100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 64, Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape. It's a list to drool over.

I love ketchup. I love ketchup on fries, on burgers, on crab cakes, on hash browns, on shrimp (yes, I know it's supposed to be ketchup and horseradish, but sometimes I just eat ketchup). If you give me a tomato-based condiment, I'll put it on whatever I'm eating, confident in the knowledge that it will improve upon anything.

With the exception of this burger.

I already mentioned in my review of Cottonwood several months ago that the condiments on the table are completely unnecessary when you've got a burger so stunningly complete. But I don't think I made it clear at the time how much I normally love ketchup and mustard on my burgers. Generally, I don't even eat the things without them. But the Squirrel Master burger at Cottonwood has just enough of everything else wonderful and delicious that adding a single other thing would take it too far. It's perfect as it is.

In order to make an excellent burger, you must first start with great meat, and chef Daniel Ajtai succeeds in this endeavor -- where so any others fail -- with his 100 percent Angus beef patties hand-formed and cooked to order. In spite of the fact that the Squirrel Master burgers are stuffed with poblano peppers, the chef is able to cook them to medium rare on the inside without leaving the peppers too crunchy or undercooked.

Top that off with smoky bacon and pepperjack cheese slightly melted around the burger, holding in the heat from the dark sear on the outside, and you'd think the burger was complete. But no! Cottonwood does what so many self-proclaimed "foodies" love to hate: They stick a fried egg on it.

Now, I've heard and read the arguments about fried eggs. People are over them being slapped on top of everything from burgers to pizza to pasta to salad. I see the point. I see how a fried egg can sometimes seem superfluous. And for something so simple to make (heat oil in pan, fry egg), fried eggs often come out too runny or too scorched on the bottom. They're purely decorative, people say, and I get that.

Only in this case, the fried egg that perches tremulously atop the already tall stack of burger fixins really does add something to the dish. It's been fried with little chunks of chopped jalapeño that dot the edges, and when you press down the top bun and let the runny yolk ooze all over the other ingredients, they become one, united by the egg.

Yes, that is perhaps a little over the top for a description of a fried egg, but on this burger it's just that good. The whole Squirrel Master burger, from the patty to the egg, is so much more than the average bar food.

The list so far: No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS

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