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Chewing the Fat

Local chefs talk their favorite burgers.

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Chefs are people, too. Like you and me, they like a good hamburger. Some serve fabulous burgers at their own restaurants, but, every now and then, they like to buy a burger somewhere else.

So, where do they go? In honor of Burger Week, I asked some of Memphis' top chefs to name one of their favorite hamburgers. (It didn't have to be their No. 1 favorite. The Tops hamburger and the Soul Burger from Earnestine & Hazel's were often repeated). But I also asked them to tell me — as chefs — what they liked about those burgers.

Kelly English - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Kelly English

Kelly English

Chef/owner Restaurant Iris and The Second Line

Cheeseburger at Tops

"It's always a cheeseburger. And I know a lot of people say they like to put their barbecued pork on top of it, but I don't like to mix my sandwiches. So, when I think of a burger, it's perfect. It's a flat-top burger. They make them upside down. They put the condiments and everything on the bottom. It kind of makes it different. I think there's a lot of burgers in town, mine included, that kind of chase the Tops burger. This is an inspiration to a lot of chefs and restaurants for the burgers they serve. And I think it's the best. It's a thin patty. Super consistent. Very pickley. I love their cheese. How they melt it on the bread, which is different from most places. You watch them. They'll put the bun down and melt it right on top. And the lettuce and the tomato are cold always. There's just a lot of things that kind of just come normally that chefs probably overthink a lot, but it really is my favorite."

Jonathan Magallanes - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Jonathan Magallanes

Jonathan Magallanes

Chef/owner of Las Tortugas restaurant

Pimento cheese and fried green tomato hamburger at Farm & Fries

"The bun is super soft and buttery. The bacon is really crispy. The burger has a wonderful char on the outside, and it's super juicy on the inside. The pimento cheese is wonderfully rich and sharp. Fried green tomatoes, crispy and juicy. There's a lot of flavors, a lot of wonderful textures coming together. It's just a perfect burger.

"You can taste wonderful fat, wonderful richness ... You can definitely taste the flavor of the grill in the meat. The fire and the smoke. It's all there."

Erling Jensen - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Erling Jensen

Erling Jensen

Chef/owner Erling Jensen: The Restaurant

Triple jalapeño steakburger with cheese at Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

"It's juicy. It's spicy. It's almost like eating a burger in an old-time diner. I'm loving it. I can taste jalapeño and all kinds of good peppers."

Ryan Trimm - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Ryan Trimm

Ryan Trimm

Chef/owner of Sweet Grass, Next Door, Sunrise Memphis, and 117 Prime

Greek Burger with everything plus cheese at Alex's Tavern

"They don't smash the burger on the flat top. It stays juicy, so you still keep all that flavor, that moisture. The fat stays there. Obviously, the Greek seasoning. It just enhances the flavor of the burger."

Gary Williams - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Gary Williams

Gary Williams

Chef/owner Krewe of DeJaVu

Smoked cheeseburger at Memphis Mojo Cafe

"You can taste the smoked flavor, the bacon, a little heat, but not too much heat. It's awesome. This is earthy. This is homemade. You can taste it. You can feel it. Look at the size of it. Everything is fresh ingredients. You can't go wrong with that. Everything is awesome. Everything I love is in that burger. It tastes like a little cinnamon somewhere in there. It's not overbearing, but it's awesome. It's in the French fries, and I think it's somewhere in the meat. I'm not sure."

Nick Scott - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Nick Scott

Nick Scott

Chef/owner of Alchemy and Interim

Soul Burger at Earnestine & Hazel's

"I've tried to replicate these so many times. And you know what I found? I don't have that flat top over there, so I can't really replicate it. They've been probably cooking hamburgers on that thing for God knows how long. So, I've watched them. They put worcestershire on top of it, and they caramelize the onions. And it makes a great, juicy, cheesy hamburger. But what you've got to do when you eat it is dump out all your chips into the [cardboard] boat. And you've got to eat the burger on top of it so the grease drips on top of the chips and absorbs it. And then you eat the chips. It's amazing."

Andy Knight - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Andy Knight

Andy Knight

Executive chef at Carolina Watershed

Babalu Tapas & Tacos cheeseburger with everything

"I like the bread. The bread is brioche, so it's real filling. It soaks up all the juices from the burger. The chipotle aioli they use. It's just a good burger. Caramelized burger ... The chipotle really comes out with the avocado. ... The sweet from the bread kind of balances the chipotle with the roasted tomato. It's not a greasy burger. They use some kind of local meat, too, I think. It's pretty much the simplest burger. But simple is good."

Cole Jeanes - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Cole Jeanes

Cole Jeanes

Chef/owner of the former Kinfolk Restaurant

Good Burger with everything plus cheese at Roxie's Grocery

"It's simplicity. A classic to me. A hand-held meal that melds the five flavors with textures: salty (meat and pickle), sweet (tomato, bun), sour (pickle and mustard), bitter (beef char and onion), and umami (tomato and beef). Texture: soft from the pillowy bun, crunchy from the lettuce, pickle, onion, and toasted bun with the moisture from the tomato, mayo, mustard, and grease. Roxie's seems to be what big brands try to imitate and perfect. But, to me, it's already perfect. This is a classic burger to me. It resembles something your father would cook at a cookout or from a ball game served in aluminum foil. There are many different categories of burgers. This one is a no-frills classic in my eyes."

Karen Carrier - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Karen Carrier

Karen Carrier

Chef/owner Beauty Shop Restaurant, DKDC, and Mollie Fontaine Lounge

Farm Burger with cheese at Farm Burger

The meat is so moist. It's not firm. It's just moist and soft. And the caramelized onions and the white cheddar just melts into that meat. It's not a '50s burger that I grew up with like Hi-Boy burgers, Gridiron burgers, which I still love. But truly, this burger is so flavorful. You eat some burgers that are thick and they're firm and they're just like hockey pucks. This thing melts in your mouth. It's amazing."

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