Quick admission: I am somewhat of a burger fanatic. I have eaten plenty of delicious foods in my life, but nothing induces a craving with such an unstoppable force as the thought of a perfectly juicy burger and some crispy fries. Since moving to Seattle, I have kept an eye out for the city’s best burger, and have been consistently disappointed by what is on offer. Now, being a stereotypical Capitol Hill resident, I rarely make it out of our neighborhood for eats and drinks – there are just too many options around here. So, my Seattle burger expertise is limited to the Hill, and have yet to make it to some of the most popular Seattle burger destinations, namely Palace Kitchen, Spring Hill in West Seattle, and Uneeda Burger in Fremont.
Capitol Hill’s burger scene is robust, but until last night my mind had not yet been blown. There is, of course, Dick’s Drive-In, the Broadway fixture whose wafting odor of grease permeates an entire city block. To me, it’s drunk food, and not even good drunk food at that. The Deluxe, further north on Broadway, has the super popular Burgerama special – $6 burgers on Wednesdays! – and while certainly not bad, their burgers are nothing special. In the “over-$10” crowd, a genre of burger becoming increasingly visible, there is Quinn’s, Skillet, and Smith. The first Quinn’s burger I had was only memorable in how undercooked it was, the second completely forgettable. Skillet’s seemed overpriced, and the meat itself wasn’t juicy or flavorful (they rely on condiments – bleu cheese and bacon “jam” – a classic burger mistake). As for Smith, well, I’ll choose to reserve my judgement on that, as I was under the influence of a certain psychoactive fungus during gay pride, and the tastiness of that burger could have been purely drug-induced…though it was pretty fucking yummy. As for the two newest joints on the Hill – Seattle chain Blue Moon Burgers, and upstart Lil’ Woody’s, they are both fine, but not great. They both certainly rely on funky condiments to make their burgers stand out, such as Woody’s ‘The Fig and the Pig’ which has bacon, pickled figs, and gorgonzola. I thought that was a pretty great burger, but the fries were limp, and the pickled figs and gorgonzola are what stood out, not the meat itself.
Then, last night, I went to Tavern Law at the suggestion of one of my bosses. I had been to both Tavern and its upstairs ‘speakeasy’ room Needle & Thread a handful of times, and was always impressed with their craft cocktails. Nothing prepared me for the ridiculousness of their cheeseburger, though the $15 price tag gave me reason to hope. My god, what perfectly simple deliciousness is to be found on such a small plate. The burger itself is shockingly flavorful, tender, and juicy, but so nicely cooked that it retains all the juice as you are eating it instead of squirting it all over the plate. The condiments – a slab of provolone cheese and house-made red wine onion jam – add unctuousness, sweetness, and depth of flavor, while not overwhelming the palate or distracting from the meaty flavor that one looks for in a good burger. The bread is soft, yet somehow doesn’t become soggy after prolonged exposure to meat and gooey cheese. As a whole, the sandwich is in complete harmony, while also being mess-free, a true wonder. And those fries, oh man. They are aggressively salted, something that may turn off many people, but I thought they were perfectly crispy and seasoned – no dipping sauce required here, folks. Altogether, Tavern Law’s small plate of cheeseburger and fries has become my new standard for the classic dish, and I will perfectly content to never have it surpassed. Though I’m sure it will be, as you can add a portion of pork belly to the sandwich for only $4, which technically breaks my “simple condiments” rule, but I don’t care, I can’t wait to experience that insanity!