The best part about this blog is that I answer to no one for what I write. I have no editor (contrary to popular belief), I have no deadlines, and no rules. As a 12-year restaurant veteran, prior to becoming a Realtor in Louisville, I worked in almost every capacity that a restaurant employs. Tapping into that experience, I enjoy bringing Louisville cuisine to your computer screen from a viewpoint that is focussed on the best of the best, sans complaining about the worst of the worst. Someone who shares that viewpoint with me is local chef Griffin Paulin. You may have eaten his dishes at Roux, Rumplings, 10 Tables, Hammerheads, or maybe his latest dining establishment in Clifton, Mirin. Today he shares with us his joy for dishes that he didn’t create. My first guest writer is a dude who knows his way around Louisville and his way around a kitchen, and now he puts his tastebuds to the paper. It has been well over a year since I brought you part 1 and part 2 of my Louisville burger extravaganza, so the timing on this is impeccable. The following article was written by Louisville chef and restaurant owner, Griffin Paulin. Enjoy!
**Disclaimer: I don’t take pictures of food I didn’t create, so none of the visuals on this page are mine, and are certainly not the exact meal I had**
The dirty little secret about cooks and chefs- we eat like Sh%#. If my family is any indication of the general public, you probably didn’t know that. They, like many others, assume that a professional cook’s life is full of exotic foods, multicultural cuisine, and lavish ingredients. Wrong. Well, mostly wrong. It’s true that in our work day all of these things pop up frequently, but we aren’t sitting down to dine on our creations. The majority of our day is spent tasting between one and twenty dishes through every step of the cooking process, racking our brains for what it needs, how to fix it, how to make it pop. By the time we are done with that, the interest in sitting down to dine on our creations is about as enticing as an arsenic enema.
To give you a less invasive visual, my fridge at home consists of a few things: condiments, leftover take out, juice, Redbull, beer. The pantry is no better- hamburger helper, likely stale bread, a few snacks for my son. When I get off work the last thing I am interested in is Veal and Squid Ink Risotto. I don’t want Scallops Three Ways, I don’t need somebody making it rain fresh truffles on my plate. I want pizza. I want Soup Dumplings from Joy Luck. Most of all, I want a burger, which leads me to the reason I’m writing this. The last few months have taken me all over the city in search of the best burger in Louisville. I couldn’t settle on just one, so you’ll be getting a top 5. The criteria was really simple: which burgers tasted best, and was I pissed when I got the check. As my good friend, business partner, and heterosexual life mate always says, “you never remember how much you paid for a great meal”. I have been EVERYWHERE. If you’re reading this, you’ll probably find yourself saying, “What about ______________, you didn’t try their burger, it’s magical!”. Stop it. I’ve had it. More often than not, I liked it. I can’t include every burger in the city. This is my list.
5. Bluegrass Burgers- Bison Burger – $13
My process when ordering a burger is always the same. If there’s more than one burger on the menu, I ask for a recommendation. “Give me the best burger you have”. BB did not disappoint. Register Guy (we are boys now, I call him Register Guy, but you can surely use his government name if you’d like) suggested the Bison Burger, and together we added on Kenny’s white cheddar, caramelized onion, Applewood smoked bacon and a fried egg. Everything was perfect. The fact that it came with fries that resembled a much tastier version of the frozen potato sticks your mother bought at Winn Dixie when you were a kid was just a bonus. There’s also a bonus for the hippies out there- it’s grass fed bison (spare me- you could’ve fed that Bison nothing but Butterfinger blizzards and pork drippings. If it tastes like this, I am IN).
4. Diamond Station- Barbecue Bacon Double – $12
Disclaimer- this burger is not for the weak of stomach, weak of heart, or anybody interested in still loving themselves when they’re finished with their meal. This is a fat kid’s burger, not for dainty princesses or first dates. This burger is messy. It’s large. It’s awesome. Let’s talk about the patties. As you may have guessed by the title, there are two of them. Are they grass fed? No. Highly doubtful. They are, however, 5 ounces each, flat topped (aka cooked in butter and their own fat) to perfection, and smothered in swiss cheese and Trifecta brand Barbecue sauce. Plus, the BACON. I don’t know where it comes from. I highly doubt it’s cured or smoked in house, and I certainly don’t care. It’s thick cut. Crisp as you want it. All this is served on a King’s Hawaiian bun. Everything about this burger is a win. If you find yourself at this cook’s favorite hole in the wall bar (Leftfield Lounge, right next door), the exceptionally nice bar staff will bring it over to you when it’s ready. Pro tip- the fries are dope. They’re even better if you eat your burger directly over them, and let your excess barbecue and burger juice drip on top of them. Thank me later.
3. The Holy Grale- 3D Valley Farm Burger – $15
Holy Hell. I’ll preface the review of this burger by saying this- I despise burgers on pretzel buns. I worked at a very busy local hipster joint for almost 3 years, and had more than my share of burgers on pretzel. It’s not my favorite at all. I also hate arugula. The fact that The Grale uses both of those things (which I previously considered burger blaspheme), and their burger is STILL one of my favorites in town is a testimony to the effort and skill put in to the preparation of this dish, very likely starting with 3D Valley Farm. Oh, and the bacon is Benton’s. So, you can’t screw that up if you tried. It’s served skewered, with caramelized onions, cheddar, and fritje sauce. If you haven’t had it, stop reading this and go there NOW.
2. Jack Fry’s – $15
Silly good. I can’t come up with any adjectives that won’t be repetitive. This is the best simple burger in town. No fluff, no bullsh%#. Burger, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, bun- all flawless. Who cares that the fries were undercooked and under seasoned? Jack Fry’s burger is perfect in every way.
1. Game- Wagyu Burger
The interesting thing about Game is that nothing is unreasonably expensive, but your meal can be unreasonably expensive, if you make the wrong choices. I happen to usually make the right choices, and with the help of a friendly bartender, this was no exception. By far the most expensive burger on my list, still 100% worth it. I chose the Wagyu patty, which, if you aren’t familiar with the term, is basically kobe beef that wasn’t raised in Japan. From there, it got a little extravagant. I added bone marrow mayo, pan seared foie gras (judge me all you want, I really don’t care), mixed greens, tomato, and raw onion. They put all of that on the best Brioche I’ve ever had in my life. Added a side of decent fries, and it was $30 I don’t regret. I’ve had other burgers at Game, most of which could’ve probably checked in at number 5 on this list, but this is not only the best burger in town- it is one of the best dishes in town.