“I ordered a cheeseburger at lunch the other day. I had never eaten at this particular restaurant before, and whenever I am unsure about the quality of the food at a place, I always order a cheeseburger. How many ways can you foul up something as simple as a cheeseburger? The bread can be too hard, or the meat might not be cooked to your liking, but that can be fixed quite easily. After I ordered my cheeseburger – medium well with a soft bun – the waiter asked me, “Do you want a plain cheeseburger or one of our specialties?” There is such a thing as a specialty cheeseburger? A cheeseburger is a piece of hamburger meat with some cheese on top of it served on a hamburger bun.”
Leave it to humorist Lewis Grizzard to succinctly sum up the truth to which “purists” across the fruited plains hold fast about their beloved burgers–that it’s all about the beef with “some” cheese. Alas the burger in which the sacrosanct flavor of beef is the focus rarely earns accolades for its solid, if unspectacular and unadorned qualities. Invariably when you read about a burger earning acclaim as “best in town,” that burger is crowned with diverse and innovative ingredients.
Indeed, a century after its invention, the hamburger has evolved from the epitome of simplicity crafted at Louis Lunch in Hartford, Connecticut to one of the most option-laden and decorated sandwiches on Earth. The toppings added to burgers is limited to the cook’s imagination.
Gourmet toppings at high-end restaurants include foi gras, black truffles and even lobster. In the Hawaiian Islands, burgers may include pineapple slices. Some areas in the south add coleslaw or fried eggs to their burgers. In Wisconsin, butter burgers are famous. Then, of course, there’s green chile, the choice of New Mexico’s purveyors of fine burgers. It’s these adorned and ingredient-laden burgers that earn the adulation of the teeming masses and the pretentious pundits while their homely counterparts which focus on beef rarely receive similar homage.
Case in point, in the May, 2009 edition of Food Network magazine, a feature entitled “50 States, 50 Burgers” heralded “the one burger you absolutely have to try in every state.“* A plain cheeseburger as Lewis Grizzard would have ordered didn’t even make Miss Congeniality. Instead, the burgers feted included a panoply of ingredients which might have Louis Lassen (recognized as the inventor of the hamburger by the Library of Congress) turning in his grave.
The hamburgers at Lassen’s restaurant have changed little since 1895. Each one is made from beef ground fresh every day and served between two slices of toast. Cheese, tomato and onion are the only acceptable garnish. It is considered a “corruption” of the burger’s classic taste for mustard or ketchup to be added. Lassen would probably not have thought much of the burger selected as Arizona’s best, the habanero cheeseburger which Food Network magazine indicated “may cause temporary blindness or loss of hearing” on account of the two ounces of habanero pepper added to each burger.
Years of business trips to Arizona have introduced me to a number of burgers I now count among the best I’ve ever had–especially the fabulous Orange Table’s Belvedere Wine Cheeseburger, a burger so resplendent in flavor that its mere mention or thought thereof elicits involuntary carnal lust. In 2007, a burger at the Orange Table was selected by Phoenix New Times as the best burger in Phoenix, a lofty honor considering the formidable competition.
The Orange Table’s beatified burger was supplanted as the best in Phoenix in 2008 by the eponymous Delux burger from Delux, a swanky and stylish bar and grill ensconced in a fashionable strip mall on upscale Camelback Road in central Phoenix. Any burger considered better than a burger masterfully crafted at the Orange Table is a burger I had to try.
The Delux burger is the restaurant’s signature offering–a half-pound of freshly ground Harris Ranch beef on a toasted demi-baguette topped with Maytag and Gruyère cheeses, sweet caramelized onions, applewood-smoked bacon and arugula. It is indeed a wondrous burger, but get this: its best feature is the beef. Prepared at medium-rare showcases the beef’s juiciness; it practically oozes flavorful, beefy juiciness. It’s a burger that might elicit a Meg Ryan “When Harry Met Sally” reaction–only any moans of unadulterated delight won’t be faked here.
As a supporting cast, the other ingredients don’t detract from the beef’s award-winning performance. This is an ensemble supporting cast that is very complementary, each flavor taking up where the previous left off. The cheeses are superb, the onions gloriously sweet and the applewood smoked bacon…my only complaint is that the burger doesn’t come with an entire rasher of this stuff. Still, in answer to a Wendy’s commercial a few decades ago, this burger is where the beef is.
If anything, Delux’s “Standard Classic Burger” may showcase the beef even more than its more avant-garde and ballyhooed burger sibling–or at least, it’s more conventional (without being boring in the least). The Standard Classic Burger, as Lewis Grizzard might have ordered is Delux’s gourmet version of the All-American burger. It’s made with a premium blend of corn-fed ground beef topped with fresh lettuce, juicy tomatoes, dill pickles, red onion and your choice of cheese.
My brother George, who makes all his words count, couldn’t stop talking about this burger (pictured below). Even though he committed sacrilege by ordering it medium-well, the burger was surprisingly moist with just a hint of pink in the middle. In addition to the standard condiment offering he asked for the sweet and hot relish offered on Delux’s all-beef hot dog and it made a great burger even better. To George and me, the sign of a great burger is whether green chile is needed to make it great. A burger that can hold its own or even excel without green chile is a great burger. This is one!
Delux’s burgers are sizable and will quell the most ardent appetite. The only appetizer necessary (though there are other options) are the restaurant’s fabled french fries, skinny cut russet potatoes fried in zero trans-fat oil and served with ketchup and a house aioli (sour cream, garlic and sundry ingredients). Better still, order a combination basket that includes sweet potatoes (fried in Canola oil) and you’re sure to be satisfied. The fries are fabulous!
There’s much more on the menu than burgers and fries. Delux has an inventive menu with options sure to please the most discerning diners. I still won’t place the Delux burger in the same company as my beloved Belvedere Wine Cheeseburger, but it’s no Miss Congeniality either. It’s a real winner in its own right!
*According to Food Network magazine, the one burger in New Mexico you absolutely have to try is the green chile cheeseburger (what else) at Clancy’s Irish Cantina in Farmington. This is an unconventional green chile cheeseburger. It’s served between a flour tortilla and includes a sauce of “local hatch (as printed in the magazine) green chiles boiled with pork shoulder, potatoes, garlic and cumin (you know where I stand here) smothered in cheese.”
3146 E Camelback Road
LATEST VISIT: 17 May 2009
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Delux Burger, Standard Classic Burger, Combination Sweet Potato and French Fries