Battle of the Beef…

So, as our dear Floridian friend Jo Anne so lovingly told me last week…I have broken my New Years resolution already, and it’s only March! Thanks Jo Anne for the reminder and I will try to do better .  I know I have not written in over a month and it has been bothering me a ton. However, I also know everyone understands that life somehow finds a way to ruin our plans. Although I love my blog and all my bloggy friends, my 9-5 job has been super stressful with a new role and a ton of learning which also means hours and hours staring at a computer screen. The thought of looking at my laptop for even a minute when I got home might have launched me into the throws of a full on meltdown. So needless to say in the hopes of retaining my sanity, I have stayed away.  However, this does not mean that I have not had some freaking rock star food in the past month. So I’m starting out with a bang and going right for the beef. A burger throw down with two of the best places I have been to. Ever.

Before I get into the specifics I will say that both of these joints are huge advocates of the idea of Farm to Table dining and also the humane treatment of the animals that we are consuming. This basically means that you get the ingredients locally and you support your local businesses which in turn yields super fresh food that is a ton healthier with no fillers or hormones. You also support businesses and farms that treat their animals humanely by having proper shelter, grazing, food, and interaction with each other in order to support a healthy life for the animal. I love this movement and I think everyone should support these restaurants that have recognized that in the food industry there is great room for improvement, and in the economy there is great opportunity to help your neighbor and your local community to thrive. In the prime growing season, Jay and I almost exclusively shop at farmers markets for our produce (if we don’t get it out of our own garden) and we have been more and more conscious of buying organic meats. If you are looking for a little more info you can visit the farm to table blog at www.farmtotableonline.org. There is also this great article that I read last year from www.entrepreneur.com that really shows the positive impact on local economies (http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/220357).

The two restaurants that Jay and I hit up for this throw down of sorts were Plan B Burger in Milford, CT and Max Burger in West Hartford, CT. At this point you may be asking yourself “What does all this jargon mean to my burger?” and my response in this case would be “Really, really fabulous beef.”.

I’ll start with Plan B because we went there first (www.planbburger.com). The restaurant in the Milford location is very new, but they have 3 other locations in CT as well. It’s a fairly large place with a lot of warm dark wood, sleek black and chrome accents, and soft lighting. All around, comfy and very inviting.  We were seated quickly and our waitress, Aurora was wonderful. She had extremely honest opinions and was very easy to talk to, especially with two foodies sitting at her table. We had tons of questions and she knew the answers to all of them and also gave us some details about the food we didn’t think to ask about. She also loved food and was excited about the product they had, you could tell. The menu also has the information about humane beef – “Meets the Humane Farm Animal Care Program standards, which include nutritious diet without antibiotics, or hormones, animals raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space, and the ability to engage in natural behaviors.” Perfect.

As Jay and I perused the menu and talked about whether to get the “Beef Wellington Bites” or the “Baked Jalapeno Poppers” for an appetizer we became more and more excited about our coming meal.  We decided on what they call “Blue Chips”. They are a huge bowl of house made potato chips that are a thicker than normal cut (to simulate the consistency of a tortilla chip) and fried up to crispy perfection.  They then pour over a wonderful velvety blue cheese sauce and top it with diced tomatoes, red onion, bacon and fresh jalapenos. When the monster bowl came to our table, we were salivating. The potato chips and the blue cheese are absolutely perfect together, it has just enough of a bite to know it’s a blue cheese but it’s also very mild. They were right on with a potato chip for this combo, a tortilla chip would not have worked nearly as well. It’s a good introduction to blue cheese too if you are not sure you want to have your first experience being a chunk of the funky stuff. The kicker in the entire mix for me was those fresh jalapenos. When I say fresh, I mean I would bet they had a potted tree in that kitchen that they picked the green jewels off of. They were crazy good, really crisp and clean and full of flavor. They took out the ribs and seeds, because as any of you who grow jalapenos know, those are very very hot when they are fresh. However, every once and a while you got one with some of the rib left in it and your mouth lit up with fire. The good kind.

