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Bar Burger Noshdown: Hundreds of napkins, plenty of heartburn and 20 bar burgers you should eat before you die

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Dec. 14, 2010 at 5:45 pm | 2 Comments »
December 14, 2010 8:30 pm
The bacon cheeseburger at the Beach Tavern in Tacoma.

Bar noshing doesn’t get any better than a big, cheesy gut bomb of a burger. It’s the anytime accompaniment to a cold pint at your favorite watering hole.

I’ve spent the past six months touring South Sound bars, taverns and pubs in search of perfect bar burgers. (Yeah, I know it’s a tough gig I’ve got here.) What follows today through Friday is my report of the top 20 bar burgers I wrapped my hands around.

I compiled this report largely based on recommendations from TNT Diner blog readers. Other recommendations came from chefs and foodies about town.

Here are the bars I’ll be writing about:
Tuesday: Powerhouse Brewery, Cliff House, Matador, Blazing Onion and Beach Tavern.
Wednesday: Engine House No. 9, El Gaucho, Katie Downs, The Parkway, Ram
Thursday: Crown Bar, Harmon, Bite Restaurant, West End Pub, Cheers South Hill
Friday: Asado, Maxwell’s, Pacific Grill, The Hub, The Right Spot

I set up a burger mission statement from the beginning. The best burgers will be constructed on rolls that are soft and squishy, but firm enough to hold up to the last bite; bonus points if it’s buttered and grilled. A big, beefy patty should drip burger juice when given a good squeeze. Grill marks or a touch of char earn more points. Gooey cheese should glue together the layers, along with a smear of tangy burger spread, mayo or flavored aioli. Cool, crisp lettuce, tomatoes and onions need to provide just enough crunchy texture and crisp flavor to offset the rich meat and cheese.

Full disclosure: I’m no burger purist. Chorizo, Gorgonzola, roasted peppers, caramelized onion aioli, bacon relish – if it’s rich or textural or flavor packed, I’m a fan.

Please note, many of these burgers are served in bars, and therefore, patrons may have to be 21 to enjoy. Call ahead if in doubt to check for age restrictions for diners.

Here are today’s five picks:

The garlic blue cheese burger at Powerhouse Brewery in Puyallup.

16. The Powerhouse Garlic Blue Cheese Burger ($12)
Where: Powerhouse Brewery, 454 E. Main., Puyallup, 253-845-1370, powerhousebrewpub.com
Cover a half-pound Angus burger patty with a housemade garlicky blue cheese sauce, and consider me a fan. The sauce is slathered onto the juicy half-pound patty and covered in thick-cut mushrooms sautéed with garlic chunks, topped with two slices of very thick-cut chewy bacon. The burger is built on a sturdy ciabatta roll from Le Brea Bakery and gets cool crunch from green leaf lettuce, thick-cut red onions and a slice of tomato.

The Bistro Burger at the Cliff House in Tacoma.

17. Bistro Burger ($11)
Where: Cliff House, Guidos Downstairs, 6300 Marine View Drive, Tacoma, 253-927-0400, www.cliffhouserestaurant.com
What struck me about this burger was its beefy flavor. A hand-formed square patty that looked to be at least a half pound arrived flame-licked and scrumptiously charred. The bun could barely hold the weight of the burger, and sported a side of do-it-yourself veggies: crunchy lettuce, thickly sliced red onions, pickle slices and tomatoes.

The Matador Burger at Matador in Tacoma.

18. Matador Burger ($9.95)
Where: Matador, 721 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-627-7100, matadorrestaurants.com
A half-pound burger came with melted cheddar and bacon that spilled out of a crunchy bun that needed more time on the griddle. Condiments are served on the side with lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro to tuck into the slightly dry burger. Chipotle mayo on the side added a delicious tease of flavor, and served double duty as a dipping sauce for the crunchy, but unremarkable, fries.

The Boar burger at Blazing Onion in Gig Harbor.

19. Boar burger ($10.49)
Where: Blazing Onion, 4701 Point Fosdick Drive N.W., Gig Harbor, 253-514-6703, www.blazingonion.com
An unusual tasting, if not supremely tasty, burger, the Blazing Onion gets bonus points for pairing toppings that matched perfectly with the juicy boar patty: cheddar, a slightly sweet and crunchy slaw, and lightly sweet fried onion straws. Finished with a tangy burger sauce, an onion and cheese Kaiser roll, the burger was sturdy and delicious to the end.

The bacon cheeseburger at the Beach Tavern in Tacoma.

20. Beach Tavern bacon cheeseburger ($7.75)
Where: Beach Tavern, 8612 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-564-9984
Don’t let the understated tavern atmosphere throw you. It’s a great spot for burgers and a view of the Narrows Bridge. The bacon cheeseburger came on a crunchy toasted bun with a juicy flat-grilled patty topped with melted pepperjack and meaty slices of chewy bacon. It was finished with thick tomatoes, crisp rings of onion and lettuce. A smear of lightly sweet burger sauce finished the well-constructed burger.

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