3:41 PM: When I was a kid, I was very intrigued by the idea of riding in the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile. However, hot dogs don't even come close to the miraculous wonder of a cheeseburger. To ride in a cheeseburger car is a dream come true, to say the least. I feel like every second of my life, everything I've ever worked for, every burger I've ever consumed, has lead up to this moment.
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.
Pizza Week vs. Burger Week: A Taste of Infidelity
~A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR~
While my initial concept was to create a one hour long visual film simply titled: Burger, Beyonce’s lawyers said they would sue me for $100,000 trillion dollars. As you read, you will just have to imagine a burger wearing a fur coat, smashing car windows with a bat, and singing: “I can taste the dishonesty / it’s all over your [pizza] breath…”
* * *
Sometimes my friends and I like to play a game called “Do, Dump, or Date.” The basic premise of the game is one person names three different people, and you have to decide which one you will do (a one night stand, and not the type of furniture ifyaknowwaddimean), dump (tell 'em boy, bye!), or date (you’re locked down with this choice forever).
Since I’m only attracted to food, my rules for this game are limited to various categories of cuisine.
Recently, we were playing my version of this game, and a friend asked: do, dump or date – pizza, burgers, tacos.” Without hesitation, I obviously picked date burger, do pizza, and dump tacos (apologies to Taco Bell, we’ve just had too much of a tumultuous relationship...).
The truth surfaced. The secret I’ve quietly kept to myself was finally revealed: I’ll fux with pizza.
Facebook was poppin’ with event invites. Amateur DJ shows left and right. Someone’s having a birthday party and they invited 800 people. Then I saw it: Portland Pizza Week 2016. After Burger Week 2015, TMZ quoted me saying “I want all weeks to be dedicated to food.” Bless you, Portland Mercury, for making my dreams come true. Curse you, Portland Mercury, for making me choose between burgers and pizza.
Eyes darting left and right, I clicked “going.” It’s official – I’m cheating on burger week.
They post the list of participating pizza places online with bios and photos of the slices. I meticulously research and identify the pizzas that interest me. I’m a little sick to my stomach. This is the exact plan of action I take when deciding on Burger Week burgers, but this time it’s with pizza. It doesn’t feel right.
Meanwhile, Burger wears a fabulous dress amidst flames, swings a string of lights over its head and ferociously screams: “WHO DA FUQ DO U THINK I AM / YOU AIN’T MARRIED TO AN AVERAGE BURGER, BOY.”
Pizza week begins. I give every excuse in the book.
“I’m just doing it to compare with burger week.”
“It would be wrong for me to pass up $2 slices.”
“I only want to try a few of them.”
I disguise my guilt by telling myself it’s all for the blog, and my post will be about how pizza week will never be as good as burger week. As the week progresses, I’m losing sight of why I started. I’m trying all of these different pizzas and I’m feeling a little more satisfied than I’m comfortable with.
I start with the loaded baked potato pizza from Roman Candle and it’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted before, but I try to downplay it. I move onto Atlas’s whiskey soaked smoked brisket pizza. It’s tasty but very heavy, and leaves me feeling disgusted with myself.
The next day, I try the Nacho Porko from Pizza Schmizza. It was good but it just didn’t excite me in the way I expected it to. A few days later, I visit Sizzle Pie for their slices: Yin Yang Theory and vegan Dagger Moon. I’m surprised to find that I like the vegan pizza better than the regular pizza. Vegan? Really?? I don't even know who I am anymore?!
I would NEVER date pizza. Baby, this is just a one time thing! I promise it won’t happen again…
Burger brazenly retaliates: “Better call pizza with the good cheese.”
My stomach is full, but my heart is empty. None of this feels right. I haven’t felt the rush of speeding to an establishment before they run out of supply. Pizza doesn’t give me meat sweats like a fine, juicy patty does.
I appreciate all of the Pizza Week participants but they just lack that special spark I have with Burger Week. Putting arugula or Italian sausage on some crust just isn’t doing it for me. Where is the creativity?! Where is the PASSION???
I want burger week back.
I decide the first meal I’m going to have after pizza week is a burger. After all, we have a child together (named ihadtheburger.com) and our brand is built on burgers NOT sidechick slices. This will set things right in the world again. Maybe…
Ashes to ashes, dust to pizzas.
I eat my last slice of Pizza Week pizza. It was the Reubenesque from Blackbird pizza, which was essentially a reuben on crust, carefully loaded with sauerkraut, thin-sliced pastrami, swiss, mozzarella, and a hint of mustard. I hate myself for saying this, but it was amazing. I try my best to forget about it as soon as I finish, and focus on the burgers ahead.
Okay burgers, now let’s get in formation.
