July 25, 2011
Dining Out

Steamed Hamburgers

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I try an alternative burger experience . . . .

Diners are in love with creative burgers nowadays. A local restaurateur hopes the dining public will get all steamed up about his latest creation.

Louis Nemes put his Steam Burger on the menu at Bistro on Avenue this summer. Nemes is the same guy who gave Toronto the round hot dog. The same guy who offered a million buck reward for anyone who can engineer the stuff of urban myth: a chicken with eight wings.

Nemes says he stumbled on to the Steam Burger idea. When an oven went on the fritz, he popped a small meatloaf in the steamer to cook. Soon after, all-beef, lightly seasoned patties got the same treatment.

Is he flipping crazy? Nope. He says Steam Burgers are healthier because the high-pressure, high-temperature steam boxes wash out fat and inject moisture. There are no official calorie counts or comparisons, though. We do know that the burgers offer two food-safety pluses: They are likely to cook more evenly, and thus thoroughly all the way through. And they are free of carcinogenic charring.

Eating one is a different burger experience. It’s a bouncy, beefy sandwich rather than the familiar grilled burger. I enjoyed mine. My husband and daughters also approved, wolfing down their takeout versions.

My 15-year-old, however, thought the Steam Burgers looked weird. A Steam Burger does looks very real, both in the raw and cooked. Though pressed into a tidy patty, the spaghetti squiggles of beef extruded from the grinder are obvious. What you see is what you get.

Nemes says his Steam Burgers are more popular with the health-conscious grownups than their devil-may-care kids. A burger in a crusty bun (also steamed), accompanied by thick fries and toppings, is $8.95. You can add cheese, which seems to defeat the healthful purpose.

Nemes was not the first to invent steamed hamburgers. It turns out that cheesy steamburgers have been a regional oddity in Connecticut for a century. They even have appliances known as Steam Cheese Burger Chests, or steamers. “Cheeseburgs,” as they are called there, started out as lunch bucket staples for working men. Jack’s Lunch, a defunct dinner in Middleton, Conn., claimed invention rights. Ted’s Restaurant, a bustling burger joint in Meridien, Conn., has been slinging steamed cheeseburgers since 1959.

And people have been arguing about them ever since. Fans may line up for them, but haters say they are insipid. What’s a burger, they say, without crispy charring and greasy, squirty juices?

To each his own burger, I guess.

       Louis Nemes surveying his Steam Burger platter. Credit: Susan Sampson