How we agonize over this category every year when we're putting together our Best Of issue. We may as well be trying to pick the prettiest girl, the juiciest mango, the most colorful sunset. Hundreds of places sell hamburgers in Broward-Palm Beach. Dozens are famous for the things they do to prime or chuck or Kobe beef. The personal preferences, we'd even say quirks, of our staff are legion: bun type and size, condiments, texture, grease factor, price, even the surroundings in which the burger is served comes into play. By the end of the process, fistfights have broken out in the office over the question of meat-to-bun ratio. Close friends have stopped speaking to each other.
The question of cost sends us into a panic: How to compare a $25 Kobe burger cooked on a state of-the-art grill by some celeb chef against the fast-food quickie so many regular folks depend on day after day?
I have my opinions, and they do not necessarily reflect, nor are they endorsed by, the corporation known as Village Voice Media. To summarize Shepherd's checklist:
1. A burger is the people's food. It shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Anything over $12 no longer qualifies as a burger. It's chopped steak.
2. I prefer a burger made with chuck. End of story.
3. Hand-ground on premises scores big.
4. Screw the filler. Don't put a bunch of junk in my burger -- bread crumbs, chopped mushrooms, parsley, whatever. If I wanted meatloaf, I'd order meatloaf.
5. Must be juicy.
6. Brownie points for atmosphere. A funky neighborhood bar with loud music and tacky wall art gets the edge over a sterile franchise. Think: The Brass Ring. Le Tub. Alligator Alley. We do not exist in a vacuum, and neither can we separate the taste of the burger from the place in which it is tasted.
One of the burgers I've been thinking about lately is Char-Hut's "Char-Burger." Char-Hut has been around since 1976; it's a South Florida company with four franchises -- three in West Broward and one in Western Palm Beach (South Florida homeboy = points). They sell their burger for a reasonable $4.99 (points), it's made with fresh ground, never frozen, chuck (points), grilled (points), and it has legions of totally devoted fans (points). It's a fairly low-fat chuck they're using, even endorsed by the American Heart Association (I'm neutral on this question).
But the paucity of fat in the burger, although laudable from a health standpoint, means that there's not much grease to soak into the bun.
They use a delicious American-Swiss blend cheese on the cheeseburger (points). They have a great selection of condiments, which you choose as they're putting together your order: standard pickles and onion but also grilled onions and peppers, mushrooms, sauerkraut, and hot sauce. The people behind the counter are really nice. The places are clean, but they don't have a lot of personality.
They use a 1/3 pound of meat pressed into a thin round, I'm guessing a little less than a half-inch thick. You can choose a plain, poppyseed, whole wheat bun, or a pita (the last two options don't even enter into this deliberation).
These are good burgers. Both the regular and poppyseed bun are soft and chewy. The Char-Burger makes sense as the go-to burger for busy people, a fairly healthy and routinely delicious dinner for under $10 counting sides and drinks. If I were stranded on a desert island with this burger, I wouldn't complain.
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But something is missing, and I think it's the juice.
I need to add another juice-related qualification here: #7. The perfect burger needs a little thickness. I'm not saying it needs to be so big you have to unhinge your jaw (in fact, I hate that.) But it needs to put some weight in your mouth. And it's not necessarily a bad thing if the burger grease juice happens to run down your chin.
I'm just saying.
9000 W. State Rd. 84
Plus three other locations. Go to char-hut.com.