The Food Column: Make Dad an 'ultimate' burger

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When it's a special day for my husband -- birthday, Father's Day, graduation, whatever -- I pretty much can guess what menu he will request (or what he'll order at a restaurant): Steak and chocolate cake.

Every. Single. Time.

This is the guy who eats precisely the same sack lunch every day. By now, I can pack it in my sleep.

Ordinarily, that's not a bad thing. I don't have to guess what he wants; I already know.

Except ... have you seen beef prices lately?

If you're like me, you might be giving serious consideration to downgrading Dad's Father's Day steak to a hamburger.

Well, here's the good news: Burgers are edging closer and closer to steak on the upscale list.

Food Service Warehouse, a restaurant equipment and supplies company, calls "gourmet burgers" a "restaurant trend with staying power." We see the staying power in national chains -- Five Guys Burgers and Fries now has 10 stores in the Pittsburgh area alone. But we see it in local restaurants, too. Think Burgatory, once a local restaurant and now a local chain, and the plethora of other upscale burger joints that have opened here in recent years, including BRGR in East Liberty, Burgh'ers in Harmony, and Winghart's Burger and Whiskey Bar in Market Square as well as the South Side.

On a recent trip to Indianapolis, my husband and I hit a burger joint that was so jam-packed we had to take patio seats on a crazy-windy night in order to avoid waiting an hour and a half. It became almost comical: The wind blew people's appetizer crackers right off the waiters' trays. But I didn't mind braving the blustery weather once my burger arrived. I ordered a turkey burger -- a risk for me, given that I typically don't even like ground turkey -- and it was downright divine, with curry spices, peach chutney, carrot slaw and just the right amount of moistness. Mmm.

But you don't necessarily have to haul Dad out to a restaurant on Father's Day. There's a good selection of burger cookbooks on the market right now, too. You could fire up your grill and serve Dad a picnic on the back patio -- and you could build him a burger every bit as good as a restaurant's.

Try the recipe below. Except for the fact that the tomato relish tends to slide out from under the bun, we think it's delicious.

Problem is, I had to test burger recipes in advance of Father's Day in order to get this to our readers on time. Now I need a different Father's Day menu.

I might have to shell out for a steak after all.


Strawberry Festival: Cake and ice cream with fresh strawberries, grilled hot dogs, pasta salad, tossed salad, bake sale, games with prizes for everyone, children's crafts, balloons and music. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at Shadyside Presbyterian Church. Admission is free; food proceeds benefit Sojourner House MOMS, a residential recovery facility for addicted mothers and their children.

Greek Food Fest: Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church's continues through Saturday in Mt. Lebanon:

Backyard Barbeque: Catered summer barbeque, summer drinks, silent auction, raffles and entertainment. 5 to 9 p.m. June 21 at Heinz History Center, Strip District. $85 per person; proceeds benefit Providence Family Support Center, a nonprofit operated by the Sisters of Divine Providence.

Trax Farms Wine Festival: Food, live jazz, crafters and a showcase of Western Pennsylvania wines. Noon to 6 p.m. June 22 at Trax Farms in Library. $15 in advance or $20 at the door. 412-835-3246 or

Wine Time at The Colony: Vintners from Pennsylvania's Great Lakes, Groundhog and Pittsburgh Countryside regions, plus artisan and gift items and food. Noon to 6 p.m. June 22 at Penn's Colony Village Grounds in Saxonburg. $20 admission includes wine tastings; food and crafts are sold separately.


Summer Dining Under a Tent: Contemporary American BBQ, including shrimp & corn cakes, smoked scallops with fried green tomato, watermelon salad and local berry cobbler, plus vegan options. 6:30 p.m. June 20 at Whole Foods, East Liberty. $65. Reservations: 412-441-7960 ext. 215.

Ultimate Restaurant Burger

PG tested

Our family prefers things a tad less spicy, so we substituted a jalapeno in the tomato relish. Also, you will end up with more relish than you need, but no matter -- it's pretty tasty on grilled chicken sandwiches, too.

-- Rebecca Sodergren

For the tomato relish

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 onion, sliced

  • 1 garlic clove, crushed

  • 1 fresh red chile, chopped

  • 3 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes

  • 3/4 cup red wine vinegar

  • 1 cup sugar

  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed

  • 3 or 4 baby gherkins, chopped

  • Handful of fresh cilantro

For the burgers

  • 12 ounces lean ground beef

  • Large pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

  • To serve

  • 2 slices bacon

  • 4 slices cheddar

  • 2 large burger buns

  • Butter

  • 2 tablespoons mustard

  • 2 gherkins, thinly sliced

  • 1 cup chopped lettuce

For tomato relish

Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and chile and fry, stirring occasionally, until soft.

Add tomatoes and mix well. Add vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Relish should be the consistency of jam. Stir in capers, gherkins and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

For burgers

Put beef in bowl with salt and pepper. Work together with hands until evenly mixed. Divide in half and shape into 2 patties. Press down to flatten.

Heat oil in frying pan and fry burgers over medium-high heat 5 minutes on each side until cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat a separate frying pan until hot and fry bacon slices until crisp. Remove from pan and set aside.

When burgers are cooked, remove from pan and top each with 2 slices of cheese. Set aside to allow cheese to melt slightly.

Slice burger buns in half and lightly toast under broiler. Spread butter on cut sides of each bun. Squeeze a little mustard onto the bases and put cooked burgers on top. Add generous spoonful of tomato relish to each and top with bacon, gherkins and lettuce. Finish with bun lids. Makes 2 burgers.

-- "Burgers & Sliders" by Miranda Ballard (Ryland Peters, 2013, $16.95)

recipes - foodcolumn

Rebecca Sodergren:


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