By Joe McNamee
THOUGH a serious gourmand, The Dentist is done with all that ‘Michelin palaver’. “It bores me,” he says. “Review something that EVERYBODY eats, like fish and chips, or burgers.” Anyone who has ever winced through that infamous scene from Marathon Man, where Laurence Olivier — playing an ex-concentration camp dentist — ‘treats’ Dustin Hoffman, would also find it hard to resist such a ‘request’. Burgers it is.
My first job was in a homegrown imitation of American fast food burger outlets, just predating the arrival of the ‘Golden Arches’ mob. My unisex uniform went beyond gender neutral into the realms of downright emasculation, paper hat, short-sleeved candy-stripe pink top with plunging décolletage that, allied to my long hair and earrings, had country folk up for the day instructing offspring to tell ‘de gedd-ehl whachoo want!’ Nonetheless, I stayed for two years, learning to love the buzz of service, the first of many jobs in professional kitchens.
My only prior experience of burgers was boarding school fare: deep-fried frozen patties, shorn of bun, entirely nude, rubbery gristle in deep rigor mortis atop a pile of greasy chips squirming like slugs at an orgy. Though of a piece with standards of the time and that particular industry, the frozen patties we placed on a conveyor belt running through a broiler were an improvement and, like all fast food, high on salt, sugar, fat, criminally addictive to a virgin palate.
I became a teenaged version of Morgan Spurlock, supersizing myself into a heavily-acned torpor, existing solely on burgers, fries and profoundly sweet milkshakes reputed to contain whale blubber. On leaving, it was probably 25 years before I ever again, in full sobriety, ordered a burger but seismic changes (quality of available fresh Irish meat; casual dining trends) means ‘gourmet’ burgers have never been so popular, so we begin a period of random sampling.
Bunsen Burger (www.bunsen.ie) is a blow-in from Dublin with a good rep and a cannily pared-back menu; hamburgers, cheeseburgers, single or double; traditional toppings of pickle, lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup, mustard and mayo. Flavours are not unlike an upmarket version of my ‘alma mater’ though meat is infinitely superior but a long, narrow, dark room, sporting de rigeur industrial chic, leaves us with a lingering impression we too are being ‘processed’.
The waitress in Son of a Bun (www.sonofabun.ie), a full-blown ‘party’ on MacCurtain St, automatically hands No 2 Son’s S.O.B. Burger (6oz, cheddar, smoked streaky bacon, lettuce, tomato, crispy fried onion, S.O.B. sauce) to me; she finds it hard to imagine, understandably, a ten-year-old putting away such a monster but he demolishes it swiftly, pronouncing it ‘good’. My Classic (6oz, lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayo) has good, flavoursome meat though ‘pickled’ red onion is wincingly abrasive, perhaps simply submerged in malt vinegar; a gherkin garnish on the side proves a superior substitute. There is a better range of craft beers and ciders than in many an upmarket Irish restaurant and I enjoy excellent Legacy cider, from Waterford. Noting it as a good upbeat venue, we take a bag of churros for the road.
I relished a festival sampling of a Waygu burger from West Cork Burger Company some time back but the very pleasant memory is of insufficient clarity to pass journalistic rigour. Upon arriving at their Washington St outlet, it seems the opening time advertised online (www.westcorkburgercompany.com) is actually out by half an hour and I have no time to spare. (Instead, I head to the splendid My Goodness stall, in the English Market, for a vegan mezze plate — go figure!)
Woodside Farm, from east Cork, have been selling their own superlative free-range rare breed pork products at farmers’ markets for over a decade and have since fired up the grill to also sell hot food, beginning with gorgeous pulled pork sandwiches and, more recently, burgers of meat hung for five to six weeks, from their own Aberdeen Angus and Hereford cattle. Served in pillowy Pana buns, options include their own crispy bacon, cheese (usually Ballinrostig gouda), tomato, lettuce and their secret burger sauce, allowing divine meat to star: impossibly rich in umami flavours, succulent, tender but with perfect ‘bite’, it is the finest burger I have ever purchased.
And now — hopefully with The Dentist’s blessing — I shall eat mostly vegan food for a spell.
€6 (€1 extra for bacon)
From 10am to 2pm at Wilton Market, Tuesday; Mahon Market, Thursday; Douglas Market, Saturday and Midleton Market, Saturday.
Woodside Farm Market Stall – at a number of Farmers’ Markets in Cork