Opinion - Food
7:32 am
Thu July 10, 2014

Summer Sizzle: The Fort's Best Burgers

The Chicago Burger at Hall's Gas House is among the best burgers in Fort Wayne, according to Amber Recker.
The Chicago Burger at Hall's Gas House is among the best burgers in Fort Wayne, according to Amber Recker.
Credit Amber Recker / for WBOI News

Nothing says summer like a big, juicy burger. So in honor of this warm-weather staple, I set out to find the Fort’s best.

After a heated debate on various social media networks and tallying over one hundred votes, the top six restaurants emerged.

This was a pretty competitive process. People have strong opinions about their burgers, so I want to make special mention to those restaurants that fell just short of making the top: Eddie Merlot’s, Coney Island, Powers, Dash-In, Calhoun Street Soup Salads & Spirits, and The Green Frog. If I could eat that many burgers in one month, I’d definitely include them.

As it were, six burgers is a bit much for me, but I took one for the team to bring you this review.

To level the playing field as much as possible, I ordered each burger the same way:  medium rare with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and cheddar cheese, with a side of fries. What’s a burger without fries, right?

The best part of the burger at Fort Wayne's Oyster Bar? The fries.
The best part of the burger at Fort Wayne's Oyster Bar? The fries.
Credit Amber Recker / for WBOI News

#6- The Oyster Bar
1830 S. Calhoun Street
(260) 744-9490
www.fwoysterbar.com

Of the burgers I tried, the one served up on “Burger Tuesday” at The Oyster Bar falls to the bottom of the pack. While the price is unbeatable ($2 base), the quality and consistency left much to be desired. I do like the concept of Burger Tuesday, offering a plain hamburger for $2 with special add ons available. The day we visited they were featuring a burger topped with a fried egg and sausage gravy, served on Texas Toast for $8.50.

Price: $8.50 after all the add-ons. Not happy to discover I was charged $2.50 for a slice of cheddar.

Specs: ½ pound patty, 80/20 ground beef

The Guts: The burger came out looking thick and juicy, just how I like it, but my delight was quickly overshadowed by disappointment a few bites in. The temperature was extremely uneven—medium rare on the outside and well done in the center. I don’t even know how that’s possible. The bun was also a let down. It was cheap and fell apart easily, making this the messiest burger of the bunch.

Toppings & Bun: The tomato was mealy and tasteless, and I was underwhelmed by the flimsy iceberg lettuce.

Fries: The best part about my experience at The Oyster Bar was the fries—hand-cut and perfectly shaped with just the right amount of crisp.

Service: Adequate, but not super friendly.

Ambiance: Dark and intimate. Perfect for date night, but a bit dreary for lunch. Because it’s such a small space, it gets loud, which is not conducive for conversation.

The burger at Chop's was thick, juicy, and well-prepared, but the patty needed a little something extra.
The burger at Chop's was thick, juicy, and well-prepared, but the patty needed a little something extra.
Credit Amber Recker / for WBOI News

#5- Chop’s Steak and Seafood
6421 W. Jefferson Blvd.
(260) 436-9115
www.chopswineanddine.com

I was surprised when Chop’s rose to the top of the list. When I think of Chop’s, I think of fine dining entrees and the delicious Chop Salad, not burgers, but the numbers were clear, so I had to give it a try. While the burger was good, it wasn’t enough to catapult it farther up the list.

Price: $8.25

Specs: ½ pound, all-beef patty

The Guts: The Chop’s Burger was thick, juicy, and cooked well. I liked the subtle char taste and enjoyed the buttered and toasted Kaiser roll on which it was served. Overall, the patty itself was lacking in flavor. It could use some more oomph. If a burger needs ketchup, there’s something missing.

Toppings: I know it’s not tomato season, but a disappointing tomato can color the whole burger experience, as it did with this one. The rest of the toppings were fresh and crispy.

Fries: Well shaped, appropriately seasoned, and crispy on the outside.

Service: Friendly and quick.

Ambiance: Open floor plan; fine dining atmosphere. Great for weekday lunch with co-workers or dinner with a date.

The patty at The Phoenix was juicy and flavorful, but it's a little pricey for what ultimately ends up on the plate.
The patty at The Phoenix was juicy and flavorful, but it's a little pricey for what ultimately ends up on the plate.
Credit Amber Recker / for WBOI News

#4- The Phoenix
1122 Broadway
(260) 387-6571

The Phoenix has quickly become one of our favorite places to hang out. With live music every night they’re open and a stellar Sunday brunch, it’s definitely worth checking out. Since opening, they’ve worked out some bugs, but the service is slow and prices are a bit high for our market—case in point, the burger was $3 more than every other burger on this list despite being a smaller patty. That being said, The Phoenix serves delicious specialty cocktails and the patio is a perfect place to spend a summer night with friends.

