Friday, November 30, 2007

Burger article in Helsingin Sanomat/NYT

Couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a journalist from Helsingin Sanomat, which is the largest subcription based newspaper in the Nordic region. Helsingin Sanomat offers readers a weekly supplement NYT which is delivered as insert to the newspaper. The NYT supplement is a weekly guide to entertainment and the leading proponent of leisure-time activities in the Helsinki metropolitan area.

They had seen my blog and they had an idea to make a story about burgers. I was asked to join a journalist and dine in different restaurant and taste their burgers. The basic idea was to test four different burgers from gourmet restaurant to street corner booth.

You can find my burger reviews and comments from following links:

- Gourmet hamburger: Kämp Hamburger at Kämp Café
- Diner hamburger: Cheeseburger at Morrison's Grill & Green
- Burger chain hamburger: Club Burger at Carrols
- Grill kiosk hamburger: Giant Hamburger at Harrin Nakki

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Backlog updates!

Hello, my burger loving friends! I know my blog has been quiet for a long time but I have enjoyed some incredible and not so incredible burgers during this break. I'm updating all my backlog during next couple of days in random order. All the burger reviews are back-dated to original dates..

I'll update the links of updated posts to this list:

# Cheeseburger at Willowbrook Alehouse Bar & Grill, Petaluma CA
# Cheeseburger at Angry Dog, Dallas TX
# Cheeseburger at Keller's Drive-In, Dallas TX
# Double Burger at Hesburger, Vantaa, Finland
# Mama Rolls at Rolls, Klaukkala, Finland
# Giant Bacon Egg Double Burger at Rolls, Hartola, Finland
# Triple Cheeseburger at Hesburger, Helsinki, Finland
# No. 5 Special at Keller's Drive-In, Dallas TX
# Corporate America Burger #3, Irving TX
# Another Cheeseburger at Adair's Saloon, Dallas TX
# DeLuxe Burger at Memphis, Helsinki, Finland
# Chico's Burger at Chico's, Helsinki, Finland
# Double Cheeseburger at Tuen Grilli, Lappeenranta, Finland
# Cheeseburger vs. Cheeseburger with grilled onion at In-N-Out, Lakewood CA
# Steakburger at The Apple Pan, Los Angeles CA
# Cheeseburger at Angelo's Burgers, Garden Grove CA
# Double Cheeseburger at Irv's Burgers, West Hollywood CA
# Elvis Burger at Rock 'n Roll Diner, Oceano CA
# Super Juicy Cheeseburger at Juicy Burger, Gilroy CA
# Joe's Fresh Ground Beef Steak with Swiss cheese at Joe's Cable Car, San Francisco CA
# Double Texas Burger at Southern Fried Chicken, Helsinki, Finland
# Big Police Burger at Hampuris, Helsinki, Finland
# Heavy-Mega Burger at Hölmölä Burger Grill, Espoo, Finland

I hope you will enjoy these updates. This post will be deleted after all the backlog is updated.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Club Burger at Carrols, Helsinki, Finland

This was my fourth and last burger with a journalist from Helsingin Sanomat. He's making a story about hamburgers and I was interviewed for the article while tasting several burgers.

In the 90's there were three big burger chains in Finland - McDonalds, Carrols and Hesburger. Two of these were original US based burger chains. You know the McDonals but also Carrols originally came to Finland as a franchise from the United States. Carrols Corporation was found in Syracusa NY, and during the 60's Carrols restaurant were found in North East and Southern states of United States. In 1975 all Carrols restaurant locations were converted to Burger King franchises. The original menu of Carrols, and the Carrols brand, then went overseas - to Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and Russia.

First Finnish Carrols restaurant was opened in Helsinki in 1975, and already in 1976 Finnish Carrols restaurants were the last restaurants in the world to carry the Carrols brand and menu. Eventually the Carrols brand was completely bought by the Finnish company Tuko while the original Carrols location in the United States converted to Burger King restaurants. In 1996 Tuko was acquired by the Finnish company, Kesko, until Hesburger acquired their rival Carrols chain in 2002. After that almost all Carrols locations were terminated or transfered to Hesburger restaurants. Only few locations were left alive in Greater Helsinki region. In August 2006 new life was breathed into the Carrols brand when a pilot concept was launched with Pikoil, an operator of Neste branded service stations across Finland. Currently there's only six Carrols location in Greater Helsinki region and one satellite location in Imatra, which is located in South East Finland, near the Russian border.

