Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Great Burger Debate, part 1

Yes, Erin, I will stop blogging about food eventually. I swear. And then I'll blog about linguistics. Then you'll be sorry.

Hamburgers and I have a long, conflicted relationship. From age 6 to age 21, I hated hamburgers. My brother has always loved hamburgers, and I have always unilaterally rejected them (except Annie's hamburgers, but then only maybe once a year). It began as a personal preference. I don't like gristle and hamburgers can sometimes have a lot of it. I hate it when things are chewy and sometimes hamburgers are chewy. Also, I just like(d) hot dogs better. What's wrong with hot dogs? I could easily get by in fast food joints by eating arguably more dubious food items, such as the Filet-o-Fish.

Setting aside that my contamination fear irrationally excludes hot dogs, when I went to college and was forced to take a biology class, my relationship with hamburgers took a turn for the worst. It wasn't that I was surrounded by vegans and began to enjoy vegetarian food; it was that I had to sit right next to the incubator in biology lab. And while we were in biology class, we had to do a months-long experiment with E. coli.

In case you're not familiar with E. coli, it's a thing that lives in your colon and will give you diarrhea if it somehow makes its way out of your colon into other parts of your body. Let's go back and highlight something. E. coli is a thing that lives in your colon. In case you've forgotten, your colon is where poop lives. In case you can't see where I'm going with this, E. coli smells like poop.

We did eventually do an experiment where we tested storebought hamburger patties for poop E. coli. I don't remember what the results were exactly, but the point of this story is that I was never able to eat hamburgers again. Every time I saw a hamburger, all I could think about was the incubator and how terrible that stupid thing smelled.

There's a happy end to this story. A couple of summers ago, I did an internship in DC. In DC, they have a restaurant called Five Guys. I would never have gone to Five Guys until I learned that our President eats there, and as it happened there was a good chance (or so I believed) that if I went to the Five Guys near my workplace on Pennsylvania Ave, I might eat at the same restaurant as the President. So one day on my lunch break, a fellow intern and I went out to go find the Five Guys, which ended with us never finding it and me being accused by Special Police of being a plant to test security... but that's another story.

I eventually made it to Five Guys, where I enjoyed a cheeseburger. Yes, after 15 years of reluctance and/or disgust, I ate a hamburger, and I enjoyed it. Five Guys taught me to love again. I ate Five Guys frequently the rest of that summer, then went back to Portland into famine, as the nearest Five Guys was in Hillsboro. But my eyes had been opened. Soon, I was eating at Burgerville, the Pacific Northwest's own venerable burger chain. And I began to consider the burger a legitimate form of food, capable of great heights of culinary awesomeness.

Now, in Arizona, I discover that I have access to what appears to be every good burger chain in the entire United States (except Burgerville). Five Guys. In-N-Out, the place Californians won't shut up about. Culver's, the bastion of the Midwest. Whataburger, the one true Texan love. Fatburger, endlessly promoted by Jon Huertas on Twitter. There are probably more, but I have to stop somewhere.

And now that I love burgers - yes, I love them - I have decided that I must make the best of the Phoenix wasteland. I must take advantage of the chain saturation.

I must settle, once and for all, which chain has the best burger.

Some of my Facebook friends have already weighed in, but I invite you to fight it out in the comments some more.