When I first came to Korea, I vowed to only blog about Korean food. Not for patriotic reasons, but because I firmly believed that foreign food in Korea sucked and was barely worth spending money on, let along blogging about.
In the almost-year that I’ve been here, I’ve had plenty of sloppy Tex-Mex, crappy Thai curry, bland Vietnamese pho, brunches with soggy bread and hard-boiled “poached” eggs, and a really really poor excuse for a kebab. But, to be fair, there have been some surprising exceptions. A Spanish restaurant in Itaewon served me the best paella I’ve ever tasted, and at an Italian restaurant in Apgujeong had a caprese salad that rivaled Cafe Sopra’s.
Another genre of food that Seoul does pretty well is “American.” Unsurprising, because the majority of foreigners in this country are from the States, and compared to people from other countries, I think Americans find it harder to adapt to foreign cuisines and more sorely miss the food of their homeland. I mean, I miss kebabs, grainy bread and yum cha a lot, but Americans will actually salivate and get a bit teary as they talk to you about In-and-Out Burger.
So naturally, burgers are a big deal amongst the expat community. To cater to demand, a few very impressive burger joints have popped up around town. From the Americans I have spoken to, the current people’s favorite is Brooklyn the Burger Joint. Though recently, a new entrant has arrived with the potential to upset this east-coast dominance. Today, I will be reviewing my experience with both.
Brooklyn Burger has three locations in Seoul, including one in the hallowed halls of Apgujeong Galleria’s Gourmet 494. 494 is a luxury food hall in the basement of the Galleria department store that has been designed to gather all of Seoul’s hottest eateries in one place. It is a foodie paradise.
Legend has it that the owner’s love for burgers was so obsessive that he spent his honeymoon traveling the world with his wife to find the perfect burger. Brooklyn the Burger Joint was born out of that international search. Some of my American friends even go so far as to say that Brooklyn’s burgers are the best they’ve ever had. That is high praise coming from people who were raised in the nation responsible for McDonalds, Burger King, and the global obesity epidemic.
The signature burger at Brooklyn is the “C.R.E.A.M.” which stands for “Cheddar Rules Everything Around Meat.” The name first seems like another awkward Konglish acronym, akin to “High Five of Teenager” or “Ubiquitous Korean International Idol Super Star“, but is actually a play on a Wu Tang Clan song. The burger is a beef patty with sharp cheddar, bacon, horseradish mayo, and a slice of fresh tomato.
Here’s a cross-sectional view.
It’s sloppycheesysaltycreamymeaty all at once. It’s no doubt delicious but also kind of one-dimensional. And no, I don’t expect burgers to be complex gastronomical creations with layers and layers of different flavors and textures. But eating this did make me realize that Americans and Australians do burgers very differently.
This is going to sound mean, but this tasted like kind of like high-class McDonalds. It makes sense though, because McDonalds is just the fast, cheap, mass-produced version of the type of burgers Americans love to eat.
Australians however, have a somewhat different approach to burgers. The one thing that distinguishes Australian burgers from other burgers worldwide is our inclusion of a slice of canned beetroot – which tells you something about our tastebuds. Beetroot adds a crunch, sweetness and tang that gives more variety of flavor and texture to the burger. We also like to use fancy bread like sourdough or brioche, add plenty of fresh vegetables like raw red onion and more than a single leaf of lettuce, care a lot about the quality of beef in the meat patty (we love our Angus and Wagyu) and most of the time, cheese is an optional extra rather than an essential ingredient. These are the burgers of my homeland.
So I’m not so crazy about the C.R.E.A.M., but there are plenty of other burgers on the menu. Such as:
THE CHEESE SKIRT!!
Be still my beating heart. OH FRIED CHEESE. The guiltiest pleasure of my former fat kid days!!
You know, for a while I really thought fried cheese was my own original invention. I may have not been the first to do it, but I discovered fried cheese as a result of my own fat kid ingenuity. I used to come home from school every day and make myself a grilled cheese sandwich on the frypan. I would use two slices of tasty cheese, not only because that’s how fatties roll, but because this increased the chance of cheese oozing out of the sides of the bread and getting browned and crisp from the pan. The crunchy cheese bits were my favourite part of the sandwich so one day I thought “I wonder what would happen if I put the cheese straight onto the pan?” It sounds like craziness but it totally works – the cheese sizzles and bubbles but retains its shape, and once the bottom gets golden brown you slide it off the pan and let it cool. The result: BEST SNACK EVER.
The “cheese skirt” is not a Brooklyn Burger original either, a Google search will show you that many kindred fatties have had the same idea.
By the size of the skirt, it looks like it might be made up of 3-4 cheese slices melted together. When you eat it, you can either eat the edges of the cheese skirt first, break them off to save them for last, or fold them into the burger to get a double-whammy of fried cheese with every bite.
