The last day of Burger Week is always veiled in a cloud of sadness (or maybe that’s just the grease on my glasses again). Just when I was starting to get into the swing of things, it’s almost over. But instead of mulling in my meat sadness, I decide to make the most of my last day. The upside to the end of Burger Week is that most of the Portland population has tried at least one burger, so I get some insider knowledge on the best ones to hit before my flight.
Burnside Brewing always throws their hat in the ring with some of the most creative burger concepts. During Burger Week 2015, they had a burger with Kool-Aid pickles. Typically, I steer clear from Burnside Brewing because I’ve heard rumors that their Burger Week burgers are great in theory, but terrible in practice. But Keith and Nick both tweeted a photo of the burger, meaning it must have some sort of clout.
For 12pm on a Saturday, the line isn’t as bad as I anticipated, but things start heating up when the couple behind me gets into a fight over who should order the burgers versus who should save the table, where they should sit, and why are they even getting burgers in the first place when he was craving ramen. This is the Burger Week drama I live for.
I usually don’t order alcoholic beverages, but as a result of standing in line with a fighting couple, I oblige to Burnside Brewing’s “Lem & Ada”. I know I'm only reviewing burgers, but this beer is excellent. I grab my burger ticket, only to find I can’t take alcohol beyond a certain point. The griller laughs and explains OLCC rules make for a very inconvenient placement for the set-up, and he has to come around the grill, and grab my ticket, instead of me walking one more step to hand it to him.
They call my name on a megaphone, and I excitedly run towards my burger like I’ve won the lottery. “STOP! DON’T YOU DARE CROSS THAT LINE,” he jokes, and comes around the grill again to deliver my burger.
This year’s “Cornholio” burger is a quarter-pound patty, roasted corn relish, smoked jalapeño cream cheese, garlic aioli, and chicharrones. Upon first bite, I let out an audible “Mmm!” and nod my head violently, before remembering that I’m sitting alone, and I should probably play it cool. This burger is GOOD. I’ve always been a sucker for corn on a burger (and on anything, for that matter). The chicharron adds a great crunch for texture. I’m obsessed with the bun, matched with the subtle jalapeño cream cheese. I would definitely order this burger again if it was a full-time menu item. In a surprising twist of events, this burger rises in the ranks with a high 9.5/10, maybe even a 10/10 but it might just be the beer buzz talking.
NICK’S FAMOUS CONEY ISLAND
I’ve never been to Nick’s Famous Coney Island, but I love a good neon sign, so I’m intrigued. I also notice it’s decorated with Oregon Ducks memorabilia and a sign reading, “Nick Says Call Your Mom and Go Blazers” so I’m doubly impressed. At the bar, there’s a lot of “regulars” with motorcycle gang beards, slamming down drinks. I order a root beer to fit in. I consider saying something like “so, how ‘bout that ride in?” but then decide it’s probably best if my root beer and I make our way to the back corner near the pinball machine (i.e. the kid’s table).
Nick’s Famous Coney Island’s burger is the “Sweet & Spicy Carnival”. It’s made up of a patty with a spread of sweet and spicy jalapeño/bacon/brown sugar jam, red onion, "Carnie" creole sauce, onion rings, pickles, fresh shredded lettuce, mustard and a chipotle mayo dressing. There’s, like, 4 different sauces, so you know it can’t go wrong. It also comes with a kewt lil corndog on top, like a bonus prize!
My first impression is it really does taste like a carnival, and I wonder if I could win 1000 tickets at a pop-a-shot after eating this bad boy. It has a lot of flavor – it’s not too spicy but a good mixture and balance of flavor complexity. The patty is nice and thin, and the bun does an immaculate job holding it all together, considering the amount of sauces loaded onto this burger.
Around 2pm, they announce they’ve ran out of burgers. The entire bar erupts in cheers and applause for the kitchen staff. I have to hold back tears for this beautiful moment of Burger Week. I also feel extremely #blessed that I was one of the last lucky ones who got to taste it before it was gone. I give it a grand 8/10.
Although I was only planning on eating two lunch burgers before my flight, time is on my side, and I wouldn’t forgive myself if I gave up so easily. Outside of Burger Week, everyone always tells me to try Stoopid Burger. During Burger Week, Nick claims Stoopid Burger is one of the “must haves” of Burger Week 2018.
I spy it from the pick-up window while I’m waiting in line, and I start to get nervous. It’s massive. I’m already very full from my previous burgers. But this is my last hoorah, and I want to go out with a bang (maybe even a barf?).
Three guys at the table next to me discuss how many burgers from the 49 participating Burger Week restaurants they think they could have conquered. One says he’d probably max out at 15, averaging 2-3 a day. Child’s play. I’ve only been in town for 4 days, and this will be my 14th burger. My competitive cockiness gets the best of me, and now I’m no longer scared about eating this burger – I’m ready.
Stoopid Burger’s “Crazy Carl” is a towering burger made up of onion rings, fries, honey mustard, shredded lettuce, Swiss and American cheese. I was most intrigued by the fries, which I thought would add a fun novelty, but in practice they actually don’t add much of anything. The honey mustard is the only distinguishing star of this burger. Perhaps I got a bad batch, but the lettuce tastes a little wilted, and the bun doesn’t stand up to the job of holding together this mixture of ingredients. Overall, I give it a 7/10.
As I throw away my trash, a woman comes up and asks me about my running shoes, wondering if they’re good for marathons. Girl, you know I’m not out here running marathons – I’m running Burger Week! But of course, I said they were great for running, and pretended like I've been exercising this whole time, instead of eating my weight in burgers all week.
2018 was a year of surprises, and I learned my lesson: always give Burger Week burgers a shot. I stepped away from some of my preconceived notions, and I found burgers that blew me away.
FIRST PLACE: TILT “Piggy Walls” burger. Although this burger almost killed me, I enjoyed every second of it. It's like a long lost lover: intoxicating in the moment, but ultimately we're better off separated. I'll never forget it, and I'll love it from a distance forever...
SECOND PLACE: Burnside Brewing “Cornholio” burger. It took me by surprise and rose in the ranks to become one of my top selects.
THIRD PLACE: Bar Maven "Oregon Black & Blue" burger. Another burger I didn't expect to like, but it's only fitting that an ode to Oregon makes the top 3.
HONORABLE MENTION: Even though they didn’t get a proper judgement due to my failing digestive system, Smokehouse Tavern gets this year’s honorable mention.
Total Burgers Eaten: 14. While I didn’t beat last year’s record of 20 burgers, I’m still very happy with my results, considering I was only in town for 4 days.
Total Money Spent: $98.10 (but technically more since I bought a flight here…)
Total Number of Burger Photos: 36
Total Pounds Lost/Gained: 5 pounds lost! At this point, I think science proves that the Burger Diet™ works.
Total amount of times throwing up: 0! Although I came VERY close during my flight back to San Francisco.
Completing Burger Odyssey, Year 4: PRICELESS.
This is my fourth year of documenting Portland Burger Week. It almost feels like a high school graduation, only instead of going off to college, I’m going to return for every future Burger Week, like the David Wooderson of burgers. Alright, alright, alriiiiiiight.