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I’ll Melt With You*

*I swear the timing of this post with Valentine’s Day is purely coincidentally.

The Grilled Cheese sandwich: The pinnacle of  your childhood. The rainy day snack. The easy-to-throw-together dinner now that you’re a lazy adult. Maybe you like to keep it old school with Wonder Bread and a Kraft Single or maybe you like to get fancy with a little Gruyere and sourdough. Whatever your pleasure, Valley Shepard Creamery’s newest outpost in Reading Terminal Market – Meltkraft – is putting a twist on your favorite classic.

All the cheeses are made on-site, including their mozzarella, which is hand pulled and fresh daily. Their sandwiches are panini-pressed and are sure to please the palate; from the Valley Thunder with brisket and mac & cheese to the Somerset, a variation on the Cuban sandwich.

Plus they use this ridiculous, industrial, automatic panini maker!

You can also opt to add other things to your sandwich like duck fat, bacon or truffle oil. I decided to go for the Valley Thunder with truffle oil, and was given a choice of sea salt or dill pickle chips on the side. I went with pickle because – duh – when would I ever have pickle chips again?

The sandwich was a little more squished then I would have expected, but I guess that’s the nature of the industrial strength beast. I also smelled the truffle oil more then I could taste it, and there was less brisket and mac & cheese in the sandwich then I would have expected, especially in a sandwich I’m paying nearly $10 for (Then again, there’s also the time I paid $17 for a truffle short rib grilled cheese). Maybe this truffle grilled cheese idea is good in theory and not so much in execution. I guess it’s just a case of “Fool me once, fool me twice”.

Either way, I’m interested to check out some of their other menu items (including the sandwich with watercress – which the girl who ordered in front of me asked what that was as she was in the middle of ordering said-sandwich), and especially their fresh mozzarella which I anticipate I’ll probably buy and consume by the pound. Meltkraft is a great addition to Reading Terminal and sure to create a cult following.

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SEA/PDX Burger Throwndown: The Final Round

Wild Card Round: Katsu Burger (SEA) vs Slow Bar (PDX)

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I’m not even sure if this is a fair fight. I’m such a Japanophile that the minute I heard there was a place called Katsu Burger, I knew I had to run and eat there immediately. While quite off the beaten path of downtown Seattle, located in an industrial park in the Georgetown neighborhood, I promise that when you make the trek you won’t be disappointed. The walls are adorned with kawaii illustrations, whacky Japanese burger signage and other Anime lover/Otaku favorites. The burgers are named awesome things like the Tokyo Tower, Gozilla Attack and the Ohayu Gozaimasu. Their fries can be topped with Japanese curry or Nori flakes. They even have a black sesame milkshake (my fav!). The burgers are all served “tonkatsu” style (tonkatsu is traditionally a breaded & fried pork culet) but you can also order your burger with beef, chicken or tofu.

I opted for the traditional beef Ohayo Gozaimasu burger, while Brian chose pork. Since “Ohayo Gozaimasu” means “Good Morning” in Japanese, the burger was topped with a fried egg, bacon, cheddar, Japanese mayo (the Kewpie kind) and Tonkatsu sauce (yum!).  It was love and first bite. Despite all the toppings, the presentation under the bun was perfect – definitely up to other Japanese food standards I have experienced. I wish there was an East Coast equivalent to this burger; I want it again soooooooo bad! It was all the things I love in a burger but on a burger that was deep fried! If that doesn’t scream AMERICAN, then I don’t know what does. Katsu Burger was hands down the winner before I even ate the next.

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Our runner-up here is Slow Bar in Portland, one of the staples on their “best burger in the city” list. In an innocuous bar on the other side of the Willamette from Downtown Portland you’ll find Slow Bar, which is I’m sure a comfy hipster bar at night but we were there at 2 in the afternoon. I ordered up their Summer Slowburger (since it was nearly 100 degrees out) which is 1/2lb. Painted Hills natural beef, Grafton white cheddar, heirloom tomato, iceberg lettuce, dill pickle.

I ordered it medium and it came out more on the well side, which was a disappointment (a disappointment I seem to be having far too frequently, sadly). It was on one of those cute seeded buns again, made of nicely toasted, soft challah bread. I loved the heirloom tomato and the pickles; presentation was great. And it wasn’t heavy tasting thanks to the natural beef! (They need to get on that trend out here.) If it had been cooked the way I asked, this could have made the race much closer. Still, it was a decent burger that I’d love to try again.
That makes the final burger score: SEA, 2 – PDX, 1.

Sorry Portland, you’ll just have to try harder next time! (Or at least seem like you’re trying less hard since that’s the ironic, hipster thing to do, right?)

