We may argue about which place in town has the best burger, but add in a side conversation of what goes better with burgers — french fries, onion rings or house-made chips — and the real debate begins. To help you pick a side, we make a case for our favorite local burger companions.
FRENCH FRIES Tavern Co.'s parsley-and-thyme-seasoned french fries make us forget the limp, flavorless versions of this old burger standby. The crispy-on-the-outside but buttery-and-flaky-on-the-inside Tavern Fries come with a superb side of their own: an addictive malt vinegar aioli. 2260 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-321-6001, thetaverncompany.com
ONION RINGS While we'll happily eat these breaded or battered, nothing compares to the golden loops from the local chain Two Bucks. The light and crispy coating on these thick-cut, vodka-battered onion rings only gets better when dunked in the accompanying cilantro ranch dressing. Various locations, twobucks.us
HOUSE-MADE POTATO CHIPS Mom definitely would not approve. But if the folks at Jammy Buggars are going to offer crispy, house-made barbecue chips before our burger arrives, of course we're going to spoil our dinner. It just means we can save some of the hand-cut fries and special dipping sauces (we recommend the Sriracha mayo) for lunch tomorrow.15625 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-767-5922, jammybuggars.com
Not all burgers are created equal. Before ordering your next one, brush up on your vocabulary below.
chuck Ground chuck is the most recommended for burger patties because of its 80-20 lean-to-fat ratio, says Jerry Kolar of K and K Portage Market. "Anything with 20 percent fat is going to make it juicy and give you the flavor you're looking for in your burger," he says. For leaner options, try ground sirloin or ground bison.
grass-fed Organic beef is regulated by the USDA to ensure that the cattle had a healthy diet — one without hormones or antibiotics. Another important part of that healthy diet is grass feeding, which offers higher levels of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, says Aaron Miller of Miller Livestock Co. in Kinsman. "Grass-fed is a healthy alternative for people, as well as better for the environment and plant life," he says.
certified angus beef If your beef is branded, you've found what you're looking for. "They take the top third of choice grade beef and skim it off into its own category to ensure quality," explains Kolar. Angus beef comes from cattle descended from original Angus stock, imported from Scotland in the 19th century.
aged Fine wine isn't the only thing that gets better with age. So does your beef. "With aging you're basically decomposing the beef," says Kolar. The two types of aging are wet and dry. Wet aging soaks the beef in a marinade or water solution to bring out tenderness. Dry aging, however, is the best if done right in a climate-controlled environment that concentrates the flavor of the meat while saving moisture.
Sliders aren't just cocktail hour hors d'oeuvres anymore. Try these trios when the desire for bite-size burgers strikes.
You don't need a reptilian-sized mouth to attack Stonetown's mini gator burgers ($10.95), made with tender gator meat flown in daily from Florida. Served on fluffy brioche with caramelized onions, tomatoes and spicy bayou mayo, there's more than enough flavor here for you to sink your teeth into. 627 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, 216-862-5772, stonetownusa.com
The last thing we want to do when enjoying the many craft beers and bourbons at Lizardville is fill up on a big burger. So the three mini Ohio Black Angus burgers ($9.99) topped with Amish havarti cheese and served on knotted artisan rolls are a great way to save room for a couple more beers. 25380 Miles Road, Bedford Heights, 216-364-2337; 21805 Center Ridge Road, Rocky River, 216-297-4304, lizardville.net
Why mess with a good thing? Ohio City's Light Bistro pays homage to Akron burger staples Swenson's and the Hamburger Station with its Akron-Style sliders ($12). The patties in the lunchtime trio are made using molasses — the subtle sweetness from Swenson's — and topped with onions, a pickle slice and yellow mustard, a nod to the Station. 2801 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, 216-771-7130, lightbistro.com
Forget ketchup and mustard. These three places are dressing up their burgers with unexpected ingredients.
Macaroni and Cheese
The Peanutburger ($3.85) has been on the menu since Bearden's opened in 1948. Even people "who are skeptical about it, once they try it, they absolutely love it," says manager Molly Kurz. The basic burger is arranged simply, with a bun, beef patty and melted peanut butter. But sometimes, she says, "people put sweet pickles on it, and say it tastes like peanut butter and jelly." 19985 Lake Road, Rocky River, 440-331-7850, beardens-cleveland.com
Get a taste of the elegance and rich musk of truffles by ordering the Americano Bistro Burger ($13). "The truffle oil adds a nice earthy flavor that is very unique," says Americano co-owner Cole Davis. Layered with thyme-roasted mushrooms, creamy Brie, thick bacon, griddled onions and house-made burger sauce, the truffle oil ties the burger together for a savory meal. 1 Bratenahl Place, Cleveland, 216-541-3900, americanocleveland.com
The chefs at Whitey's Booze N' Burgers were having fun with burgers of the month when they topped a beef patty with macaroni and cheese. "It's been wildly successful — much to my surprise," says kitchen manager Mike Oneacre. After experimenting, they settled on a creamy four-cheese blend, added bacon and a pretzel roll bun. The B.O.M.B. ($8.99) has been blowing up ever since. 3600 Brecksville Road, Richfield, 330-659-3600, whiteyschili.com
Three restaurants beefed up their burgers by paying homage to the people, places and things that make our city great.
The 87.7 FM CLE Burger The Barley House honors local radio by serving up the 87.7 FM CLE Burger ($9.99), topped with applewood bacon, cheddar cheese, pickled red onion, lettuce and tomato. "The burger fits the station because they play a variety of music that appeals to a lot of people. It's the same with the burger," says general manager Brock Reish. Donations from every 87.7 FM CLE Burger goes to St. Martin de Porres High School. 1261 W. Sixth St., Cleveland, 216-623-1700, barleyhousecleveland.com
detroit theater burger After the Detroit Theater in Lakewood was torn down and replaced with a McDonald's, Jammy Buggars honored the neighborhood landmark with its Detroit Theater Burger ($12) — a play on the Big Mac. "We love all our burgers, but we wanted this one to look different. That's why we doubled it," says executive chef Rob Geul. The double-decker monster comes fully loaded with American cheese, house-made pickles, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion rings and Jammy Buggars' Secret Sauce No. 9. 15625 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-767-5922, jammybuggars.com
Kipnis burger Like its namesake, Brewco Parma's Kipnis Burger ($8.99) has swung into our hearts. The prime beef patty, named after Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, is topped with crispy onion straws, tomato and bacon, and is coated in barbecue sauce. The toppings don't have a direct link to the ballplayer, but general manager Matt Schultz says it fits the theme of the restaurant. "Our whole concept is to theme everything to the city," he says. "Kipnis is just one of the players we have featured." 5513 Pearl Road, Parma, 440-882-3365, brewcoparma.com