Happy super-belated birthday to Shawn Howard, and a bucket of meat sweats to him.
When you think of Kansas City and food that it's well known for, you (and thousands of others) probably will think of barbecue. And, honestly, you'd be right. But there's something else that Kansas City is fairly good at serving up, and that's a good ol' fashioned cheeseburger. But when you ask Kansas Citians who has the best burger in town, you get a fairly mixed reaction.
Instead of relying on others' opinions about who grills up the best beef patties in town, a group of us decided to find out on our own. After asking the internet for suggestions on where we should go, we all met up on a Saturday afternoon and set out to find KC's best burger.
The results of the online survey had us splitting our time between downtown and Plaza/Westport establishments. Even though we've heard that there are some good burgers up North and South, we decided to stay true to our first plan and honor the restaurants that were selected by the survey-takers.
The mission was simple: go to eight local restaurants all in one afternoon, order a cheeseburger (cooked and served the way the restaurant normally does – with whatever fixings are normal), split it into fourths, eat one-fourth each and score it. To truly find the best burger, we used a weighted formula based on six criteria: taste (60%), bun (10%), cheese (10%), greasiness (10%), condiments (5%) and presentation (5%). Each criteria was given a score of 1 - 5, with 1 being "Meh" and 5 being "Sa-weet!"
It wasn't an easy task – we found it a little difficult to compare the first burger to the eighth. The one question we used to keep judging fair was this, "after eating one-fourth of your burger, how badly do you want to eat the rest of it?" While that seemed to keep things in line, it didn't prevent several of us from getting a little meat-drunk around stop six and seven. But, tasting all eight had to be done and, so, we powered through.
Below is the trail we blazed through Kansas City and some social commentary that occurred along the way:
Stop #1: Chef Burger
Price of burger: $5.99 (no fries)
The first stop on the tour was Chef Burger (aka, the only Rob Dalzell restaurant to survive), in the Power and Light District. The burgers were a little under-cooked, but as Jonathan Vigliaturo said, "they've stepped up their game." Parc Masterson mentioned that the burgers at Chef Burger are never really served hot, usually just warm. And the "chef sauce?" Well, I'm not sure what that tastes like since it was barely detectable.
Stop #2: The Cigar Box
Price of burger: $6.99 (comes with fries)
Perhaps the best service during the entire tour was at the Cigar Box. For a Saturday afternoon at lunchtime, we were the only customers in the restaurant. But that didn't deter our waitress – she catered to us like we were royalty. It's definitely a place that makes you want to drink and smoke. While Luke Hilboldt said that it was a "damn good burger," Vigliaturo was wondering where the chicken nuggets were. That was probably the beer talking. Oh, I wouldn't recommend trying to drink there if you are under 21, the wait staff earn $100 for catching under age drinkers. One more thing – go at night so you can get the full Al Latta experience.
Stop #3: The Brick
Price of burger: $6.50 (comes with fries)
If you want good music and a burger served as a blue plate special, go no further than The Brick. This hipster joint is a popular spot for good music and the weekend biscuits and gravy bar. Burgers are served with a chipotle ketchup, but as Ashlee Smith pointed out, "I ordered a cheeseburger, not a burger on a dinner roll." Without revealing too much, The Brick was decidedly meh and disappointed a majority of the critics.
Stop #4: Town Topic
Price of burger: $2.49 (for a single, no fries)
What does a thin burger, Frankenstein pinball, standing room only and a fresh meat headache have in common? Nothing really, it just happened to all coincide with our visit to Town Topic. It's a fantastic little (and I mean little) greasy spoon that's open reeeeeeally late. They've got breakfast foods, burgers, great tater tots, pie and a wait staff that doesn't really bend over backwards to help you cut a burger into fourths. The burger itself is tiny and sometimes doesn't match the size of bun that it's served with. Critic Lauren Friscia "liked the burger crunch," and Michelle Grittmann said that we'll need to get plenty of beers before our next visit.
