When pharmaceutical sales executive Bruce Steinberg decided to leave the world of pills behind after 35 years, he picked a different kind of feel-good product to push: ketchup.
"In my role as a pharmaceutical salesman, I was always looking for a hole in the marketplace," Steinberg says. "And I think I've found one in the world of specialty foods. If you go to the supermarket, all the ketchup products look exactly alike. And that's because, with few exceptions, they are."
He's right. Call it ketchup or catchup or catsup, but your basic grocery-store red stuff doesn't vary much from brand to brand when it comes to the ingredients: tomatoes, vinegar, high-fructose corn syrup.
There are a lot of great - even fabulous - burgers in the Greater Kansas City metro, but only one was selected by Zagat Survey for its listing of "The Best Hamburgers in 25 Cities," which was a featured story today in USA Today.
I've got to say this unassuming saloon, with an upscale burger shop inside, does put out one hell of a burger. That is, if you can get into the building. The brainchild of Lawrence chef Robert Krause (who formerly operated Esquina at 801 Massachussetts) can barely handle the successful business it's doing now.
"We're trying to make things easier for people waiting for a table," Krause says. "We've doubled the number of people we can seat, and we're trying a new strategy of offering patrons beverages to help ease the wait for a table."
Krause was pleased with the Zagat honor, although he says he wasn't notified in advance of today's announcement and says he "isn't quite sure of the criteria they use to choose the burgers. But, yes, it's an honor."
I enjoy burgers on all parts of the spectrum. Whether it's grease or aioli dripping down my fingers, a proper burger is often the easy choice on a menu. Still, there has to be a limit to the insanity. For National Burger Month, Serendity 3 in New York City has created Le Burger Extravagant, which is now the Guinness Book of World Records' most expensive burger at $295. It's Wagyu beef topped with white truffle butter, shaved black truffles, caviar and a fried quail egg held together by a gold- and diamond-encrusted toothpick.
My instinct is that if it costs more than $25, a restaurant might as well be giving you a steak. What's a reasonable cap on burgers?
Once home to the nation's second-largest livestock area, this is a serious beef town - it even won the barbecue category this year. The city's best gourmet burger option may be at Blanc Burgers + Bottles, which offers watercress and truffle butter as toppings. Kids and trainspotters, however, might prefer Fritz's Railroad Restaurant, dating back to the 1950s, where the burgers are delivered by way of miniature train.
Tops on the list of 35 "major metropolitan areas" was Providence, Rhode Island, which someone once told me was the best pound-for-pound eating city in America. So for now, Kansas City's greatest burgers will be just for Kansas Citians, and if that means I always have a booth at Town Topic, that's fine by me.
Midwest Living tested 130 burgers en route to naming its 25 best burgers in the Midwest. Two Kansas City establishments made the list: the Westport Flea Market and Blanc Burgers + Bottles.
Jesse Mack believes in the theory that if you build it — in this case, a fabulous cheeseburger — the people will come. It's a theory that doesn't always fly in Lee's Summit, where burger baron Ernesto Peralto — the big cheese behind the Blanc Burgers + Bottles empire — learned the hard way that boutique snack shacks can be tough sells in Lee's Summit.
But Unk's Burgers, which Mack and his wife, Faye, opened in the former Holy Smoke Barbecue space in the Summit Shopping Center last November, isn't serving gourmet burgers. Jesse Mack is proud of the simplicity of his menu: There are four burger choices as well as a grilled turkey burger, a grilled or crispy fried chicken sandwich, and fried chicken tenders. You want sides with that? There are six choices: seasoned fries, sweet-potato fries, beer-battered onion rings, peppercorn-battered onion rings, fried pickles and "Auntie's baked beans" (prepared with ground turkey and Mack's own mix of seasonings).
Well the two get together and, seeing how many burger chains the market currently supports, decide that KC could probably get behind one more burger stand. So Out-&-In Burgers (Mr. Out has put in more of the capital) gets ready to open in the Chiefs' colors of red and gold.
The only problem is that In-N-Out Burgers could easily see this as infringement and be compelled, as they recently were in Shanghai, to open a one-day pop-up shop to show Kansas City what true In-N-Out burgers taste like. Wouldn't that just be terrible?
I get that you don't want to come right out and say you're moving here. That's probably why Jeff Russell, your real-estate manager, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that a potential regional distribution center "would support expansion into Texas and possibly into neighboring states."
But we're about as easy a burger-eating town as you're going to find. We don't want frills. We don't want gimmicks. We just want a proper burger, the way you've been making them for more than 60 years.
With, thanks to Jesus and a woman openly weeping about the beauty of her burger, In-N-Out opened two restaurants in Frisco and Allen, Texas, yesterday. The burger joint out of California took the Dallas area by storm with die-hards camping out in tents overnight, just to be the first to get their hands on a Double-Double.
Over at The Dallas Observer's City of Ate, former Pitch editor Joe Tone shared five tips "for enjoying your maiden meat voyage." To see tears of joy and one man's determination to "knock 'em out," click through for a video of the Frisco opening from The Dallas Morning News.
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