Zagat and Broiler Bay Burger Disappointment

The Internet, and its readers, love lists. Restaurant lists are especially popular. I get it: These posts generate a lot of hits, a lot of discussion, and a lot of debate. “They liked what?” and “How did my favorite place not make the list?” are among the typical outcries.

Read some lists, and you’ll wonder if the authors were local, visited all of the contenders, or even ate at the restaurants she or he are recommending. I’m sometimes asked to compile such lists, and it’s admittedly hard to get everywhere to make sure I’ve done exhaustive research. Heck, it’s hard enough to eat a good representation of food within even one restaurant.

In 2010, USA Today asked me to choose one great burger joint in Washington state for a national list. “Great” can mean a lot of things, so evaluating overall burger experiences, I selected Fife’s Pick-Quick Drive In for its iconic feel and overall quality of food. Pick-Quick is not necessarily the number one burger in the state, but a fun place for a burger, fries, and shake.

Last week, Zagat listed its choice of best burgers in 25 cities. Strangely enough, the Zagat slideshow only pictures three actual burgers, and its pick for Seattle is actually in Bellevue: Broiler Bay. Displaying only an interior shot, I shot over to Serious Eats’ coverage of the Zagat list, where you can click through to see more of those “best” burgers, including Broiler Bay’s.

Both sites have comments full of strong criticism for the picks, and I couldn’t agree more, especially for the Seattle area. Check out Broiler Bay’s burger at Serious Eats, and it’s immediately evident that the patty is pre-formed, frozen and looking far from delicious.

Still, I’m a sucker, so I went to try out a cheeseburger myself this past weekend. At the counter, I could see the cook working with pre-formed patties separated by paper dividers. Besides being thin, they were too dense—a cardinal sin for burgers. Patties should be loosely packed, creating more surface area which enables browning and crisping of the meat. This also allows the cheese to ooze into the nooks and crannies of the patty.

Broiler Bay’s patty gets good grill marks, but by default is cooked longer than I prefer, more like a medium-well. The cheese is simple but thrown on late, so it takes time to melt. There’s lots of shredded iceberg lettuce and out-of-season tomato, but no sign of the promised onions. The burger is also said to come with ketchup and mayonnaise, but wanting more flavor, I found myself dipping it in fry sauce, which has a slight tanginess that I’d guess comes from sour cream.

Broiler Bay uses a Franz Bakery sesame seed hamburger bun. It’s fairly non-obtrusive, and a far better choice than the dreaded brioche bun, which is often dry and unable to hold up when the beef juices run. But given that the Franz bun is broader than the thin patty, the burger suffers from the same bad bread-to-meat ratio that a brioche bun creates.

I’m shocked that Zagat would choose Broiler Bay as one of the best burgers in 25 cities. While it might make a decent showing in Bellevue, I wouldn’t even place it in the top 25 of the Seattle area.

If you like lists and want to have your say on Seattle’s best burgers, head over to Seattle Weekly’s Voracious blog. There you’ll find 64 truly Seattle burgers, from Dick’s to Metropolitan Grill, competing in a burger bracket. The public will whittle down the bracket to a final four, and then the Weekly’s food writers (myself included) will have a taste-off to anoint a winner. My personal favorite is currently Li’l Woody’s, and I’ll be interested to see how it fares with the competitors.