Prairie Fire BBQ, Mercato Metropolitano, Elephant & Castle, London

Excellent, messy, juicy double patty smash burger

Burger source

Mercato Metropolitano London is a sustainable community market; in practical terms, this means it’s a massive half in/half outdoor food court, filled with a myriad of wonderful food stalls including at least three places that serve burgers. And none of the cutlery is single use plastic, hurrah!

Prairie Fire BBQ serves ‘Kansas style BBQ’  founded in 2013 by American Expat in London Michael Gratz; his job titles include ‘founder’, ‘chef’, and ‘Pit Master.’ The philosophy is Kansas style, sauce heavy, smoked meat, or in their own words: the “…slow smoked, sauce heavy Kansas City Style is the apex of the ancient art of cooking with wood. The rub, the char, the smoke ring, the tenderness, the umami, the sauce, the smile and well used napkin define Prairie Fire and the future of European BBQ.”

The order

I have had the PFQ, their signature burger, which is: “two seasoned chuck & rib tip steak patties smashed into diced onion on flattop. Served with melty American cheese, crisp lettuce, tomato, onion & BBQ aioli.”

I had seasoned fries on the side.

The meat of it

The Mercato eating environment is a lot of fun. Noisy, half indoors, half outdoors, all smell, sounds and raucous laughter.

Food is served in paper baskets; the ordering system ‘texted’ me to collect the prepared food hot off the grill and fryer.

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It’s hard to photograph, but there was nothing bad about the appearance. That said, the incredible amounts of sauce meant it was a slippery burger, whilst perfectly stacked, had this been on a plate it would probably have collapsed in moments.

The pickle, to the side, was crisp, sweet and fresh. Very mild on vinegar, it’s a palate cleanser for the main meal.

In cross section…

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Here’s where you can see the structural limitations of the burger; the sauce is so heavy that the burger is slipping apart even as I hold it up for its glamour shot.

That said… looks aren’t everything, and on first bite you get an immediate understanding of the splendour of this burger.

The patties are thin and crisp – 2.5-3oz each, at a guess, the patty smash on a hot (though not the hottest) plate lets them char in their own fat, developing a wonderful texture and flavour – though I didn’t notice the onions they’d apparently been cooked in. Cheese is melted in on the grill, though it’s hard to detect under the BBQ aioli. The salad, too, is somewhat token, lost in the sauce. But none of this is a bad thing.

The incredible umami of the burger, with a faint hint of dry-aged, quality beef funk, is complemented perfectly by the runny sweet aioli, a mild peppery heat, and something like the memory of cheese. The salad is present but provides little more than textural background noise. The bun is soft and pliant, with a lovely crumb but thankfully little sweetness.

It’s pretty glorious, if messy, in all. My only criticism, and it’s a marginal one, is that a hotter grill would have provided even more crunch to the patties (which would have been welcome), and the aioli was just fractionally too heavily laid on.

The fries are ‘seasoned’ fries – a sweet smoked paprika, basically, heavily dusted over salted, thin cut fries. There’s nothing bad about these, though nothing exceptional either; thicker cut potatoes might have provided more natural potato flavour but it wasn’t necessary. The additional BBQ aioli they are served with was possibly a perfect condiment in the context of the meal.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £12.50 for burger and side – felt a bit toppy in a food market setting, but everything at Mercato is a little pricey.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really good patty smash option. Next time will add bacon for a bit more crunch and request they leave it on the grill a little longer than normal.

The deets

Mercato Metropolitano is a 5 minute walk from Elephant & Castle tube, and 15 minutes from my office in Southwark. Recommended for anyone in the neighbourhood. Find more info on PFQ here.

Popsons, 998 Market Street, San Francisco

A salt-tastic melty smashburger, but not the best SFO has to offer

Burger source

Chef Adam Rosenblum, a respected chef with an number of different restaurant ventures, decided to add to the morass of upper-mid-range burger joints in town, like Super Duper burgers, with a smash burger. Ground on site, the fresh, well-seasoned patties are cooked to order;  the patties are squashed down on a hot grill, crisp up in their own fat, topped with cheese which is then melted both into the burger and the bun before assembly.

The website tells more about the burgers (fresh hormone-free beef sourced from Five dot Ranch and ground on site) and the bread (baked exclusively for Popsons by San Francisco bakery Petit Pain).

They sound and look great.

The order

I went for a double cheese burger with bacon, and a naked fries $17 with service.

The meat of it

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This is not a tidy burger. The stack is wobbling and sliding around, but really the issues there are all cosmetic. Once you pick it up and right what was lost in the assembly, the burger doesn’t suffer for it.