The flagship sandwhich in the original Carrols menu was the Club Burger. Like the Big Mac at McDonald's, its piled on a sesame seeded triple-decker bun and it has 2 all-beef patties, a special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions. The original Club Burger also had a tomato slice which was left out from the Finnish version. The special sauce in Club Burger is known as Royale sauce. Back in the day I remember Roayl sauce to be a big secret of Carrols but basically it's a simple blend of 45% mayonnaise + 45% ketchup + 10% relish.

While Hesburger almost terminated the whole chain they also changed the menu to fit the Hesburger production chain. This caused the Club Burger taste to change.

So what's the Club Burger like in a Hesburger world? It's still a standard burger chain product, pretty dry and tasteless while the only real taste comes from the sauce. And for this very reason Club Burger doesn't taste the same as it used to. The sauce doesn't taste as strong and delicious after the production was transfered to Hesburger production plant. Suprisingly Hesburger has also cut down the amount of Royal Sauce on Club Burger while they overdo it on their own burgers. Also little things like standard Hesburger ketchup and pickle has changed the original taste.

Recommended for the history and good times but it just doesn't taste same as it used to.

Aleksanterinkatu 17
00100 Helsinki, Finland

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Cheeseburger at Morrison's Grill & Green, Helsinki, Finland

This was my third burger with a journalist from Helsingin Sanomat. He's making a story about hamburgers and I was interviewed for the article while tasting several burgers.

Morrison's Grill & Green is a small restaurant in downtown Helsinki. Back in the day this place was called Dick Tracy's Diner and they were know to be a quick and cheap lunch restaurant. Only the interior and name has changed, everything else seemed to be as it was. The menu is almost the same as it used to be and they still serve ridiculously large portions of simple food from Wiener schnitzels to chicken fried chicken and hamburgers.

Actually Morrison's claims to serve the most bodacious burgers in Helsinki. With their King Kong Burger this might even be the truth. King Kong Burger has not one but two 190 gram (6.8oz) pattys, bacon, two onion rings, double cheese with lettuce, onions, tomato and red bell pepper mayo. Since I knew I needed to visit another burger joint after this one, I was forced to skip the King Kong this time. Instead I ordered the standard Cheeseburger which, for some weird reason, was listed as Double Cheeseburger since it has two slices of cheese. The burger had 190 gram (6.8oz) patty with shredded lettuce, red onion, tomato and red bell pepper mayo.

It didn't too long for out burger to arrive. The portion was huge, on the side it had big pile of fries and a salad with lettuce, tomato and cucumber. The burger itself was big but pretty thinly stacked. The bun was grilled and it was crispy from the inside and soft from the outside, but the bun was standard supermarket bun. The patty was nicely seasoned and grilled for a freezer patty and it actually had some of the juices left. Unfortunately processed and frozen beef pattys still are dry and tasteless and the structure is pretty compact. It seems that all the frozen pattys come from one source since the size, structure and non-existing taste is the same as in any grill kiosk or restaurant that I have visited so far in Helsinki.

This burger was ok, but they still have the basic problem with frozen beef. They also should get rid of the cheap soft white gummy buns. It's a good effort but not quite good enough. With freshly grounded chuck this could actually come out nicely dispate the lack of proper burger bun and the lack of personality. Recommended with caution if you grave for a big burger in Helsinki.

Ravintola Morrison's Grill & Green
Keskuskatu 7
00100 Helsinki, Finland

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giant Hamburger at Harrin Nakki, Helsinki, Finland

This was my second burger with a journalist from Helsingin Sanomat. He's making a story about hamburgers and I was interviewed for the article while tasting several burgers.

Harrin nakki (Harri's Hotdog) is a typical Finnish grill kiosk. A little booth standing in the corner of local park in the middle of Helsinki. Back in the days the architecture varied from trailers to wooden booths but the city of Helsinki standardized the outlook of these kiosks a few years back.

This particular kiosk has gained fame with 'The best grill kiosk in 2005' award by City magazine and also last year as 'The best grill kiosk in Helsinki 2006' by Helsingin Sanomat. It is also famous for being the quick snack stop for The president of Finland, Tarja Halonen. Yes, the Conan O'Brien 'look-a-like' who is running her second and final period as the President of Finland. After her last election win, in 2006, she went to Harrin nakki for a little snack on her way from national TV's official election night to her election party.

