Monday, November 2, 2009

Prague Burgers: A (Small-Scale) Investigation

What makes a good burger a good burger? Well, for starters, the burger can't be a karbanátek.

I've seen some people in these parts frown on the notion of a hamburger being anything more than a quick food alternative to a real meal. But across the ocean in the hamburger's adopted home, putting together the all-American meat sandwich has turned into something of an art. Top-notch chefs like Daniel Boulud and Hubert Keller are opening burger restaurants, and some are even making them with luxury ingredients like foie gras and truffles.

I suspect it'll be some time before we see those kinds of ingredients on our burgers here, but there are a few places making a solid effort (and some not so solid) at dishing out the classic American meal. I went to six different local establishments that reportedly have good burgers, and ordered a bacon cheeseburger where available. Here are the results:

Bohemia Bagel Holešovice
Weekends are Burger Weekends at the Holešovice branch of Bohemia Bagel, when their usual selection of burgers is doubled; variations include the Falafel Burger, the Greek Burger, and the Steak Burger. But their classic version, the Bohemia Burger (135 CZK, plus an extra 20 CZK for bacon and American cheese), is probably their best: a juicy-flame-grilled patty on a toasted sesame bun slathered with garlic butter and served with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. The bacon was crispy and the cheddar cheese was plentiful – but alas, there were no pickles, and the fries were miserably limp and soggy.

Judging by the recommendations I'd gotten, I thought the Fraktal burger was supposed to be something really special. And it was special, but not in the way I'd hoped. This was one sad little patty (I chose the small 125g burger for 170 CZK; a 200g burger is also available for 195 CZK), black and shriveled on the outside and overdone and rubbery on the inside. The top layer of the sesame seed roll was crumbling, as if it had been defrosted after spending the last six months at the bottom of a freezer. Not recommended.

Hard Rock Café
I hate to give the Best Burger in Prague title to a big corporation, but this one was really good. The choice here is between ten different types of burgers in two different sizes: Legendary (285g of meat for 320 CZK) or Regular (starting at 220 CZK for 170g of meat). My HRC bacon cheeseburger had the telltale criss-cross marks of a flame-grilled patty, was perfectly medium-rare and came on a toasted brioche-style bun. The bacon was crispy, the meat was juicy, and there were potato peel fries on the side (not enough of them, though). The best part? The service at Hard Rock Café is simply stellar.

Jama's burger doesn't have pickles, but it does have tomatoes, red onions, lettuce, and… olives? To get a bacon cheeseburger here, you pay 175 CZK for a cheeseburger or a bacon burger, then add 40 CZK extra for bacon and 39 CZK extra for your choice of cheese (you can save a crown if you do the math). My beef patty was crumbly and thick, with nice grill marks, but it could have used a little more seasoning. The bun was American style (sweet and light with sesame seeds) and the bacon was Czech (fatty, with very little crispiness). Jama was the only restaurant I tried that had steak fries, but the service was excruciatingly slow. And I could have done without those olives.

Mozaika's is a cheese-less burger (199 CZK), topped instead with garlic mayo and sautéed onions and mushrooms. I liked the effort at ingenuity here – the string fries come with a homemade spicy tomato dip and the burger is served on spinach foccacia – but the execution was all wrong. This was a straight-up karbanátek, with the meat all mashed together into an unappetizing lump, and the focaccia was saltless and soggy. I remember this hamburger being a lot better once upon a time.

PotrefeHusa Dejvice
This Husa makes its 200g burgers (268 CZK) with beef tenderloin. That sounds good in theory, but tenderloin is really too lean a meat to make a juicy enough patty – and this one was under-salted, too. The toppings (American cheese, red onions, lettuce, tomato) were plentiful and fresh, and the shoestring fries were great, but they couldn’t make up for the white bacon and tasteless beef. It'll satisfy a craving, but you won't be dreaming about it.

photographs: 1 Tomáš Krist for Lidové Noviny; all others Prague Spoon

This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 12/09/09 edition of Lidové Noviny.


dusoft said...

laura, laura, start writing better reviews than the one in lidove noviny on bratislava. otherwise, nobody will take you seriously. (and yes, i can agree it's difficult to find a good restaurant in bratislava, specially based on the value (quality/price) ratio)

Anonymous said...

Gotta agree with not really wanting Hard Rock's to be one of the best, but man it's good and they have real crispy bacon. I'm not saying I don't necessarily like Czech bacon, but it certainly doesn't belong on a hamburger.

Bohemia Bagel Holesovice's burger (and note it's MUCH better than the burger at their other locations so you have to make the trip) is also really good; best in Prague, I'd say. I do rather like their fries though; choice of regular or sweet potato or mixed order. They're not crispy, it is true, but to my taste they're still tasty.

I'm not a big fan of Fraktal, but it's certainly usually better than the experience you had. Not crazy about the seasoning they use though.

Anonymous said...

For those craving the Kosher variety there is no better burger (sorry no cheese or bacon) than the Dinitz burger at the Dinitz Kosher Rstaurant in Prague's Old Town. A mix of Chicken and beef, a homemade roll and great more thanbeats the best in New York or Israel or England and France for that matter!!

Anonymous said...

I do like the Bohemia bagels burger best and think that the fries should be just like that. The burger at Hard rock is also good but since they serve it with standard fries they get the number two spot.