It’s the basic things in life that engender the most love, and so it is with the basic hamburger. More has been written about a meat patty sandwiched in between a bun than many other things in life. It’s a topic of passionate debate, as much an American cultural touchstone as rock or jazz. As Leslie Bremmer put it in Saveur’s September 2009 burger issue:
“A hamburger is a complex food, possessed of all kinds of flavors and textures and temperatures. It’s the synergy of the thing: the bun, soft or firm, brushed with butter and grilled; the cool, crisp lettuce; and that seared, juicy ground beef. You take one bite and it all comes together. It sings.”
As the name implies, Romer’s Burger Bar is a shrine to the staple. It’s named after Jim Romer, co-owner and well known for being Milestones’ executive chef. This connection is made obvious at the burger joint: it feels much like a pared down Milestones, one wherein much of what one dislikes about the chain has been stripped away. The televisions are still there, and the décor still family-friendly. It’s a simple, back-to-basics place where the focus is narrowed and bettered (though the service remains just as lacking).
But the burgers: there is variation upon variation here, with different meats, different toppings, different condiments, different combinations…it’s all breathtakingly abundant, much as a burger joint should be. All sides are just that - ordered separately - with each burger served on its own excepting a lone olive and pepper, the fries having cleared the stage for the main attraction (there are various side salads to be had, and of course the fries, all of which are a faint memory next to the burgers).
Raymond Sokolov demands that “it should start with beef, the humble ground chuck,” and most of Romer’s variations take heed. We tried the Man’s Man Burger ($11), comprised of a suitably thick Angus patty, topped with applewood smoked bacon, amber ale cheddar, fried onion strings and smoked alder salts, the sort of burger that makes one want to wear Old Spice, throw on a flannel shirt and chop some firewood. The Americano ($10) reads like a standard – patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard and mayo – but topped with a battered and deep fried cheese plank, its a reminder of all that lovely, lovely excess from the hamburger’s place of origin. Sokolov also said that “burgers provide quantitative evidence…that Americans are a bunch of insensitive louts,” but what a lovable bunch of insensitive louts they are to have brought us this.
(As many may point out, our friends to the south may have a home turf advantage when it comes to burgers, as many American burger joints can serve one medium rare. The misconception is that our health authorities will simply not allow for it; they simply frown upon it, particularly when the ground beef is mass produced. A handful of places – Hamilton Street Grill, DB Bistro Moderne – will give you the option.)
There are non-beef options available. The Maple Bacon Pork Burger ($10) is exactly that, the ground pork dotted with spice and reminiscent more of a good sausage patty, perfectly complimented with apples sliced into matchsticks and grilled frisee, though tell the server to keep it light on the Gorgonzola garlic sauce (which is good, but can overpower the apple). The So Cal Turkey Burger ($10) is the most akin to Milestone’s burgers, served with avocado, tomatoes, onion and mayo. Those even more health conscious can forego the brioche bun – which every burger option is served on, and is more functional than memorable – and go for the “green” option, which replaces the bun with leaves of iceberg lettuce, perhaps the most antithetical gesture one can make.
Beer, of course, is the most obvious partner for a burger, save for fries. Both are playing second fiddle at the restaurant. The beer selection isn’t quite as large, and the fries not as crisp, as both should be. Perhaps it’s the single-mindedness of Romer’s that has relegated both to ugly step-sister status: it’s all forgivable with the burgers being as broad and beautiful as they are. It’s clear where the passions lie, and all else are mere distractions.
Romer’s Burger Bar
1873 West 4th Ave