Typical grill kiosk food is "hamburgers", hotdogs, fries with sausages/meatballs/kebab meat. I use quotation marks with hamburgers since those usually don't have anything to do with proper hamburgers. Usually the slap of beef is some hyper-frozen-preservative-filled-piece-of-meat-like-substant which you don't care or realize after you have had couple of drinks too much.

In this case the expectation was right. Giant burger turned to be a flat burger. Top and bottom of the bun was grilled to a flat crispy disc between two flat irons. The bun ended up being a cracker which man could use as target disc in trap shooting. The slap of meat in this case was frozen beef patty not the meat-like-substant. It wasn't a giant one but a regular sized 120 gram (4.2oz) patty grilled to perfection which in this case means a very thin, tasteless and dry piece of meat. Oh, and the burger also had one slice of American cheese. At Harrin Nakki you can choose your condiments from lettuce, onions, pickle relish, mustard, ketchup and handful of mayos. I had lettuce, onions, relish and standard mayo. I normally would have taken the mustard but Finnish mustard doesn't fit the burgers like the standard yellow mustard used in the US.

The end result was propably the worst effort under a description of hamburger that I've tasted so far. Between two crackers I was served a dry slap of beef and condiments. On the condiment side I didn't order everything on it. Maybe the ketchup, mustard or garlic might have given some taste and soften the crackers but I'm afraid it wouldn't change my opinion. This was the worst burger ever.

They may have gained their awards and reputation among Helsinki grill kiosks with other food offering, definetly not with burgers. I do NOT recommend this burger to anyone.

Harrin Nakki
Agricolankatu 11
00530 Helsinki, Finland

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Kämp Hamburger at Kämp Café, Helsinki, Finland

This was my first burger with a journalist from Helsingin Sanomat. He's making a story about hamburgers and I was interviewed for the article while tasting several burgers.

The Kämp was opened in 1887 and it was the first luxury hotel in Helsinki. It has seen the good and the worst days of Finland from two wars to independence. The Kämp restaurants were patronised by renowned politicians, artists, composers and writers. For example, composer Jean Sibelius, writer Eino Leino and painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela were regular customers. Original Kämp hotel was closed in 1965. The building was demolished and rebuilt and it didn't work as a hotel until 1999 when it was re-opened as part of the Luxury Collection of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.

We visited the Kämp Café which is located on the street floor of the hotel. The decor was nice, modern minimalism with pinch of kitch. The service was good and friendly as you can expect. And yes, this was my second gourmet burger location where you get to use silverware and cotton napkins while having your burger. The reason why we came here is that Kämp Café is said to serve the most expensive burger in town. Here's the description...

"marbled fillet of beef with rucola and horseradish mayonnaise, cheddar cheese and pommes frites"

Kämp is profiled as a gourmet place and this "burger" did not reach the gourmet level. Let's go to details:

- First of all this is NOT a hamburger - this portion should be called a steak sandwich not a hamburger.

- Secondly, the bun should not be standard-supermarket-good-to-eat-for-two-months type of a bun. And the bun was hardly toasted and it crumbled to your hand. With the price of €21.00 you expect to get something else. For example they served really nice focaccia bread while waiting your order to be served which they could use as a bun.

- Thirdly, the combination of tastes were not right. Rucola, tomato and horseradish ok, but what's with the cheddar? Try Gruyère or Manchego, or even strong Emmental (Swiss cheese) - anything else with more taste than standard cheddar. Something which works well with the Rucola and horseradish.

- Fourthly, what's with the portion size. It's gourmet and it's built high to look nice but with a big bun and small piece of fillet you ended up having a 1/3 sandwhich without any meat on it. Ok, you had a good pile of nice crispy (and really salty) fries on the side but for €21.00 you want to have a perfect burger not just bun with horseradish mayo and rucola.

- And finally the 'juices'. If the only moist thing in the serving was mayo there's something wrong. The fillet was correctly cooked to medium but fillet is fillet not 'juicy' burger meat. If they changed the fillet to freshly grounded prime beef it could still be priced as fillet, and the taste could be from another planet with juicy meat.

