donderdag 16 december 2010

Restauranwatch: boutique patties: A Jerusalem hamburger primer

With falafel gaining traction in the US, there's poetry in the knowledge that the iconic staple of American food, the hamburger, is enjoying a renaissance in Israel. Back in globalization's early days, a person in search of a Jerusalem hamburger had to go to an upscale restaurant or a mass-production franchise (either international, like McDonald's, or international-style, like Burger Ranch), where taste and texture did not always add up. Now it seems there is a boutique burger joint on every Jerusalem corner - not just downtown but throughout Talpiot and the German Colony.

Many credit Burgers Bar's flagship Shammai Street shop with having created what's become a nation-wide trend when they opened around a decade ago. The formula was simple: all-beef patties grilled to order, a "local watering hole"-like atmosphere complete with bar stools and a conversational counter staff, a wide range of non-dairy toppings (from pickles and fried onions all the way to portobello mushrooms, omelets and roasted eggplant) and a complete lineup of signature sauces (including Argentinian-style chimichurri, Thai sweet chili, American barbecue sauce and a homemade garlic-infused mayo).
In today's Jerusalem, the trend is apparent not only in the ubiquity of dedicated burger shops, but also in the hamburgers on offer at better bars, like downtown Irish pub O'Connell, where a superior burger and some of Jerusalem's best French fries can be washed down with a large selection of international beers on tap, or Baka nightlife kitchen Colony, where theme parties and musical performances often accompany the food and drinks. At restaurants like Emek Refaim's Joy, where the meat competes with a well-stocked bar, a fair amount of chicken and vegetarian options round out the menu.

And the top burger bars are hardly the greasy spoons of yester-year - they're indie burger boutiques, offering quality meat cooked to order, as is the case at the Iwo Meat Burger, where customers order their burgers by weight and style (including cheese burgers, as Iwo has a lock on Jerusalem's non-kosher burger market due to its brash branding and reputation for quality).

Effectively fusing together all of these concepts is the Shlomtzion HaMalka Street branch of Black Bar 'n' Burger, one of the few kosher franchises of a successful national chain. Black's proprietor, figurehead and chef, Channel 2 cooking show host Tzachi Bukshester trained in Europe and been running his own stable of Israeli restaurants since the mid-1980s. "We are freaks for good meat - that's one of the things that's most important to us, so we invest a lot in it," he explains to of the Black concept. "We aren't just a place for hamburgers - our atmosphere is deeper. We have nice décor, a great bar."
Bukshester puts the state of Israeli burgers into perspective. "The fast food chains we went to as kids are great for kids, but as we get older, we still want hamburgers, because they're so good, but we don't want a minimum hamburger," he says. "We want real food, both in terms of taste and presentation - and that's what Black Bar 'n' Burger does. We have veal hamburgers, entrecote hamburgers - all different cuts of meat."
But just because Black's burgers are for adults doesn't mean that they lack gimmicky fun. Here, patrons can enjoy menu items with names like The Three Tenors, Slimburger, T-Rex and the Black Diamond.