The melted cheese fat solids are still dripping off the skirt so this is a very greasy burger – it is probably a million calories and half a pound of fat but WHO CARES IT’S A CHEESE SKIRT!!!!! You only live once and cheese skirt makes that one life so much more delicious!!!
(BTW these photos come from two separate visits to Brooklyn Burger. I did not eat both the C.R.E.A.M. and Cheese Skirt in one sitting. My power level is not that high.)
If you want to further increase your risk of lifestyle diseases, you can order a side of chilli cheese fries.
Thick cut fries smothered in bright-orange American “cheese” sauce and sloppy, spicy chilli on top. I actually like my chilli cheese with shoestring fries, but these aren’t bad at all. The All-American cheese sauce is an acquired taste, but I’m starting to love it – especially with corn chips!
Brooklyn burger is also famous for its milkshakes, but unfortunately the Gourmet 494 branch doesn’t sell them. Some would argue that a review of Brooklyn Burger is not complete without the milkshakes, but as someone who is not really a fan of milkshakes, I don’t think it would have added much for me personally. And I don’t think I could have handled more than a few sips after pigging out so hard on my burger and fries.
Moving on now to new entrant Left Coast Artisan Burgers, a hip burger restaurant/bar in Itaewon owned by Korean-Americans from California.
When you go to a restaurant with the word “Artisan” in the name, your expectations are automatically raised. It’s easy for burgers to be “gourmet” – all you need are some fancy ingredients like Wagyu beef or camembert cheese. But “artisan” burgers? Is it even possible for ground beef and veg inside two halves of a bun to be “artisanal”?
Left Coast has its own signature burger called the “Juicy Lucy.” It is lettuce, grilled onion, Left Coast’s house-made sauce and cheese-stuffed patty. Yes. CHEESE STUFFED PATTY. It looks unassuming from the outside but when you cut it in half…
This crazy idea was obviously conceived by some cheese-obsessed genius who wanted to get as much melty cheese in the burger as possible without having it run down the sizes. It appears to be American cheese as opposed to cheddar, so it’s quite creamy and the overall taste with the sloppy onions and sauce is similar to the C.R.E.A.M. Lesson learnt: Americans like sloppy burgers. I’m not such a huge fan… the next time I went to Left Coast I tried something different.
This is the “Hot Stuff” burger with pickled onion, hot pepper and garlic spread. Unlike many, I love pickles and spice in my burgers because it cuts through the grease of the beef patty and this was so good!! No cheese and didn’t feel heavy at all, just a really juicy, perfectly seasoned and grilled burger with great flavours coming from the pickle, peppers and garlic sauce.
I think Left Coast takes more care with its burger patties than Brooklyn. Their patties are a lot fatter and seasoned so well that you could eat it by itself like a steak, without any garnishes or condiments, and it would still be delicious. It might be great quality beef, or it might just be salt or MSG but whatever it is, it works really well. I guess this is whey mean by “artisan” – perfectly hand-crafted beef patties, made with love.
The burgers all come with a few potato chips (crisps) on the side. You can pay bit extra and get a side of fries, or if you’re feeling a bit gluttonous, you can order the Kalbi Fries.
Hand cut fries with pulled marinated Korean-style beef ribs, pickled peppers and onions, scallions and sour cream. Strongly reminiscent of the famous Kimchi Fries at Vatos Urban Tacos (a Korean/Mexican fusion restaurant), but not quite as good due to the lack of the key ingredient: kimchi. The combination of soft pulled beef rib with fries and crunchy pickles is still delicious, and a much classier version of your typical chilli fries.
They also have deep fried mac’n’cheese – which sounds awesome, but is just okay.
Too much mac (that’s not even mac actually… it’s seashell pasta) and not enough cheese in my opinion.
And then if you still have room, you can order the only dessert on their menu.
What is that? Is it a pudding? A tart? A cake? No. It’s GIANT COOKIE. A massive, fresh out of the oven, barely even baked cookie. I don’t think you could even call this a cookie… it’s more like… warm, gooey, caramelised cookie dough a la mode. It comes with two boulder-sized scoops of vanilla ice cream and some whipped cream to ensure that the fat to sugar ratio is just right! You gotta be a pretty hardcore sweet tooth to stomach more than two spoonfuls of this – but it’s a lot of fun.
For me, Left Coast wins. The Californian influence on the food appeals to my Australian sensibilities: freshness, respect for high quality ingredients, and a dessert that appeals to the inner child. And I’m not sure if I’ve ever tasted a better burger patty before.
Left Coast also has delicious pulled pork sliders (failed to take a photo, sorry) and Momofuku-style buns which I have not tried yet, but look like a pretty decent imitation.
I will be back to Brooklyn, however, for the cheese skirt. Though I feel like I should only let myself eat that burger once every six months… I don’t want to end up as one of those people who dies of a sudden heart-attack at 30, shocking the whole world because “She was SO young!”