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Posted: Thursday, Mar. 10, 2011

The Burger Brackets: Finding Charlotte's best hamburger

By Helen Schwab
Published in: Data Center

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This year’s Observer Tournament finally tackles that quintessentially American foodstuff: the burger.

Such a seemingly simple thing, yet so chock full of telling detail: Thick or thin? Leaner or fattier? How assertively seasoned? A little char or none at all? A bun that’s fluffy light or one with some heft?

Although I’m on record as finding burgers cooked to medium or beyond – as is required in North Carolina – inevitably inferior to juicier, less-cooked meat, it was generally agreed that the burger was the only logical tournament target after prior pittings of wings, pizza and fries.

So, just in time for the NCAA’s March Madness, let’s find the best burger out there, shall we?

For newcomers, here’s how it works: Readers suggested scores of places and I went a-burgering to pick 14 contestants – based on a one-plain-burger tasting. (So consistency and bells-and-whistles aren’t in the picture here, to keep things fair. If your favorite didn’t make the list, perhaps it just had an off night.)

Readers then voted in two more "play-in" teams. | More about the 16 restaurants

Now, each week, readers vote and that result is taken into account along with a head-to-head (or rather, burger-to-burger) tasting comparison.

Next week the Elite Eight will be declared, then the Final Four. At that point, a judging panel goes to each four finalists’ locations and determines the semifinalists and winner, which we’ll print April 1. Really.

CAST YOUR VOTES, ONE FOR EACH BRACKET:

VOTING HAS ENDED FOR THIS ROUND.

MORE ABOUT THE RESTAURANTS:

Old School

North Bracket

Brooks’ Sandwich Shop. Since 1973, the Brooks burger has earned a spot in Charlotte dining history. Simple NoDa setting (to put it mildly), simple burger, simple loyalty from a cadre of outspoken fans. 2710 N. Brevard St.; 704-375-7808; plain burger is $2.75 (no side).

Jake’s Good Eats. This entry, opened mid-2008, could go Old or New School, since the proprietors have both types of street cred in their resumes, but it seemed to make more sense here. The location is a renovated filling station, with charm to spare. 12721 Albemarle Road; 704-545-4741; plain burger is $6 (with housemade chips).

The Comet Grill. Opened in 1996, the Comet is a two-story yet still-tiny place with a focus on live music. It’s diversified its menu over time, but burgers are still key. 2224 Park Road; 704-371-4300; plain burger is $7 (with side).

Snoops Grill. Oldtimers knew this Elizabeth spot as Spoons, dating back to the early ’40s, but it’s been Snoops since about 2004, and many insist the plain, old-fashioned offerings haven’t changed much. 415 Hawthorne Lane; 704-376-0963; plain burger is $3.45 (no side).

South Bracket

Zack’s Hamburgers. With or without “special” sauce, this burger -- served since 1975 -- is decidedly one of a kind, a thinner, chewier burger than many. 4009 South Blvd.; 704-525-1720; plain burger is $1.95 (no side).

Eddie’s Place. Breakfast anytime, yet Cajun stuff all over the menu – this Cotswold spot, serving since 1997, is an anomaly, with a hearty, old-fashioned chuck burger. 617 S. Sharon Amity Road; 704-442-0147; half-pounder is $8.25 (with side), but anyone’s allowed the quarter-pounder (technically for kids) for $4.25 (with side).

Mueller’s Neighborhood Grill. Dave Mueller opened this Myers Park cubbyhole in 2006 and has been happily serving hefty, juicy burgers ever since. 119 Huntley Place; 704-940-6880; plain burger is $7.85 (with side).

Hinson’s Drive-In. I’d never heard of this family-owned-since-1954 place, out East Independence behind chain link and next to a topless lounge, until a lone reader suggested it. Phil Hinson, son of the original owner, serves up backyard-style burgers. 12420 E. Independence Blvd., Matthews; 704-847-9506; plain burger is $2.75 (no side).

New School

West Bracket

Savor Cafe. A seriously hefty burger comes two ways at this circa-’09 place: plain and “Adam Bomb” (Cajun-spice-rubbed, with pepperjack and more). 1404 W. Morehead St.; 704-334-0098; plain burger is $7.50 (with side).

The Liberty. At a chef-driven gastropub in South End, opened in ’09, you expect an upscale-style burger – and you get it. Only the pub burger is on the dinner lineup, at $12. 1812 South Blvd.; 704-332-8830; plain burger is $7.50 at lunch (with side), pub burger $12 at dinner (with side).

Pinky’s Westside Grill. Greg Auten got famous at the Penguin years ago; here, since 2010, he’s varied the lineup, with topping combos of peanut butter and sriracha, or fried pickles and spicy ranch, among others. 1600 W. Morehead St.; 704-332-0402; plain burger is $3.75 (no side).

The Burger Co. Opened in 2009, this was the top vote-getter in the readers’ play-in poll. You can also build your own, pick a combo, or opt for a burger stuffed with American cheese. 1500 W. Morehead St., 704-332-7333; plain burger is $4 (no side).

East Bracket

Crepe Cellar. This NoDa spot won the second-most votes in the play-in reader poll and is the only spot here without a plain burger on any of its menus. Its version comes with Gruyere, onion straws and garlic aioli. 3116 N. Davidson St.; 704-910-6543; house burger is $9.50 (with side).

Lulu. More bistro than burger joint, this offers juicy Angus beef on a challah roll; there’s plain and Lulu (with pimento cheese, fried green tomato and more). 1911 Central Ave.; 704-376-2242; plain burger is $5 (no side) at lunch, Lulu is $9 at lunch, $11 at dinner (with fries).

Lebowski’s Neighborhood Grill. Owned by a family originally known for Buffalo wings in town, this ’09 addition offers lots of variations, from jerk with pineapple salsa to the eponymous burger, which perches roast beef on top, on the roll known as ’weck. 1524 East Blvd.; 704-370-1177; plain burger is $7.50 (with chips).

Big Daddy’s Burger Bar. The original Dilworth location was at the fore of the New School burger places in town about three years ago. Variety and choice are the watchwords, from the Sam I Am (ham and egg on top) to the Mama Ricotta’s to gluten-free buns. 1626 East Blvd., 704-714-4888; and in Ballantyne, 15105A John J. Delaney Drive, 704-919-2700; plain burger is $7.50 (with side).

PAST TOURNAMENTS:

Trying to remember prior year's brackets and results? W can help help!

The 2010 Fries final results | View the original bracket
The 2009 Pizza final results | View the original bracket
The 2008 Wings final results | View the original bracket


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