After giving Pizza Week a chance, I ultimately feel unimpressed with a majority of the pizzas. I decide I need to redeem myself and stick to my original plan: only talk about how burger week is much better than pizza week.
I eat a burger. It’s nothing fancy, just a quick no frills fix from a random restaurant. But it feels pure.
I only had 6 slices of pizza throughout the week. I had 14 burgers during Burger Week. That’s saying something about where my allegiance lies, right…?
Was it worth it? NO.
Well, yes. Sorta. Ugh.
But ULTIMATELY NO!
The conclusion is that nothing can ever beat Burger Week. Pizza Week was great. We had some fun times, and good slices. A few places got creative with it, which I can respect, appreciate, and admire.
But just like Beyonce, nothing in this world can ever compare to the greatness of a cheeseburger. Burger Week has an incomprehensible level of excellence that consistently raises the bar and leaves all of us at its mercy. Nothing blew my mind the way a burger does on the daily.
So, for the rest of my days I will attempt to redeem myself in the form of public unrequited devotion to burgers.
If you want to read the rest, you can stream it on Tidal.
"Where are you from?"
I've told this lie countless times. As much as I like to pretend like I came out of the womb wearing flannel, it’s time to come clean. The truth is, I am a suburban princess.
I grew up in Lake Oswego – a suburb only 15 minutes away from Portland but a world of a difference. Instead of strip clubs, we have strip malls. It’s a place where acrylic nails and caramel macchiatos thrive. A place where people pay millions to live on a man-made lake infested with algae. But within this alternate universe of Ugg boots and vanity license plates, there lies one gem that remains unscathed: Giant Burger.
Eating at Giant Burger is like a rite of passage for any Lake Oswego native. When kids reach middle school, it’s an age old tradition to cross the train tracks and trek to the Giant Burger on early release days. I vividly remember my own pilgrimage.
The year was 2003 and it was the first early release of the year, meaning LO school districts ended at 11:15am. I went to Waluga Junior High, but when we arrived at the Giant Burger, our rival school Lake Oswego Junior High was also in attendance. We kept our distance, each staying on our side of the outdoor picnic tables. The air was thick with tension. All it took was a sly comment about which football team was better, and all hell broke loose. They called the cops, and we were all told to go home. I never got to finish my burger – a true tragedy.
As I reminisced on my younger years, I decided it was time to return to Giant Burger and see if it was good as I remember. Can a burger from the suburbs (aka a suburb-ger) compete with Portland’s finest patties?
Walking into Giant Burger is like walking into a time machine. The establishment is over 30 years old but remains completely unchanged with retro A-frame architecture, vinyl leather booths, and mustard yellow and brown color schemes. It’s like the Pharrell of restaurants – ageless and beautiful even after all these years.
I approach the counter. There’s a stack of pamphlets reading “GLUTEN IS A MYTH.” Seems legit.
A sign taped to the register says CASH ONLY. Yes, in 2016, they only accept cash and do not have an ATM within the restaurant. It’s all part of the charm.
While the Giant Burger is famous for its (you guessed it) Giant Burger, they offer over 30 different burger combinations. But rookies be warned – only a fool would think they were strong enough to battle the goliath that is The Filler (aka the Giant Burger), which includes two pieces of bacon, cheddar cheese, one all beef patty, a slice of ham, another patty, one large egg over medium, pickles, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce on a toasted sesame bun.
I decide to go with the classic cheeseburger, along with cajun fries and a banana milkshake for good measure. We take a spot in a booth, instantly comforted by the majestic unicorn wall art. If you look at a different angle, you can spot a dragon. It sells for the reasonable price of $125.
Our food arrives in plastic yellow baskets because this is a BURGER JOINT and they don’t fux with plates here. I peer into my basket and meet my old friend, the classic cheeseburger. A toasted sesame seed bun, all beef patty, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, thick onion slice, mayonnaise and ketchup. It’s so no-frills that I don’t really have anything to write about, aside from the fact that it tastes as good as I remember. It boggles my mind how they can take something so simple and make it into something so magical. It truly is something you need to taste for yourself.
The cajun fries are perfectly crispy with the right consistency – not too thin, not too thick. The fry seasoning has a zesty kick that makes you unable to stop eating until you find yourself picking at the crumbs to savor the flavor for just a second more. The banana milkshake is creamy and thick, and you can taste the potassium seeping into your veins. Everything about this experience is pure bliss. Is it the onion enzymes in the air, or am I about to cry of happiness?
Alas, all good things must come to an end. I feel grateful that this time it wasn’t a result of someone calling the cops on a middle school brawl. Overcome with emotion and burger-induced euphoria, I leave my Giant Burger time machine behind, knowing that 30 years from now, I can probably expect the exact same experience.
Never change, Giant Burger. Never change.
