October 1, 2013

Taste Bud: A pub burger sure to satisfy

You’ve no doubt seen the Wendy’s commercials for their pretzel-bread cheeseburger. A guy is bragging to his friends that he has jury duty. Why brag about this? Because, he gushes, the courthouse is right by “that pub” that serves the super-awesome pub burgers. Then the cute yet snarky redhead puts him in his place by showing him the pub burger, pretzel bread and all that she got at Wendy’s.

Well, forget Wendy’s — we’ve got “that pub” right here in Louisville. It’s called Hilltop Tavern, it’s in Clifton on the same corner as Silver Dollar, and no snarky redhead is going to convince me a Wendy’s burger can compare to the Bacon Beer Cheese Pretzel Burger on the Hilltop menu.

I first tried a couple bites of one of these beautiful burgers a couple months ago when my friend Maggie was in town visiting from Guatemala. She crashed at my place, had the burger during our visit to Hilltop, and the leftovers remained in my fridge when she left town. She encouraged me to finish it off, raving about how good it was. There wasn’t much there, but I ate it, and she was right.

Given that I’m addicted to the Smoked PBR Pulled Chicken Sandwich at Hilltop, I kept meaning but failing to get my own Bacon Beer Cheese Pretzel Burger. That changed last week. My girlfriend Cynthia and I stopped in for dinner before heading to Waterfront Wednesday, and both ordered the burger. I probably use the term “mouth-gasm” more than I should, but, well, it’s certainly applicable here. You’ll soon understand why.

The secret ingredient, of course, is the beer cheese — made with Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale — which is wonderfully tangy and spicy. The burger itself is a half-pound wad of ground beef cooked medium to medium-well that is moist and fresh. Add thick slabs of bacon and, of course, the dark brown pretzel bun, and what they place before you when your meal arrives appears to be about as big as a baby’s head.

Then you pick up the burger for the first memorable bite and realize the mess you’re going to make, as beer cheese oozes onto your hands and plate.

“This is a four- or five-napkin burger, isn’t it?” Cynthia said. (She quickly realized that the benefit is then being able to dip your fries in the excess beer cheese.)

While my mouth was enjoying its own explosion of flavor — and it is notable how balanced this sandwich is, with all the flavors coming together to complement one another, the pretzel adding an element that an ordinary bun simply can’t — it was fun to sit there and listen to Cynthia narrate her experience.

“I made the right call eating only Ramen noodles for lunch,” she said, commenting on the amount of food she was staring down.

Soon it became clear this was a transcendent experience for her; the next few comments she made were borderline PG-13 and could almost be turned into a Penthouse Forum letter. Please stop reading now if you’re 12 or younger.

“It may be too big for my mouth,” she said. I opened my mouth to speak, but she quickly shot me a look and added, “Don’t say it.”

Another bite and she said, “It’s big, but it’s not, you know, too much big.” This time, she just cast a glance at me, silently willing me not to comment.

But then a couple of bites later, she sealed her own fate by saying, “I think I just moaned a little. I forgot where I was.”

I have to say, the content and satisfied look on her face made me feel a little jealous — and maybe even a little inadequate. Nothing is as emasculating as watching your girlfriend be so satisfied and knowing you had nothing to do with it.

When all was said and done, however, we conspired and agreed that if Louisville had a Best Burger in Town, winner-take-all contest, this burger would have a fair shot at claiming victory.

And make sure you eat Ramen (or nothing at all) for lunch if you plan to eat one of these burgers. It’s a sandwich that, even though you start getting full halfway through, is too delicious not to finish. I prefer to eat small portions at all meals, but I destroyed my burger and scraped up every last drop of the spicy orange cheese.

Cynthia went a step farther, saying, “You know your belly couldn’t handle it, but your soul wants one to go.”

Hey, at least she finally composed herself. I was beginning to worry she was going to dump me for one of those burgers. The sad thing is I really wouldn’t blame her.