Apparently it’s crystal-ball-prediction time and I’m already late. So I’ll give one prediction plus a few burger trend observations.
2011 will be the Year of the Stuffed Burger. Why? Because Burger King is going to show off what its new broilers can do by adding cheese-stuffed burgers early next year. Once it does, burger joints will answer with their own versions and the Minneapolis/St. Paul favorite will become a national treasure. BK already has been testing a Jalapeño Cheddar Stuffed XT burger, so we can be fairly sure it’s coming.
Last year’s BurgerBusiness.com prediction was that 2010 would be the Year of the Patty Melt, and that worked out pretty well, eh? What’s Hardee’s selling now? Red Robin, Checkers/Rally’s, Whataburger, Johnny Rockets, O’Charley’s, Perkins and many others made burgers-on-toast their LTOs this year.
Burger trend-spotting is more valuable and more fun. Look at the burgers on menus of restaurants that have opened this year and patterns emerge. What you see is this: burgers haven’t lost a lick of their popularity despite what Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Co. predict (burgers will peak but coconut water is in? You gotta get out of New York more often, fellas).
But burgers are getting simpler but higher in quality while sides are becoming more sophisticated and inventive. Chefs’ thinking about burgers is less James Beard Award, more “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.” It’s back to old-school time.
These are the 2011 Burger Trends I see taking shape on menus:
Θ The big cheese: White Cheddar
Θ The burger sauce to watch: Barbecue/steak sauce
Θ The trending-up topping: Onion straws
Θ On the side: Funkier, fancier fries
● Spanish Manchego cheese is giving Cheddar a run—check out the Manchego and Goat Cheese Queso on the $9.50 burger at Metropolitan American Diner & Bar in North Wales, Pa.—but burgers are trending to regional American ingredients and flavors more than Global Cuisines. Nothing’s more authentic, powerful and delicious than Cheddar. Trendy Burger Kitchen in Los Angeles gives you two cheese choices for its deluxe $26 Pat LaFrieda-beef The Natural burger: white Cheddar or, if you must, Camembert. More examples:
White Cheddar is the only topping needed for the Niman Ranch Burger at Spire in San Francisco (hand-cut fries and house-made pickles come on the side). Order the $10 R. House Burger at recently opened Russell House Tavern in Cambridge, Mass., and it’s topped with Vermont Cheddar, smoky bacon and griddled onions and served on an English muffin.
The new b:2 a burger boutique in Lee’s Summit, Mo., offers the appropriately named Old School burger. On top: white Cheddar, house ketchup and mustard, red onion, pickles on a potato bun ($7).
● American flavors dominates sauces, too. The $13 signature burger at recently opened Citizen’s Band in San Francisco is Kobe beef topped with heirloom tomato, house-made pickles and roasted-garlic aïoli. That build is the essence of the 2010 upscale burger. But menus are trending more toward the $8.50 Roadhouse Burger at BRGR Kitchen + Bar in Prairie Village, Kan.: bacon, Wisconsin Cheddar, onion straws and BBQ sauce on an onion bun.
@burger, the Ann Arbor, Mich., restaurant opened by Big Boy, serves a $6 Steakhouse Cheddar Burger with A.1. Steak Sauce, crispy fried onion straws, lettuce, tomato, mayo and Cheddar cheese. That’s a 2011 burger. The half-pound Texas Burger served at new Mad Fox Brewing Co. in Falls Church, Va., gets the full 2011 treatment: BBQ sauce, farmhouse-style Cheddar, ham, a jumbo onion ring and lettuce and tomato ($12).
● Fried onions are tasty, fun and catching on. Examples:
At Boston’s Anthem Kitchen + Bar, the $13 All American Burger is topped with Velveeta, shaved bacon and onion strings. Across town, another newcomer, Stats Bar & Grille, menus a $10 Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger with crumbled blue cheese, applewood-smoked bacon (2010’s reigning topping of the year) and crispy onion straws.
● But burger menus aren’t going all demure. Fries are getting off the wall as burgers trend to more restrained. Fries cooked in duck fat—like the ones served with the farmhouse Cheddar burger at Adsum in Philadelphia—are becoming common. At Roam Artisan Burgers in San Francisco your fries can have truffle-Parmesan, lemon-chive or chipotle-maple seasoning.
Fries at The Glendon Bar & Kitchen in Los Angeles are tossed with garlic, herbs and Parmesan. Sweet potato fries can be dipped in cinnamon-pecan aioli. At BareBurger in New York City, dipping-sauce options for fries include spicy chipotle mayo, agave mustard and peppercorn steak sauce. Newly opened Rustico in Arlington, Va., tosses its thick-cut fries in diners’ choice of Caesar or ranch dressing.
So, sorry Baum & Whiteman, but burger popularity certainly isn’t peaking. As for coconut water, maybe that will be big in 2012. Or not.