Burger bonanza: Beirut’s best beef and buns
BEIRUT: A few years ago, if you were to seek out a burger in Lebanon your options would have been limited, not only in the quantity of places to go but in the quality they’d offer. These days getting a burger is no longer a guilty pleasure, scoffed down before anyone sees you, but is making as regular an appearance on the culinary calendar as sushi or Italian. It’s not that the burger is on the rise, says Time Out Beirut commercial director Naomi Sergeant, but that it has been given a new lease of life.
“It’s more a question of the packaging than the popularity. Burgers are not a new thing. Everyone here has grown up with having them made at home,” she says. “The popularity has come in dressing it up as a gourmet food item rather than a fast food item.”
Its reinvention, she says, can be traced back to the genesis of Classic Burger Joint, which began life in Beirut’s Sodeco district in early 2010.
“Classic Burger took on the idea of taking the fast food concept but putting it in a better setting,” Sergeant says.
Classic Burger now has five different restaurants across the capital, and is a firm favorite among Beirut’s foodies, families and youths alike. Its singular focus on its product (“Hamburgers are all we do!” its tagline boasts) has propelled the burger from a mere item on a fast food menu to the sole purpose of dining out.
“People that don’t want to spend three, four hours going out to dinner, this is a good go-between, to get together for an hour or to have an item that’s very specific,” Sergeant says.
In Classic Burger’s wake others have followed, perhaps buoyed by the realization that something so simple could prove to be so popular. Magazines and bloggers have caught on, beginning searches for the “perfect burger.”
With variety has come competition, and in particular an emphasis on what a burger should really be all about: the meat itself.
Although Brgr Co., a restaurant on Monnot’s Abdul-Wahab Street, opened around the same time as Classic Burger, it caters to a slightly different market. A bit more expensive, it focuses on the quality of its meat, fresh-ground Australian Angus beef, serving its 4, 6 and 8 ounce burgers with all sauces, salads and pickles on the side, allowing customers to choose their own fillings, or focus on the burger patty itself.
“I think quality is what attracts people to come to Brgr Co.,” says Amy Madi, the marketing manager of Brgr Co., which was opened by celebrity chef Hussein Hadid and restaurant developer Joey Ghazal.
While Brgr Co. hasn’t seen quite the success of Classic Burger, it soon plans to open a new branch in the Beirut Souks, and its success is only likely to rise as the popularity of burgers gives rise to a growth in burger snobbery.
In a tiny diner-style restaurant in Mar Mikhael, Zalfa Naufal’s burgers are proving a surprising success – to her at least.
“I didn’t expect the burger to be particularly popular, but it’s the best selling item on the menu,” says the Frosty Palace owner. Although the diner serves a full menu, alongside homemade milkshakes and ice cream, Naufal says the Frosty Burger accounts for around 50 percent of her orders, a fact which she too says can be accounted for by the care put into its production.
“We use totally fresh ingredients, including the meat, which is ground every day. The meat is Australian and grass-fed,” she says.
The diner has just one burger, to which additions like onions or cheese can be added, and every two weeks it has a special, the latest being a burger that includes duck breast slices and raspberry vinaigrette.
“The burger is such a fashionable food item these days, not only in Lebanon but in the world,” Naufal says. “I think people need to be comforted and it is the ultimate comfort food.”
As for what she looks for in a burger? “It’s all about the meat. The quality, but also the ratio. I don’t like when you’re eating more bread than meat,” she says.
The search for the perfect burger isn’t likely to end any time soon, with new restaurants, concepts and franchises springing up, from Burger Bites, another Monnot-area restaurant, which offers a variety of mini-burgers, to American chain Shake Shack, which is set to open a branch in Beirut.
And it doesn’t look like the trend will be a short-lived one, either.
“Once something’s established, it’s there,” says Sergeant.