Price: $11.25

Specs: 1/3 pound, Angus hand-packed patty with chuck, brisket and short rib

The Guts: The burger was cooked to medium, not medium rare, which was a bummer. I really mean medium rare when I order it that way—anything more is unappealing to me.  Overall, though, the burger was juicy and had a nice mild char flavor. Sadly, the bun fell apart and I had to resort to using my fork to finish it off. While satisfying, at $3 more than any other burger on the list, I expected it to wow me.

Toppings: The lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onions were fresh and crisp.

Fries: Thick cut and super salty, just as I like them.

Service: Slow, but helpful.

Ambiance: Night club/lounge feel with an open floor plan. The outdoor patio is simply perfect on warm summer nights.

Don Hall's Chicago Burger was the biggest on the list, and among the best. Bonus points for nailing the tricky medium-rare order on such a thin patty.
Don Hall's Chicago Burger was the biggest on the list, and among the best. Bonus points for nailing the tricky medium-rare order on such a thin patty.
Credit Amber Recker / for WBOI News

#3- Halls Gas House / The Deck
305 E. Superior St.
(260) 426-3411
www.donhalls.com

Time and time again, The Chicago Burger was recommended as the best burger in town. While I enjoy many of the dishes at the Gas House, I had serious reservations that this burger deserved to be at the top. I am happy to be proven wrong. I was impressed with this burger.

Price: $9

Specs: 10 oz., all-beef patty

The Guts: This burger is the largest on the list—hand-packed, thin, and well textured. It’s tricky to prepare a medium rare burger out of a patty so thin, but the chef nailed it. It was cooked to perfection and served on a delicious onion bun. It is a bit messy since the patty starts to fall apart, but that didn’t break the deal for me.

Toppings: Fresh veggies that tasted like they came from my backyard garden.

Fries: Typical thin cut fries.

Service: Friendly, upbeat and quick.

Ambiance: If you’re sitting outside at The Deck, the ambiance is perfect for warm days. Inside, the Gas House has recently been renovated, making it a great place for midday lunch meetings or dinner with a date.

#2- Henry’s
536 W. Main St.
(260) 426-0531

Henry’s has long been my go-to bar and heading into this competition, I was quite certain its burger would come out on top. It has been awhile since I’ve had one, and it was just as good as I remember. You can’t go wrong with this burger, and it was definitely a close race, but I have to put it at number two.

Price: $8.99

Specs: ½ pound, ground beef

The Guts: A perfectly-size and cooked, juicy patty served on a quality onion bun. No need for ketchup with this burger, though I highly recommend slathering it with the spicy German mustard that comes with it. My one complaint: no cheddar, so I had to order it with American cheese, which just isn’t the same.

Toppings: Rich red tomato, crunchy red onions, and fresh crispy lettuce round out this burger nicely.

Fries: Henry’s fries have long been my faves—a great combination of long and short, crispy and soft.

Service: Friendly, albeit it slow at times. Sit at the bar for the best service.

Ambiance: Cozy, neighborhood bar with ample booth, table, and rail seating.

Juicy, a little greasy, with hints of herbs hidden in each bite, JK O'Donnell's reigns supreme on our list.
Juicy, a little greasy, with hints of herbs hidden in each bite, JK O'Donnell's reigns supreme on our list.
Credit Amber Recker / for WBOI News

#1- JK O’Donnell’s
121 W. Wayne Street
(260) 420-5563
www.jkodonnells.com

I spend an inordinate amount of time at this downtown establishment, and oddly enough, I have never had The Pub Burger. In fact, I was surprised it landed in the top six. I simply wasn’t expecting the flavor explosion packed into this burger. Hands down, the best burger I had during the challenge, and I will go so far as to say it’s the best burger in the Fort.

Price: $9

Specs: ½ pound, 80/20 all-natural beef

The Guts: This was love at first bite. Even though they won’t tell me exactly what is in the patty, I could definitely taste hints of thyme and rosemary. Cooked to a perfect medium rare, the burger came out juicy and just a little greasy. The potato bun provided the perfect bun-to-burger ratio and held up well. Though they told me it was charbroiled, I didn’t taste much char, which was okay because of all the other wonderful flavors shining through.

Toppings: Crisp fresh greens, a red ripe tomato, and an appropriate amount of red onion are the icing on the cake.

Fries: I opted for the JK Crisps, house-made chips, seasoned with a Cajun spice. They are absolutely delectable. I don’t care for the fat fries they serve up, so I always opt for crisps.

Service: This may be the friendliest bar in town. The wait staff and bartenders are always helpful and they’ll make you feel right at home. My favorite spot is bellied up to the bar.

Ambiance: JK’s is a cozy neighborhood bar with a great patio out front along Wayne Street and a private patio out back. It also has a family-friendly dining room.

 

WBOI food columnist Amber Recker.
WBOI food columnist Amber Recker.
Credit Courtesy / Amber Recker

Amber Recker is the Director of Marketing at PUNCH Films and co-owner of The Ginger Kitchen, makers of locally-sourced gourmet ice cream.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff, management or board of Northeast Indiana Public Radio. If you want to join the conversation, head over to our Facebook page and comment on the post featuring this column.