Slow Bar’s $9 Hamburger
Change was inevitable: Once the definitive meal of a newly motorized nation, the burger has morphed from a staple of grab-and-go culture into a gourmet centerpiece worthy of inclusion in any fine-dining establishment. But while cities like New York have given in to wallet-busting monstrosities like $32 truffle-and-foie-gras burgers (served at chef Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne), in Portland, we’re more interested in the simple pleasures of beef and bun. Of course, “artisanal” (i.e., fresh, not frozen) hamburgers made from locally produced, grass-fed beef have been known to reach a dizzying $14 here (and no, that doesn’t include fries, or a massage and a free car wash on the side). But there are still plenty of eco-friendly versions ’round these parts that can be savored for under $10—which is where we draw the line on our burger budget, frankly.
The most perfect under-$10 burger in Portland? It’s the sculpted pantheon of beefy brawn and Olympian flavor—otherwise known as the Slow Burger—that’s made so lovingly at Slow Bar (533 SE Grand Ave, slowbar.net). Here’s why. —John Chandler
When you’re serving a hulking half-pounder, one of those unimpressive, store-bought, deflated buns just won’t do. You need a powerful bun, one with good structure that won’t fall apart under the weight of the meat. It should have a little substance to it when you bite into it, and it shouldn’t taste like it’s filled with air. Slow Bar uses sturdy and voluminous brioche rolls from Grand Central Baking Co. Aside from their heft, their chew factor adds one more pleasant dimension to the textural symphony of crisp lettuce and juicy patty.
Slow Bar’s co-owner Mike Banash and his kitchen crew selected their meat source through a series of blind taste tests. Turned out the half-pound patty made from free-range Strawberry Mountain ground beef beat out those they’d prepared from both Cascade Natural and Painted Hills ground beef.
Slow Bar’s patty contains a mixture of beef, egg, and an assortment of herbs and spices that the kitchen refuses to name. The beef is meticulously weighed to eight ounces and cut with a mold to ensure that each burger cooks consistently every time. By cooking the patty on a flat grill, cooks can seal in the meat’s juice, as opposed to charbroiling, which can leave the diner with a wizened hockey puck.
Banash believes that “true medium” is the proper way to enjoy the Slow Burger. The result is an incredibly plump patty bursting with juice that, ironically, is impossible to eat slowly or with any sense of propriety.
THE SECRET INGREDIENT:
Rather than using raw onion slices, which tend to overpower the rest of the burger, Slow Bar stacks two beer-battered onion rings on top of the beef. While some customers leave the onion rings in situ and wedge the monstrous burger into their pieholes, others take them out and eat them with a string of melted gruyère cheese attached. We prefer to do both: Remove the gooiest ring and eat that. Leave the second ring in the burger to provide crunchy texture and sweet flavor to the peerless ensemble.
Slow Bar slathers its buns with a garlicky house-made aioli and a smoky ketchup-spiked pickle relish bolstered by horseradish and cayenne pepper. Rather than strong cheddar or gouda, Slow Bar prefers the nutty, quiet, but complex flavors of gruyère for the layer of cheese. A leaf or two of crisp, fresh butter lettuce tops it all off. The result? Each ingredient works harmoniously with the next—in fact, they all downright sing.