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Wednesday 13 December 2017

A Gourmet’s Rankings

Food critic Ernie Whalley picks his winners and losers, with the ‘thinking-guy’s burger’ coming out tops

It will surprise none of my friends if I reveal that, until last week, I was a Burger King virgin.

Furthermore, I had visited The Temple of the Big Mac on but one previous occasion when the order came from Talbot Street to "go forth and sample burgers". Asked, a few years ago, for my own particular take on fast food I had to think long and hard before replying "Err... not peeling garlic?

Anyhow, I am old enough to remember when a burger joint was called a ‘Wimpy’. This was true, by name and by nature, the core offering being a bap, top and bottom scorched, enclosing a done-to-death meat patty, thin as a two euro coin, plus a scoop’s worth of sliced onions griddled briefly in rancid fat.

The first civilised burger I had — it was called ‘a hamburger’ back in the days before the Yanks took it upon themselves to shield their thicko element from all possible misconception (n.b. the word ‘hamburger’ is derived from ‘Hamburg’ not from ‘ham’) — was at a loggers’ breakfast on Vancouver Island in the early 70s.

After years of association with every evil from underage sex to premature death through obesity, the burger, it seems, has acquired respectability. Divorced dads heroically bond with their kids over a Big Mac, brings tears to your eyes dunnit? Food writers (some of them) praise the burger meal for its ‘balance’, pointing out that you have your carbs, your proteins and your green’n’good things all on one plate. The clatter of E numbers in the accompanying sauces rarely gets mentioned.

Conscious of my image as Taoiseach of the Luddite tendency of grub hacks, I snuck into McDONALD’S for my assignment with the fragrant Katie Byrne garbed in Cheltenham Week coat, scarf and with hat pulled well down over my eyes.

She was already devouring a Big Mac. I joined her. In truth it wasn’t bad scoff. If they had eased up on the cooking a tad, the patty would have been quite tasty. The cheese was, well, sort of ‘cheesy’ but then I wasn’t expecting a wedge of Montgomery cheddar. The accompanying greens were pretty limp and the saucing tasted of nothing at all.

Anyhow a good McTry — by a short chip, third to BURGER KING where I tackled something called a 3 Cheese Angus. It proved to be not quite the macho deal the name promised but it was pretty hearty eating.

The substantial patty, though, seemed to exude slightly less flavour than Big Mac. The top of the bun was crisp, nice touch. Almost the best thing about it was the accompanying salad; fresh unsquashed tomato, crisp lettuce and good red onion slices. The chips were decent but the consensus was that the ones from McDonald’s were more ideologically correct, i.e. proper ‘burger chips’. Second, eclipsing McDonald’s in the final furlong.

Onwards and downwards to SUPERMAC’S for a five-ounce burger that had the same texture and flavour from top to bottom, viz: rubbery and zilch. Awful sumpy saucing. The chips were cold. I suppose if it were 2am and pissing down… on second thoughts, no, not even. Fourth by a distance, in fact by the length of the N11.

Finally, burger heaven, THE GOURMET BURGER KITCHEN, occupying the space at the junction of Castle Market and South William, where Johnny Cook used to reinvent himself periodically. It is €9.99 for any burger on the menu, plus a beer or a glass of wine.

Katie and I both opted for the Mexican, me reluctantly forsaking my cheese quota for the sake of avocado and a somewhat sensational made-on-the premises chilli relish plastered on top of a king-sized disc of pure succulence.

To my regret and shame I was too stuffed to do it justice. Chips, too, were best of the day. Hand-cut yokes, beautifully fried. Too big, too much presence to scoff absentmindedly but that’s a small price to pay for perfection. Best of all, no brats, no stoners. Voted the thinking guy’s burger parlour and my No.1.

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