This post originally appeared in the December 17, 2019 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
The elements that make up a perfect pub burger depends almost entirely on where it’s being prepared and the person who’s eating it. The factors — how you like your meat cooked, how long the burger’s been sitting there, the number of beers you’ve consumed before eating, and even what kind of day you’ve had — wildly vary person to person and bar to bar. But allow me to make a suggestion that will likely make the chaotic and uneven experience of ordering a bar burger a mildly more happy one: Skip the lettuce and tomato, and order your burger totally without any so-called healthy vegetables at all.
To clarify, I love vegetables, both their taste and what they do for the human bod, providing us with vitamins, potassium, folic acid, and fiber that keep you living. By all means, eat several servings of greens every day, just not on the burger you order when starving and perhaps a little tipsy at 11 p.m. At least seven out of 10 times, I can guarantee you that the produce you’re getting will not elevate the culinary experience and you’re doomed to face disappointment: the lettuce will be limp and sodden with beef juice; the tomatoes pale and mealy. Add condiments and the already weak flavors of the lettuce and tomato will be wiped out anyway, leaving behind soggy and cellulous dead weight on what would otherwise be an okay-ish sandwich.
It’s not as though the health benefits of including lettuce and tomato outweigh the pleasure of the experience that is eating a trashy burger at a trashy location. A leaf of iceberg lettuce, while not nutritionally void, isn’t exactly nutritionally worthwhile. That barely ripe slice of tomato isn’t making a particularly huge dent on your required vitamin C or potassium intake. In ordering a burger, you’re already indulging in junk food — putting a few watery pieces of vegetables on your sodium-packed beef patty isn’t doing much to balance that out. So why bother? Life is short, you can have a salad tomorrow!
This “no vegetables on burgers” rule doesn’t have to extend beyond dive bar and bad diner kitchens. A freshly grilled burger topped with a perfect, ripe tomato slice at a backyard cookout is rightfully appealing (though, frankly, I’d rather just save the tomato and eat it on its own). Nor am I suggesting that the next time you order a burger at a bar, you turn down other add-ons that they possibly come with. Yes, add a fried egg! Add fried onions! Add pickles! And duh, add cheese! But note that all of these additions provide something good that isn’t already there — a crunch, a fattiness, a sour or sharp bite. They’re also foods that are almost always good, even when bad, something that can’t be said for lettuce and tomato.
So the next time you decide you want a burger that you’ve yet to confirm is good from a bar or pub, do not trouble yourself with these soggy vegetables out of hope or determination. You have nothing to prove. But yes, get the fries.
P.S. Why the best burger bun, at least to hundreds of restaurants worldwide, is a Martin’s potato roll.