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Sunday
May192013

Ten Best Restaurant Burgers: Greenwich to New Haven 2013

One year, hundreds of miles, close to thirty pounds of various cuts and blends of meat, thousands of fries…searching for the ten best hamburgers.

Nestled between Shad Roe, Bahn Mi, Shrimp & Grits, Nonni's Meatballs and Montauk Black Bass was “The Burger.” It was the equalizing dish amongst the best chefs in the area.  As I tasted the creativity that each of the chefs placed into their version of this 100+ year old tradition, I was in awe. The combinations were brilliant, how the flavors balanced and complemented each other, the choices that they made to place their individual mark on this dish, each was unique. 

Most of the meat was sourced locally, many from the same vendor with slight variations in blend and grind...some used a medium-grind while others requested a third, finer grind. Cheese and bacon played a major supporting roll, and the choices varied amongst the chefs. Different techniques were used with the onions, some were caramelized, some were frizzled and others were fried. A few chefs added a final layer of flavor with an aioli / mayo while others offered house-made ketchup. All were encased in the final component, the bun or muffin, ranging from plain to super sweet. And the fries, from skinny to fat, double fried and topped with all sorts of creativity. And then the last step before delivery, the seasoning.

The combination and balancing of all of these elements made this assignment both an education and a culinary escapade. I learned so much about flavors, techniques, the creative process and finally the end product. To all the chefs, I want to thank you for answering some last minute questions, but more importantly, for creating some of the best hamburgers that I have ever tasted.

Ranking these was akin to deciding which child you like best. They were all so great, each deserved the top spot…but here is my list of the Best Restaurant Burgers:

1 - The Whelk (Westport) – Owner Chef Bill Taibe and Chef Geoff Lazlo created my favorite burger this year, combining rich flavored meat, sweet pickles, cry baby Swiss cheese, two varieties of bacon, crisped onions and onion mayo on a brioche bun. The dry aged blend of short rib, brisket and chuck from Craft Saugatuck Butchery was fantastic. The cheese covered, thick patty sat atop two different varieties of bacon that added saltiness and smokiness, while slices of sweet pickles, a slice of frisée and the onion accented mayo brought additional flavors and textures. Sitting atop the plump patty was a handful of crisped onions. These were all encased in a sweet brioche bun. The flavors were overwhelmingly delicious with smoky, salty, sweet all complementing the deep, rich flavors of the beef with the crisped onions adding a fun and crunchy texture. The hamburger was served with shoestring fries that were perfectly prepared and salted.

2 - The Chelsea (Fairfield) & MATCH (South Norwalk) – The “Chelsea Burger” and the “Match Burger” each delivered an incredible array of flavors. Chef Matt Storch’s burger started with Craft Saugatuck Butchery’s rich, grass fed short rib, chuck and brisket combination. After grilling to create a crisp char and smokiness, the burger was dipped in a Bacon-Cheese Béchamel, a process created by Chef Storch. Bacon bits sat atop the cheese-dipped burger to add saltiness and then sweet-sour onions finished this presentation. The burger was encased in a sweet onion brioche from the Good Bread Company in Port Chester, which added just a little more sweetness to the burger. The fries at Match were the best I tasted, and Chef Storch told me he worked years developing his technique; crunchy on the exterior, soft and moist on the interior and were the perfect complement to the burger.

Photo courtesy of Jane Beiles2 (Tie) - South End (New Canaan) – The “South End Burger” created by Chef Nick Martschenko started with fantastic beef, topped with double smoked bacon, American cheese, South End burger sauce and served on a Wave Hill poppy seed roll. The flavor of the meat was perfect, and Chef Martschenko charred the exterior while maintaining a medium rare interior that oozed tons of juicy goodness. The bacon was crisp and flavorful and complemented the meat. A few slices of B&B pickles adorned the burger and added another delightful flavor and the melted American cheese encased the patty. The sauce was a chunky spiced ketchup-y delight, which added another flavor level. The roll was light on flavor and allowed the bold flavors inside to shine. The fries were delicious, lightly salted with a dusting of parmesan cheese and was a great side for the burger.

4 - Elm (New Canaan) – The “elmburger” is another winning dish created by Chef Brian Lewis. The burger started with an incredibly flavorful meat topped with soft and sweet caramelized onions and a layer of melted Gruyere cheese. The caramelized onions were the best that I sampled on my travels and the Gruyere added a slight nuttiness to the dish. (The cheese changes often). Unlike any other burger in the area, the elmburger sits atop a swath of Sriracha aioli that added just a touch of heat (the only burger tasted that included a spicy component) to take the flavors to another level. The bun was toasted and a delicious addition to the meal. The burger was served with thick cut fries.

