I’ll start with the Bull.
Now, before we proceed, you need to know I love burgers. I love burgers in all their forms. I love them with all the trimmings. Lettuce, tomato and onions? Or cheese, pickle and bacon? Oh my, yes, yes and yes again.
I salivate imagining burgers topped with blue cheese, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise, mushrooms and, my latest craving, chips covered in creamy garlic cheese sauce. That’s chips as in ‘French fries’ for all my American chums.
And my burgers are not limited only to real grass-fed Irish beef; oh no I’m no meat racist. Pulled pork and brisket, succulent, fatty, rare duck breast on a bed of caramelised red onion with a red wine dipping sauce on the side? Or juicy, tender, marinated lamb, anyone? Eh, yeah!
Even a chicken burger is acceptable at a push. But it would have to be a buttermilk-soaked, southern fried chicken breast, which makes a great burger. I’ve seen versions of this topped with ‘mac and cheese’!
“What about a vegetarian option,” I hear you ask?
No, absolutely not! Vegetables are, well, vegetables. They have their place, I suppose, but the word ‘burger’ and ‘vegetarian’ should never be used in the same sentence as far as I’m concerned. The same goes for fish; it’s a fish sandwich, not a fish burger!
I tell you all this because my world has been turned upside down. I am confused and frightened but at the same time delighted and a little ashamed. You see, I’m addicted to porn … food porn that is. It’s not my fault. I blame YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. I mean, before all of these beautiful Apps, I had to get my fix from magazines. Magazines!
These days, I can curl up in bed and have all my desires tantalised and teased. I can lie there and watch, wide-eyed, as BBQ ribs are removed, slowly, from a backyard smoker in North Carolina. The pitmaster drops a creamy, velvety, warm sauce over the long curving rack of pork meat and then, carefully and gently, returns them for another session of fire and smoke with the words, ‘you gotta render to tender’.
Or you can scroll through photo after photo of prime rib, all the way from Keens or Peter Lugers or Smith & Wollensky’s just over there across the pond in Manhattan. Pink, juicy, rare and so tender, each piece would, no doubt, melt in your mouth. All this and more, and you don’t even need to have the lights on.
It was during one of these late night sessions, in the dark, with only the glare of the iPad lighting my way, that I clicked on a link and heard these fateful words, “this is the only way to eat a burger” – words that immediately piqued my interest, words spoken by the legend that was Josh Ozersky.
Josh, who sadly passed away back in 2015, was a ‘James Beard Foundation’ award-winning food writer and historian. He wrote about food in a way that made you want to read about the experience almost as much as you wanted to taste the delicious food he was describing. He was a carnivore, unashamed and unapologetic in his pursuit to find and consume only the very best and the tastiest food available. Having achieved this, he would then write and express his experiences in that magical way that only he could. It was always about the joy of eating. He was a real food hero, a title I’m not sure he would have liked, but I’m no ‘James Beard Foundation’ award-winning writer.
We will not see his likes again.
However, when it’s late at night, and you’re already hungry, and you hear Josh Ozersky utter those words, “this is the only way to eat a burger”, you damn well pay attention. What followed next was a complete surprise. I braced myself for the vision of a masterpiece created with prime cuts of beef, lovingly hand-blended and formed into a perfect burger. Cooked to perfection over wood, layered with hand-picked ingredients selected to enhance the flavour of the meat and then topped with aged balsamic, caramelised red onions, farmhouse air-cured crisp bacon with a slice of sun-ripened organic beef tomato and smothered in melting vintage artisan cheddar cheese perhaps.
I could not have been further from the reality that followed. Ozersky proceeded to take a bite out of what appeared to be a cheeseburger, a standard everyday ‘burger, bun and cheese’ burger. After that initial taste, he explained the rationale behind his traffic-stopping earlier statement.