SEA/PDX Burger Throwdown, Part 2

2nd Category: Fast Casual

Contenders: Red Mill Burgers (SEA) vs Little Big Burger (PDX)

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Red Mill was another one of those “Can’t leave town without eating there” burger places. Slightly outside downtown Seattle limits in North Queen Anne, we took a 15 minute bus ride to this little roadside delight which is a reincarnation of the 1937 original that was located in Capitol Hill. They serve up flame broiled 1/4 lb patties and are cash-only, so bring your friends Abraham Lincoln and George Washington along for the trip.

I went with the Red Mill deluxe with cheese, which is topped with American Cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, red onion, and their signature Mill sauce. Guys, this thing tasted like a Whopper. And not like a gross, 3 AM Whopper that you pick up on your way home from the bar, or something just slapped together and oozing out from under the bun on some wrapped BK printed paper; it was like a gourmet Whopper. That classic, flame broiled taste you remember as a kid (before you realized fast food was the devil), the pickles, the soft seeded bun – it was all in here. Originally I promised that I would share with Brian since he got the Red Onion Jam burger, but then I remembered I hate a ton of onions and that this was too fucking good for me to not eat it all. (Sorry! #fatkidproblems)

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Down the coast, we headed to Little Big Burger in Downtown Portland, where they’re serving up 1/4 lb. of cascade natural beef, local cheeses, organic veggies and Camden’s catsup on tiny brioche buns.

I got mine with Tillamook cheddar, mostly just because it’s fun to say ‘Tillamook”. It was cooked to order and had a nice, pink center – and looked totally cute! (I love when my food looks cute.) They also had truffle fries, which reminded me of 500 degrees here in Philly – but they were definitely not hand cut and probably frozen, which gave them a strange taste when mixed with the truffle oil.

Winner of Round 2: Red Mill Burgers for sure. The classic, Whopper-esque taste definitely gave it the edge over Little Big Burger.

Point count: Currently tied with SEA, 1 – PDX, 1

SEA/PDX Burger Throwdown, Part 1

Two Pacific Northwest cities. Three burgers in three categories. Only one can be victorious!
First round: Diners, Drive-Ins and Divers – Dick’s Drive-In (SEA) vs Red Coach Restaurant (PDX)

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Dick’s Drive-In – Capitol Hill neighborhood

Back in November, I had the pleasure of visiting Seattle for the first time. I was told I couldn’t leave the city without eating at Dick’s Drive-In, a burger institution since 1954. With their simple menu of 100% fresh burgers hamburgers, cheeseburgers, a special (lettuce, mayo & chopped pickles) and the deluxe (a 1/4 lb version of the special with cheese), it seemed like the logical choice. Further motivation was the fact that it was right around the corner from my hotel. Catering to the hungry and drunk alike, Dick’s prepared all their burgers and wraps them in advance to stave off long lines and crowds. They also have fresh, hand-cut fries and, as both a nod to environmental friendliness and taste satisfaction, charges 5 cents a cup per condiment; reason being that everything tastes better dipping into a cup instead of out of a foil packet. I grabbed a Deluxe and fries and was not disappointed.

On this trip I knew we’d be stopping at Dick’s no matter what. That “no matter what” happened to be at 11:30 AM right after eating brunch and fro-yo. I opted for the Special this time since I wasn’t sure if I could fit any more food inside me. Despite being stuff, the first bite brought back all the nostalgia of my first Seattle trip. It was just a simple, no-nonsense burger – and it certainly wasn’t hyped up to be the “best burger you’ve ever had” – but it was 100x better then any other fast food burger you could think of. (And at $1.80, you’re not breaking the bank either.)

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Just a 2 & 1/2 hour train ride away from Seattle was Portland, “the Rose City”. Their long standing burger institution is the Red Coach Restaurant, family owned for over 50 years and through three generations. While this isn’t their original location, they still manage to channel 50’s diner vibes with vinyl booth seats and a dining counter in their current space in Downtown Portland, location inside the lobby of the Historic Charles F. Berg Building. A “blink & you’ll miss it” sandwich board out front indicates their presence and a neon sign above the doorway warmly welcomes you inside. All their burgers are made with free-range beef from Montana with no hormones added (How ‘Portlandia’, right?) and served on a soft, kaiser bun.

(Photo credit: http://redcoach.biz/)

I opted for the Classic Karl’s special: cheese burger, fries and a drink. The burger had that perfect little bit of grease without being too heavy, but a sign that it came off a well-seasoned grill. And you could just tell that the meat was very fresh and not just some ground chuck blend from your typical greasy spoon.

So who’s the winner in this round?

Hands down, Red Coach takes the gold medal! It was just leaps & bounds above Dick’s slightly overcooked, dried out fast food patties. (A result of leaving them laying around ready-to-go) There’s a reason people go to Dick’s when they’re drunk; it’s the perfect food to shove in your face at 2 AM when you’re looking to soak up alcohol. But if you’re looking to satisfy your appetite, then Red Coach is the place to go.

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