5 - Harlan Social (Stamford) – The “Harlan Burger” included a special blend of short rib, chuck and brisket from Pat Lafrieda and then Managing Partner and Chef Steve Lewandowski elevated the flavors with his unique toppings. He first basted the burger with a house-made “Japanese Worcestershire Sauce” and then added his “Cheddar Ale Sauce,” comprised of four varieties of cheese, mushroom stock and cream ale. He topped these items with a delicious Bacon Onion Jam . The sweet, sour, salty, umami elements were all present. Then Chef Lewandowski encased the burger in a Portuguese Muffin from Boston (my favorite bun on the tour), which added a sweet accent.

6 - Nola Oyster Bar (Nowalk)Chef Dan Kardos continued his tradition of great hamburgers in his newest kitchen. Kardos used Saugatuck Craft Butchery dry aged blend of short rib, chuck and brisket that was grilled to a perfect char. He topped this patty with melted Beemster cheese, mushrooms, bacon, and frizzled onions and black pepper mayo. The flavor of the meat was outstanding and the toppings were delicious. The cheese was flavorful and complemented the richness in the meat. The bacon was thick and perfectly cooked but was just a little salty. The burger was served with curly fries that were fun and fantastic.

7 - Le Farm (Westport) – The “Beef Burger” with B&B pickles, mayonnaise, Cheddar cheese and bacon on a brioche delivered incredible flavors. This hamburger was sampled while Chef Geoff Lazlo and again when Chef Arik Bensimon were in the kitchen. The meat was charred on the exterior and the interior texture was soft. The interior was perfectly prepared to medium rare and was moist and juicy. The house-made pickles added a sweet element and the cheese and mayo were delightful and creamy complements; the bacon was a little bold for the other flavors. All of these delicious ingredients were encased in a brioche bun, a favorite of mine.

8 - Napa & Company (Stamford) – Carrying on the traditions of previous chefs, Executive Chef Adam Truelove continues producing the Napa Wagyu Burger which has appeared on this list since its inception. The large, marbled meat was perfectly prepared and then topped with an onion jam, aged Gouda cheese, and pepper mayo, all encased in a brioche roll. The meat was rich and juicy and the onion jam was fantastic. The aged Gouda cheese was perfectly melted and brought a deep nutty flavor to the burger. The fries that accompanied the burger were delicious.

9 - Oak + Almond (Norwalk)Chef Jeff Taibe’s new menu includes the Grass Fed Burger, a large patty using 80-20 of Pat Lafrieda blend meat. The patty was charred and perfectly prepared and mild in flavor and was complemented by the accompanying bold ingredients. The burger was topped with some of the best bacon slices I tasted in my tour, delicious sweet-sour cippolini onions, melted Gorgonzola cheese and aioli and then served on a Wave Hill Brioche. The toppings were deep in flavor to complement the mild meat. The fries were fantastic, fried and salted and finished with sprigs of fresh rosemary.

10 - Boulevard 18 (New Canaan) – The “Strada Burger” is the creation of Chef David Raymer and included eight-ounces of certified Black Angus and Wagyu beef. The patty was topped with caramelized onions, cherry peppers, cheese (several options), with a little garlic aioli on a sesame brioche. I chose the Gruyere cheese and the nuttiness was a great complement to the richness of the meat. The caramelized onions were perfectly prepared to a sweet and moist finish and the garlic aioli was a delicious complement to the other ingredients. The burger was served with some delicious frites.

The journey is complete for 2013. And as we look towards the 2014 entrants, please feel free to recommend your favorites for inclusion.

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Reader Comments (39)

I dunno, maybe it's me, but some of the burgers look grossly undercooked.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJP

This list claims to have the best burgers between Greenwich and New Haven, yet there is not a burger north of Fairfield.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBurger

Have you been to Brennan's Tap Room in Norwalk. Best new Burger in the area.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBEB

@Burger

There was only one restaurant that I knew of, or was recommended, north of Fairfield (close to 100 comments on the post a couple of months ago asking for recommendations), Caseus in New Haven. And I just did not get there, on me. They will be visited in the near future and I will report back, as we did last year, if they are in the same league. Many have told me it is.

If you have others please let me know and I will add to the list.

@BEB

Brennan's has only been open a week or two and would be included in the Bar Burger category. Will add to the list for the next round. The Best Bar Burgers were posted two weeks ago. Go take a look there and see how it fits.

What happened to The Spread in South Norwalk? Better burger than the top three restaurants listed on there.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDon't agree!

Funny enough The Spreads burger is pictured there... I recognize my sister's china from something borrowed vintage rentals! Interestingly enough not mentioned...but good enough for a perfectly plated picture.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMolly Anne Kreter

@ Don't agree! and Molly

As you know there has been a little bit of Chef movements over the last few weeks. There were two burgers (The Spread in SONO and Harvest in Greenwich) that were absolutely in the discussion. Both were excellent (read my review of Harvest a few weeks ago and The Spread burger review is on my hard drive).

The sudden movement caused us to place them "on hold" until a revisit occurred. I expect a mini write-up in a few weeks with these two, Caseus and any others that people recommend.

Hope that helps

@Jeff

You definitely need to go back and eat their burger again amongst other things! :) The old chef may not be there anymore but Carlos Baez is just as talented and brings his own flair to the menu. Can't wait to read your mini write up when it comes out.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDon't agree!