(As a side note: Kämp is located about two blocks from the market hall which has one or two butcher stores where man could get daily grounded premium organic beef. That could work as a base for gourmet burger. If executed right it would match the expectations of gourmet level. And a free hint for the Chefs who seek a benchmark for gourmet burger - travel to San Francisco and try Zuni Burger.)

With this price I would not recommend this steak sandwich - burger or whatever they want to call it - to anyone. Sadly, the value for the money just isn't there.

Hotel Kämp
Pohjoisesplanadi 29
00130 Helsinki, Finland

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Heavy-Mega Burger at Hölmölä Burger Grill, Espoo, Finland

Couple of days ago my friend pointed me a little grill kiosk which was supposed to serve excellent burgers. We needed to pick up a piece of countertop from Ikea and this little burger grill was located only one minute drive from Ikea. So after we got our countertop we stopped for burger at Hölmölä Burger Grill. The place looked like a typical Finnish grill kiosk. It also seemed to be a trucker paradise since it's located near a highway crossing and four trucks were parked by the road. In a way that should be good sign.

I parked my car and walked around the corner and joined to a small line of people formed in front of the counter. I soon realized that everything comes out from the freezer so I already knew what I'll be getting. On the menu they have single and double burgers with three patty sizes - 75 grams (2.6oz), 120 grams (4.2oz) and 188 grams (6.6oz) - and in different variations they add cheese (only cheddar), bacon, egg, pineapple slice, bbq sauce. They also serve other Finnish grill kiosk foods like fries with sausages/meatballs/kebab meat/chicken nuggets, hot dogs, Finnish meatpies filled with sausages/eggs/cheese.

I ordered a Heavy-Mega Burger which stands for a Double Cheeseburger with two 120 gram (4.2oz) pattys and two slices of cheese. You can order your burger with lettuce, pickles, onion, ketchup, mustard and your choice of sauce from American sauce (tomato based mayo with pickles and seasoning) or garlic sauce (basic garlic mayo). I took mine with everything on it, except mustard and ketchup, and it became to be a messy mistake. Since all the indoor dining seats were occupied I asked them to wrap my burger to go. So,I got my burger wrapped in tinfoil and took a handfull of napkins and headed to my car. I took my picture and was a bit worried about all the sauces. I took a careful bite and was really lucky to keep all the sauces off from my car seat. After that I decide to step out and finish my burger outside.

If the burger was messy it didn't do a good job as a burger. The freezer pattys had lost their tasty juices during the grilling. The burger was filled with both sauces but no sauce can fix the problem with pattys. I like to have taste from burger and sauces should work as a seasoning, not as main event. The bun was standard grill kiosk buns with seasame seeds and they grilled the buns heavily from the outside which is a mistake. They also piled burger in a weird way. If look the picture you can see that all the cold stuff is between the two pattys which are topped with cheddar slices and bun. This way the bun doesn't get any of the sauces and when it's grilled this heavily it is really dry. Also when you have all the condiments between two pattys it gets messy since nothing gets soaked in and you end up having the stuff on your lap.

In a way I'm starting to lose my hope with Finnish burgers. This was supposed to be a good joint not just another kiosk selling freezer pattys. The burger was big, nothing wrong with that but the taste is only based on their sauces which are just standard grill kiosk sauces. Not the worst burger I've tasted but far away from my top list. Recommended if you grave a huge burgers and do not care about the juicyness. Unfortunately I can't recommend this place for real burger heads.

Hölmölä Burger Grill
Bemböle, Espoo

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Big Police Burger at Hampuris, Helsinki, Finland

Hampuris is a small grill kiosk chain in Helsinki which started to reposition their business towards burger chain about a year ago. They started to run ads on TV and also offer home delivery. Unfortunately they still are just another grill kiosk. Their pictures of burgers have fresh lettuce leaves and nice looking burgers but the reality is really something else. And I'm not talking about the standard failure to match the marketing images, this was much worst. Just compare the image above and visit their website for comparison.

