s really, really big and a meal in itself. I found nearly every type of raw veggie and crispy-crunchy topping, homemade salad dressings, roasted beets, tuna pasta salad, and a non-throwaway creamy tomato soup that also tasted scratch-made.
4. Cheeseburger, O’Connell’s Pub, St. Louis, MO
O’Connell’s chargrilled burger was so satisfying, it inspired my post Everything I’ve Ever Wanted To Say About Burgers. We visited in the evening when the lighting was too dim to take a pretty photo. Like R.J. Grunts, O’Connell’s has existed at least since the 70’s. We admired the wall taxidermy and found seats at the big, wooden bar. Service is refreshingly hospitable in a no-nonsense manner.
The cheeseburgers we ordered arrived on paper plates and tasted like our mom and dad grilled the perfect backyard burger but just didn’t screw it up.
Did you enjoy any memorable burgers this year? Where did you find them and what made them worth a shout-out?