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Burger Madness: 10 of The Best


Posted on August 15, 2016

Sacramento may be America's Farm-to-Fork capital, but it's also a great place to grab the All-American sandwich.

Bacon & Butter Burger
Bacon & Butter Burger Photography by Rachel Valley

Build it and they will come. That immortal line from the film “Field of Dreams” was written about baseball, but it applies equally well to the humble hamburger. It doesn’t matter if you run the lowliest food shack or a temple of high cuisine: Build a better burger and the world will beat a path to your door. Here are our picks for 10 of the best burgers you’re ever gonna wrap your mouth around.

GOLD RUSH BURGER

You know the old saying less is more? Not at Broderick Roadhouse. At this West Sac dive bar, the burgers are on steroids—bigger, bolder and bad-assier than your basic bar burger. “We’re not purists,” says owner Chris Jarosz. “We are to burgers what Mikuni is to sushi.” That means lots of sauces, seasonings and crazy add-ons like the fried mac and cheese that tops the Gold Rush Burger. All the burgers are made of Niman Ranch beef crusted with smoked black pepper and secret spices and cooked on a flattop grill in their own grease for added flavor. Everything is made in-house, from the searingly hot pickled Hungarian peppers that top the Johnny Cash burger to the steak sauce (a spicy version of that old standby, A.1. sauce) on Broderick’s El Charro burger. Broderick stacks ’em high on Village Bakery rolls griddled in butter and serves them in nostalgic plastic baskets lined with paper. Every burger is available with an optional fried egg, and you can double up on the meat if you wish. Like the burgers, the fries are as far from minimalist as you can get: Order them with toppings that include chili and cheddar, gorgonzola and mushrooms, and garlic aioli, or get them banh mi style, topped with pulled pork, pickled vegetables and Vietnamese caramel-citrus sauce. 

BRODERICK ROADHOUSE 319 Sixth St., West Sacramento; (916) 372-2436; broderickroadhouse.com

B&B BURGER (on the cover)

SOMETIMES YOU WAKE UP WANTING A BURGER. That’s where Bacon & Butter comes in. On weekdays starting at 7 a.m., this line-out-the-door Tahoe Park breakfast joint serves a first-rate burger in addition to more traditional morning fare like flapjacks, waffles and granola. Owner Billy Zoellin grinds Storm Hill beef with a bit of Beeler’s bacon for flavor, then adds pepper and Worcestershire sauce to the mix to season it up. (Thanks to the bacon, there’s no need for salt.) Then he pops the patty on the sizzling flattop, where it turns brown and crispy like an old-fashioned diner burger. The meat gets a soft slick of melted jack, a slice of applewood smoked bacon and a pile of deep-fried shallots before it’s slid between two halves of a toasted brioche bun and finished with a schmear of smoked aioli and a handful of tender baby arugula. Instead of French fries, it comes with fried smashed fingerlings—Bacon & Butter’s version of country potatoes. On the weekends, the B&B Burger receives a brunchy makeover, with brie instead of jack and a sunny-side-up egg for an extra dollop of richness. 

BACON & BUTTER 5913 Broadway; (916) 346-4445; baconandbuttersac.com

HOUSE GROUND CHEESE BURGER

AT THE UPSCALE BARBEQUE JOINT Cask & Barrel, the burger is so exclusive, the kitchen makes only eight per day. Once they sell out, you’re outta luck. Chef/owner Gabriel Glasier grinds beef short rib, brisket and shoulder with bacon, marrow and suet to create a burger with a ridiculously high fat content: almost 50 percent. (Most burgers are in the 20 to 25 percent range.) The burgers sizzle on a flattop griddle in their own fat, and once they’re flipped, they get hit with Worcestershire sauce and angostura bitters—two umami bombs that add to the beefy flavor. Instead of one thick patty, you get two thin ones, which doubles the surface area of caramelized outer meat. The patties are layered with house-made American beer cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, confited tomatoes and a stack of griddled onions. The roll, too, is something special. Made daily in-house, it’s a hybrid of Italian potato bread and French brioche, topped before baking with caramelized onions and black sesame seeds. Served in a cast-iron skillet with a knife stuck in the middle, the finished product stands proud and tall at almost 7 inches high. Will you get messy eating this burger? Yes, you will. Will you mind? No, you won’t.

