Hamburgers are as American as apple pie, as the Fourth of July, as a slab of smoked ribs, as buttered corn on the cob, as an ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon. And people in our part of the country take their burgers seriously —almost as seriously as their barbecue.
But burgers are as diverse as the people who eat them. They're as versatile as pizza and tacos. Everyone has their favorite place and their own benchmarks of burgerdom, whether it is a buttered bun hot off the griddle, a freshly ground patty dripping rare, or innovative condiments.
It's good to love burgers in the Holy City, because we have so many to choose from. You could eat 25 pretty good hamburgers in less than a month and not hit the same place twice. There are physical risks associated with such a task (the weight gain alone could do one in for sure), but we set out anyway on a mission to bring you the best, most innovative, and downright over-the-top cow patties in the bunch.
First stop was the classics, and it really all depends on where you live. In the good ol' days, one could simply follow the grease smell to the end of the Market and find the gals at the now-defunct This Is Your Place making a bacon-jalapeño cheeseburger to end all bacon-jalapeño cheeseburgers. Today, you go way up to North Chuck and pull into Sesame, the reigning champ of fresh-to-order-beef patties in the greater metro arena. Here, they not only grind the beef to order, they make everything — buns, ketchup, mustard, mayo (yep, everything) — in-house. That pretty much guarantees the quality aspect of things, and they can throw down an absolute beast of a half-pounder. But once you try one of the quirkier offerings, like the strange but satisfying burger topped with beets and a fried egg, your search for perfection might end right there.
On the east side, Creekside Bar and Grill beckons you to bring your "freakside" to the Shem Creek area of Mt. P., but the freakiness resides in the humongous fistfuls that they toss out of the kitchen here. They are slabs, rather than burgers, so big and packed with all-American accoutrements you can hardly get your mouth around one.
Which is pretty much the way you'll find the classic burgers at Parson Jack's in West Ashley. You would never guess that such a great homespun hamburger would be tucked behind the Sonic drive-in off the Glenn McConnell Expressway, but there it sits, replete with sassy waitresses sporting naughty little knee high stockings. The beef fits the mold here; it's a little bit naughty in its grease laden flavor, and a little bit nice. One Parson Jack's cheeseburger makes a complete meal — all four food groups revving under the hood in substantial measure.
If you're on the run, you'll need to drop by Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which will put you back on the road in under five minutes with a greasy brown sack-full of fried, hand-cut potatoes and never-frozen hand-patted beef. These are worthy greasebombs.
And then there are the weird people, the mavericks, the guys who think they're going to invent the new classic, or the world-famous bar standard that flies across the country with the speed of buffalo wings. Places like Fuel, whose "buffalo burger" sports no hot sauce, but a large fresh ground saucer of buffalo meat between the buns. Add to that a creative housemade mango ketchup and a side of fried plantains hot from the fryer, and you have all the ingredients for a strong contention in the "most innovative burger" category in this year's City Paper Best of Charleston issue.
Of course, they will have to deal with A.C.'s Bar and Grill, whose "Grand Marnier Burger" features a half-pound of Angus beef that is grilled and then flambéed in the sweet, orangey stuff, an obvious ode to the proclivity of Chucktown F&B'ers to down shots of the stuff by the tray-full. They admit to rarely selling the thing, which might have something to do with the $10.75 price tag (way too expensive for a drunk line cook at 1:30 a.m.), but it's no pretender. This puppy lives up to expectations.
If you think that's expensive, then you haven't been to Tristan for the $25 foie gras burger, actually a mixture of beef and foie gras, but decadent to say the least and served with a side of black truffle-studded mayo and the most delicate little shoestring fries that you've ever seen. It is a test of true gluttony. If you can finish the whole thing without the richness curling your toes, then you might be enough of a pig to take the whole tour. Because whether you like them simple or luxuriously adorned, the griddles and grills of Charleston await.
4726 Spruill Ave. North Charleston
Creekside Bar & Grill
508-B Mill St. Mt. Pleasant (843) 856-4803
1662 Savannah Hwy. West Ashley
1795 Hwy. 17 N. Mt. Pleasant
Parson Jacks Cafe
3417 Shelby Ray Ct. West Ashley
55 S. Market St. Downtown (843) 534-2155
211 Rutledge Ave. Downtown (843) 737-5959
ACs Bar & Grill
467 King St. Downtown (843) 577-6742
1035 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. Mt. Pleasant