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The Best Burger-Friendly Booze, Picked by the Pros

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In honor of Burger Week 2011, we've chosen five restaurants from across the country with renowned burgers — Portland's Little Bird, Chicago's Longman & Eagle, San Francisco's Heirloom Café, LA's Father's Office, and NYC's Burger & Barrel — and asked their Beverage Directors to tell us what exactly we should be drinking with their respective meat sandwiches. Here's what they had to say:


Little Bird – Portland, OR

The more affordable spin-off of Gabriel Rucker's beloved Portland staple, Le Pigeon, focuses on French bistro staples peppered with American standards. Beverage Director Andy Fortgang leans on French wines with a few Americans tucked in here and there. The selection is affordable an there's a solid dose of quirk. The beer list is quaint and Fortgang stays mostly local with beers from both Oregon and Washington buttressed with a few Europeans for good measure.

The Burger: "Ground chuck, grilled and served on a ciabatta bun with mustard, house made ketchup, aged cheddar, grilled & pickled onions, and iceberg slaw (which is dressed with aioli)."
Wine: "Something like the Côtes du Rhône Village, Cuvee Genest, Domaine de la Guicharde 2007 (Rhône Valley, France) does the trick. Big juicy, peppery, with a leathery, earthy edge. It is delicious with the char on the burger, the ketchup, the whole mess of it all. " ($7 by the glass)
Beer: "My favorite beer is the Double Mountain Brewery Kölsch (Hood River, Oregon). This German-style beer is light in color and just a little tart. It cleanses the palate and brings out the pickly and mustardy notes on the burger." ($5)
Booze: "The Van Kleef, which is bourbon with a scotch rinse, and a smoked orange peel. " ($9)


Longman & Eagle – Chicago

One of Chicago's most talked about new restaurants is all about meat and booze. Partner and Bar Manager Jim McCann has fashioned of the country's most extensive collections of rare Bourbon (around 85 selections in all) and extensive collection of beer from all over the world. While the Whisky often heads toward the high end, McCann counters the highbrow with Midwestern blue-collar staples like Old Milwaukee and High Life in order to keep things down to earth.

The Burger: "Slagel Family Farms Burger, Aged Windmer's Cheddar, Neuske's Bacon, Brioche, Beef Fat Fries."
Wine: "I'm going against the rule of thumb here with a white wine, but I like the Colosi Grillo (Sicily) 2009. It is dry but fruit forward and it cuts through the big flavors of the beef."
Beer: "I really like Daisy Cutter from Chicago's own Half Acre Brewery (Chicago, Illinois). It's a very drinkable pale ale and its slight bitterness is a great palate cleanser for a juicy burger." ($6)
Booze: "W.L. Weller Special Reserve 7-year-old Bourbon. It's a wheated bourbon so it will be on the sweet side and I know from personal experience that after a couple Wellers everything tastes better." ($6, 2oz pour)


Heirloom Café – San Francisco

Heirloom café is known firstly as one of SF's best wine-centric restaurants. Owner/Beverage Director Matt Straus worked as a sommelier in fine dining restaurants before deciding to open a place where he could apply a proper cellar program to more casual food. He spent eight years buying wine and stocking it away before opening the restaurant and continues to buy and cellar, offering one of the city's best collections of quirky vintage wine at affordable prices.

The Burger: "Fresh-ground beef, epoisses, shallots, black pepper, arugula, onion jam, on an English muffin served with house-pickled baby carrots. ($12)
Wine: Straus suggests venturing to the Jura for a half bottle of 1992 Rollet Arbois Vin Jaune $85 (375ml) (Jura, France) because the oxidative, salty character of Vin Jaune plays nice with meat draped in Epoisses. If you're into going the big red route, his pick is 1985 Hafner Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley, CA) at $120, a steal for fully mature Cabernet.

*The beer selection is limited to 2 and the restaurant does not have a liquor license.


Father's Office – Los Angeles

Sang Yoon's (of Lukshon) burger and beer joint, Father's Office, has become an instant hit among the LA burger mongers. The beverage program centers around beer with over three dozen craft beers available on tap, funneled to your glass via a revolutionary system that utilizes tubing designed for blood transfusions. Yoon (who moonlights as an engineer?) discovered that this tubing is "is the only type available that is impenetrable ensuring no oxygen dilutes the product." This tubing is also used to delivered the eight wines available on tap, that rotate frequently and often features wines only available at Father's Office. As for cocktails, it's all about the classics and small-batch spirits.

The Burger: "Maytag blue cheese, Gruyere, Applewood bacon-onion compote, arugula, buttered oblong shaped bun and secret blend beef patty made up of dry-aged ribeye and ground chuck."
Wine: "I like the Palmina Lagrein (Santa Barbara County, CA) with our burger. In my opinion, the kind of bloody, iron ore like character of Lagrein pair beautifully with the gamey dry aged beef." ($16 on tap by the glass)
Beer: "For beer, I love the Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA (Sonoma County, CA). The tannic hop finish, the slick caramel like maltiness link up perfectly with caramelized onions and smoky bacon." ($6)
Booze: Yoon isn't big on the cocktail and burger pairing, and suggests sticking with beer or wine if you can manage to pass on the hard stuff.


Burger & Barrel – New York

Burger & Barrel's Beverage Director Natalie Tapken has created what is perhaps the country's finest solution to the ages-old pub wine predicament. In other words, there's no three-week-old magnum of Woodbridge Merlot that's been baking behind the bar here. Instead, you have one of the country's most ambitious wine programs attached to a burger-centric restaurant.

The Burger: "Being back from New Zealand, I have lamb on the mind so I went with the Lamb Burger w/ Grilled Ramps, Ramp Remoulade and Fresh Mozzarella." ($18)
Wine: "I really enjoy the flavor of lamb and try not to hide it wine the pairing. Right now I love the Travaglini Gattinara [2005] (Piedmont, Italy) we are pouring by the glass. I am a huge fan of Nebbiolo. The wine has enough acid to stand up to the mozzarella on the burger. The tobacco and herbaceous qualities enhance the lamb element of the burger, while the crushed floral and cherry notes round off the ramps." ($15 by the glass)
Beer: "The rich flavor of the lamb needs an equally weighty beer. I love the Hitachino Red Rice Ale (Ibaraki-ken Naka-gun, Japan). This is a hefty beer that is quite complex. The malt and strawberry qualities compliment the bitter backbone to this beer that can do the heavy lifting with this burger." ($8)
Booze: "B & B Spritz (Gin, Aperol, Lemon, Grapefruit, Sparkling Wine) is perfect as it is refreshing enough to wash down this burger. The mint is also a perfect compliment to the lamb and ramps. You can never go wrong with Hendricks and Aperol!" ($13)
[Photo: Tom Hood]

Talia Baiocchi is the former editor of WineChap in the U.S. and a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. In her previous life she was a dressage trainer for unicorns and her mother still thinks she'd make a great lawyer. Find her on Twitter at @TaliaBaiocchi.

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