*Irons out creases on power pantsuit*
Hello, is this thing on? Yes? Ok.
My fellow Americans, I come to you with very important news. You have been LIED TO for too long. I’m afraid I can’t keep my silence any longer.
Some of you think of today as “National Sandwich Day”. While I am a wholehearted believer and supporter of sandwiches, I’m here to stand up for what I believe in. And that is...
*dramatic pause for effect*
A BURGER IS NOT A SANDWICH.
*The crowd whispers frantically in a frenzy of disbelief and outrage*
*A woman in the back of the press room faints*
After much deliberation, I have proof. In a careful study conducted by professional Twitter robot scientists, 72% of people DO NOT consider a burger a sandwich, and the numbers are growing at an alarming rate. The other 28% are completely wrong, and probably do erratic things like go on juice cleanses or refer to full grown cats as kittens (it’s a cat, are you for real??). I am no longer on speaking terms with those in the 28%.
Let me be clear: a sandwich is anything between two slices of bread. Peanut butter and jelly between two slices of bread? Sandwich. Spaghetti between two slices of garlic bread? Sandwich. Bread between two slices of bread? Sandwich. LOOK IT UP!
Many of you interested in counter arguing my truth may feel tempted to consult the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary regarding the word “burger”. There, you will find a completely unhelpful definition reading: “a sandwich similar to a hamburger”. Upon further investigation, you may find “a sandwich consisting of one or more cooked patties of ground meat” constitutes a "hamburger".
There are two important distinctions I would like to make here:
“SIMILAR” does not mean “IS”.
There is a crucial word this definition lacks: BUNS.
You cannot have a burger without a bun. I repeat, you CANNOT have a burger without a bun! Additionally, you also need a patty. Could you put thinly-sliced deli meat in a bun and call it a burger? No. You would call that a sandwich. If you put a ground beef patty between two slices of bread, is it a burger? NO. IT’S A SIGN YOU NEED TO GET YOUR LIFE TOGETHER.
I did my best to bite my tongue while Burger Week participants tried to pass meatballs or pork as burgers. Sure, they were delicious. But they were SANDWICHES. And as my burger passion and cholesterol rises, I must stand up for what is right. My hope is that we can finally rid our world of this injustice and let the truth roar its head onto all future generations to come. Take a good hard look into the mirror, AMERICA, and ask yourself: “Do I really want to keep living a lie?”
You call a spade a spade. It’s time to call a burger a BURGER!
*Rips off pantsuit to reveal cheeseburger undergarments*
*Lights podium on fire*
Thank you. I will not be taking any questions at the moment. For all media requests, please refer to my trusted publicist and confidant, Guy Fieri.
One question people always* (*never) ask me is “What’s your favorite holiday?”
Christmas? Halloween? Fourth of July? No. ALL WRONG. The world’s most important holiday of all time (aside from the day Shakira was born) is NATIONAL CHEESEBURGER DAY.
My alarm goes off. I can’t figure out where I am because I’m still half-asleep, recovering from the burger-coma of Day 6.
As previously mentioned in Day 4, I am unable to consume a burger week burger during Day 5 due to some schedule conflicts. To cope with the knowledge that I won’t get a burger, I eat a gummy version of one and decide to rate it with my burger week standards.
Burgers have seeped into my subconscious. I had a nightmare about all of the burger week venues selling out right when I got there. Is the pressure of completing the Burger Odyssey getting to me??
10:31 AM: I feel confident. I ended Day 2 on a high note, and now that I finally know who “A” is in Pretty Little Liars, I have high hopes for the day.
10:44 AM: Again, @nnanpei informs me that he cannot do a lunch burger with me. What gives?! For another day, I must embark on my quest alone...
8:22AM Alarm goes off again. Wake up in a fit of meat sweats. OMFG Did I really eat 3 burgers last night? Scroll through phone and see evidence of all 3 burger exploits. Ugh. Hit snooze and cry myself back to sleep...
44 hours! The amount of time I went without actively participating in Portland Burger Week. We've been talking about unleashing a burger review site for years and it was finally the right time. I told my friends I'd build the site that would give them a platform to spew their burger nonsense. But I broke their now grease filled hearts...
Normally I’d say any contestant that enlists the help of a former food critic from the organization that throws the event is in some sort of murky kickbacking affair, but I don’t know really what that means for burgers, and If there’s some sort of kickback situation going on in the burger world, I want to know how to be a part of it...
The following is an actual account of the Burger Odyssey Day 1.
6:37 AM - Alarm goes off. Why? Oh yeah, I was gonna go to the gym before burgers. SNOOZE.
8:03 AM - Actually get out of bed. I’ve slept in too long to eat a burger for breakfast. There’s always tomorrow. Off to work...