In praise of the hamburger

I have not sold out and I never will. I promise. Really. Just read.

As a journalist, when you get an assignment that requires you to visit one or more restaurants offering you the best burger on their menu and all you have to do is write about it, you don’t have too many questions more than: Where do I go? What time? Who do I meet?

I took my own advice and found out that I was first going to Periwinkle restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. I was to be there at noon on Wednesday. And I was supposed to meet Nancy Harrison, the communications and marketing coordinator. Simple.

Don’t eat a big breakfast, I told myself repeatedly until I said it so often that it became a mantra and I wasn’t listening to the words as much as the beat and timing.
So I ate a big breakfast. Good thing though – I had to stretch the stomach to fit all the goodies of the nice lunch I was about to have.

Onwards…

Periwinkle

“…periwinkle blue…” Brad Pitt says in an almost incomprehensible accent in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. That was the thought in my head as I parked in the FREE parking lot at the Ritz-Carlton.

As I walked up in my new green (and slightly ridiculous) sunglasses, I spotted the lady who I knew was Nancy – it had to be.

Nice power suit/skirt. Check. Name tag. Check. Friendly smile, but not overly friendly – not a fake smile that you can spot from a mile away. Pretty soon we were sitting, overlooking the waterway leading to North Sound. I felt like I was shooting a scene in Ocean’s Twelve (which I liked, even if critics and fans didn’t).

Nancy leaned into me and said, “I think Periwinkle is actually kind of a hidden secret on the Island.”

People who live here might not even know about the restaurant. They know the Ritz-Carlon. Of course. But this restaurants is tucked back by the entrance to the golf course. It’s on the east side of West Bay Road. So it’s not immediately noticeable.

“People might not know about the restaurant, but as soon as you come and experience it, you’re going to think it’s great,” she said.

Periwinkle is an al fresco dining restaurant that’s open every day of the week for lunch and dinner.

“It’s really nice because it’s outdoors but it’s covered, and we’re situated right on the water, so you’ve got your water view, and people can actually pull up their boats from North Sound and have lunch,” she told me. I wished then that I had a boat and could pull up and have lunch every day.

Burger… Fries, appetizer, dessert, yum, yum, more please

We ordered. We each got the Periwinkle burger, which is served with charred peppers, arugula, tomato, roasted and pickled red onion, two slices of melted provolone, and a light aioli sauce. Starving at that point. Especially after seeing the items.

“There are tons of good burgers on this Island, absolutely, but I’m telling you nobody will beat our truffle french fries that go with our burger,” Nancy told me with a big smile.

The Periwinkle truffle fries are seasoned with salt and pepper, then rolled in truffle oil and a Parmesan cheese that’s aged for 24 months and flown in from Italy. They melt your heart.

Before the burgers came out, chef Jordan Barnett gave an explanation of the cooking and preparation process.

“The burger is eight ounces of certified Angus ground sirloin. We season it with cracked black pepper and salt. And we’re heavier on the black pepper to give it more of a black pepper crust. So when we roast it on the grill, it’s more of a subtle flavour,” he said.

The melted provolone oozed over each side of the burger – the burger called out my name at this point. As Jordan explained the rest of the plate, I could only think about wrapping my lips around this unbelievable looking burger.

We shook hands and he was away again, back in front of some grill working his magic, impressing diners with every dish.

Nancy and I sat, pulled ourselves close, and when I took my first bite, my tongue touched provolone and alarms sounded. It was a cartoon. Every bite a dream. I knew then like I know now that healthy living is the goal in life, but I made the unfulfilled commitment to eat that burger for every meal from then on.

And these thoughts came from someone who has been dabbling in vegetarianism for the past several years. I don’t want to like burgers. But what am I supposed to do when culinary delights force their way into my body?

Burger King two days later

Please keep in mind that the last time I visited a Burger King was in the 1990s. I couldn’t grow facial hair then (now I’m a hairy beast). My voice was still high. That’s how long it’s been.

So when I was told that round two would take place at the famous George Town Burger King location that gave the name Cheeseburger Reef to the adjacent waters, I was thrilled. I shall return, I thought.

Now, coming off of the Periwinkle burger, I was looking for gourmet and gourmet only. Going from the world’s greatest resort to a fast food chain felt a bit strange. Like I had a million dollars and now I’m broke, but I was to be surprised.

I was welcomed at the Seven Mile Beach Burger King by Angel Rutty, owner, and Fred Dallas, communications director.

While in line waiting for only a few minutes – it is fast food – they told me about the 1,024 different ways someone could order a Whopper.

