Legendary Burgers in the American South

#FoodieScore’s Matthew Tessnear ranks his 10 favorite burgers ever

Burger Illustration 2

Nothing quite defines my culinary life like the experience of savoring a delicious cheeseburger enjoyed at a unique restaurant in the American South. It’s that very activity that provides a lasting snapshot of my childhood and my young adulthood in my home state of North Carolina and throughout the region. Maybe it’s a hereditary drive to find every great cheeseburger out there, thanks to my dad’s equal enjoyment of a delicious burger. Certainly, my love for cheeseburgers has never waned, and it’s only grown stronger since marrying my wife Molly, who’s become my #FoodieScore partner in crime.

My all-time favorite take on the American beef burger comes on a hearty bun with melted cheese. The cheese is non-negotiable, and I will tell you there is no such thing as a hamburger. Every other topping is unnecessary, but I do enjoy just minimal lettuce and a light dose of mayonnaise, which I find brings out the flavor of the meat, bread and cheese.

There are so many great restaurants across America that have perfected their own unique cheeseburger, but the South is the only region in which I’d consider myself a burger connoisseur because it’s the only section of the country that I’ve frequented enough to become an expert. I’ve sampled—ahem, devoured—hundreds of different restaurant burgers across the South, and now for the first time I’m proud to share my very favorites with you. These are my top 10 burgers in the American South, until I try my next new cheeseburger, at which time the list immediately is subject to change with the insertion of another classic.

 

Betty Bombers

The Classic Bomber at Betty Bombers in Savannah

 

  1. THE CLASSIC BOMBER
    Betty Bombers
    Savannah, Georgia

It’s always my first choice to enjoy a cheeseburger that, in some way, accents the key elements of beef, bread and melty cheese, even if it includes additional toppings. Betty Bombers does just that, serving up a burger cooked with ever the slightest grilled crust on the bottom and gooey cheese on top. The veggie toppings are just the right kind of dressing that don’t disrupt the essentials. On top of everything, you get to enjoy this delightful sandwich among World War II relics that celebrate the “Greatest Generation,” in a restaurant located inside the local American Legion post headquarters.

 

Burger Bar

“Move It On Over” at Burger Bar in Bristol

  1. MOVE IT ON OVER
    Burger Bar
    Bristol, Virginia

Burger Bar has captured an expert flavor combination with the smoky barbecue sauce, grilled onions and your choice of cheese on the “Move It On Over.” And I must suggest you try it with a side of sweet potato fries accompanied by a sweet aioli for dipping. This stop also offers a sea of memorabilia about country music legend Hank Williams who, legend has it, was last seen alive outside the restaurant.

 

 

  1. CHEESEBURGER
    Steak-Out
    Birmingham, Alabama

Steak-Out has the ambiance of a fast food restaurant that just so happens to deliver. So you wouldn’t expect to necessarily get one of the best burgers you’ll ever eat. But that’s exactly what they do. You get a premium-beef burger and high-quality toppings that tastes like it came off the grill at a high-end steakhouse. You can even get a baked potato as a side at this place. I’m not sure I’ve ever visited a restaurant or burger joint that so expertly blurs the lines between fast food and fine dining. (Unfortunately, I don’t have my own photo of the delicious Steak-Out Burger.)

 

Phillips Grocery

The Cheeseburger Single at Phillips Grocery in Holly Springs

  1. CHEESEBURGER SINGLE
    Phillips Grocery
    Holly Springs, Mississippi

It’s just fun to enjoy a cheeseburger inside a more than century-old building that once housed a lively saloon. On top of that, Phillips serves up a funky little cheeseburger with a standard topping combination I’ve never found anywhere else. The single gives you just the right amount of beef to enjoy the dressing of mustard, pickle, onion and muenster cheese. Well done, Phillips. It’s just an extra treat that you also get to enjoy the place’s general store feel with its furnishings of antique relics of the past.

 

Pawley's Front Porch

Kiawah at Pawleys Front Porch in Columbia

  1. KIAWAH
    Pawleys Front Porch
    Columbia, South Carolina

Pawleys exudes a college-town vibe in its location in the Five Points neighborhood, cozied next to the University of South Carolina campus. The shop’s burger menu salutes the state’s great resort island destinations, and it just so happens to include a tribute to my favorite getaway locale of all time, Kiawah Island. The burger’s topped with one of my favorite cheeses, brie, as well as marinated portabella mushrooms, and fire-roasted peppers. This is one of the juiciest, most flavorful burgers I’ve ever put in my mouth.

