By Sasha Elenko, Food Columnist
Burgers are not a hot topic of conversation on Vashon. Not that they’re a particularly sizzling topic of conversation anywhere of course, but nonetheless, it may surprise some Vashonites to learn that this measly island actually lays host to not eight, not nine, but seven restaurants that serve burgers.
As an aspiring good samaritan, I, myself, took it upon myself to buy a single burger from each restaurant (except Sporty’s — I apologize), and — in some cases — eat it.
And while I was awarded little praise for my near-heroic humanitarianism, I did feel as though a significant burden had been lifted by the time I finished. No, I’m not talking about the gratification I felt from saving all those beautiful cows from the horrors of corporate farm life — I’m talking about the actual, metaphysical weight that was lifted from my front left pocket via my debit card.
Yes, Vashon burgers are expensive — and by that I mean moderately expensive. Dick’s Drive-In, undoubtedly the Pacific Northwest’s premier burger joint, offers perfectly satisfying burgers for $1.25 and shakes for $1.45. Vashon’s cheapest burger? $3.90 at Perry’s Vashon Burgers.
That’s more than triple the price.
That is not, however, intended to denigrate Perry’s. In fact, in comparison to the other six burger options, Perry’s is by far the most affordable — and well worth it, too.
Just the thought of the red-and-white wooden cube-shack across the street from the Vashon Theatre, with its chalkboard menu and old-style television box, will forever leave me yearning for an epoch of American dining which I will likely never experience as it once was.
The kid-sized grassy lawn separates the modest facade, more symbolically than literally, from the rapid succession of storefronts in the rest of town, as if to plead (in a Southern drawl), “Come, stay a while.”
Those self-ascribed five red stars posted to the left of the front door are eternally etched in my veins, and I will always remember the breezy summer afternoons spent there with my friends, mayonnaise and relish dripping down our hands as we silently wondered what exactly a malt is, and why it is so good.
But while the Perry’s experience has a special place in my heart, they do not, by any means, have the best burgers. That goes, without reservation, to the “Trifecta Burger” from Gravy.
At $16, this simple masterpiece of a burger is not worth indulging in more than once or twice per year, but not because of the price. Rather, this hand-ground blend of duck breast, beef sirloin and smoked ham hock — which, according to a clipping from Seattle Magazine on the restaurant’s storefront window, came to chef Dre Neely in a dream — is so emotionally stimulating that you won’t need to eat it any more often than that.
The burger is minimalistic — just the composite patty, dandelion greens and a parsley-shallot sauce on a potato bun. However, don’t let that fool you; the ability to make a great burger without hedonistically packing it with myriad and multitudinous toppings is the defining feature of a true burger chef.
The dandelion greens with the mixed-greens salad on the side give a first impression of a healthy burger, but a series of thoughtful nibbles ultimately reveal a tandem of char and unsaturated grease which is simultaneously carcinogenic and irresistable.
But the true magic behind the Trifecta Burger is its originality. Where most great burgers earn the distinction by having a taste consistent with what you expect of a great burger, the Trifecta is something else entirely and effectively expands the domain of the word “burger” for whomever is fortunate enough to take it into their esophagus.
But alas, few people can afford to eat the Trifecta Burger on a regular basis, and perhaps nobody should, lest that divine taste grow old. So for those searching for a quality value burger, do look further than your immediate options.
Look past the restaurants I have not yet — and likely will not — mention. But do not look any further than the last place you would ever look and the genesis of this article — the Casa Bonita express burger.
This burger — which must be expressly ordered off the obscure “express menu” for the $6.45 price tag — is the joint third-cheapest and third-best burger on Vashon.
The half-pound patty is topped with lettuce and tomato, of course, but also with grilled onions, bacon, American cheese and Swiss cheese. On top of all that, it comes with a sizeable side of fries, which are decidedly some of the best fries I have ever had.
They have an extra thick, crispy shell — reminiscent of tempura — which has some sort of Mexican seasoning. I generally don’t enjoy fries, so I can’t really compare them to much of anything, but suffice to say they are a must-try.
Of course, those are only three of the seven burgers available on Vashon. Of the other four, some of them are good — like The Hardware Store’s Signature Burger, which is top-notch, but simply too close in price to Gravy’s Trifecta Burger, or Zombiez’s ZAT Burger, which is affordable and delicious, but not quite to the extent of Casa Bonita’s burger on either account.
Some of them, you may be surprised to hear, are not so good, but I’ll leave it to you to do the math and figure out which one that is.
But if you truly want the best burger on Vashon, then there really is no other option than chef Fran Brooks — my mother, that is.