DAY ONE: United we stand, burgers in hand
8:31 AM: My alarm goes off. It’s finally here: Portland Burger Week 2016.
8:36 AM: I scour my closet for an outfit. I’m disappointed in my lack of burger attire. I make a note to myself to buy more cheeseburger garb.
8:37 AM: Slip into the largest pants I own. My waist will be bloated and stretched today, and it’s best to be prepared for anything. Less constriction = more burgers.
8:38 AM: I also make a note to purchase maternity pants for Burger Week 2017.
10:35 AM: Recruit. I need someone to eat a lunch burger with. I find my first victim, Dwight. He agrees to join me. I’m not sure he knew what he was signing up for…
12:01 PM: We arrive at Kell’s. I enter the parking lot the wrong way, and I’m forced to waste some time Austin-Powering into a parking space.
12:03 PM: I exit the car. “I have a really good feeling about this, Dwight. Everything's going my way.”
12:04 PM: I drop my phone on the ground. Perhaps I was wrong.
12:06 PM: We’re seated. My hands shake with anticipation. I don’t feel ready. The stress of Burger Week looms... Will I eat a satisfying amount of burgers? Will it exceed my expectations? Or am I doomed to disappointment?
12:08 PM: The waitress asks if we need a menu. I laugh and say, “Not necessary, we’re here for the burgers.” She gives me a blank stare, and writes down the order. I also get a ginger ale to settle my nerves.
12:18 PM: My burger arrives. My nerves subside. In the presence of such a beautiful creation, how could I have any other emotion but pure, heart bursting joy? It smells glorious. If I could bottle up the scent into a perfume, I would. Why wouldn’t I want to smell like fried onions all the time? I hear men find it irresistible.
12:19 PM: I take my first bite. The concept alone deserves a standing ovation. Kell’s Burger Week burger is a Shepard’s pie with a twist. They keep the burger open so you can see the mashed potato patty, and boy, is it a sight for sore eyes. Collectively, it’s constructed of a ciabatta bun, mashed potato patty on top of a beef patty mixed with carrots, onions, and shallots, melted cheese, fried onions, lettuce, and tomato with a sauce to tie it all together. The meat tastes almost as if it’s seasoned like a Swedish meatball. The cheese melts perfectly. The fried onions add the perfect amount of crunch and the ciabatta ensures the bun isn't too soggy. But the real hero in this beast of a burger is the mashed potato patty. The best decision I made was not wasting valuable stomach space with fries, because I enjoyed every bite.
I rate it a solid 8.75.
5:31 PM: Church received high rankings during last year’s burger week, coming in at second place. Therefore, this is one of my most anticipated burgers of 2016. As a seasoned professional, I know that their burger typically sells out quick, so my official burger buddy @NNanpei and I arrive at 5:30pm. We’re joined by a Burger Week novice, Phil.
5:36 PM: Phil is dumbfounded when Nick and I casually discuss eating 4 burgers in a day. WELCOME TO THE DARK SIDE, PHIL.
5:41 PM: Our burgers arrive. Without even tasting it, I immediately give extra points due to Church’s use of pun. They’ve named their burger the “Figgy Smalls” burger, and it’s made up of homemade fig and jalapeño jam, double cream brie, and butter toasted almonds on a Grand Central potato bun. There’s nothing I appreciate more than creativity during Burger Week. It delivers on flavor, but I still feel like it’s missing something. I don’t taste much of the fig. Perhaps the burger was a touch overcooked, or there wasn’t enough sauce-to-bun ratio, so I’m a little disappointed. However, it makes up for it with the brie and butter toasted almonds. The bites melt in my mouth, offering an intriguing mix of sweetness. My only complaint is that each bite is different – some offer explosions of flavor, others leave me unimpressed. In comparison, I enjoyed last year’s burger much more. For that, I give it a relatively high ranking of 8.5. Points for creativity, pun, and overall satisfaction, but docked slightly for inconsistency.
5:46 PM: Phil says Nick and I are harsh critics. Perhaps we are. It is also early in the week, so it’s difficult to give a conclusive score. But we take burger week seriously, and expect restaurants to do the same.
5:58 PM: We embark on foot towards our next destination: Club 21.
6:03 PM: I’ve never been to Club 21 before, and if I wasn’t with people who knew where it was, I would have overlooked it, and assumed it was a strip club. It looks like a life-sized version of a child’s playhouse. Inside, rifles and dead animal heads decorate wood panel walls, along with old bar signs. I feel like I’m in a conservative Grandpa’s basement.
6:05PM: We’re joined by Marc and Chelsea, Portland Food Week veterans, who also joined me on my regrettable Pizza Week conquests.
6:16 PM: We order our burgers. They give us free Burger Week Tattoos!!! If they’re trying to get easy points, it’s working.
6:18 PM: Club 21 has a unique Burger Week system in that you get a ticket, and go outside to watch your burger sizzle fresh off the grill. It feels like I’m at a middle school barbecue, and I love it.
6:35 PM: Club 21 calls theirs the “Cantina Club Burger”. It offers a local Painted Hills ground beef seasoned with a secret blend of spices, then topped with tortilla strips, lettuce, bacon, queso fresco, habanero salsa, and a chili-lime crema. I have to say, I completely disagree with the Portland Mercury writer – this thing is SPICY. I’m a total wimp when it comes to spicy food, but my mouth is on fire and my lips are burning. Maybe I’m just being a baby, but I could only manage a few bites before I had to tap out because it was too much for me. I will say I appreciated the generosity on saucing – they slather crema on BOTH sides of the bun. Unfortunately, I can only rate this one a 7. It was a really solid effort but for my taste buds it was a little too much.