The funny thing with this place is that they have named their burgers and combos with names like Big Police and XXL, but they do a really bad job on telling what's in the burger. They don't even do that on their website. When you arrive to their counter for the first time you can't know what you are ordering without asking. So, I started asking while sitting on drive through line and cars started to line up behind me. Finally I decided to order a Big Police Burger combo which basically was a large Double Cheeseburger with fries and soft drink. I got my order in a polystyrene box, and drive off to a parking lot without seeing what's in the box. I parked my car and opened the box and was a bit disappointed since my expectations were closer to their images with fresh ingredients. The burger was build as a triple-decker but they didn't use triple-decker bun. They just had one regular bun and they added a top from another bun to work as a middle piece. The buns were warm but not grilled or toasted, just fluffy warm buns. The slaps of meat were the very same frozen beef patties that I'm complaining in every other Finnish restaurant or grill kiosk which serve burgers. In other words, the beef was tasteless and dry like in any other place using the same ingredient. The burger also had a slice of cheddar, little shredded lettuce, not fresh lettuce leaves as in their pictures, a little tomato slice and some standard red bell pepper mayo. The fries were really soft, greasy and tasteless.

I really hated the place and will not visit them ever again. I suggest that you stay away from this place. Not recommended.

Lintulahdenkatu 6
00530 Helsinki, Finland

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Double Texas Burger at Southern Fried Chicken, Helsinki, Finland

My buddy, Brad, came to Helsinki for a few days. I picked him up from the airport. He wanted to take a shower and we planned to meet later in the hotel lobby bar. I planned to take him to local place named as Southern Fried Chicken. I didn't bother to find out what this place was like and it was a big mistake.

When we walked in we started to lauch since we already knew this place sucks big time. The place was a cheap mix of KFC, typical kebab joint and burger chain. Everything under one roof, on the menu they have kebabs, fried chicken, burgers and salads. Well, we decided to give it a try anyway, the clock was ticking and jetlag was about to come in. Brad ordered Fried Chicken combo and I took their Double Texas Burger combo. We moved to the table and started to chat. After couple of minutes our plates were slammed to the table by one waitress.

The burger was built in a standard supermarket bun, fluffy like they are and barely grilled. The two slaps of frozen beef was seasoned with hot chili flakes (they called it piri-piri) and piled with cheddar, tomato, lettuce and onion. The hot chili flakes does not belong to a burger, maybe over a pepperoni pizza slice but not on a burger. Well it really didn't matter since the burger was tasteless anyway.

This place sucks big time. Texas this, Texas that, there's nothing related to Texas or Southern food in this place. It's just another place where everything comes from the freezer and is quickly warmed up. Not recommended.

Southern Fried Chicken
Mannerheimintie 20
00100 Helsinki, Finland

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Super Juicy Cheeseburger at Juicy Burger, Gilroy CA

There's several Juicy Burger locations around the California. What a name for burger joint! I've had my eyes on this joint for a while and I finally had a chance to give it a try. Despite all of the fat-content fears that have made 'organic' and 'low fat' the buzzwords of the last decade, people still love juicy burgers and this name is just spot on. The chain was founded by Bejan Rahmani in early 90's in San Jose. Since then he has sold all the location to different people and every single one of these location has a bit different variation of original Juicy Burger.

At Juicy Burger everything is based on fresh ingredients. A large display case in the counter holds sections filled with full leaves of lettuce, slices of tomato, red onions, pickles, hot peppers, carrots, celery stalks, relish, green olives and jalapenos. You can order up to a 1/2 lb. of grilled burger or make it a full pound as a double burger and dress it with any or all of the above fixings.

I ordered a 1/2 lb. Super Juicy Cheeseburger. After a while the lady behind the grill handed me the standard plastic red basket with my burger and the rest was up to me to decide. The slap of meat was oozing juices while I tried to decide what pile to my burger. In the end I decided to add just the standard condiments - lettuce, tomato slice and few fresh red onion rings. I squeezed in some mustard and was pretty proud how it came out and headed to the nearby table where my Diet Coke was waiting. I sat down, took my picture and waited my friend to take a bite of his burger. His reaction was just what I expected, a smile, thumbs up and he attacked the burger with another bite.

I finished my photo and took the first bite which was full of flavor and juice. The meat was coarsly grinded, really juicy, nicely grilled and had a nice taste from the flames. The bun was standard burger bun but grilled crispy from the inside. All the condiments were really fresh and extra crunchy. Just excellent, a sure top list candidate.

The place doesn't shine from the outside with a little printed Juicy Burger cloth but their burgers really stand up for a Juicy Burger. Recommended!

Juicy Burger
8401 Church St
Gilroy, CA 95020

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