CASK & BARREL 1431 Del Paso Blvd.; (916) 922-6792; caskandbarrel916.com

ELLA BURGER

EVEN A WHITE-TABLECLOTH restaurant like Ella must bow to the burger. But while the restaurant is known for its use of luxury ingredients like oysters, lobster and bone marrow, the Ella Burger is a model of restraint. The kitchen starts with certified Angus beef from Storm Hill—all chuck, with a 75-25 ratio of meat to fat for a beefy-tasting patty that stays moist and holds up to grilling over hard oak. The toppings are simple but high quality: smoked peppered bacon, cheese (your choice of Gruyere or local cheddar) and thick coins of oven-roasted red onion. Every morning, pastry chef Jane Anderson bakes the caraway-seeded brioche hamburger buns, which get buttered and toasted on the grill for a hint of smokiness. They’re slathered with a house sauce made, according to executive chef Ravin Patel, with mayo, chopped pickles and other ingredients so secret, he’d have to kill you if he revealed them. Traditional fixings—lettuce, tomatoes and house-made bread-and-butter pickles—are served on the side, allowing you to custom build your burger exactly the way you want it. Served with parsleyed Kennebec fries, the burger is available only at lunch, but the kitchen will occasionally rustle one up at dinner by special request. 

ELLA DINING ROOM & BAR 1131 K St.; (916) 443-3772; elladiningroomandbar.com

COWBELL

WHAT’S BETTER THAN A BURGER? Two burgers. (Duh.) Krush Burger serves mini burgers, two to an order—a little trick that allows customers to get two completely different flavor profiles in one meal. The most popular, the Cowbell, comes with bacon, crispy onions, Gouda and barbecue sauce. Then there’s the Original (a classic cheeseburger made with American cheese) and the Philly (grilled onions and mushrooms, provolone, red pepper aioli). Each patty is 2• ounces of Angus beef, served on a squishy little bun. The smaller size and mix-and-match concept give these three-bite burgers a playfulness that appeals to adults as much as to kids. Krush Burger started out as a food truck, but it now has brick-and-mortar locations in downtown Sacramento, Davis, Roseville, Rocklin and Dubai. (One of these things is not like the others.) “People in the Middle East are hungry for U.S. culture,” says company owner Davin Vculek.

KRUSH BURGER Multiple locations; krushburger.com

WHISKEY BURGER

AIMAL FORMOLI DIDN’T SET OUT to create Sacramento’s most iconic burger. When he was preparing to open Formoli’s Bistro nine years ago, there wasn’t a burger on the menu at all. His wife, Suzanne, told him that was a mistake. “We fought about it for two hours,” says Formoli, who eventually capitulated and came up with the Whiskey Burger, a massive meat bomb—9• ounces, to be precise—coated in a rich whiskey demi-glace. He modestly refers to his signature creation as “a cheeseburger with sauce.” More accurately, it’s a boutique burger, made with a blend of chuck and sirloin from Five Dot Ranch. Everything that touches the burger is made in-house, from the habanero aioli to the freshly baked ciabatta bun. From day one, Formoli’s Whiskey Burger was a sensation. (Lesson: Listen to your wife.) A few years ago, when Formoli tried to remove the burger from the dinner menu, customers revolted, and he was forced to relent. So how good is the Whiskey Burger? Recently, after polishing off dinner at Formoli’s, a table of four ordered the Whiskey Burger—split four ways for dessert.

FORMOLI’S BISTRO 3839 J St.; (916) 448-5699; formolisbistro.com 

PANGAEA BURGER

BURGER COMPETITIONS TEND TO BRING OUT crazy combinations and exotic ingredients. (Foie gras on a burger? Really?) But Pangaea Bier Cafe proves there’s nothing better than a classic burger done right. In 2015, Pangaea’s house burger won top honors at Sacramento Burger Battle, beating out more than a dozen competitors. It’s a big boy: a half-pound of meat, nicely charred from the gas grill, topped with Tillamook cheddar and several neat slices of bacon. Served inside a soft, toasted bun from Bella Bru Bakery, the patty perches on top a veritable salad of green leaf lettuce, tomato, red onion and lightly pickled cucumber slices, and it’s served with a pile of hot, crispy, addictively salty fries that are slightly greasy (but in a good way). On weekends, the brunch burger comes with habanero aioli, hollandaise and a fried egg. Pangaea offers 24 handles of burger-friendly craft beers, making this a great place to indulge in that all-American pastime: eating while drinking.

PANGAEA BIER CAFE 2743 Franklin Blvd.; (916) 454-4942; pangaeabiercafe.com

THE 1983 BURGER

AT THE HOTEL SUTTER the burgers come with a side of gold rush history. The 1853 Burger, named for the year the hotel was built, is a half-pound of Harris Ranch beef topped with crispy onion strings, applewood smoked bacon and house-made blueberry barbecue sauce. The 1858 Burger, named for the year the hotel burned down, gets a blast of heat from three different sources: Buffalo sauce, pepper jack cheese and jalapeno relish. And the First Responder is a nod to more recent history, acknowledging the firefighters who battled last year’s wildfires, with double the meat (an entire pound) and double the cheese. Each burger comes to the table on a wood cutting board made by a local artisan, with a steak knife through its beefy heart. Until recently, the burgers were available only in the hotel bar, but now you can also order them in the dining room, the cellar and on the upstairs balcony.

