April 24, 2013

Big, Fat and Juicy: The Best Burgers in Ithaca

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It was a typical Ithaca day — cold and rainy — and after hours of getting hopelessly lost, my stomach was grumbling, so we headed over to Ithaca Ale House. The waitress recommended the Big Sexy Burger and I went for it. Best decision ever. The Big Sexy Burger at Ithaca Ale House is just what the name implies: big, sexy and so delicious. Two warm and fluffy toasted buns sandwiching a thick garlic and onion seasoned, medium-well, Black Angus beef patty slathered in BBQ sauce and topped with melted American and cheddar cheese … It tastes every bit as savory as it sounds. I added bacon to my Big Sexy to seal the deal, and the result was an amazing burger of flavorful ingredients that balanced one another out. The sweetness of the BBQ sauce in every bite, the crunch of the red onions, pickles and tomatoes, the saltiness and crisp texture of the bacon and most of all, the juicy and hearty angus beef packed every bite with sweet barbeque and smoky bacon goodness.  However, take caution. The Big Sexy is extremely messy. It is a struggle to get a full bite of the burger, bun to bun, without letting some pickles slip out the side. Moreover, the sauce gets everywhere, but in my opinion, this just enhances the experience.

Among the variety of interesting and equally appetizing options on the Ithaca Ale House menu, which includes the Fat Kid Burger — two grilled cheeses, sandwiching Black Angus Beef, lettuce and tomatoes — and the Jerk Burger — Jerk seasoned black angus beef, topped with jalapenos and cheddar on Focaccia bread — the Big Sexy is my favorite by far. This is simply because the Big Sexy doesn’t stray too far from the comfort of a classic cheeseburger.

The burgers at Ale House come with a side of fries, onion rings, salad or soup. The fries, the classic side to a burger, are always golden and perfectly crisp, but the Caesar or House salad, a healthier option, better offsets the heaviness of the burger for the more health conscious diner.

-Kay Xiao

A quick car ride or a long walk to East Hill Plaza will reward you with an outstanding version of the highest form of sandwich: the hamburger. Because of its balance of flavors and quality components, Agava’s burger reigns over all others in Ithaca.

The Agava Burger would be nothing without superior meat. The buzzwords “local,” “organic” and “grass-fed” indicate that the burger includes the tastiest, beefiest beef around. Sharp cheddar blankets the patty because no great burger is complete without a dependable cheese. The cheddar is the Robin to the beef’s Batman, the Andy Richter to its Conan, the Gromit to its Wallace. The cheese allows the burger to perform at it’s best — the patty needs a sidekick to be truly formidable. The ancillary fried onions lend their signature sweetness to this steadfast duo.

Agava’s secret burger sauce brings a rich complexity to the burger. Ketchup, celery seed, lemon juice, pickles and other undisclosed ingredients mingle on top of the patty to compliment the savory beef, the tangy cheddar and the caramelized onion. Every solid burger in Ithaca has some sort of meat and cheese combination, but only with this carefully crafted sauce has Agava been able to distance itself from its culinary competition.

A bun can make or break a burger. Too dry and tough? The burger falls apart and all you taste is unappealing bread. Too soft? The juicy beef seeps right through and creates an unthinkably absurd “fork-and-knife” burger. Agava toasts its classic sesame seed bun to make sure the bread can stand up to the beef’s juiciness while still yielding to the burger’s other components.

Like any distinguished burger, Agava’s is served with a pile of equally impressive fries. Thin-cut, always crispy and salty, these fries have earned their spot next to Ithaca’s best burger.

The burger is one of the few items that is always available at Agava. At $12, it’s a filling lunch, a satisfying dinner or a weekend brunch hangover cure. Crafting a good burger is not too difficult, but a great one is a rarity. Agava has developed a loyal following because of its simple, delicious, ingredient-driven food, and its burger reflects that approach to dining. For those of you who have yet to try the Agava Burger, do so quickly before you leave for the semester. I promise, you’re in for a treat.

-Zachary Siegel

Original Author: Kay Xiao