Burger battle gaining steam

New eateries tweak old favorite

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Zach Sperry, of Lawrence, cooks some hamburgers Tuesday at Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, 2030 W. 23rd St. Lawrence’s hamburger market has exploded recently, with Freddy’s experiencing competition from Spangles, Culver’s, Smashburger and the upcoming Dempsey’s Burger Pub, 623 Vt., which opens Friday.

Matt Lawson has cooked for Wolfgang Puck on many occasions. He’d like to cook for the superstar chef again, and there’s no doubt what he would serve — a hamburger.

Yeah, we’re wondering what the puck is going on here, too?

Basically, we’re told, a hamburger revolution.

“The hamburger has changed,” said Lawson, who was a chef at Puck’s swanky Cut restaurant in Beverly Hills shortly after it opened in 2006. “We’ve been eating hamburgers for a hundred years now. People are like, it’s beef and cheese between two pieces of bread. OK, next.”

Evidently Lawrence restaurateurs have heard the call. Lawrence’s hamburger market is hotter than white charcoal in July. Lawson is teaming up with local bar owners Steve Gaudreau and Gregg Mann to open Dempsey’s Burger Pub, 623 Vt., on Friday.

The Burger Pub will take the place of the Burger Stand at Dempsey’s, which is moving to 803 Mass., and renaming itself to the Burger Stand at the Casbah. It opens today.

Confused yet? Don’t be. Just know that the hamburger — sometimes with truffle butter or habañero-cactus jam — is virtually around every corner these days.

In addition to the two gourmet burger shops, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, 23rd and Iowa, and Smashburger, Sixth and Wakarusa, have opened within the last month.

Going back a little further, Spangles and Culver’s both are relatively new entrants onto the scene. Local Burger began taking burgers to a new level with organic and unique cuts of meat, and upscale Pachamama’s added one burger to their menu about three years ago and now has four.

“I’m sure there is a ceiling somewhere on this hamburger trend,” said Ken Baker, owner and chef of Pachamama’s. “Time will tell on that, but I don’t ever see us taking hamburgers off our menu.”

In fact, it is the gourmet guys that have taken to the trend as strong as anyone. At Lawson’s new Burger Pub, he’ll have a variety of burgers with high-style culinary sauces, and he’ll use a classic French-style technique that his partner says will create a noticeable difference in taste.

“Right now, a lot of people are extracting their flavors by cooking the burgers in butter and sugars,” said Gaudreau, who also owns Quinton’s. “Sometimes after you’ve eaten some burgers, you don’t feel that well. He’s not doing it that way. He gets his flavor through the technique. When I was hiring him, I ate two and a half burgers in three hours, and I felt good.”

But all the new hamburger places may do more than create choice. They also may create a new question among diners: What side of the hamburger tracks are you from? Do you like your hamburger with chambord-onion jam and pickled beets, or is a slice of tomato and a leaf of iceberg as fancy as you’ll get?

Brian Wise, owner of the local Freddy’s, thinks both types of hamburgers will do fine for a while, but he is interested in seeing how far the hamburger pushes its creative envelope.

“At the end of the day, I think you do run the risk of getting a little further away from what people want, which is just a great burger,” Wise said. “People want to be able to taste the burger.

“But I think all this is great. One of the really fun parts of owning a Freddy’s is getting to go out and be a burger connoisseur.”

These days, that could be a full-time job in itself.

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