There’s a lot going on in hamburgerland today. Ed Levine raves about the Joseph Leonard burger, Nick Solares of “A Hamburger Today” names his top five (Minetta Tavern, Shopsin’s, Shake Shack, HB Burger, and JG Melon), and Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Safran Foer (among others) engage in a debate about whether we should be eating burgers at all in light of e-coli fears. But perhaps the most entertaining of the bunch is Josh Ozersky’s epic lament on VanityFair.com about being overwhelmed by nouveau burgers while searching for simple old-fashioned goodness at the Burger Bash.
Of course, Josh “Mr. Cutlets” Ozersky is an avowed burger purist (he’s the author of The Hamburger: A History, after all), and his observations as a judge of the Bash were a forgone conclusion. Shaking his head at Spike Mendehlson’s winning burger topped with blue cheese and horseradish mayonnaise, Mr. Cutlets writes: “The sad thing is that Spike's burger could have won without its hideous toppings, its cynical marketing ploys, and the chef's ridiculous fedora. Wasn’t there a place for a young guy who makes a great hamburger?” It’s a particularly poignant question, because Ozersky himself designed a burger for Lucy Browne’s that never made it onto the menu. Well, it sort of made it onto the menu. There is a Big O' Burger (a “secret blend crusted with sweet shallot”) on the menu. But rest assured, it is not Ozersky’s.
Mr. Cutlets tells us he originally wanted to create what he refers to as a “high class version” of the Oklahoma onion burger, in which the onions are cooked into the meat. He planned to use a La Frieda blend in lieu of the typical Cisco meat, but when the burger hit the menu, he was distressed to discover that “it wasn’t my meat, it wasn’t my blend, and the shallots were not cooked into it.” He tells us, “It was on a bun I didn’t approve of, and you can imagine my horror when the cheese was not the prescribed square of American cheese that can alone be the topping of any burger that I design.” We fell silent and let him continue to emote: “It’s very frustrating to me but these are the kinds of situations you’re subject to when you decide to do promotional stunts without thinking them through.” (Ozersky had created the burger partly to promote his blog the Feedbag.)
When we talked to the chef at Lucy Browne’s, Josh Shuffman, back in August (he parted ways with the restaurant over a month ago), Shuffman told us that owner Andrew Silverman didn’t go with Ozersky’s instructions because it appeared that he was burning the shallots on top of the burger. “Ozersky has no idea what he’s doing,” Shuffman joked. Ozersky tells us that wasn’t the case: “With an onion burger, you have to cook the onions into the meat — it looks burned but it’s not.” Either way, Ozersky tells us Silverman is open to revisiting the burger and restoring its authenticity (mind you, there is no claim on the menu that Ozersky designed the burger). In the meantime, Mr. Cutlets will have to keep dreaming of one day being the young guy who makes that great hamburger.