The charm of the American burger, like blues guitar or Woody from Cheers, is that it’s bone simple, right? Fuss with it at your peril. Yet in 2001, chef Daniel Boulud had the gall to do just that. His db burger—a sirloin patty stuffed with braised short ribs and foie gras on a Parmesan bun—sold for $32 at db Bistro Moderne and instantly changed the rules.
Since then, the country has been swept up in a fervor to tweak the classic burger in extravagant ways, and why not? After all, a 1952 Aston Martin DB2 comes with a stock radio that’s tinny and inaudible. Is adding an amplifier and speakers a gauche crime or a wise commitment to rock? We’ll let you be the judge.
Here are five of the country’s most indulgent burgers for the rogue anti-classicist in us all.
Delicacies All Around
Behold, the most expensive burger in the United States. Whether or not it’s worth the $250 price is highly personal math. Regardless, the B&B Indulgence burger at Beer & Buns in New York lives up to its name with generous amounts of Kobe beef, foie gras sautéed in Sauternes, fresh truffles, and Beluga caviar on a house-made bun. All that’s missing is a deep-fried black AmEx. (A thin disc of pancetta is an optional add-on, for what it’s worth.)
A B&B rep says that, since the restaurant opened a few weeks ago, it has sold four or five, mostly to groups who are sharing. You must call a day ahead of time to order the burger, but you may want to call your accountant a day before that.
If You’re Not First, You’re Hungry
Only 18 are made each night; they’re served exclusively at the bar; and, oh yeah, the line starts back there, buddy!
The clamoring (and the line) can be found at Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Mass., where the James Beard Award winner Tony Maws forms a dozen and a half 8-ounce misshapen patties from a hybrid of premier grass-fed beef—most often chuck or brisket, well-marbled sirloin, and short rib (or hangar). He then adds suet and bone marrow because grass-fed beef is naturally lean (and because even bone marrow could make divorce papers taste delicious), then cheddar cheese, house-made mace ketchup, and a lettuce-and-onion mixture that’s tossed with the burger drippings. It all goes on a house-made rye milk-style bun.
If that sounds delicious, we offer one helpful tip: Arrive early!
If you see a pastry chef aggressively elbowing a feebler farmers’-market shopper, there’s a good chance the last pullet egg is up for grabs. The tiny egg, which is laid by hens less than 1 year old, bears an unmistakably rich and creamy yolk.
Bluestem Brasserie in San Francisco features one of those eggs atop its Bluestem Burger, a brisket-sirloin patty that is itself topped with crispy pork belly and cheddar cheese. Squeeze a glistening brioche bun around it, and you’ve got sublime, almost illegal pleasure. It’s only served on Fridays, which gives us yet another glorious reason to rejoice at the end of the workweek.
All said and done, it’s just a bacon cheeseburger at a fancy neo-diner. Except that the establishment is Au Cheval in Chicago, and the bacon isn’t rice paper–thin, hotel-grade junk. It’s two slices that are as thick as a leather belt, with edges crisped to perfection. And naturally, it has a fried egg; what self-respecting super-burger doesn’t? With a melted mound of cheddar cheese, a spread of Dijonnaise and dill pickles, chef Brendan Sodikoff has created (yet another) winner.
Umami Burger has all but won the U.S. “better burger” challenge. And once a year, during truffle season (November and December), the mythical Money’s No Object Burger makes its return. For $65, diners enjoy Bryan Flannery wagyu beef—renowned as the best wagyu (aka Kobe beef) in California. The patty is topped with a vintage port reduction and freshly shaved white truffles. Where it’s legal (sorry, California), a slab of foie gras then adds the happiest of endings to this fever dream.
Want a tip? The burger can be special ordered any time of the year. Just call.