GUEST POST: My Burger Month, by Carol Jean Quigley

Carol Jean Quigley is a beloved Iron Hill Brewery fan and burger aficionado. Carol is an architect by trade who frequents Iron Hill’s West Chester location. Carol created her own Burger Month challenge and documented her burger journey throughout the month of May for our reading pleasure!

Here is a special guest post from our friend Carol.

On April 24, I weeded through my daily emails reporting any number of sales, bargains and deals from countless businesses near and far until I finally landed on one that caught my eye from the cornerstone of West Chester eateries, Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant.  The subject line was so inviting: “Calling All Burger Lovers and Beer Lovers: May is Your Month!”  Alas, it had returned!  I recalled last year’s “Burger Month” with a big smile.  The list of daily burger creations had been quite impressive, but the days flew by and I only managed to test out a few.  This year’s list could make the hunger pangs start with the slightest glance, and I was determined to test a few more of the delectable burgers.   I forwarded the email on to several friends that I knew would be willing and interested participants in any burger outing and started making plans.

One recipient quickly replied and pointed out a very crucial line of the email that I had initially overlooked: “Eat Any Five, Get $15”.  My dear friend and occasional husband-on-loan-for-burger-dates Todd Rhen cleverly pointed out that this translated to “Every Sixth Burger Is Free”, and we suddenly felt a challenge coming on.  But why stop at five? There are thirty-one days in May, so wouldn’t TEN be a more appropriate goal?

That was our mindset as Todd and I celebrated “Opening Day” on May 1 with the Napa Valley Burger. If you missed Opening Day at Iron Hill, you missed one of the best burgers of the month.  A savory creation of balsamic glazed onions, black pepper chevre, tomato and arugula, it set the bar awfully HIGH.  After finishing up lunch that day one thing became very clear: if Iron Hill had created thirty more burgers that were going to be as good as that one, I was not likely to be done at a count of ten.  But how many burgers can a 5’4”, 125 pound female eat in thirty-one days without doing some real damage?

I decided there needed to be some ground rules for myself for the rest of the month.  The first rule was set for my own health: side salads must accompany the burger, unless I had missed a meal and “needed” a few more carbs by way of french fries.  The second rule was set strictly to level the playing field when it came to “burger judgment day” which I had set for the end of the month: I would order every burger medium-rare and consume it exactly as proposed on the daily menu – no additions, no substitutions, NO KETCHUP!

While these were the rules for myself, I was quite pleased to see that substitutions could easily be made to accommodate a whole range of tastes and needs, and the burgers were still fantastic.  In fact on May 25, the Fresno Burger, a fabulous combination of Haas avocado, apple wood smoked bacon, gorgonzola and green chili aioli, was assembled four different ways for four different reasons at our table: Mark McIntosh substituted the beef patty for his preferred ground turkey patty; Maggie McIntosh, now six months pregnant and avoiding red meat for a little while longer, opted for the black bean burger substitution; and vegetarian Ted Colomeda also went the black bean route and eliminated the bacon.  And yet all four varieties were still delicious.  What burger isn’t delicious with avocados?

Avocados appeared several times throughout the month, but the juicier and also regularly seen ingredient on the menu was the ‘shrooms.  Never have I had so much appreciation for Jerry Garcia than on May 19 when The Ode to Jerry Garcia landed on the bartop in front of me.  My burger consumption co-conspirator Andy Moore agreed that it was juiciest burger we had ever had.  The dripping ‘shrooms, jack cheese and caramelized onions would be burger-worthy any day, but accompanied by the roasted garlic aioli, this burger was so good we were seeing stars by the time it was gone.  Jerry would approve.

What Jerry might NOT understand, however, was how completely the Brewmaster’s Burger could help one recover from the ten-mile Broad Street Run on May 6.  Borrowing the roasted garlic aioli from the Garcia burger, the Brewmaster was appropriately topped with beer-braised onions, bacon, swiss and cheddar, and all pain from the morning’s run ceased upon consumption. (For the record, I noticed many of West Chester’s 700+ Broad Street Run participants “recovering” at Iron Hill that day while donning their medals and their bright blue t-shirts, but I could not tell if they were all wise enough to order the Brewmaster’s Burger.)

More decadent than that double-cheese, bacon and beer concoction was the Hickory Burger served up the following day.  Let’s just say I needed two consecutive days of “recovery” after Broad Street, and if the Hickory Burger couldn’t re-fuel my depleted salts, then nothing could.  As if a juicy Angus burger isn’t good enough, this day’s delight included a mound of house-smoked pulled pork ON TOP OF the beef patty smothered with sharp cheddar and bbq sauce. This burger gave my own infamous Bacon Explosion a run for its money.

My heart and my veins appreciate the fact that not every burger on the May Burger Menu was quite so decadent.  In fact more than one involved fresh fruit – that’s right: FRUIT, and I’m not talking about a tomato.  While I admit that I generally prefer to keep my fruit and my meat separate from each other, I realized I was skewing my own personal rating system if I wasn’t willing to try a burger or two that I wouldn’t normally expect to like.  So I decided I should give the Paris Burger a go on May 23.  I was sure the apples listed on the menu were going to be roasted but to my great surprise, they were crisp green apple slices accompanying the brie, rosemary onions, bacon and spinach.  Bon Appetite, indeed! Julie and Julia might not be so impressed by the fact that I was only on burger No. 9 by May 23, but they would have appreciated the Paris Burger none the less!

The next evening I ran into Chief Kevin Finn and rather sheepishly admitted that I had set a goal of ten burgers for the month and was already through nine of them with seven days of the month and a long holiday weekend still ahead of me.  As I had predicted after Opening Day, ten was just too easy and tempting a goal.  Then Kevin informed me that a couple Iron Hill employees had tested ALL THIRTY-ONE last year.  While thirty-one seemed awfully excessive, I thought maybe I should go for fifteen??? Memories of Catholic school and the “evils” of gluttony along with a busy schedule quickly knocked that notion out of my head.

On Memorial Day, I met Todd and his family for the Vermont Burger and we planned our “Closing Day” festivities with six other friends including regular Burger Month participants Andy Moore, Bethany Poulton and Adrienne Silver-Sperg, as well as Burger Month newbies like Dan Filetti and Duane Davis.  Though my May burgers were too plentiful to describe every one, Closing Day meant the consumption of myLucky Number 13 Sonoma Burger.   Like Opening Day, Closing Day included my favorite greens - arugula - along with a pleasantly punchy red onion jam and goat cheese artichoke spread.  Todd and I were quite sure that Day 31 was going to match Day 1, and we were not disappointed.

As delicious as Opening and Closing Day burgers were, capped with the fresh green sprouty leaves, in my well-earned burger opinion they were surpassed ever so slightly not only by the exceptionally juicy Ode to Jerry Garcia, but also by my NUMBER ONE burger of the month: The Saltimbocca Burger of May 11.  For me, The Saltimbocca was the perfect combination of my love for Italian food and my love for burgers. Though I profess a great love of bacon, anyone who has spent time in Italy knows that prosciutto is the real king of the piggy, and a thin crispy layer of
it, along with provolone, sautéed spinach and caramelized onions not only made me nostalgic for Italy, but kept my food-guilt to a minimum!

Now that the month is over, I don’t know where I will be able to find that type of combination… And while I think I might forego burgers for the month of June, I must admit, I’m already looking forward to May 2013.

Carol Jean Quigley

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