I had to go with that burger – their signature – and the Steakhouse burger, because that’s a favourite in town. Luckily, I was hungry. I usually am.

First bite of the Steakhouse, and I’m in a backyard at a barbecue – someone just took the burger off the grill. Top chef just slid the charbroiled patty on the bun, ready with fried onions, a steak sauce, mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.

It is a tasty burger. It’s cut in half, and Fred eats one half, and I eat the other. He enjoys it. We discuss that grill flavour.

“That was one of our slogans – backyard burgers,” Angel said. Come on – really? Is she just being nice?

The little fried onions make it taste like a gourmet burger – it is a gourmet burger – even though this seven-ounce burger and fries and a large drink only costs under $8.

Not bad, I thought. This burger rivals any other burger on Island. This isn’t a ‘low end’ burger, or a ‘fast food’ burger. It’s a quality burger that bursts with flavours.

“I don’t remember tasting a burger like this,” I told them, and they’re proud. They talk to me about the traditions of Burger King. It’s a staple in Cayman. Almost 30 years on island. And Angel’s family brought it here.

I left my new friends behind, they were happy, I was happy. Another customer served. That must make a million. More, probably.

W

eekend burger

If you didn’t partake in The Brasserie’s Harvest Dinner, then you missed out on absolutely one of the best dining experiences you can have.

It’s a family style dinner using all fresh ingredients from the outdoor garden right at the restaurant. It feels like Thanksgiving, but with people you don’t actually know.

Usually I’m inside the restaurant on a Friday evening after a long week of work. I hit the table extremely thirsty for whatever concoction they’d like to experiment with.

I met Chef Brad Phillips and General Manager Kyle Kennedy before lunchtime – I had never seen the inside of that place in those hours. Out of habit, I was immediately thirsty for some vodka or rum beverage. 11am, I had to remind myself. It’s early yet.

The Brasserie is known for its catch of the day (it has its own boat), but it also has an open-faced Kobe burger on its menu that is an all-out all-star.

“It’s actually fresh ground Wagyu beef,” said Phillips. He’s somewhat of a food genius, really, so when he says something, it’s bound to be of note. “And we do an aged cheddar cheese on top from Vermont, and then caramelised sweet onions.”

It all sits on top of a sliced bun of toasted ciabatta. The burger is served with a… give me a second – have to wipe the drool off my lips – it’s that good… lemon aioli with some of the peppers and pickled cucumber from their garden made into relish.

“It’s to counter the richness of the burger and the cheese,” he said. Genius, I said, again. Pure genius.

By eating this burger open-faced, it forces you to slow down and savour every bite, which I did, along with the recommended Brooklyn Brewery Brown Ale, offered as a pairing by Kyle Kennedy.

“They’re kind of the leader of craft beer in the States,” he said. “We offer five of their selections – and no one else will be serving it.”

So I sat there at only a few minutes after 11am chowing down on my burger, using a knife and fork, sipping on the brown ale between bites, content as can be.

I thought this assignment was turning out to the be the greatest one yet. Food – burgers – and exquisite side dishes prepared especially for me on a day in May.

On Wednesdays, The Brasserie holds burger night, which focuses on build your own traditional burger. Because of this meal, you’ll probably see me there every week with a full mouth and bloated belly – just the way I like it.

O

ther island burgers

I didn’t quite get a chance to make it over to Breezes and the Brickhouse, two other Grand Cayman restaurants that are well-known for their burgers.

Breezes by the Bay is an almost perfect Cayman experience – it’s right on the water in downtown George Town, so you get that island feel while enjoying their tasty burgers

which are infused with the flavour of the islands. Their half pound, house made Rum Burger is made with their own seasonings and spices, flame broiled then topped with a hearty mound of brown sugar and rum glazed onions with everything resting on their special Parmesan Cheese Bread. This culinary delight is all served with a side of kettle cooked potato chips and black Bean and Corn Salsa.

The Brickhouse is known as a great sports bar so you would expect a stupendous burger from them and they deliver. Their certified Angus burger is served on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato and onion.

The other thing is that you can customise your burger says John Mack the proprietor, “You can choose from our selection of meats, cheeses, vegetables and sauces so that there are thousands of different ways to have your burger or you can add another patty and make it a double! He adds, “For the extremely brave we have the “Madness Burger” which is a full 3 lbs of certified Angus beef before cooking, this burger takes one hour to cook and if you eat it all in 90 mins it’s on us!”

I might take him up on that because if I have learned one thing from this burger challenge it’s that food makes me happy.

So now I’m full, jolly, and on to the next assignment… Perhaps I will be asked to sample Grand Cayman’s best pastas.

Gulp.

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