In its purest distillation — no goat cheese, fried eggs or jams of various kinds — a burger that is really just a burger can be an extremely comforting and enjoyable meal. The version served up at Meg's Hamburgers hits the mark.
Growing up in Seattle, I got nearly five years’ worth of vegetarianism out of the way before I turned 18 thanks to an early exposure to the “Simpsons” episode where Lisa gives up meat. These days, I try not to eat a surfeit of meat for slightly different reasons, but a well-done classic hamburger remains a go-to treat.
So when Meg’s Hamburgers opened in Pioneer Square, promising classic and cheap burgers in a quadrant of the city where I once endured far too many sad weekday salad-bar lunches as a broke nonprofit employee, I immediately asked to review it. My extremely weak argument — that someone named Meg should be the one to review Meg’s — was somehow taken seriously, and soon enough, A+ partner-in-lunch Bethany Jean Clement and I were climbing into a powder-blue booth (“bouncy” was Bethany’s apt description) to feast on as many Meg’s offerings as we could try in one sitting.
First, the good: Meg’s shakes are coolly thick without being straw-impervious, sweet without being cloying. We sampled the chocolate variety ($4.50) and it was everything you’d hope a good, basic chocolate shake would be. Other flavors include vanilla, coffee and a rotating seasonal choice. “Basic” is the overall vibe at Meg’s, and I don’t mean that in the dismissive I-hate-vanilla-lattes sense of the word. (I LOVE vanilla lattes, don’t @ me.) I mean that in its purest distillation, a burger that is really just a burger can be an extremely comforting and enjoyable meal.
In fact, a well-crafted basic burger — which is to say: just a patty, cheese and a few accouterments, but no ramps, goat cheese, fried eggs or jams of various kinds — is one of my favorite foods (the other is pancakes, I know who I am). This is the kind of burger made at Meg’s (several variations range from $3.50-$9), and it’s a good one. The one Bethany and I tried boasted a patty that, while not giant, was a tasty slab on a chewy, slightly sweet bun, with a mustardy special sauce that adds a pleasant kick without blowing out your sinuses. (But mustard-averse burger-eaters should be warned: This may not be the special sauce for you. Also: What’s wrong with mustard?)
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The French fries ($3, fried in beef fat, vegan upon request) are also solid, but the true sleeper hit of this menu is … SURPRISE! Something called a Fishwich! Eight bucks buys you a rather large portion of fried cod on a bun with mayo, lettuce and pickles. The breading was nicely crisp, and the fish tasted fresh. To my palate, it packed a dopamine drop similar to the one you get from a fried chicken patty with a little melted cheese on top — something about the interplay between the crunchy coating of the meat and the mellow dairy makes for a satisfying protein bomb.
But there’s one area where Meg’s menu left us, um, befuddled. It’s a bizarro Frankenburger that combines a hamburger patty with a Seattle dog — the weirdly good hot dog with caramelized onions and cream cheese perhaps most ubiquitous among Capitol Hill’s sidewalk vendors at a certain time of night on the weekend. (I’m not criticizing the Seattle dog. I will fight for its honor.)
I did not want to try this $9 concoction, listed only as “Seattle” on the menu, but Bethany, intrepid food columnist that she is, insisted. Though I admired her bravery, this proved to be a mistake. It’s one thing to eat a Seattle dog when you’re all danced out on Capitol Hill at 2 a.m. and waiting for a Lyft home, your senses dulled with post-revelry exhaustion and too many Rainier tallboys.
It’s quite another to eat a Seattle dog on top of a hamburger in the sober light of day, in a restaurant in Pioneer Square, surrounded by hurried lunch-breakers, when you have to go back to the office later to wrap up your editing for the week and have no Tums in your purse.
The first issue was a logistical one: How are you supposed to eat this thing? It’s messy, and the pleasantly light bun, while fine for Meg’s more traditional offerings, does not make a suitable vessel for a meat tower. I tried it because I’ll try anything, but it was not a user-friendly meal, and the flavors didn’t really work together, though it might’ve worked out otherwise if, as Bethany put it, you were “stoned or starving.”
But I’m going to give Meg’s the benefit of the doubt here. Because when it comes to hamburger restaurants, the availability of a well-made basic hamburger is really what counts, and there, Meg’s hits the mark.
Meg’s Hamburgers, 200 S. Jackson St. (downtown), Seattle; open daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; 206-682-7785, megshamburgers.com