@Don't agree!...totally agree and will report back.

So many places so little time. I have several places on my "Gotta visit or revisit" list. This Burger piece has been a labor of love and incredibly time consuming.

And you confirmed my intuition that I should give Carlos a little time and space to allow him to put his "flair" on the items before a visit.

Thanks DA.

Prices?

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

Great recap, Jeff! and my big question is....how much weight did you gain enjoying all of these amazing burgers???

I also like the Terrain burger with Chipotle mayo...but know that there has been chef change there as well so maybe a quickie visit there down the road?

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterellenbowen

Here's a bunch of fancy-restaurant burgers in New Haven that are fantastic and absolutely could make this list:

Caseus, as mentioned
Zinc - on the bar menu
Heirloom - similar to the one at LeFarm

And in Milford:

Bridge House
Beach House
Indigo

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRK

Heirloom in new haven is the best burger!! Ask for some
Bacon jam on it!!!

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGenee

Zinc and heirloom in New Haven and Bistro 7 in Wilton/Ridgefield border have the best burgers I have ever tried. Simple and fresh ingredients with grass fed meat. The burgers you listed look great on picture, but haven't satisfied my appetite or haven't tasted as good as they look.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKT

Was BJ Ryans in the running? While I agree with much of your rankings, their burger is one the the simplest but spectacular burgers I've ever had.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

@ Kristin

I agree that BJ Ryans has an excellent burger and was listed as #8 in Best Bar Burgers 2 weeks ago

http://www.ctbites.com/home/2013/5/5/top-10-bar-burgers-from-greenwich-to-new-haven-2013.html

I agree with Ellen, the Terrain burger is outstanding (although no chipotle mayo when I tried it last weekend). I also recentl;y had a burger at Tautog Tavern in Black Rock with cheddar, bacon and balsamic onions that I would include on par with many of the ones listed on the Bar list. Both of these lists make for a great burger resource...thanks for "sacrificing yourself" to compile!!

May 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike D

The burger at Bonda of Fairfield:

The Bonda Burger which is a mainstay on their ever changing menu is worth trying.

May 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

@ellen and Mike D

I did taste the Terrain burger under the previous chef. The issue I had was the texture of the meat. On my visit it was almost a gelatinous texture, not a grind and it was very strange and I was told it was ground on premises, so this was the end product the chef was looking for. The caramelized onions, bun and aioli were excellent but the addition of the mushrooms was not needed, and I could not taste them amongst the other flavors. So it was not in the discussion compared to many that I enjoyed more. We will have to wait to see what the new chef will produce.

@Matthew

Thank you for the suggestion. I will add to the list of entrants for next year.

Ciao

The Gingerman In Greenwich Have Incredible Burgers I'm Very Disappointed They Weren't Mentioned On The Short List.

Boulevard 18, South End, Oak and Almond, The Spread, and Nola use either Wave Hill Breads' challah or brioche hamburger buns. Wave Hill Breads Cafe also makes a Significant Burger which a 75 year old customer said was "the best burger I have ever had"... and he has had quite a few burgers in his life!
Individuals can order their own burger buns from Wave Hill Breads by calling 203 762 9595. Give us at least two days' notice. We are also selling them at local Farmers' Markets.

May 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

But seriously, can we get the prices on these? It would be a service to the readers. Because we are talking about hamburgers here. And to pay $20+ for a hamburger which most anyone could cook well at home seems crazy to me.

May 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

Hey Chris-

Good questions but Jeff did mention the pricing in his first report on Top 10 Bar Burgers...and I quote:

"This year we decided to present the burgers in two categories, “Bar Burgers” and “Restaurant Burgers,” believing it unfair to compare a $7-12 burger with a $20+ burger".

Not specific by burger but gives me enough to go on...

May 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFood4Thought

@ What about Ginger Man...

Ginger Man would have been included in the Bar Burger category but let me give you my feedback.

I ordered the Gingerman Burger with bacon, American cheese and caramelized onions served on an English muffin. My first bite of the meat was disappointing. It was totally unseasoned with very little meaty flavor. The bacon was very good, crispy and freshly prepared and the onions were soft and medium flavor, very good but not great. The muffin fell apart. This would be more positive if the meat flavor was deeper.

Hope that helps

@food for thought - yes, I know that and you know that. But the surveys are called "Bar Burgers" and "Restaurant Burgers" not "cheap burgers" and "expensive burgers." And in terms of service to readers (especially those who don't recall the details from the cheap burger report), what is the downside of including prices? Why is specificity in any way a bad thing? We're talking about expensive hamburgers, here - nothing more and nothing less. Is the point to promote the restaurants or to inform the readers - because otherwise, the write-ups are terrific? (And while I may be wrong, I thought the Match Burger was LESS than $20.)

Jeff - I noticed that the Dressing Rooms mini-burgers didn't make the cut. Two sliders for $24. Was that because of quality of the burgers or because it is two little sliders for $24?

May 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Grimm

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