 

Cal Dreaming

Barbecue Bacon Cheeseburger at California Dreaming in Charleston

  1. BARBECUE BACON CHEESEBURGER
    California Dreaming
    Charleston, South Carolina

Outside of the classic/basic/house cheeseburger style that emphasizes the meat, bread and cheese, a set of toppings with sweet barbecue sauce and bacon is my all-time favorite, and no one does that combination any better than California Dreaming. It’s the perfect amount of sauce and a generous helping of perfectly crispy bacon. There are a couple of California Dreaming locations—which also give you the feel of a fine-dining experience with their snappily-dressed servers—but the Charleston location has consistently had the very best burger of them, and it easily has the best setting with a panoramic view of the river harbor near downtown.

 

Al's Burger Shack

Kenny J at Al’s Burger Shack in Chapel Hill

  1. KENNY J
    Al’s Burger Shack
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Al Bowers knows Chapel Hill (he previously worked at another local legendary restaurant, Merritt’s Store & Grill) and he knows a delicious, creative burger. His joint, just down the street from the University of North Carolina, tops its delicious patties with fun toppings like those on the Kenny J, which is both distinctly North Carolina and Southern with its Cheerwine barbecue sauce, not-too-spicy pimento cheese, grilled onions and bacon. I must also praise him for not completely splitting his buns, which allow the sandwich to envelope its toppings, making the burgers easier to eat. Additionally, he caters to your size preference with the buddy bite, Al and Big Al sizes. And if all of that is not enough, he may serve the most flavorful French fries (with sea salt and rosemary seasonings) I’ve ever had alongside a burger.

 

 

  1. EXTRA SHARP CHEDDAR STEAK BURGER
    McGuire’s Irish Pub
    Destin, Florida

Adjacent to the white-sand beaches and emerald-colored waters of the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll find that this joint, with money taped everywhere, offers quite the valuable burger. McGuire’s calls its creations Angus Steak Burgers, and the quality is so good you’ll feel like you’ve got a tender steak on your bun. If that’s not enough for ya, try the $100 Grand Burger of Filet Mignon, caviar, merlot sauce and imperial champagne. Seriously. I’ve never sampled the high-dollar version myself because I haven’t seen a way to top the Angus Steak Burgers. (Sadly, I haven’t had a McGuire’s burger since 2006, and that was before everyone carried a high-quality camera phone, so I have no personal photo here. I need to fix that soon with a trip to Florida’s beautiful panhandle.)

 

Lankford Grocery

Old Fashion Hamburger (with cheese) at Lankford Grocery & Market in Houston

No. 2 OLD FASHION HAMBURGER (WITH CHEESE)
Lankford Grocery & Market
Houston, Texas

In this restaurant tucked into a friendly neighborhood between the Fourth Ward and Midtown sections of the nation’s fourth-largest city, you’ll find a remarkable cheeseburger that offers the freshest overall combination of toppings I’ve ever eaten on a burger. I enjoyed the softest bun, the greenest, leafiest lettuce, the crunchiest, most flavorful onion, and a fresh beef patty that is second in quality only to the No. 1 sandwich on this list. I’ve discovered that not all of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” spots are legendary in quality. This one deserves that status.

 

Kim's Kitchen

Cheeseburger at Kim’s Kitchen in Stanley

No. 1 CHEESEBURGER
Kim’s Kitchen
Stanley, North Carolina

Kim Millman’s cheeseburger has topped this list throughout my life because of a steady diet of the most important ingredient in a burger: the beef. You won’t top the fresh, hand-pattied, perfectly cooked beef on a Kim’s cheeseburger. You also get a substantial sandwich that’s an incredible value for your money, while adhering to Sheldon Cooper’s (of Big Bang Theory fame) burger formula that prizes the perfect bun-meat-condiment ratio. And you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a friendly table visit from Kim herself while you’re dining in this community fixture between Charlotte and Asheville.

Where do you get your favorite cheeseburgers? Share with us in the comments section, or share with #FoodieScore on social media. Follow @FoodieScore on Facebook and Instagram, or @Foodie_Score on Twitter.

Advertisements

5 Tips for Easier, Better Burger Grilling

 

12328084_970499479704112_337775783_n

The family backyard barbecue marks the arrival of spring and summer for many of us. And as amateur domestic chefs, there are few things that thrill us more than firing up the grill (either gas or charcoal) and cooking our favorite homemade burgers to share with the most special people in our lives.

Unfortunately, grilling can be a hassle along with the fun. It takes skill and patience to cook good beef on a grilltop. And it takes energy and time to guide and maintenance your grill through the process.