6:21 PM: I DID BUY A SOUVENIR SHIRT THOUGH!
6:45 PM: We float around the idea of another burger… Phil instantly says no. It’s fine, someday he’ll learn… Chelsea’s mouth is still recovering from the fire of the Club 21 burger, so she and Marc decide against it. Nick has plans to meet with his family at Davis Street Tavern, but we decide to “think” about it.
6:47 PM: We begin to walk back to our cars. Knowing I have a Burger Week time crunch, I decide I should bite the bullet (or, burger?) and go for it. I didn’t wear my big pants for nothin’. Nick is still on the fence. I suggest we flip a coin. Heads, we get another burger. Tails, we call it quits.
6:48 PM: The coin flips… It’s heads. ANOTHER BURGER IT IS!
6:58 PM: I decide the BTU Brasserie General Tso Chicken Burger is next. In the pictures it appears to be small, so I figure it will be a manageable 4th burger.
7:13 PM: We arrive at BTU Brasserie. I’ve never even heard of this place before, but when I spot a guy walking up to the door shouting “BURGERS!!!” I know I’m in the right place.
7:18 PM: There’s a line forming at the door, and not a hostess in sight. Burger lovers begin to panic. Some leave for the bar. Others cross their fingers and hope for answers.
7:21 PM: A hostess appears and explains that it’s only her and one other guy working. She shows Nick and I to a table. At the table next to us, I see a coworker. I tell her about my burger exploits of the day. Her friend exclaims, “Wow, four burgers in a day?? Are you planning on keeping up that pace for the entire week?” Yes. YES, I AM.
7:31 PM: Unfortunately, still no sign of a server. Nick has to leave for his dinner. I decide to move to the bar so I can lessen the embarrassment of eating a burger alone.
7:34 PM: I take a spot at the bar. In the group next to me is the guy who yelled “BURGERS!!!” earlier. I assess the group and notice they’re all wearing cheeseburger pins. A couple arrives, and it turns out they know this group. I ask if they want to switch spots, so they can sit near each other and they say, “No, we’re all in this together now!”
7:36 PM: I instantly bond with this group of burger lovers. We discuss the burgers we tried, exchanging flavor notes and ratings. One girl pulls out a detailed, handwritten guide for the burgers she wants to try next. Another offers me a burger pin. They tell me about how there’s a Portland Burger Week burger car, and the person driving it wears a cheeseburger costume and hands out cheeseburger pins and various cheeseburger swag. I’VE FOUND MY PEOPLE.
7:38 PM: Their burgers arrive. I watch with a tinge of jealousy, wishing we could all share a glorious burger together. They assure me it’s one of the best yet, and I should “get excited.”
7:48 PM: My burger finally arrives. It’s bigger than it looks in the pictures, and I’m a little concerned I won’t be able to finish it. But I feel a lot of pressure to prove myself to my new burger BFFs, and so I power through it.
7:49 PM: The BTU Brasserie “General Tso’s Chicken Burger” is a work of art. It’s crispy fried chicken, napa cabbage salad, Chinese sausage, and shiitake mushroom jam between two bao buns topped with toasted sesame seeds. I grew up eating Hom Bao, and I’m instantly transported back to childhood. There is SO. MUCH. FLAVOR. I’m having a really hard time containing myself because I could scream it’s so good. Normally, chicken burgers are against my principles. As many of you know, I’m a burger purist and I believe that burgers must always consist of beef patties. But for this gloriousness, I might change my mind. The bao bun melts in my mouth, AND MY HEART. I rate it an extremely high 9. We’ll see how the rest of Burger Week pans out, but this is my favorite thus far.
8:03 PM: The Olympics play on the TV. I look around and see everyone eating cheeseburgers. Suddenly my heart bursts with patriotism. F*CK YEAH BURGER WEEK. F*CK YEAH, AMERICA!!!
8:15 PM: I part ways with my new burger BFFs and we wish each other well on the journey ahead. “Maybe we’ll see you tomorrow at Noraneko!” they say. I feel like I just met a new crush and got their number, but instead of exchanging numbers, we exchanged burger plans. This is what Burger Week is all about – bringing people together through a mutual love of cheeseburgers.
8:17 PM: I drive back home, while watching a stunning sunset in my rearview mirror, and reminisce on an excellent day of burgers. While this would normally be a beautiful moment, I’m bloated AF and need to lay down immediately. I also feel greasy.
8:45 PM: I take a shower to rid myself of grease and sin. I look in the mirror and see a pimple beginning to form. This is only the beginning…
9:47 PM: I think to myself, I could eat another burger right now... I'm full, but I'm not THAT full. If I really committed, I could do it...
9:48 PM: I look up the Burger Week restaurants to see what is still open.
9:49 PM: A burger devil and a burger angel appear on my shoulder. Burger devil says, “You only have one more day. You should probably make the most of it.” Burger angel says, “You already ate 4 burgers and your heart might stop if you try to eat one more. That’ll do, pig, that’ll do.”
10:30 PM: For once in my life, I decide to listen to burger angel. I put on my new cheeseburger shirt, and drift into dreams of burgers, dancing in my head.