With the exception of baseball and apple pie, nothing's more American than the roadside hamburger joint. We have canned it in every possible plastic guise and made the wholesale consumption of grease bombs part of our daily lives. You can't traverse the American burger landscape for very long without running into characters like Ronald McDonald, Mayor McCheese, or the Burger King himself. They are hardwired into every four-year-old's imagination. Yet, somewhere between the plastic ball bins, the Happy Meal toys, and the antics of the Hamburglar, the burger itself got lost. Jimmy Buffet's ode to the cheese-topped variety aside, few modern incarnations of the hamburger speak to the aesthetics of taste. Even so, real burgers still rock and with the relocation of Your Place and demise of Liberty Café, burger connoisseurs in the Charleston area have been living a precarious life, not knowing where their next fix might come from.
No more; we have entered gourmet burger joint heaven.
Sesame, the newest burger joint in town, makes it a mission to change the way we think about the modern American hamburger — not through activism, but by example. Remember that old Wendy's commercial when the carload of geriatrics wheeled up to a drive through and asked: "Where's the Beef?" We found the answer at this Spruill Avenue address. The beef is back and it comes with a whole lot more.
Sesame does not just roll out any old beef patty. Their burgers are ground fresh and come at any level of doneness desired. Owing to its Spruill Avenue location on the fringes of N. Charleston's Park Circle redevelopment, this represents a dramatic departure from the norm.
From "Burger in a Bowl" ($7.25) to the "Lowcountry shrimp burger with remoulade sauce, lettuce, and grilled onions on a sesame bun" ($7.75) the place runs the gamut. If the 34 standard permutations of beef, black bean, or hot dog (plus various toppings) don't catch your eye, you can always select your own unique preparation. Toppings like guacamole, shiitake mushrooms, Tillamook cheddar, gorgonzola, brie, and pineapple speak to the range of options one enjoys, but that is not to say the house versions are lacking in creativity.
Try a "South Carolina" ($7), which comes topped with a delicious housemade pimento cheese. The burger, cooked to a cool rare if you like, drips with beefy flavor. Locally-produced buns are soft and fresh. Even the mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise come freshly prepared in-house (but if you are like me and prefer Heinz, they'll slip you a bottle from behind the bar). Other burgers present more obscure flavors. The "New Zealander" ($7.25), is topped with roasted beets and a fried egg, so you get to choose how you want both your burger and your egg cooked. It tastes like breakfast, lunch, and dinner all strapped under one hood — weird, but strangely appealing, if just for its esoteric nature. If you can't decide, order the "Hamburger Sliders" ($5.50) appetizer. Three small mini-burgers, mixed and matched anyway you want.
Other offerings certainly look tempting. The hot dogs are house-made as well and have an outstanding crunch. You can have one with beets if your heart so desires. Several sandwiches, an "Ultimate Grilled Cheese" ($5.75) and a "California Reuben with smoked turkey, coleslaw, and swiss," provide alternatives to those not fond of freshly-made hot dogs and hamburgers. Vegetarians will not go wrong with "Blue's Corn" ($3.25). We didn't find out who "Blue" is, but the corn is divine, "slow cooked in milk and slathered with chipotle butter, cojito cheese, and lime." Of course, one could simply go for the sparse, but satisfying dessert menu: "Apple Crumble" ($3.75), "Blondie and Chocolate Brownie Sundae" ($3.75), and "Oversize Chocolate Chip Cookie" ($2.25) all look enticing. For a classic twist, you can always "add ice cream for $1 to throw the desserts over the edge."
Sesame could improve — they need more customers, especially at dinnertime. This is no doubt owing to their location, but the atmosphere of the place loses some appeal when you are the only person eating in the place. Avid burger fans should not be disheartened. In all, Sesame is a place still to be discovered, and hopefully that won't take too long.
triple trouble: Sesame's slider plate lets diners mix 'n' match creative gourmet mini-burgers