But grilling burgers doesn’t have to be all pain and no pleasure. Here are five very quick and super simple tips I’ve discovered that I guarantee will both improve your cooking results and increase your enjoyment in the grilling process. Cooking is a science, and you should experiment and find your own tricks, but it doesn’t have to be a rocket science process.

1 – MIX IT UP: Season and blend your own beef. No doubt, it’s easier to use frozen or pre-prepared fresh patties. But if you really want your burgers to impress your diners and yourself, buy fresh ground beef and mix in your own seasonings. It takes a little more effort but not much more cost, and you’ll thank yourself when everybody (you included) takes the first bite.

2 – TAKE SHAPE: Press a thumb print into the center of each patty before cooling (see tip No. 3) and cooking them. This indentation will help your patties hold their shape during cooking, instead of swelling in the center and shrinking on the outsides.

3 – COOL IT: Flash freeze your burger patties after you hand-shape them. We’re not talking long here so that your burgers turn into frozen patties. Just 15-20 minutes or so in the fridge or freezer or long enough to cool the meat so that it holds together better on the grill. This will keep you from dealing with your fresh meat trying to fall apart on the grill.

4 – DON’T CROWD: Don’t put too many burgers, or other foods, on your grill surface at any one time. Your meat, and everything else for that matter, will cook better with space around it. No matter your cooking method, you get better heat on your food if you’re not distributing it to more items. So be sure you allot enough time and be patient with the cooking process.

5 – KEEP IT CLEAN: When you’re done cooking and after your grill cools down, go ahead and clean it up before putting it away for next time. (I use a charcoal grill and have found that soap pads and warm water work wonders on a dirty grill top. I clean it and then store my grill grate in our pantry until the next use. And I go ahead and remove all of the used coals from the bottom of my grill to be ready to add fresh coals the next time I grill.) You’ll thank yourself when you get ready to grill next time and you don’t have to go through a long process to clean before you begin cooking.

What are your best tips for grilling out? Share them in our comments section or on social media. Find us @foodiescore on Facebook and Instagram, or on Twitter at @Foodie_Score.

Foodie Travels: The Wood Shed, Stanley, N.C.

IMG_1746

The round chopped steak, baked sweet potato and grilled bread at The Wood Shed

Walking into The Wood Shed in Stanley, N.C., is like entering a fine steakhouse in the American West.

You’ll hear country music. You’ll see the wood accents all around you. There’s even a model train that tracks an oval above the dining area. But the smell, that’s what you’ll experience first, and that’s what you’ll enjoy the most – at least until you taste your dinner.

IMG_0640

Growing up in the Stanley area, I remember many nights driving through town and breathing in the delicious aroma from the grill at The Wood Shed. It’s a steakhouse-style restaurant that serves up some of the tastiest beef, chicken and salmon off the grill that you’ll find anywhere. And whatever your entrée choice, you’ll enjoy it with one of the best salad bars around and delicious grilled bread.

Many people frequent The Wood Shed for the succulent prime rib the eatery’s known for. But I’m not a prime rib kind of guy, so I’m more likely to enjoy a NY strip, the chopped steak or the beef tips. You really can’t go wrong with anything you choose. There’s even a service plate option for diners who want to share a main course with someone else.

IMG_0637

The tender and smoky rib tips at The Wood Shed

The Wood Shed’s been owned by local businessman Bill Withers for decades, and it hasn’t changed all that much, other than the tomato-and-onion sandwiches that used to be complimentary on the salad bar and now come as an appetizer option.

Next time you’re looking for a place to have a nice meal – maybe to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary – check out The Wood Shed on Main Street in Stanley. The intoxicating scent will lead you there, and a happy stomach will lead you home.

Flavor-Packed, Restaurant-Quality Texas Burgers

IMG_2213

Texans are known in the culinary world for their ability to create powerful flavors in meats. That’s a good explanation for why this Weber recipe for Texas Burgers is one of the all-time favorites in our house. This has become one of our favorite ways to season our burgers, no matter how we cook and top them. We’ve used this blend of seasonings for burgers cooked on the grill and in the oven, and we’ve now topped these delicious sandwiches with more varieties of toppings than makes sense to list here.

What makes this combination so good? It all starts with just a little bit of kick. You don’t want to give your burgers a funny taste that strays too far from what beef tastes like. But you don’t want a bland burger with no flavor. This blend is just the right amount of taste without going too far.

