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Madrid Burger Quest 2018: Part I

It’s time to talk about burgers.  Specifically burgers in Madrid. AKA HEAVEN.

This project has been a long time coming for me, a self-proclaimed burger fanatic.  I haven’t always been obsessed. I used to just be in love. But the love has transformed over time into fanaticism.  Not the kind that drives you crazy, but the kind that’s always there, always reminding you that it is there. I’ve been told lately that my go-to foods are: burgers, pizza, and pasta.  I’ll take it.

It was a Saturday.  The plan had been floating in the air for a few days--commence the Madrid Burger Tour on Saturday--but I hadn’t done much planning.  I had, however, done a lot of research. In my phone there has always been a list of burgers to try in Madrid; in my heart, always a yearning.  Waking up that Saturday, it just felt right. Today would be the day. The day of all days.

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Before leaving, I wrote down the date and six spots to try.  Part of me wanted to achieve all six by the end of the day. The other part of me knew I was being overambitious.  Another part of me just wanted to list all of the burgers I want to try. I sectioned off three stops and ordered them.  They fell into place geographically by chance; I didn’t really care if I had to pass spot C to go to spot A and then pass spot C again to get to spot B.  This route was not about efficiency. I’m happy to report, though, that it ended up being efficient.

I embarked on my Madrid hamburger route with my hungry sidekick, a small notebook, an inky pen, and hunger on a Saturday around 4 o’clock in the afternoon--a good time because though the menús are coming to an end, the burger places are still cookin’, still beckoning people in with the smells of patties, buns, ketchup and cheesy goodness.

First check-in:  New York Burger. [Everything in quotes is directly from my handy-dandy notebook]

I’m not sure what I expected.  Kitschy names like that, well, I always appreciate ‘em.  But could whatever this place was serving really earn the title New York Burger???

4:20pm -- Arrived at New York Burger.  It took a bit of time to be attended to by the host, but finally we were told it’d be a five-minute wait.  I’m starting to realize that most places in Madrid tell you it will be a five or ten-minute wait, even if it really will be twenty or more.  I’m down to play naive for food!

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The place smelled “nice,” as I wrote in my notes, and was “chill but crowded.”  In my notebook, I express some concern that the place would close in 30 minutes, so we’d look at the menu while waiting to not lose any time.  “Smells delicious,” I later amend to my earlier “smells nice” comment. But, and a big “but” here, “maybe clouded by starvation.” If I had arrived full, would it have smelled as great?  Some of these questions may never be answered.  

4:36pm -- Seated!  The usual debate ensued: do we order just a burger?  Or do we order plates of other delectable fried goods?  But that would make us too full. We need to experience the burger and just the burger in all of its singular wonder.  Ok. Just the burger. But now which one? Which one??? The age-old question. “Leaning towards ‘Meat Packing’--> double meat, double cheddar, salsa ‘NYB’ sounds like it’ll give us what they have to offer.”  One of the great parts about this place is that they go full-throttle on the New York theme. All of the burgers are named after something New-Yorky. There’s the Chinatown with noodles on it, the Little Italy with parmesan, basil and semi-dried tomato, the Park Avenue with foie and roasted apple compote.  The Meat Packing was listed under “Hamburguesas Prime” for only €1,00 more and sounded promising.

4:45pm -- Ordered.  According to my notebook, my patience was waning.  Luckily we were given two glasses of H2O immediately.  “Side dish ordered?  Patatas fritas, come on.”  There’s free wifi that’s easy to access, the water glasses were giant, and I wondered how they chose those glasses.  Perhaps because they are so heavy, they won’t break easily?

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4:56pm -- “Burger arrives.  Wrong one. Then correct one comes out, looks delicious.  Small amount of bacon, dollop of sauce on top of bun” which is facing up next to the patty on the other half of the bun.  “Fries look banging. Cheese amazing-looking.” My sidekick says the cheddar is real--a helpful and knowledgeable sidekick who knows just when to chime in.  Though they were slightly under room-temperature, the fries were delicious and well-salted.

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5:06pm -- “Plate is ridiculously clean.  Burger was AMAZING. Perfectly juicy and compact.”  Juice was running down my fingers, hand-wipes were given for good reason, the burger did not need ketchup or any other taste, it was incredible.  “I finished before my fast-eating companion. Incredible.” INCREDIBLE, I TELL YOU! I’m itching to go back and fulfill both my craving and curiosity: will it be as good as the first time?  We shall see.

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I spend the next page and a half of my notebook musing on what I had just experienced.  The fries tasted a bit like oil but they were still delicious and perfectly cut. Apparently I licked my fingers and palms and entire hands.  “So amazing @ end was looking for more, so I licked knife that had [been used to] cut burger initially. Used juice on plate for sopping up with fries.”  I appreciated the wipes and was sad it was over. “Half-birthday dinner will be here.” I was already planning. The bun was well-chosen and not too large as to overpower everything it cradled.  Then again, it was a double patty.

5:14pm -- Two candies given with the bill, €12,40.  “Hard to leave,” I wrote.

Meat Packing: Double meat, 125g each, double cheddar, caramelized bacon, NYB sauce, always served al punto.

While walking to the next place, I was overcome with emotion.  I stopped on the street a few times to write down thoughts I had post-burgerjoy.  I noted that we had eaten halves, how that may alter the experience because you don’t have to start from the outside working your way in.  The presentation wasn’t perfect, that dollop of sauce on the bun had to be swirled around before placement. The bacon portion was small. “Good to have bit of a walk between places.”  My companion, in an effort to salvage the image of Meat Packing, mentioned that the sauce oozed around. But I was thinking of the potential issues with my process. “This whole thing depends on angle you take on experience.”  