HOTEL SUTTER 53 Main St., Sutter Creek; (209) 267-0242; hotelsutter.com

BLACK & BLEU ALEHOUSE BURGER

CHEDDAR CHEESE IS FOR WUSSES. That’s the thinking behind the Black & Bleu Burger, a half-pound brute crusted with coarsely ground pepper and topped with bleu cheese, served with a dill pickle and beer-battered fries blasted with blackening spices when they’re hot out of the fryer. It’s a hearty combo designed to stand up to Auburn Alehouse’s highly regarded craft brews, including its award-winning Gold Country pilsner, which has taken two golds and a bronze at the Great American Beer Festival. If you can’t choose just one beer, order a flight: either a short one (six beers) or a full flight (every beer on tap, generally about a dozen). On Wednesdays starting at 3 p.m., opt for the Triple B special: the burger of the day paired with a pint of cask ale and a shot of bourbon for $18.

AUBURN ALEHOUSE 289 Washington St., Auburn; (530) 885-2537; auburnalehouse.com

ELVIS BEEF BURGER

NOT MANY RESTAURATEURS operate their own cattle ranch just to ensure the perfect supply chain for their burger meat. Roxy owners Ron and Terri Gilliland do just that, raising grass-fed Black Angus cattle at their Lucky Dog Ranch in Dixon. Roxy’s most popular burger, the Elvis, is a nod to the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s favorite sandwich: peanut butter, banana and bacon. A hefty 8-ounce patty is served with aged white cheddar, caramelized onions, house-made steak sauce and “Elvis bacon” coated in brown sugar and ancho chili powder so it’s sweet, smoky and salty all at once. The menu’s burger section also includes a turkey burger with goat cheese and chimichurri and a Dixon lamb burger. And on Thursdays, the restaurant runs a Burgers & Bottles special, offering one-off burgers plus build-your-own add-ons like pork belly, along with discounted wine and beer.

ROXY RESTAURANT & BAR 2381 Fair Oaks Blvd.; (916) 489-2000; roxyrestaurantandbar.com

WOULD YOU LIKE FRIES WITH THAT?

1. ONION RINGS 

Willie’s Burgers

Massive and greasy, these onion Os are a guilty pleasure.

2. DIRTY DUCK FRIES

LowBrau Bierhall

Thick-cut spuds are fried in duck fat and slathered with onions, peppers and bier cheese sauce.

3. KATSUO FRIES

Skool

Skinny fries seasoned with bonito flakes and aonori put a Japanese spin on an American classic.

4. TATER TOTS

Samuel Horne’s Tavern

This crunchy callback to childhood comes with toppings that change daily.

5. LEGENDARY BRUSSELS SPROUTS

The Culinerdy Cruzer

Get your greens with these fried sprouts topped with fig-infused balsamic glaze.

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MEAT

Nothing beats a homemade burger. Butcher Eric Veldman Miller, owner of V. Miller Meats in East Sac, shares his tips and tricks for making the perfect patty.

What cuts make for the best burger? For our burger blend, we use chuck, brisket and a little bit of short rib. Chuck is very tender, grinds well and has a big, meaty flavor. Short rib and brisket add fat.

What’s the ideal meat-to-fat ratio? We shoot for 80-20. Anything over that, the burgers tend to catch fire on the grill, and they can taste greasy.

Any advice on forming the patties? Try not to pack it super tight. That way, it will taste like ground meat, not a puck of whatever. 

How big should a burger be? Some people like really thick burgers; some like them thinner. I’m middle of the road. I like a third-pound patty. It’s a good bit of meat. 

What’s the best way to season burgers? Take the meat out of the fridge, form it into patties and season them with salt. I have a fairly heavy hand with the salt. I let the patties sit out for close to an hour to get to room temperature. Then, right before they go on the grill, I hit them again with a little more salt. 

How do you feel about add-ins? My mom used to add Lipton onion soup mix. Why? Good beef doesn’t need extra stuff.

What’s the difference between ground beef from the butcher shop and the supermarket? We grind our beef only once, and it comes from a single grass-fed, grass-finished animal. When you buy a package of ground beef from a grocery store, the beef can come from many different cows, and it may have been ground three or four times. If you’re making patties and your hands turn pink, we call ’em fat mittens. That meat’s probably been overground. 

Best way to cook a burger? I’m a big fan of the cast-iron pan. I like the crust that it creates. But the grill’s really nice, too. It’s hard to beat a wood-fired grill for flavor. 

How do you like to eat your burger? I’m a purist. Give me lettuce and tomatoes in season and I’m a pretty happy guy. A good-quality bun’s important, too. I like the buns from Grateful Bread Company. And I’ll never shy away from pretzel buns. Those are flippin’ delicious. 

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