The Gouda Burger at Pantry is imperfectly perfect
It is utterly preposterous to even try searching for the perfect beef burger. Much like life and art, a beef burger is not meant to be perfect. The true mark of a handcrafted burger is its imperfection. Just like snowflakes, no two handcrafted burgers are ever the same, thus the holy grail of a great burger joint lies in its consistency.
The bread, the condiments and the beef, all mix differently to make each bite an experience. A beef burger entices our most basic instincts. It is the conquest of man over its hunt. A piece of meat of your choice, slaughtered, grilled and served with other savoury elements. A beef burger connects modern man with his earliest ancestors when the practise of grilling meat over fire started centuries ago.
It is hard to re-imagine a beef burger. The strength of the burger lies in its simplicity. The beef has to be the conqueror; to be complemented by the rest but never overpowered. As any burger connoisseur will tell you, the key to the beef is the meat temperature. Too raw and it takes away from the rest of the burger. Too well done and the meat just lies there submissively surrendering to its sub-ordinates. The true kick of a burger comes from the perfectly grilled beef patty.
A real chef would simply refuse to make you a well done beef burger. It is disappointing to see a lot of restaurants in Pakistan making it the standard variety. The offerings of mass producing fast food joints do not even count, but restaurants that follow their suit is a crime against food-kind. McDonald’s is not the standard a restaurant should aspire while cooking a beef burger.
One should approach ordering beef burgers in Pakistan with much precaution. The menu is a reflection of the chef and the food is a conversation between the chef and the patron. Unfortunately, some restaurants do not even employ a chef and trust a line-cook to churn out orders on an assembly line.
From the moment you walk in, Pantry seems different. A quaint café located on the edge of the crowded streets of Zamzama. Hidden away behind the glitz and glamour of flashier establishments, Pantry is unassuming in its appearance. A chalk board, bread baskets, some drawings and wooden chairs greet you as you walk in. The café looks like it is not only made out of wood and brick but also a love for food.
One cursory glance at the menu and I was smitten by the Gouda burger. It consists of an eight ounce prime beef patty with tomatoes, pickled onions, rocket (Arugula) with Gouda cheese and a smoky chipotle aioli. The gouda is a less popular choice of cheese on a burger than the cheddar but the sweetness of the sauce can perfectly complement with a spicier burger sauce, or in this case the chipotle aioli.
It is served on a slab of wood with a knife stabbed in to the heart of the burger further tantalising the base instincts. A small piece of pickle sits atop the beast and a side of sweet potato fries come with the meal.
The fluffiness of the home-baked poppy seed bun is a delight; the curves of the bread accentuating the burger and showing the handcrafted nature of the burger. The proof is always in the pudding as they say and it was time to take a bite.
One bite in and you are glad the restaurant did not bother asking the customer for the preferred meat temperature. An eight-pound medium beef patty squeezed in between the buns surrounded by the condiments. The gouda cheese counteracts the chipotle aioli sauce allowing the meat to shine. The gouda burger has enough of a bite without necessarily being crunchy and provides enough of a kick in each bite.
Each bite is slightly different with a different mix of the condiments, each looking for its moment of the shine. There is enough spot light on the onions, the sauce and the cheese without anything outshining the beef. The choice to stick to an eight-pound patty was a smart one by the restaurant. The weight of the beef is perfect for the size of the burger. A fulfilling experience without agonising over the last bite; it would truly be a waste to leave any of the burger on the plate, or the wooden slab in this case.
The Gouda Burger at Pantry is imperfect but that is exactly what it is meant to be. It is a love letter from the chef to the patron. The right ingredients coming together at the right time to celebrate the conquest of man.
My experience at Pantry was a perfect coming together of elements but my subsequent experiences are a testament to the fact that Pantry has managed to achieve the holy grail as well; consistency. The Gouda burger is consistently imperfect and brilliant, as a beef burger should be.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.