Ed. Note: The BCS Championship game is over, and Auburn reigns over the land. But there is one battle still to be waged: The Burger War. We found the tastiest burger in the state of Oregon and the most sumptuous burger in the state of Alabama and here, we pit the two against each other. Reporting on Oregon is Yahoo! Sports editor Matt Ryan. Reporting on Auburn is our food blogger, Adam Watson. (How do we know they found the best burgers in their states? We asked the computers. And the computers are never wrong.) May the best beef win!
What makes a great burger? Same thing that makes a great football team:
Every part must work together in perfect unison.
And behind it all, there must be a leader calling the right plays. On the field, that would be Ducks coach Chip Kelly. In the kitchen, we’re talking about Gabriel Rucker – head chef at Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon.
Le Pigeon is a French/American restaurant that serves all kinds of fine cuisine, from mouth-melting foie gras, succulent pork chops, and for dessert, an apricot cornbread with bacon and maple ice cream. (Pause to collect yourself.)
But yes, mixed in with all that fancy food is a burger you will never forget.
Rucker, the James Beard-nominated owner, has been serving the burger since Le Pigeon opened in 2006. But there’s a catch: they only make five a night. That’s right, this burger is as rare as a punt from the Oregon offense. And to get one, you must get there early. One patron told me he travels two-and-a-half hours just to have one. In fact, during the 90 minutes I was there savoring my burger -- and a nice glass of wine to wash it down -- all five were sold.
So what makes this burger so special? Le Pigeon burgers are made with eight ounces of cascade natural beef ground in-house, and topped with Tillamook aged white cheddar, lettuce slaw, grilled pickled onions, homemade aioli, homemade ketchup, and Dijon mustard from France – all on a grilled ciabatta bun from a local bakery.
“It’s a very simple burger,” says Rucker, as if anyone can cook one up on the grill. “All the ingredients just work together.”
The flavors melt together all in one big, juicy bite that will have your taste buds doing jumping jacks – or maybe push-ups like the Ducks mascot.
A burger this good has to be costly, right? Nope. It’s a fantastic deal for only $11 with potatoes, or $13 with the salad -- barely costing more than the sloppy meat mess found at Five Guys.
And making this burger experience even better is the fact that you can get a sideline seat to the show. Sit back and watch the master at work, and feel free to cheer on the chef, who loves to talk with his customers like they are part of the team.
And the fans love Rucker and his burger. It’s so successful that at his newest restaurant in Portland, Little Bird, the burger is a staple on the menu.
If you want a perfect combination of style and substance, go to Eugene for the football and go to Portland for the best damn burger in the land.
In Auburn, a burger is a burger.
You won’t find too many patties served on ciabatta bread. Not a lot of toppings like exotic Japanese mushrooms. Don’t expect lavender mayo smeared across the bun. No cheese made from goats that live in the Himalayas and graze solely on air.
In Auburn, Michelin means tires, not fancy food. Sure, there’s fine dining to be had. But a hamburger is exactly what it’s supposed to be. And no one does it better than Niffer’s Place.
Opened by Auburn alum Keely Beasecker and some partners in 1991, the restaurant sits a mile or so outside the Tigers’ campus. (Niffer was the nickname of one of the founders.) “She never expected to be in business 20 years, which is a lifetime in the Auburn area,” says general manager Patrick Payne.
Now the restaurant is intertwined with the college. Niffer’s Place helps out students enrolled in the hotel and management program, and most of their employees attend the university. Of course it’s also a hotspot for hungry coeds. And those coeds are hungry for burgers.
“We hand-patty half-pound burgers with a little special seasoning in them,” Payne says. “They’re grilled up and served on a Kaiser roll from a local bakery.”
Niffer’s has over a dozen burgers on its menu. All are served with shredded lettuce and tomato. You can choose from a variety of sauces, but the good old-fashioned cheeseburger seems to mesmerize most. The truly bold can take on the Niffasauras: three half-pound patties, four slices of cheese, two strips of bacon and a fried egg on top.
All in all, the restaurant sold nearly 70,000 burgers last year. Many of those were downed by Auburn football players, who come in regularly. And a lot of them will be eager to try the burger named after the Heisman Trophy winner.
“Of course we’re all abuzz right now with the national title game, and so we came up with the CamBurger,”
That’s one of Niffer’s half-pound patties, topped with three ounces of thinly sliced roast beef and melted Swiss cheese. Unfortunately the burger’s namesake hasn’t gotten to try it yet. The team had already taken off for Arizona when Payne added it to the menu.
The Tiger faithful can cheer on the team and chase their CamBurgers with a glass of Cammy-Cam juice. Payne invented the cocktail as a tribute to the special concoction the Auburn quarterback keeps in a squeeze bottle during games. Niffer’s version of Cammy-Cam juice is vodka, blue Gatorade and an orange slice. (And in case you’re wondering, Newton is of legal drinking age.)
Niffer’s is proud of its hometown heroes, but the place don’t discriminate against Duck fans. If any are brave enough to show up in hostile territory, they have a white tablecloth sandwich to make them feel right at home. “The Quacker” is a juicy chicken breast marinated in Oregon Pinot Noir, then grilled and served on a toasted bun with sautéed mushrooms and melted Swiss cheese. But it probably won’t be flying out the door. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Maybe the folks in Oregon make it look pretty, but only Niffer's has the secret ingredient found in Cammy-Cam juice: