What Defines a Gastropub Burger?


I was in San Francisco last weekend and found myself at The Monk's Kettle, one of those San Franciscan places that serves 78 beers, none of them light. I mean, I'm not really a light beer drinker, but sometimes I just want something...refreshing?

Anyhow, they've got a burger on the menu, so I ordered it, and it turned out to be really good (see picture above). Well seasoned, super juicy, not quite beefy, but more what I'd just call generic meaty (turns out that they use an 80/20 blend of ground sirloin and pork). Sweet onion jam, really flavorful aged cheddar, a soft, buttery bun from Acme bakery, and some house-made bacon which, while not quite as smoky or sweet as I like it, was plenty flavorful. The fries were great as well.

But here's the thing. As I was eating it, I realized that in Adam's epic and exhaustive Guide to Hamburger Styles, this particular burger didn't fit quite squarely into any of the categories.

I mean, it's certainly got the large patty size of a pub burger and it's served in a pub, but it seems a bit too highbrow for a regular, American cheese-clad pub burger. On the other hand, it's also got many of the hallmarks of a fancy-pants burger—house-made mayonnaise, designer bacon, arugula, artisinal cheese—but it didn't feel quite fancy enough to be a fancy-pants burger, and Daniel Boulud was certainly nowhere to be seen.

Robyn Lee

There are other burgers I've had that seem to not fit squarely into any of the categories in a similar way. Say, the burger from LA's Father's Office, or the grass-fed version from Seattle's Spur. How about the Hickory Burger from Spitzer's Corner in New York? Fresh ground beef, housemade sauce, brioche bun, but hardly fancy-pants, I'd say. Heck, even the freakin' awesome burger from The Spotted Pig should qualify as "fancy-pants," what with its brioche, artisan cheese, fancy beef, and celebrity chef name attachment. But somehow it just doesn't feel fancy to me.

So I propose a new subcategory: The Gastropub Burger. I'm still working out the exact definition, but here are a few things that indicate what you're about to bite into is in that strange land of not quite pub, not quite fancy-pants:

  • The meat must be freshly ground, or at the very least delivered freshly ground every day. No generic patties or log beef here.
  • The chef must have thought about the blend of beef and fat ratio they are using.
  • The burger must be relatively large, but not so large that it become messy and/or gluttonous. Around 6-ounces seems right.
  • The bun can't be a regular white bun or potato roll. Brioche is standard, but a good local bakery will do.
  • Kobe beef and/or dry-aged beef shove the burger out of gastropub and into fancy-pants territory.
  • Your burger should be served in an establishment that serves at least a dozen varieties of beer, majorly leaning towards small-batch or artisinal type brews.
  • Bare wooden countertops and casual service are a must. White tablecloths and fancy wine lists imply fancy-pants.
  • No ketchup. Fancy mayo or perhaps homemade mustard only. If it has ketchup, it should be oddly flavored and/or homemade.
  • If the burger has onions on it, they should be cooked in some way or another. Grilled, caramelized, or turned into a jam. Gastropub burgers tend to have some sort of sweet element going on, most often from the onion.
  • Cheese should be well melted and can be anything but American. White is preferred over yellow.

I see now that a lot of these things fit into Ed's previous definition of a fancy-pants burger, but there still seems to be a fundamental difference. Anyone else with me on this one? What defines these burgers to you?

I guess I could take the easy way out and just say, "It's a gastropub burger if it's served in a gastropub, duh."