Mediocre burgers are all alike; tasty burgers are all tasty in their own way.
In this inaugural edition of The Burger Column, we present one of the tastiest of them all: the Angus Burger from Chuck’s Trading Post in Hampden. Before we dig into the burger, however, a little context is needed.
We have a serious problem at Hopkins — a good burger can’t be found anywhere on campus. Let’s go through the different places to eat. The FFC? With patties pre-made and kept under heat lamps for who knows how long, the burgers are bland, dry and uninspired. Nolan’s? Sure they make burgers to order, but they’re often overcooked, and the quality of ingredients is laughable. Levering? They don’t even serve burgers! So what does the University expect me to do? Eat a salad?
For a good American like myself, whose ideal afternoon consists of firing up the backyard grill and cracking open a cold one, the only place a salad belongs is between two buns and on top a sizzling slab of ground beef.
Fortunately, less than two miles away is the neighborhood of Hampden. With its trendy storefronts and kitschy row houses, Hampden represents a sort of college town for Hopkins. If the food scene on St. Paul Street is an expression of the corporate neoliberalism that has come to define modern consumerism — what with its fast casual chains in cookie-cutter modern buildings — then the food scene on West 36th Street would be the postmodern response. Independent, ironic and aggressively charming, Hampden is where hipsters go to eat.
But whereas hipsters are the epitome of pretension, burgers are the antithesis. Unless it’s made with wagyu beef and truffles, a burger simply cannot be pretentious. It represents abundance, accessibility and dominance — that is to say, America itself. And the Angus Burger at Chuck’s Trading Post might be the most American of them all.
Last Saturday, under a warm March sun shining pleasantly on trees still leafless and flowers just beginning to bloom, several friends and I went to try this great American burger. As it was too early to call a Blue Jay shuttle, we decided to make the one-and-a-half mile journey to Hampden on foot.
The trek, which took us through thick forests, deep ravines and rugged hills — by that I mean Wyman Park — was fraught with perils. On one occasion, I stubbed my toe on a root obscured by leafy debris (and it hurt!). In retrospect, we probably should’ve just called an Uber. Because walking when you could take a car? I can think of nothing more un-American.
Famished from our hike, we finally reached Chuck’s Trading Post.
Aside from a conspicuously large aluminum awning and two oddly placed Coca-Cola signs, the exterior of Chuck’s Trading Post more or less blends in with the brightly painted two-story row houses that surround it. As we stepped through the entryway, however, we were transported to another world. With a long wooden bar, oak tables, shelves full of whiskey, and a slightly dim and musky ambience, the decor of Chuck’s Trading Post resembled that of a Wild West saloon. Seated on stiff wooden stools, we felt like sheriffs in a Clint Eastwood movie. I wanted to go up to the bar and order a bourbon, neat. Alas, it’s still some time before I turn 21.
We each ordered the Angus Burger, which was the only burger on the menu. The simplicity boded well. Some restaurants have too many burgers on their menu, which not only leads to the paradox of choice, but also reveals a deep-seated insecurity about their burgers. It feels like they’re trying to obscure inferior quality with a greater quantity of choice. They seem to be saying, “Look at how many burgers we have! At least one of them has to be good!”
In contrast, Chuck’s Trading Post exudes confidence. With a single burger on its menu, it declares, “You’re gonna eat this burger, and you’re gonna enjoy it.”
Enjoy it we did. Nestled between toasted brioche buns and blanketed by melty American cheese, the thick Angus patty provided the perfect base onto which toppings of arugula, tomato, onion and bacon contributed a contrast of flavor and texture.
There is a certain je ne sais quoi while considering that fine line between a mediocre burger and a good one, but the Angus Burger crossed it admirably. Moreover, it did so without irony or pretension; it was simply a damn tasty burger.
Chuck’s Trading Post can be found just west of popular Hampden establishments like The Food Market and The Charmery. The Angus Burger costs $12, a little on the pricey side for a burger, but reasonable considering how good it is. We at The Burger Column heartily recommend it.