Premium ingredients and customized options are driving sales of America’s favorite sandwich.
Members love burgers. Dressed up or dressed down, they satisfy in a way no other dish can.
“Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesday cater to a casual dining crowd,” says Nicholas Arnold, Executive Chef at New Albany (Ohio) Country Club. “Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays tend to be steak and fish nights. Throughout the week, though, burgers are a consistent best-seller. It doesn’t matter what day or what time: Burgers are the bloodline of our membership.”
NACC serves a rotating menu of gourmet burgers, including what Arnold calls, “The Greatest Burger Ever.” (Seriously, that’s its name.)
|Burgers (and Beer) Galore
This past Father’s Day, PGA National Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., hosted its Third Annual Craft Beer, Cider & Burger Bash, showcasing the works of local restaurants—as well as itself—in a competition to see who would be crowned the King of Burgers. (Apparently, Chuck Burger Joint in Palm Beach Gardens won with a hat trick.)The event attracts about 1,700 guests and is hosted on the greens of PGA National’s Fazio Range.Donald Young, the resort’s Executive Chef, acts as chef liaison for the annual event—but in a twist this year, also entered one of the burgers from PGA National’s gourmet food truck (called iTRUCK) into the competition.
“This event demonstrates just how versatile burgers really are,” says Young. “You’ll see every combination imaginable. There are Ahi tuna burgers, pulled pork sliders, and one burger even had candied cherries on it as a main ingredient.”
PGA National’s most successful burger—and the one it entered into the burger bash competition—is its “Signature Champ Burger” which features an 8-oz., 80/20 blend of ground beef, Vermont white cheddar, sautéed mushroom, onions, apple-smoked bacon, and a roasted tomato aioli piled onto a toasted brioche bun.
As for the beers, there was a good mix of brew and ciders—more than 70 to sample—plus live music, a retail vendor village and a silent auction.
“It’s a great event for the resort,” says Young.
And for burgers, too.
“Each of the guys in the back came up with a burger as part of a little kitchen competition,” says Arnold. “The ‘King Burger’ and the ‘Raw Burger’ were both pretty popular.
“I had to top those,” he adds.
The Making of a Legend
Made with a 100% black angus beef that is ground in-house at NACC, “The Greatest Burger Ever” is stacked high with house-made bacon, a fried egg, an herbed-bistro aioli, lettuce, tomato, onion and a beef short rib marmalade.
Instead of using the more traditional brioche bun, these tasty components rest between two ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwiches.
“I tried to think ‘outside the bun,’ ” jokes Arnold, who has been at NACC for a little more than two-and-a-half years. “The grilled cheese enhances the mouth-feel and helps to sensationalize the burger.”
Whether the burger will live up to its name is yet to be seen—but sales seem to suggest it might.
Tim Recher, Executive Chef at Army Navy Country Club, Arlington, Va., is equally inspired by over-the-top burgers.
“I like to transform traditional dishes or meals into burgers,” he says.
A perfect example is Army Navy’s Brunch Burger.
“We fold pork and sage into the beef mix so it mimics the flavor of breakfast sausage,” says Recher, who has been Army Navy’s Executive Chef for just over a year. “Then we’ll top it with a soft-yolk, local egg and a bacon jam that we infused with coffee and brown sugar.”
Served on Sundays, the Brunch Burger is wildly popular. In fact, burgers as a whole are all the rage at Army Navy, which has 7,000 members and is on track to do nearly $7 million in F&B revenue this year.
“We serve about five different kinds of burgers in almost every outlet on property, and we run a burger-of-the-day special as well,” says Recher.
Patties are formed in-house with beef purchased from a nearby farm. Unless it’s a more thematic variation, burgers are generally served on a brioche bun with heirloom tomatoes, local cheeses and other high-quality condiments.
“The secret is simple: The better it tastes, the more it will sell,” says Recher.
Best-sellers include a Mexican burger (made with chilies, cheese, salsa and guacamole), a Southern burger (made with smoked cheddar, bbq pulled pork and coleslaw), and a lamb burger.
“I love Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors,” says Recher. “So the lamb burger was a natural fit. We grind the lamb and then mix in garlic, lemon zest and zaatar [a Middle Eastern herb that’s a cross between mint and oregano]. We’ll stack it with cucumbers, hummus and feta cheese.”
Army Navy’s salmon burger does double duty satisfying members and helping to keep food costs in line. “For fine dining, we bring in whole sustainable salmon that we hand-cut,” says Recher. “For the burgers, we’ll grind up the odd cuts.”
The club tops hand-packed salmonburgers with a hoisin barbecue sauce, Sriracha mayo and pickled cucumbers. Served on a rice flour bun topped with black sesame seeds, they’re both colorful and scrumptious.
Word to The Wise
When it comes to pricing, plating and preparing burgers, Recher has one piece of advice.
“Consistency is key,” he says. “You can’t charge more than your members are willing to pay. Can you make a foie gras burger? Yes. Will your members consistently purchase it? Probably not.
“Same goes for plating and cooking burgers,” he says. “If you teach your cooks to prepare them correctly—don’t overmix the meat and don’t press the juices out while grilling—and then plate them in a way that makes them easy to eat, members will think of you as the go-to place for a good burger.”
Making a Night of It
In the short time Don Zajac has been Executive Chef at Cress Creek Country Club, Naperville, Ill., he’s learned that the club’s Burger Night is a really big deal.
“I started three weeks ago,” he said in June. “And in that time, we’ve hosted three Thursday burger nights. It’s by far our most popular meal period.”
Turning nearly 150 covers in the span of a few hours, Cress Creek’s Burger Night is simple and straightforward. Burgers are prepared to order, and a toppings bar features fresh, flavorful components with loads of variety.
“Cress Creek wants a chef who listens to the membership,” says Zajac. “So, while Burger Night is popular, we want to find ways to make it even better.”
Zajac first sought out a better burger with a looser weave and a meatier flavor. He also switched from a sesame bun to a pretzel roll.
“Having a good burger on your menu is just as important as having a great steak or lobster,” says Zajac, who has also revamped the menu and renewed the club’s focus on quality and consistency since arriving at Cress Creek. “Members don’t want cheap meat.”
Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., also hosts a weekly Burger Night on Wednesdays. Run by Executive Chef Jesse Frost, who emphasizes farm to fork, the club focuses on handcrafted, unique preparations.
A sampling of the most successful variations include the “Killer ‘B’ Burger,” which features ground buffalo, bacon and blue cheese; a hand-cut salmon burger using Scottish salmon, crème fraîche and fresh tarragon; and a turkey burger topped with apples, sautéed spinach and wild mushrooms.
“Members look forward to our burger creations,” says Frost. “We also allow them to customize their burger however they want.”
And with toppings that literally run the gamut—harissa [hot chili pepper paste] to chicharróns [fried pork rinds]; fried eggs to heirloom tomatoes; Danish blue cheese to a smoked gouda— customizing has never been easier.