Eating Our Words Burger Bracket: The Final Four

Yesterday, a scrappy underdog team from Virginia Commonwealth University upset the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks to advance to the NCAA Final Four here in Houston, blowing many people's college basketball brackets entirely to hell.

Well, burger fans, prepare to have your 2011 Burger Bracket shot to hell, too.

In a stunning upset over the weekend, small neighborhood joint Jonathan's the Rub -- until this point, most known for kicking Chron restaurant critic Alison Cook out of its establishment -- won out over what many people predicted to be the No. 1 or No. 2 burger at Vic & Anthony's.

In their tasting notes, The Thomas Family team wrote simply but staunchly:

After careful consideration, we finally decided on Jonathan's the Rub. While both places offered an undeniably juicy burger, Jonathan's delicious flavor and wonderful bun left us all in a happy place. Their cozy neighborhood ambiance also helped make our burger experience great.

But what about the rest of the Final Four burgers?

Photo illustration by Monica Fuentes

And because we know you want to see the rest of those tasting notes, they're all laid out for you below, starting with The Burger Wolf Pack team and the Pub Burger bracket.

Pub Burger

Branch Water Tavern vs. Petrol Station

This was a tough bracket, and coming off our last bracket of steakhouse quality, straight from heaven goodness, we were very, very spoiled. Having noted that, we head to the Petrol Station first for what proved to be a good burger. The meat was cooked perfect and still juicy. It was definitely tasty, and the bun and fixins were perfect.

Next day, we were off to the BWT. We had very high hopes of this velvet-wallpapered hipster joint... but unfortunately, it did not live up. The bun was flaky and dry, the bib lettuce was a poor companion to a burger, and above all the meat was really disappointing. The burger loving child inside of us, was in tears. The kobe beef meat was dry and almost tasteless, and although we all ordered medium-rare, we all received nearly well-done burgers. The final slap in the face, was the two small postage stamp bits of bacon that were hidden on the top of the burger. I can't believe they charge $13 for that burger (which by the way is more than the Vic & Anthony's burger). So, we chose Petrol Station.

Side note to Katharine:

I know this is dangerous Katharine, but it's definitely how we felt. You don't have to post it... but we wanted you to know our thoughts. After we went to the BWT we read the tasting notes of the other judging team for the BWT, and we were all pretty shocked. Maybe we just hit them on a bad day?

Fancy-Pants Burger

The Burger Guys vs. Plonk

Judge 1: First of all, in my opinion, we can't really compare Plonk vs the Houston burger. The Sonoma is the BG offering closest to Plonk, so that's what I'm focusing on. Also, I get that a burger isn't just about meat and bun - that there's an alchemy that comes when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But, this is a burger contest, and I can't ignore the parts. While Plonk had better toppings, TBG's patty and bun were better. Our burger was exactly medium rare as requested, it oozed beautifully, and, I am genetically pre-disposed to favor Challah-anything over other types of bread (except possibly rye). Since I prefer the meat and the bun at TBG, I'm voting TBG over Plonk. Not by a lot, and I definitely prefer Plonk to Branch Water, but medium rare Texas akahushi on challah bun beats just about anything for me.

Judge 2: Here's my "percolation results". They're both delicious and I'd go back for either. I'm comfortable comparing the Plonk to either the Burger Guys Houston burger or the Sonoma, as our instructions were to get "the standard burger" - and the Houston seems to define that for the Burger Guys, while the Sonoma is closer in style to Plonk's burger.

Bun matchup: Burger Guys. Stood up to the ooze factor and toppings without disintegration, the definitive critical function of the bun. A better bun-to-meat ratio. Plonk's bun, while tasty in & of itself, was too thick for the patty, and quickly smooshed down

Toppings matchup: Plonk. Simplicity of sweated onions and gruyere. Burger guys topping are creative, and the avocado "schmear" on the Sonoma was a nice surprise, but in general the condiments tend toward the sweet (bread & butter pickled jalapenos, onion-bacon jam, fancy Lawnmower mustard).

Patty matchup: Burger Guys. Beefy, juicy, great ooze factor, perfectly cooked to medium rare. Plonk was very good and perfectly cooked as well, but I though the guanciale patty was over-powered by the bacon, I would have thought the guanciale would have generated more "ooze" than we got, and there was less overall beefiness. Plonk's patty was a bit thinner too - which I think contributed to the less desirable meat-to-bun ratio and being overwhelmed by the bacon.

So I have to go with Burger Guys FTW.

Judge 3: Upon greater reflection, this feels like an episode of Top Chef where everyone created a well executed and delicious dish...But someone has to go home.

The Bun: Both were delicious and held up well to the resulting ooze from a medium rare preparation. The Plonk burger was stacked high with the perfectly slow cooked caramelized onion, necessitating a sturdy bun. You'll remember that despite being halved virtually none of the ingredients spilled out and had no disintegration during consumption. The Burger Guys had a similar dynamic at work considering the size of the patty.

Verdict: Burger Guys

The Patty: Size was similar and I would say Plonk's was cooked a hair closer to medium rare than Burger Guys. Both had enough fat to gives us the glorious "ooze factor" (ode to AC) and both certainly delivered a beefy flavor that worked well in harmony with the accouterments of cheese & pork products. I'm going on my memory of flavor (the texture on both was superb).

Verdict: Plonk

Toppings: The reward for slow cooking the onions was a texture that was soft (for better consumption) and still had the onion flavor without a cloying sweetness. I wonder if the guanciale would have better suited the burger if it had been diced instead, as there was not really any discernible crunch. The bacon on The Burger Guys was thick enough that its flavor & texture was distinct without being overpowering. My last bite at the Burger Guys revealed a portion that was way too salty, but not the rest of it. Curious. Good quality Gruyere cheese is hard to beat, it melted perfectly over the patty and had a subtle nuttiness that worked well with the other components.

Verdict: Plonk

This is so close I hate to call it. I really enjoyed the Burger Guys. If we were to include the sides then the duck fat fries would have pushed it into the winner's circle (though I enjoyed the sweet potatoes and that delicious sriracha aoli).

I'm going with Plonk FTW on this one by the narrowest of margins.

Judge 4: Ed. Note: Judge 4 created a complex table that we can't embed in the post, but he ended up with this conclusion: At this point it's a tie for me, so I have to ask myself the simple question: which burger did I like the best? I have to go with The Burger Guys. I just feel like they blend that fancy pants element with the greasy awesomeness of a trashy burger. By a nose.

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Katharine Shilcutt