I probably like a good burger more than the average person. With proper cooking and simple seasoning, little else is needed to achieve burger nirvana. You can imagine my excitement when Four Burgers opened in Central Square.
The name suggested a simplicity to the offerings, which could either be very good (a juicy burger with a salty, meaty flavor), or very bad (that would require a post-cooking bath in ketchup and salt to make up for where the kitchen failed). The menu lets you know that the meat is of high quality – purchased from the same farm as Grill 23.
In the back of the dining room are bins labeled from composting and recycling. Even with a friendly price point ($6.50 per burger, $10 average check with fries and a drink), you know that this will be a fresh, high quality experience.
The four burgers: salmon, beef, veggie or turkey, come on either whole wheat or white buns. The beef is a classic – no fancy condiments, just simple pickles, lettuce and tomatoes. The romaine lettuce is shredded so it fits nicely inside the bun, without over-expanding the sandwich which would have made the burger difficult to eat. The burger was cooked perfectly to our specifications, which sadly is a rare feat for most joints.The turkey plays off the traditional Thanksgiving (autumnal flavors). Apple bits are folded into the meat, yielding a slightly sweet and crunchy texture. The burger was cooked perfectly – 95% on the grill, 5% from residual heat – the patty was moist and tender. The apple bits would have compensated well if the burger was overcooked, but oddly, in this case it was superfluous. The cranberry chutney was bright and was a nice diversion from the standard ketchup. My only complaint was that as we head into the heat of summer – I want to think of summer flavors and would have preferred a more seasonal flavor.
The sweet potato French fries posed an interesting culinary challenge. While they tasted like sweet potatoes with a lovely enhancement of salt, they were a bit limp. In speaking with the owner (Michael B. of Paramount and 21st Amendment fame) he agreed. He noted that the only crispy sweet potato fries come frozen from Sysco and are sprayed with some food-like substance. If you go naturally, as Four Burgers does, the fries won’t get that fast-food crispy.
Four Burgers is not alone in its quest to naturally achieve crispy sweet potato fries. A little research shows that no one has yet to find a solution (and publish it on-line). In thinking about the problem… regular French fries typically use Idaho potatoes – a high starch, low protein, and lower water tuber. You never see Yukon gold fries, and certainly not red bliss. The starch content is low (which has its benefits for other preparations…) but does not yield a crispy fry. What makes the potato oxidize quickly also produces a crispy fry. (also thinking about potato latkes, they get crispiest when you squeeze all the water out of them) Michael B. and I decided to do a little experimenting in the kitchen. With a nod to Chinese cooking, we tossed the sweet potatoes in a dusting of corn-starch. They fries stayed crisp longer, but soon met the same limpy fate of the original batch. I think we were on the right track, and I bet potato starch would be worth a try. In thinking of the crisp tempura batter, a blend of flours – in that case corn starch and wheat flour, might also work. For sure, you'll find me back there again. But I might wander back into the kitchen to play around with sweet potato fries in a quest to perfect burger nirvana. Stay tuned for more culinary experimentations…