First bite and you’re hit with a salt explosion; the bacon was totally unnecessary as the super-salty, super-melty, super-plentiful American cheese slams your palate like a speedboat filled with salt racing through the Dead Sea. My fault for adding it but… the bacon is thick, chewy and crisp -perfect, really – and the salad, whilst fresh, is completely overwhelmed. There’s a smear of burger sauce under the patties; it drips out slowly with the excess grease from the burger. Remarkably, the petit pain bun holds up; it has a sturdiness to it, and good supporting flavour – love a seeded bun. There’s something gloriously indulgent about this.

That said… the crust on the meat was disappointing on a smash burger – it was a little soft, suspect the grill plate just wasn’t hot enough to get the real char going – and I should probably have added some ketchup to cut the salt down a little. Or Popsons could have gone for a little pickle and/or relish and/or sweeter burger sauce to bring out the flavour contrast a bit.

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The fries are fairly unremarkable; better than bog-standard McD’s frozen fries, you can taste real potato in them – but naked, the seasoning is decent if unexceptional and there’s nothing to write home about regarding the flavour. Acceptable filling, but not even a guest-star in the show. The ketchup is (unnecessarily) fancy ‘Sir Kensington’ something or other. I’d rather have had Heinz.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 – nothing to see here
Value – 3.5/5 – $17 with a small tip and no drink – this place is more expensive than Super Duper, a (very) nearby Smashburger alternative.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – whilst there’s no question it’s a good burger, it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise and for the money, I’d probably rather have a Super Duper burger (and a drink).

The deets

Near the junction of Market and 6th Street. You can’t miss it.

City Burgers, Vauxhall, Amazon Restaurants delivery

Decent burger; bad sides, both suffer in delivery

Burger source

We wanted to try out Amazon Restaurants to use a voucher I had been sent, and City Burgers came up top. There’s no useful website, so no idea on the origins of the meat or the restaurant. It seems to be pop up within the Vauxhall Street Food garden, so a place with aspirations of gourmet but accessible food. Here’s their write-up:

Introducing our in house Burger stall, serving delicious, carefully sourced Hamburgers freshly prepared to eat in or takeaway. With a selection of burgers taking influence from global cuisines expect to have your tastebuds tingle to the flavours of London, New York, Madrid, Munich, and beyond.

The order

Cheese & bacon burger, skin on fries. Comes with a double 4oz patty. Colleagues had sweet potato fries and buffalo wings as well, and due to a glitch in the order we got to try the wings too.

The meat of it

The order system allowed you to specify a ‘done’ rating down to rare; I went for medium rare.

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Arriving in a cardboard box with no wax wrapper, the stack was still mysteriously intact. The potato roll had a lovely shine on it, the melt on the bright yellow American cheese was remarkable, and the single slice of back bacon had a charred crust – the look was lovely.

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In cross section, it holds up. Although more medium than medium rare, it’s not bad looking for a delivery burger.  Layers of salad protect the lower bun; onions, pickle top the bacon and the melty cheese drapes down the size. You can see the ooze of ketchup providing sweetness throughout the burger.

On tasting it – it’s impressive for a relatively mundane delivery burger. The meat is well seasoned, the bun holds up well, the bacon is crisp and adds a bit of bite, and the ketchup provides the necessary sweetness given the bun is a potato roll rather than the more popular brioche seen so often these days.

However… if there was a charred crust on the burgers, it softened in delivery and for being transported in a steamy cardboard box.  So the texture felt slightly off, despite a coarse grind and a loose pack. And there was probably just slightly too much meat in total – 2x 3oz patties would have been plenty!

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The fries – were terrible. Again, delivery would have been a factor, but not only were my portion a mix between standard frozen essential-type French fries and the skin-on variety advertised, but they were definitely undercooked. No effort to compensate for delivery had been made, so the chips lacked any crispness and were underseasoned (no salt was provided in the delivery bag). The sweet potato fries – which I didn’t try – reportedly had a raw crunch to them.

The buffalo wings – were a misnomer, really. They were fried chicken wings where the very light breading had buffalo flavour woven through the seasoning. They were dry and bland, lacking both the taste and texture you’d hope for buffalo wings.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 1/5
Value – 3/5 – £7.50 for burger, £3 for a giant but rubbish portion.

Burger rating – 3/5 – a good burger, let down by terrible sides and a couple of delivery defects.

The deets

I think both Amazon Restaurants and Just Eat will sort delivery for you if you’re in range. Or head down to Vauxhall; 6A South Lambeth Place, SW8 1SP London, United Kingdom