Burger Time

"I'll have the burger."

It's my lunchtime refrain. If we head to Zack Bruell's Cowell and Hubbard, across from our offices in the Theater District, I usually skip the truffled chicken breast and order the Playhouse burger.

Sure, I feel a tad guilty passing up the inventive creations of one of our city's best chefs for a hamburger. But I don't feel bad at all when I dig into the juicy beef, paprika caramelized onions and melty raclette cheese. When Bruell opened his Dynomite Burgers stand on Star Plaza, with gourmet choices named after his restaurants, it quickly became a staff obsession. In fact, Dynomite's Cowell and Hubbard makes our list of the best burgers in town.

Certainly we've come a long way since Canton natives Charles and Frank Menches created the first hamburger back in 1885. (Although others also lay claim to the hamburger, we don't live anywhere near them, so this is the story we're going with.) As it goes, the traveling concessionaires were at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, N.Y., when they ran out of pork for their sausage sandwiches. Due to the sweltering weather, the brothers couldn't get anyone to butcher a hog for more. So faced with selling nothing or getting creative, they purchased beef trimmings and dressed up the patty with coffee and brown sugar. It was a hit.

Our devotion has only increased. You can still get a taste of the Menches Bros. classic — we recommend the "Pops" Double in honor of inventor Frank. To relive the drive-up days, try Swenson's cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard, mayo and pickles, with a side of potato teezers and a hot fudge milkshake. "It reminds me of summers with my family, and then college with my best friends," says managing editor Kim Schneider. "There's a lot of memories packed into one flaky bun."

Yet like our inventive ancestors (the Menches also claim to have made the first ice cream cone), today's chefs aren't satisfied with simply putting grilled beef on a bun. The decadent, $56 Gandolfini burger at Lago in the Flats gets topped with fried lobster, house-cured prosciutto and truffle oil. "It was so good, I won't ever have it again," says associate editor Jillian Kramer. "I'm afraid I might spoil perfection."

Maybe, but I think I'd risk it.

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