Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Arrived in New Orleans…

with a list of over fifteen new—to us—restaurants to try along with a shorter list of oldies and goodies. So far, our search for the new has had mixed results, but today we try again with The Company Burger.

“It's…a burger with a biography. (Adam) Biderman, a New Orleans native, originally developed it at Atlanta's wildly popular Holeman & Finch Public House, where two dozen burgers are prepared at 10 p.m. each night, and diners in the know jockey for access to the limited supply. When Biderman moved back home he began planning a restaurant to do this burger full time.

”The Company Burger opened in August, joining Freret Street's fast-growing restaurant row. It's an attractive spot, with a wide-open kitchen and a tight, usually crowded, collection of tables and communal dining bars. The staffers are nice as can be, though the restaurant's format is so rigid some diners may still feel put off. The kitchen doesn't stock lettuce or tomato and your cheese choices are American or nothing” (by Ian McNultybestofneworleans.com).

Everything about the space screams “industrial chic” from the large stainless ventilation hood over the grill

to the minimalist tables and chairs

to the use of hygienic-looking white tiles (think White Castle).

This is another one of those order at the counter, find a seat, and wait for your name to be called casual restaurants that we have found in many of the non-Quarter restaurants.

This process went something like:
“Could I have your name?”
“Could I have the first letter of your last name?”
“In case there is more than one Ozzie?”
“S.”(I usually get a laugh or comment with the name "Ozzie." Not even a smile today. Just the facts.)

We arrived after 1:00 p.m. and found the restaurant almost full. Fortunately, we did find seating at one of the few empty tables.

The menu is short, but interesting. The only options are: The Company Burger—two patties with house bread and butter pickles, American cheese, and red onions; The Single—same as the first but with only one patty; the Lamb Burger with feta, house basil mayonnaise, red onions, and chili mint glaze; the Turkey Burger with tomato jam, green goddess dressing, and arugula; The Cornhog—a hand-dipped Iverstine Farms pork belly corndog; The Company Link Cochon Butcher-smoked beef hot dog with sweet relish, and chopped onions; and a grilled cheese.

“…(T)he item that will raise the most eyebrows is the ‘Cornhog’—a corndog that swaps the traditional frank for unctuous pork belly encased in the middle. The locally sourced pork is cooked sous-vide*, and then dipped in corn batter before frying. Before having one, alert your cardiologist” (Jay Forman at myneworleans.com). And, this being a Friday in Lent in Catholic Louisiana, a special sandwich of fried calamari was offered.

The only two burger additions are a fried egg (When did this trend start?) and bacon. Available sides are fries, tater tots, pimento cheese (a Southern favorite), with melba toast, sweet potato fries, and onion rings.

Each table is set with a roll of brown paper towels (probably made from recycled paper) and large squeeze bottles of catsup and yellow hot dog mustard. But The Company Burger goes one step further. At the back of the restaurant is the “mayonnaise bar” that offered creole mustard, house-made pickled jalapeno peppers, and five flavors of mayo—plain, ancho chile, basil, garlic and herb, and “special sauce.” This latter was similar to Utah Fry Sauce, a mixture of catsup and mayo.

While the fried calamari sandwich sounded intriguing, I ordered The Single with bacon and a side of onion rings. Chuck went for the two patty The Company Burger with a side of fries.

First, let me say that these were truly fine—although just short of exceptional—hamburgers. With the first bite, a blast of beefy bodaciousness bursts into your mouth. The juices flood your hand and pool on the serving plate. “The Company Burger strips the classic American cheeseburger down to the core. Biderman uses Harris Ranch hormone- and antibiotic-free beef for his patties, grinding the chuck and brisket in house each day. His buns are baked on the Northshore using his own recipe then toasted on the griddle. ‘Toasted bread is one of my tenets for burgers.’

“The burgers hit all the right notes. The buns have the right amount of “give” and the griddling buys you time to tackle them before the juices soak through. These aren’t fancy burgers; American cheese melted just so, house-made bread-and-butter-chips and red onion keep them simple. Biderman recommends the namesake ‘Company Burger’—essentially a burger with double patties—and so do I. Fried eggs and bacon are offered as add-ons, but I think the burgers are best as they are or with any of the house-made herbed mayonnaises. But, as Adam says, a burger is a personal thing. ‘Burgers are kind of like barbecue. Everyone has their own opinion’” (Jay Forman at myneworleans.com).

The sides were equally good. The fries—house-cut and twice-fried—were dusted with kosher salt. And the onion rings. Oh, what onion rings. As said by The Hungry Heretic: “Their onion rings can convert even the most hard core dieter into a fried food lover. After taking one bite of these sweet crunchy red onions I decided to never have a white onion-onion ring again. Whoever thought of using red onions is a straight up genius.”

Only one thing keeps The Company Burger from receiving the maximum 5.0 Addies and that was the lack of a charred and crunchy burger exterior. Still, we didn’t think any hamburger in New Orleans could compete with Port of Call, but we found one with this 4.5 Addie burger.

I believe the trophy represents First Place in the “Porkpourri” category at the 2011 Hogs for the Cause, New Orleans’ Barbecue Competition for the entry: a corned pork tongue slider served on a homemade rye bun with mustard slaw and Swiss cheese. In the recent 2012 competition, The Company Burger placed first in the Porkpourri category and placed first in the Grand Champion category.

* “Sous vide, or low temperature cooking, is a process of cooking food at a very tightly controlled temperature, normally the temperature the food will be served at. This is a departure from traditional cooking methods that use high heat to cook the food, which must be removed at the moment it reached the desired temperature” (cookingsousvide.com). (Bravo's Top Chef contestants do this all the time.)

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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