In the early days, the burger was all about the patty. Some trace its origins as far back as the 12th century, saying that Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde carried packets of ground beef to sustain them as they tried to conquer the world.
But the hamburger, as we know it today, is said to have been born in New York, where “Hamburg-style American fillet” was served in the 1850s to the growing market of German sailors and immigrants who sailed to the United States from Hamburg. Reminiscent of the Russian-influenced style of cooking meat the Germans knew from home, it was commonly referred to as Hamburg steak.
As it evolved into a sandwich, many a mom-and-pop and street fair aficionado in New York and neighboring states started claiming that they invented the hamburger. Who created the burger as we know it today remains in dispute, even if the United States Library of Congress has officially declared a certain Louis Lassen of Connecticut to be the first to have served the first hamburger sandwich in the United States in 1900.
Filipinos love burgers as well. Ephraim Salcedo (a.k.a. Dad) and Erap best bud Frank Puzon recall Jack’s restaurant as having the juiciest burger back in the day that they would drive all the way to Caloocan for it.
There are also recollections of A&W on Highway 54 (now Edsa) in the 1960s being the hangout of movie actors and the see-and-be-seen crowd who would use the restaurant to show off their flashy cars. A&W introduced the first drive-in (as opposed to drive-thru) burger station, where waiters would bring the burgers for you to enjoy in your parked car.
Another interesting drive-in was the Round Table in Intramuros. Dad recalled the side benefit of free air-conditioning—when you park your car, as you order your burgers, you would also be lent a sort of portable air-conditioner.
Great American burgers were also served at US military rest and recreation centers such as the Army and Navy Club near Manila Hotel and the old Jusmag near ABS-CBN.
And for the alta sociedad, there were the burgers of the Manila Hotel, the Luneta Hotel and New Europe on Isaac Peral (now UN Avenue).
Then, in 1978, Jollibee rebranded itself as a fast-food chain instead of an ice-cream parlor and served the first Pinoy burger labeled the Yumburger. (McDonald’s came in later, in 1981.)
Burgers & Brewskies
We discuss all these memories as we dine at Burgers & Brewskies (B&B) that opened last year in Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City. It seems like a regular burger and beer hub, except that the burgers here are anything but regular.
This restaurant no longer serves burgers the usual way, as in two buns, a beef patty, lettuce, tomato and pickles. Here, the burgers seem to be a mere canvas on which to express the chef’s creativity.
The signature dish is the Call the Nurse burger, owing to the fact that it may induce a heart attack. Its creator, B&B co-owner Francis Balbarin, explained that he and his friends liked mac and cheese, burgers and bacons so much that they decided to just put everything together in one huge sandwich.
At first it sounds odd, but like Lady Gaga and her outrageous ideas, you end up warming up to this burger. And it’s not because all your favorites come together in one bite; rather, there are flavors and textures initially unheard of that come to fore: like the added dimension of chewy macaroni against the burger and the crunchy bacon; or the dollop of mustard aioli that challenges the skeptic, but somehow rides instead with the cheddar in the mac and cheese. It’s an outrageous combination but somehow it works.
Another bestseller is the Kandi. It has spiced candied bacon and the signature B&B cheese sauce. Personally, I don’t get this one because it reminds me of beef jerky; but co-owner Mike Floro said it is B&B’s No. 2 bestseller. Maybe it’s a guy thing.
What I like, but which has sadly been taken off the menu, is the burger with apples and blue cheese. To me this burger had the perfect yin and yang, thanks to the apple: the burger’s fat against the apple’s refreshing taste; the blue cheese’s sourness against the apple’s sweetness; the burger’s chewiness against the apple’s crunch.
B&B changes its menu constantly, experimenting with various flavors. It’s a reflection of how small the world has become, with influences from various countries and cultures. Currently, the menu has a Hector Salamanca burger, for a Mexican slant. No guacamole on this one, but lots of chili—it’s hot as hell on the tongue!
Corn on the cob
For those who’d like to skip the meat, you’ll be happy to know that B&B offers a mean corn on the cob.
Its three founders, Balbarin, Floro and Marc Nocon, met in New York (Balbarin still works there and flies back-and-forth to Manila). A fave dig of theirs is Café Habana, which serves Cuban food and the best corn on the cob ever. I confess, it’s my first stop when I visit New York; and I once had six friends stand in line for over an hour in winter just to get my fix.
The burger has definitely evolved. At least at B&B, there are no longer burgers as our fathers knew them. (Maybe one day it will come up with a Naked Burger for those who just want the basics.)
But what it has are patties that are never frozen and cooked fresh daily. It also has a “No Ketchup” policy because its burgers are good enough without condiments.
B&B is slowly developing a cult following. It seems that in today’s world of wild outfits and twerking, B&B is this generation’s Jack’s Burger.
Burgers & Brewskies is at Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; no reservations required; ground floor wheelchair accessible; major credit cards accepted. Call 4034038.
The author is margauxsalcedo on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; also visit www.margauxlicious.com.