We then moved on to our dinner. We both decided that we were at a burger place and so that was what we were trying for our first time around. I ordered the “West Coast” burger which has a fried egg, avocado and a kalamata olive mayo. I added bacon and smoked gouda cheese cause I could, and I thought it was begging for it along with the truffle fries. Aurora agreed and happily put in my order. Jay got the special burger of the day which was a teriyaki steak burger. It was a burger, with shaved teriyaki steak and broccoli on top and the “disco tots”. When they came out, the presentation was lovely on the long white plate. The burger was front and center with the fries on the side of the plate in a silver tin. The burgers here come in two temperatures, some pink, or no pink. This is because of the way they are made. Aurora explained – they grind all their meat fresh daily and when an order comes in they use what looks like an ice scoop to portion out the meat. HOWEVER, they do not form patties; they just put the scoop of meat on the flat top and cook it, and so the burger itself is very loose formed. I was a little skeptical, but my lord does it work. To me, it almost felt like when you cut into the burger it gives all the things you have put on top to incorporate more fully into the beef itself. When I took the first bite, all I could say to Jay was that you can actually TASTE the grass in the beef. It is such a clean beef flavor that I was really taken off guard a bit. The difference in taste and texture that you get from the superior beef product is so distinct and very welcome to my pallet. Mixed with that silken yolk and salty bacon and a hard bite from the kalamata mayo…I was in burger heaven. Jay’s was good too he said, but I hardly talked to him, I was too busy enjoying my burger bliss. The truffle fries were good, but I could have used a little more truffle flavor, it might just be me though. Jay’s “disco tots” were also very good, they were tater tots with gravy and cheddar cheese on top. However, the ones at the ACME Oyster House in New Orleans still have them beat. The real star at the end of the day was the burger itself. We left there absolutely bursting at the seams but thrilled to have found this place. I can’t wait to go back and try a few more of their burger concoctions.

Our second contender in this battle of the beef is Max Burger in West Hartford, CT, part of the Max restaurant group (www.maxrestaurantgroup.com/burger/). I had heard amazing things about this place from my friend Meghan. She says that going here is “an excellent life choice”. I have to say after experiencing it first hand, I couldn’t agree with her more. Max Burger is located in the beautiful West Hartford center where there are tons of great shops and places to roam around in. When we got there they were quite busy but the hostess took our name and cell phone number and told us that they would send a text when our table was ready. How convenient! Off we went to window shop for 20 minutes. We meandered down the road and eventually went into this little spice store that I did not get the name of but will definitely be going back to. We got the text and had to head out. We had AC with us this time and they were very accommodating, sitting us at a booth instead of a table and bringing over some crayons and a kids menu. We looked over the menu and quickly found out that this was going to be a hard decision. Everything looked good, and I mean everything. They have burgers that make your mouth water and also a good amount of other menu items like salads, entrees and sandwiches. Burgers it was for us, after all, we had to compare this to Plan B. Max also has the note about humanely raised beef right on their menu – “MAX Burger proudly serves all-natural Niman Ranch Certified Angus beef. We share their mission to provide humanely raised, environmentally-sustained animals, using no antibiotics, no pesticides, and no added hormones. All Niman Ranch beef is traceable from environmentally sustainable family ranches to plate.”

We ordered the “Pickle Wrapped Pastrami” appetizers which were these fabulous little tempura fried bundles of pastrami, pickle, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and a spicy whole grain mustard sauce. They were like bites of reuben goodness, not greasy but light tempura batter and you could really taste every component. Awesome start to the meal.

For our burger choices, I had my first Kobe beef burger experience. They have a burger called the “Kobe Fun Guy 2.0”. It’s an 8 oz burger of Kobe beef with sautéed mushrooms, truffle cheese, an onion mayo and an au poivre dipping sauce. Hello lover. Jay got the burger of the day which was the “Barbeque Burger” on Saturday. It had BBQ sauce, bacon, cheddar cheese, cole slaw and an onion ring, what is not to like about that! AC had a peanut butter and jelly with milk but proceeded to eat all the french fries with ketchup, he has a very refined pallet. Our burgers came and I have to say I was so excited I was squirming a little in my seat. I think our waitress may have thought I was a bit odd, to her credit she didn’t say a thing. I love my burgers with some pink inside, not rare like Jay likes, but medium rare and juicy. When I cut into the burger that was the first thing I noticed, it was cooked absolutely perfectly. The juices were running over and through the meat and soaked into the roll but did not make it soggy.  The mushroom flavor that came through with the cheese and the sautéed mushrooms was wonderful, I love mushrooms and with beef, they are a perfect compliment. I know they had the au poivre dipping sauce for the burger but I will admit I hardly used it. I was too entranced with the rich flavor of the beef and the woody hearty touch that the mushrooms gave not to mention the great mouth feel that you get from a fresh mushroom. It was a tough choice between these burgers. The kobe beef that I had was so tender and so flavorful I can’t imagine having it in a steak or carpaccio like you can get in some high end places. I might need to be revived after passing out from the pleasure. This time I did have a bit of Jay’s burger and it was awesome as well. The BBQ sauce was not too spicy or sticky and you tasted the meat through it all. The fries were also good, crispy and hand cut but you really don’t need them, the burger rocks.

All in all, I think both places had amazing products. The beef was the star over all things and they were both extremely smart in the choices they made when building these burgers. Nothing overwhelms the taste of the beef, everything is in harmony together and in the end you walk away with a huge satisfied grin on your face. I would go back to both places in a heartbeat and look forward to trying more items on both menus. If the burgers are any indication, they will not disappoint.

Plan B Burger – Milford

1638 Boston Post Road

Milford CT 06460

www.planbburger.com

 

Max Burger

124 Lasalle Road

West Hartford CT 06107

www.maxrestaurantgroup.com/burger/

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