There's nothing that makes Americans more nostalgic than enjoying a double cheeseburger, a fistful of fries, and a glass bottle of Coke, or a cocktail, depending on how cool your childhood was. Adam Biderman, the burgerphile who created The Company Burger, has tried to get back to the basics of burger-making by eschewing mountains of burger toppings and grinding his meat in-house. The burger, according Biderman, should be simple, something that reminds people of an American Graffiti adolescence spent idling the summer months in a burger joint and stealing sips of vanilla shake from each of your friends in turn.
What are the key elements to a burger, the things that either make or break it?
The key elements for success in the burger world are a great bun and high-quality meat, preferably meat that is ground in-house with nothing mixed in. There's lots of different kinds of burgers that people have done with mixtures and stuff, a slugburger being a classic Southern thing. When I talk about what makes a great burger, I'm talking about a classic American burger, and that's fresh meat (hand ground and cooked on a griddle, and seasoned with salt and pepper) with a great bun. That's the beginning of a great burger.
Have you ever walked into a random restaurant or bar, ordered a burger, and been totally blown away by how good it was?
Yeah. I eat burgers pretty much everywhere I go and there are some really great burgers in Atlanta, but I kind of knew what to expect from them because I knew who was making them. When I went to New York to do some burger research before we opened, I walked into a place called JG Melon, which is on the Upper East Side, in the 70s. You go in there and look around and see that it's, well, it's not necessarily a Fat Harry's, but there are a lot chotskies on the wall, and it's kind of a businessman's, boys' club kind of place. They've got a big menu and they're known for their burger, but I didn't know what to expect.
I sat down and got a burger with just cheese and onions and some pickles, you know, just regular stuff, and I took the lettuce and tomato off because I wanted something that was as close to what I would be making as possible. It was one of the best burgers I've ever had in my life, besides mine. It's not mine, I mean, mine's the best, but I would say that JG Melon is the best hamburger I've had that's not mine. It's a thick burger, not like the kind I make, and I was blown away because I didn't expect it to be that good.
What inspired you to do the thin burger instead of a JG Melon-type burger?
The double patties is always something I've wanted to do. Everyone has a double cheeseburger on the menu, and while I'm not comparing mine to fast food, when you look at all these other places that do burgers, most of them have always had a double cheeseburger. That, to me, is what a cheeseburger has always been about. You get two slices of cheese and it's just like there's a confluence of meat and cheese and grease and juice, and I just think the portion size stays manageable at a pretty good price.
We do the Company Burger with three-and-a-quarter ounce patties, so together, before cooking, it's only six-and-a-half ounces, which is just about the same portion size as any other burger joint. The single is like five-and-three-quarters. Really, we're only doing an ounce, ounce-and-a-quarter bigger portion than the Company Burger, which, yes, is bigger, but it's a richer experience because you're getting more cheese and, with the onions sweating in the middle?I think it's the ultimate burger experience.
I also wanted to keep it smaller. I think six-and-a-half, seven ounces is a lot of food. That's a pretty decent-sized portion when we're trying to deliver it for a value. I didn't want to make it too big, like four, four-and-a-half-ounces because I wanted people to feel like they could come back. I wanted that balance. And we tried every portion size. We found that this size was satisfying and very filling, but also left you with that craving to come back.
What are your favorite kind of burger sides?
For me, fries and any kind of shake, or a Mexican Coke. Fries or [onion] rings and a Mexican Coke is my ideal burger meal.
When it's really hot outside, I love to drink a really cold Coke. Number one, it's just the nostalgia, the sentimentality. I used to drink bottle Cokes by the pool at my grandmother's house in the summer. Things like that bring you back to a point when you remember drinking it for the first or second time. A Coke in a bottle is iconic, it's American.
What are some of the trends in burger-making that you're seeing right now that you either like or really dislike?
Look, I'm a purist when it comes to consistency and ingredients. My goal is always to keep it simple, and there places where I think people can overcomplicate their burgers. I think people can really overdo cooking, and if you put too much stuff on a burger, it can become a big mushball in your mouth. You won't taste the meat. If I'm gonna go through all the trouble of making everything in-house, then I'm not gonna put fifteen things on a cheeseburger, personally. We do a few special burgers, like this week's mushroom & Swiss, or the cheddar jalapeño burger, but I don't necessarily agree with, like, throwing the kitchen sink on a cheeseburger. I think that's something people gravitate towards because it's sort of extreme and we're in a culture of extremes, but I don't personally like to see it. It's the whole 'Guy Fieri effect,' where it's like, "Let's put some ham and some bacon and two eggs and six kinds of cheese and lettuce and tomato, and I don't get into that. It's fun, people have fun with that, but I wouldn't pay money to eat that.
What I do like, though, is the return to the 'golden age' of cheeseburgers with guys like George Motz, who wrote Hamburger America, or Jos Ozersky, who wrote a book called Hamburger, which is like my bible. I take inspiration from what those writers talk about because it's pretty much the same thing as what I do. It's a return to a time when cheeseburgers were everybody's food. They still are, but I'm talking about before all the extreme trends came up. What is the essence of a great cheeseburger? Great meat, great cheese, a great bun, and a few condiments, like mustard. If you look at the classic joints that are still alive, they won't even let you bring ketchup into the building?they'll kick you out. For me, it's about staying true to the core philosophy of the burger.
We've heard rumors of an expansion?is there anything big in the works for The Company Burger?
There's no number two restaurant in the works right now. We'll take a look towards the end of the year, but there are some things that need to happen first that I'm not entirely at liberty to discuss. It's all good stuff.
· The Company Burger [Official Site]
· Burger Week 2013 [-ENOLA-]