My sidekick luckily burped up some of the burger.  I was jealous they got an extra taste. “Unfair.”

5:48pm -- Arrived at Bacoa.  A highly anticipated arrival.  I’d seen solid reviews from a solid amount of reviewers.  

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Now, this was one of those places created on the “Burger Bubble.”  The “Burger Bubble” is the explosion of corporatey burger spots. These are the places that have tried their darndest to adjust for all kinds of issues, the places that want to maximize performance and efficiency at the same time, the places that have thick portfolios in black binders with the large three rings explaining the psychology behind how people order and the justification for this kind of sauce and not that one, this type of bun, but not that one.  They offer all they have on a sheet of paper for you to choose from by drawing a checkmark in tiny boxes with the tiny eraser-less pencils they offer. The less social interaction between burger management and burger customer the better. They try to show off with their fancy shiny TV screens and they want you to know, no, they need you to know, that they have done everything they can to ensure what you eat has made it to your plate only after the most environmentally-friendly, people-friendly, workplace-friendly journey.  Are you getting the vibe of this place? Oh, and it’s spotlessly clean, which, those of you who know me, may think I’d appreciate, but come on! We all have dust in our corners!

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So, the place is empty when we get there, which was lucky, because it’s right next to Sol, so it has the potential to be absurdly crowded.  There are picnic-style tables, with long, thick chestnut benches. They’ve also already thought through the entire seating process, of course, so there are baskets beneath the benches for your bags.  As a safety-first person, there was no way I was going to put my bag in a bin out of sight beneath my seat, but I appreciated their thoughtfulness.

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5:56pm -- Ordered.  I was into the jabby “quips via written word,” for example, under their listing of french fries they wrote “never frozen.”  There was a flatscreen TV playing a montage of burgers cooking. I got suckered into adding truffle mayo to the fries for an extra charge.  I was really not into the benches; it wasn’t simple to contort my leg in the precise way it’d fit underneath the table. “For a place into recycling, you’d expect a non-gendered bathroom, but alas…”  Free wifi available.

6:08pm -- Burger arrives.  “Sizable patty. Thick and juicy-looking.  Portion of fries doesn’t look worth €2,50, but mustard well-draped over pickles.  Yellow and white cheese looks good, bun looks pretty thick/brioche-y but could be good for thick patty.  Writing while eating -- says something.”

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The truffle mayo was incredible, but things kept falling out of the burger in pieces.  The pickles were those sweet kinds that I don’t love but can appreciate. I couldn’t really taste the cheese, but it was a good burger.  The fries--unimpressive. The truffle mayo was the standout. The mustard was good as well. The meat wasn’t as juicy as New York Burger’s and I had to fight the urge to schmear the truffle mayo on the last bite of the burger.

I kept writing about the significance of the truffle mayo as the standout.  “Nuff said.” My companion agreed that Bacoa was “less special.” New York Burger had set the bar ridiculously high.  Could anything ever live up to that???? Additionally, the bathrooms weren’t up to the standards of the main floor. The reviews were stellar for Bacoa, so I was kind of surprised.  I figure because it’s near Sol it attracts a lot of attention. And it’s not bad, so the heavily populated area nearby plus the quality gets it those tons of good reviews. “Flavorless fries, not thrilled that we finished them...I had truffle mayo plain.”  If I’m upset about finishing a plate of fries………………………………………………………………………………………………...

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At this point, I write “[NYB does NY proud].”

7:00pm -- We walked by Mad Waffle and wondered why we weren’t doing a waffle tour.  Bacoa had let our minds wander…

7:34pm -- Arrived at SteakBurger.  It had the usual condiments, plus a fiery chilli ketchup.  The menu is a metal slab. You feel as though you’ve arrived at a burger factory.  The place was fairly empty because, again, odd time of day. It was easy to choose what to order -- the SteakBurger with caramelized onion, monterey jack cheese, and STB sauce.  I’m a sucker for that mystery sauce that’s always named after the place and always is some combo of ketchup and mayo in different proportions, or it’s just Russian dressing.

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The waitress and my sidekick were concerned that the 160g patty wouldn’t be enough, so we upped it to 250g, with fries.  

The metal chairs weren’t the most comfortable things I’ve ever sat upon, but the booths looked plump.  Wifi is accessible.

7:55pm -- Burger arrived.  It was another follower of the trend, presented split into two.  The bun with the patty was smothered in cheese and the usuals--lettuce and tomato.  The amount of caramelized onion was “not overly generous.” Those “usuals” are not my usuals, and it didn’t look wonderful, but the bun with seeds looked fluffy.  “Fries look yum but look a bit undercooked.” Fun shape for the fries, though! Like little leaf boats to ship the condiments into your mouth.

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The sauce oozed out upon cutting and it smelled delicious.  The meat was juicy, but not too juicy, and the onions weren’t too sweet but added a nice sweetness.  Delicious meat on that burger and overall a really yummy burger. Unfortunately there was a lot of cheese concentrated at the edges, so it was too easy to get a lot off in one bite.  But I loved the special sauce, a Russian dressing-type. Though I’d eaten everything off the burger by the last few bites, they were still delicious.

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At this point I mused.  How hard it was to boil places down to one, single menu item!  “But you do get the gist,” I reassured myself.

SteakBurger got points for airing women’s basketball on their TV, though I assume unknowingly.

8:10pm -- Food over.  

SteakBurger had my favorite atmosphere of the three because New York Burger was a bit dim.  Bacoa felt too commercial/inhuman/touristy. SteakBurger is definitely always filled with tourists, though.  

Interestingly, New York Burger felt kind of local.  It looked like families had come in for a Saturday lunch together.  Now you know my weekend plans. The burger quest in Madrid has only just begun.

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