So far, my favorite way to top these burgers is the assortment you see in the picture above. A few pieces or a small bed of shredded lettuce, a hunk of fresh-sliced cheddar cheese and the desired amount of your favorite barbecue sauce. Per my experiences as a Texas barbecue consumer, I’d suggest a sauce that’s a bit more smoky than sweet, but not one that’s heavy on vinegar. Honestly, one of my favorites for this recipe is Heinz’s Kansas City BBQ Sauce, right out of the bottle. Top off your burgers with a couple of pickle chips for an extra little crunch if you like.

Most importantly though, be sure you can enjoy the flavor of your beef. Here’s how you can do that. The yield for this recipe is 4 burgers.

Ingredients

1.6 pounds of fresh ground beef (I like at least 80-20, and 90-10 is even better)

1 tablespoon chili powder

½ teaspoon garlic salt

4 hearty buns (I like Brioche)

12 pickle chips

BBQ sauce (of your choice)

4 pieces of freshly sliced cheddar cheese

lettuce (small pieces or leaves to shred)

Process

1 – The most important step is to blend your own burger meat and hand-patty the burgers yourself. The best burgers I’ve ever had – at home or in a restaurant – were clearly hand-pattied. So get your hands dirty and mix your beef, chili powder and garlic salt together. Start by tearing the ground beef into small pieces in a bowl, then top with the seasonings, and finally incorporate by hand.

2 – Once everything is nice and mixed, divide the meat into four equal amounts (if you want all of your burgers to be the same size) and roll each one into a ball. Then, if you don’t have a burger press, use your hands to press the burgers into patties less than an inch thick (any thicker and cooking will take longer and be more difficult to gauge).

3 – Cook your burgers with your desired method and to desired doneness, either on a grill, stovetop or in the oven. I prefer using the oven method – cooking them in an aluminum foil packet – and seeing all of the grease that drains off. You end up with a well-cooked burger that maintains its juiciness without all of the fat. The oven process can also be ideal to save time and hassle with the grill, and if you cook the meat in a packet to catch the juices, you won’t have a dirty pan or grill grate to clean up later.

4 – Lightly toast your buns, then top with your burger patty and a piece of cheddar cheese. Put your burger and cheese in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to melt the cheese perfectly and re-soften the now-toasted bun (this is a trick I like to use to toast a bun and then remove any excess crunch…I don’t like a toasted bun that creates all of the pieces that fall off, meaning parts of the bun I don’t eat).

5 – Add the lettuce and top with the barbecue sauce and pickles and serve.

We’ve tried a lot of burger combinations at our house, but this simple two-seasoning, hand-pattied option has become our go-to method for a delicious homemade burger. And if you’ve read to the very end, I must leave you a golden coin of information that may be the best part of all. The recipe above costs me less than $2 per serving, without sacrificing good meat, good bread, fresh cheese and other ingredients for toppings. Good luck finding a $2 burger this good at any restaurant. (I suggest you try this recipe instead!)

Foodie Travels: Mas Tacos Por Favor, Nashville, Tenn.

IMG_1005

Just a few miles from Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, there’s a cozy little Mexican food spot that really puts on a show for your tastebuds.

Mas Tacos Por Favor (translation: more tacos, please) started out as a food truck-style eatery in a 1974 Winnebago and has since moved into a more permanent location in East Nashville.

This place is all about flavor, as a taco shop should be. On the menu you’ll find favorites like the Cast Iron Chicken Taco and the Sweet Potato Quinoa Taco with roasted tomatillo salsa and red cabbage, both with sour cream, cilantro and fresh lime. Options also include tamales, soups, and vegetarian and gluten-free options. Tacos and other menu items rotate based on fresh ingredients available.

IMG_1007

Expect a line, and minimal parking space in the lot and surrounding neighborhood, especially if you arrive at a peak lunch or dinner time. But that’s just a good indicator of the loyal customer base and the taco experience you’re about to enjoy. We had a brief wait, but when our order was ready, it was exciting to hear “Tacos for Matthew” called on the restaurant’s speakers. And despite a solid crowd, our order was ready pretty fast.

Fresh is an apt word to describe the flavors of each taco we enjoyed, which included savory chicken, pork and fish, as well as the sweet potato quinoa variety. We also appreciated the menu balance of favorites you’d expect in a taco restaurant and creative options you won’t find just anywhere.

There are few foodie experiences we enjoy more than a solid visit to a delicious taco shop, and Mas Tacos is certainly on our list of favorite Mexican food destinations.

 

Mas Tacos Por Favor

732 McFerrin Ave., Nashville, Tenn.