Stop #5: Winstead's
Price of burger: $2.50 (no fries)
We ended the first half with some thin burgers and started the second half with more thin burgers. To offset the small burgers, Ashlee and Michelle also decided to sabotage the rest of their day by ordering a chocolate malt. As far as the taste, the burgers had a little too much onion on them. According to our waitress, her favorite burger in town is Winstead's, but it used to be Wendy's – do what you will with that information. Winstead's feels like a bigger, modernized Town Topic and it can easily accommodate a school bus full of science olympians (true story). Had we stayed any longer, we might have all walked out with a Winstead's charm bracelet (semi-true story).
Stop #6: Blanc Burgers + Bottles
Price of burger: $9 (no fries)
Within the past month, Blanc has closed their Westport location and re-opened in the old Pizzeria Uno on the Plaza. One patron was obviously
dumb stupid from Chicago not a fan when he exclaimed, "they destroyed Uno!" Yes, they did, and they did a mighty fine job of it, sir. Aside from feeling the effects of meat headaches and burger drunkeness, Blanc did not disappoint. The bun fell apart somewhat, the burger was slightly undercooked and the pickle wedges tasted weird, but we were still impressed.
Stop #7: McCoy's Public House
Price of burger: $8.99 (comes with fries)
With only two stops to go, it was time to fill our bellies with more than burger. On our tour there wasn't a better place to do that than McCoy's Public House and their finely crafted micro brews. Don't worry about the strand of hair served with our food and, please, bask in the glory that is their special Merkt's cheddar cheese. It was at this point that Ashlee was having a hard time finishing her food, so we all exclaimed, "ASHLEE SMASH!" while she laughed and cried her way through her burger fourth.
Stop #8: Westport Flea Market
Price of burger: $7.99 (comes with fries)
The last stop on the burger express was what most of Kansas City will tell you has the best burger in town. The Westport Flea Market not only has an actual flea market inside, but is home to "kansas city's best burger for 20-something years." The burgers were easily the biggest of the day, but there was little detail work when putting the thinnest slice of cheese on the burger. The meat sweats were definitely kicking in, but we finished strong and even nearly polished off the curly fries that came with it. Critic Shawn Howard was a mess at this point and wanted to vomit – mainly because KU was losing to OSU, but we won't hold that against him.
Enough already, who has the best burger? Well, first, let's find out who won each category:
Best Presentation: Cigar Box with 39.5 points (out of 40 possible points)
Best Bun: McCoy's Public House with 33.5 points
Best Cheese: McCoy's Public House with 33 points (out of 35, due to Lauren not liking cheese)
Best Condiments: Blanc Burgers + Bottles with 35.5 points
Best Amount of Grease: Cigar Box AND McCoy's with 31 points
Best Taste: Cigar Box AND Blanc with 34 points
And now for the top eight and their weighted averages (60% taste, 10% cheese, 10% bun, 10% greasiness, 5% condiments and 5% presentation):
#8 with 22.95 points was The Brick
#7 with 24.425 points was Town Topic
#6 with 25.15 points was Winstead's
#5 with 26.325 points was Chef Burger
#4 with 27.825 points was Westport Flea Market
#3 with 31.2 points was Cigar Box
#2 with 32.675 points was Blanc Burgers + Bottles
and the #1 burger in KC with 32.725 points was McCoy's Public House!
Something important to note is the value ratio (weighted average divided by price of burger) that comes into play. Sure, you might be willing to pay primo dollars for your tasty burger, but what if you're living on a shoestring budget and still want to eat like a burger king? Here are the eight burgers and their points per dollar cost:
The Brick = 3.53 (includes fries)
Town Topic = 9.80
Winstead's = 10.06
Chef Burger = 4.39
Westport Flea Market = 3.48 (includes fries)
Cigar Box = 4.46 (includes fries)
Blanc Burgers + Bottles = 3.63
McCoy's Public House = 3.64 (includes fries)
Okay, that's more than enough analysis. The mighty Westport Flea Market didn't prevail on this day, but they do have a damn fine burger. What do you think, Kansas City? Are we wrong? And if so, are you hungry enough to take the challenge yourself?