”It’s mainly because of the meat” was a line used by the Canadian supermarket chain Dominion Stores. It was written by a guy called J. Scott Feggans. I always wished that I had been the one who wrote it.
I admit it. I confess. I am a card carrying member of the burgerati. An obsessive burgeriac. A guy who, if he doesn’t get one a week, gets a twitchy cheek and, according to someone who occupies the same bed as me, is “almost impossible to live with”. In fact, the last time I visited Birdie’s Burgers, it was for my third burger of the week and it was only Thursday.
Birdie’s Burgers is one of two reasonably new restaurants (the other is Taco Lab Tacolicious) in the growing portfolio of Donnie Masterton.
There’s always been a strong association between Chef Masterton and burgers. One night a week at his first San Miguel de Allende venture, The Restaurant, he has, for as long as I can remember, hosted burger night. Yet, even though I’ve probably eaten at The Restaurant more than any other place in San Miguel over the eight plus years that the restaurant has been open, I’ve never once been there on a Thursday, that celebrated burger night.
It’s not that I thought Chef Masterton’s burgers might be unworthy of this fanatical burgeriac’s business. It’s just that I’ve never wanted to eat my burgers anywhere that I had to make longterm plans to go to, anywhere that I might have to request reservations in order to have the honor of eating there. There are simply some things you go out to eat and there are some things you eat when you go out.
Birdie’s Burgers is much different from The Restaurant. It’s a place you eat at because you’re going to the bank, or maybe the library, or, in my case on that Thursday, the liquor store. And you go to Birdie’s not just because it has good burgers but because it’s convenient.
Birdie’s Burgers is located in Doce 18, just half a block from the Jardin, the heart and soul of San Miguel de Allende. What was once Casa Cohen, a hardware store, is now a very upscale retail mall and food court. Too upscale you might think for a burger joint but the combination of part fast food, part fine dining, actually works.
Burgers have gone through a lot of changes over the years. Once just a slab of mystery meat from parts unknown between two slices of bread, they first went through the size matters stage, with double patties, triple patties, mile highs and sky highs. Then there was the gourmet stage where chefs added things like foie gras, caviar, and quail eggs to the once humble meat sandwich and started calling them craft or artisan burgers.
There are still a couple of nods to those days at Birdie’s. They do have a double patties option and mushroom with truffle aioli is among the choices but, mostly, Birdie’s is part of the return to the roots revival for burgers and the basic cheeseburger is what I and it seems a lot of people order.
I think about 80% of a cheeseburger’s merits lie in the meat. So I’m extremely flexible as to what toppings you use. And I don’t care much whether you put the meat in a poppy seed roll, a kaiser, a ciabatta, sesame seed bun or even an English muffin…well, maybe not an English muffin. And the cheese? Cheddar, Jack, Gorgonzola, Fontina, Brie. They all work. But that meat, it better be good. It better be very special.
So how does the meat on Birdie’s cheeseburger measure up?
The first measurement is size. And I don’t mean a burger patty has to come in at XL. Even though sliders may be as close to a stupid gimmick as there’s ever been, even they can be enjoyable. What the size of the burger meat must be is appropriate for the size of the bun. Birdie’s patty is about five, maybe six ounces in weight. Perfect for a bun that’s about four to five inches in diameter.
Next comes the choice of meat. Good burgers can be made of lamb, pork, even chicken but your traditional cheeseburger must be beef. Birdie’s is 100% beef.
Next comes the part of the cow that the beef comes from. There are a number of cuts that work well. Short ribs, flank, brisket and chuck would be my first choices. Donnie Masterton told me, “We use brisket and chuck”.
Next comes spicing. Donnie told me that all that goes into Birdie’s Burgers is “Kosher salt and black pepper”. That’s all a burger really needs.
Next comes the percentage of fat in the meat. Most of the taste that we distinctly recognize in ground meat comes from the fat portion and the traditional ratio for fat versus lean in a burger grind is 20/80. When you use the brisket and flank from local Mexican cows, that fat portion goes down to less than 5%. So is Birdie’s cheeseburger lacking in taste? No, not really, but the taste is a little different and more on that shortly. The small amount of fat though does leave the burger slightly lacking in one criteria. Juiciness. A great burger requires two napkins. Birdie’s requires one. But they are trying to retain as much juice as possible. By griddling the patty not grilling it.
“I prefer the sear and like for it to cook in its own fat like confit. Instead of the fat dripping off the meat into the coals. I think you get a juicier burger”, said Donnie. “Don’t get me wrong though, I do love a good grilled burger on a nice summer day.”
Birdie’s Burgers does have an extremely good excuse for that somewhat dryer texture to their burger. They have made a bold (and I’m guessing more expensive) move in sourcing their meat.
Chef Masterton told me, “We are trying to make healthier choices for a ‘fast food’ restaurant. To be conscious of the environment and the animals we are consuming.”
The beef is being sourced from nearby ranch Canada de la Virgen, the only local meat operation I’m aware of that raises 100% grass-fed and finished cattle that are hormone and antibiotic free.
”We also prefer the nutty and rich flavor we get from the grass-fed”, said Donnie.
In addition, to nutty and rich, I’d add the words musky and gamey and I’d sum up those tastes by using the single word beefy, though I’d add that the taste is considerably different than beef from a cow that’s been corn-fed and it’s taken a little time to get an old head like mine around the new trend.
That beefy (and I do hate using that word but I don’t have a better one) taste you’ll get from the patty in Birdie’s Burgers is enhanced by another recent trend. Aging. Once the exclusive domain of high-end steak houses with gargantuan numbers next to their menu items, burger joints are now joining the movement. And what a welcome move it is.
There are two methods of aging, wet and dry. This blog post is already getting too long to discuss the merits of each technique so all I’ll say is there aren’t too many people in this world who have eaten as much meat as this burgeriac and I think dry is the best at bringing out that rich taste. And yes, that just happens to be the method that Birdie’s has chosen.
”We dry age the meat for 30 days before we grind it,” Donnie Masterton told me.
Fran Lebowitz wrote the line “My favorite animal is steak”. I always wished I’d been the one that wrote it.
I did though write the line one of my favorite things to eat is a burger and you’ll find a very good one at Birdie’s.
Birdie’s Burgers is located inside Doce 18 Concept House at Reloj 18 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open seven days a week from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm. Telephone is 415 154 8317.
FOOTNOTE: If you’ve ever wondered, like me, where that logo that’s shared by The Restaurant and Birdie’s Burgers came from, I have the scoop: Donnie Masterton told me, “My daughter drew the birdie years ago when she was around 5 years old. We used it for The Restaurant logo and we added the crown when we did an ad for our fifth year anniversary. Because Birdie’s was hatched from burger night we wanted a logo that people would associate with The Restaurant.”