As I continued to watch, my mouth open, my eyes wide, there he was sitting at a table in a New York diner. He had in his hand what he considered the best burger in the city. The burger was cooked rare then placed on a standard, run-of-the-mill, everyday burger bun and topped with two slices of processed American cheese (whatever that is). That was it. No onion, no ketchup, no lettuce or tomato, no mayo, no mustard, nothing, nada. This ultimate burger was meat, cheese and bun, full stop.
“Josh must have finally eaten one steak too many,” I thought to myself. The ultimate burger? The best in the city that prides itself on its famous burgers? Surely not. I mean, isn’t it all about quality? Isn’t it all about tasty ingredients?
“Yes, yes it is,” Josh continued to explain, and it was his opinion that the meat, the bun and the cheese are, in fact, exactly what you need in order to appreciate a burger fully, the way it was meant to be enjoyed and savoured.
“Well, that’s just wrong,” I whispered to myself as I logged off the interweb and drifted off into a land of burgers and a perfect life in the East Village.
I put this madness out of my mind and the following week, was lucky enough to be out and about in Cork city. I fancied a burger for lunch and found myself standing before (and here, every pre-teen boy’s dreams must come true) the one and only CoqBull Restaurant.
That’s right, Coq (HA!) Bull Restaurant.
If we could park the 12-year-old boy for just a moment and let me explain? Thank you. They serve only great burgers and mouth-watering chicken, just like it says on the tin. Now, before we go on, let’s get the juvenile double-entendres out of the way as quickly as possible. Why, yes, the menu mentions ‘Coq’ many, many times and, yes, there is a lot of ‘Bull’ as well. So, let’s just get some of these menu items out there in the open so that we can get on with the review of the delicious food available at CoqBull. OK?
To start with, there are ‘Hot Coq Wings’, ‘Coq Rings with Honey Chipotle Mayo’ or ‘Coq Rub Prawns’.
To follow, you might enjoy a plate of ‘Black Coq’ or a ‘Token Bull’, or a ‘Bunless Bull’ or there is the ‘CoqBull Super Salad’ for all those afflicted with vegetarianism. So sad, will we never find a cure?
You could end your evening with a ‘Coqtail’. Get it? And, if you are very lucky, you could take home some ‘Coq Rub’ for later on. Ok, have we gotten that out of our systems now? Good, then let us continue.
As I said, I wanted a burger and headed straight for that section of the menu where I found to my delight a burger that combined two of my favourite meats, bacon and beef (or as it is known at CoqBull, the ‘Bacon Bull’).
This burger is incredible. You’ve got your crisp bacon, succulent beef, tangy cheddar and the house CoqBull sauce, all contained within a light, fresh bun; gorgeous to behold, delicious to eat. This came with excellent, perfectly cooked fries and was all washed down with a glass of Kenmare Irish Red Ale. “I’ll come here again”, I said to myself as I ventured back out in search of dessert.
I had forgotten all about Josh Ozersky’s strange pronouncements until a few nights after my return from the city and CoqBull. I stumbled upon another video on YouTube. This time, Mr. Ozersky was attempting to enlighten fellow foodie and The Guardian’s restaurant critic Jay Rayner as to the joys of American diner cuisine. There they were, both seated at a table in the very same diner, Joe Jnr’s on 167 Third Avenue in New York, where Josh made his proclamation concerning the only way to eat a burger. Then the impossible happened. Rayner, with his notoriously famous palate and his smooth British accent, agreed completely with Josh Ozersky when it came to the burger he tasted at Joe Jnr’s. Wow!
“That’s it,” I thought, “I’m going to have to eat that burger.” Of course, turning to my lovely wife and telling her that I was off to New York in the morning to eat a burger at a diner recommended by two guys I’ve never met would be far from a splendid idea. I was already keeping her awake with the glare from the iPad. No, another road would have to be taken. Then I remembered CoqBull. If anyone could recreate the burger, bun and cheese effect, they could. And I’d wager the ingredients would be far better than those at Joe Jr’s as well.
I went back to Cork city; I was on a mission. I arrived at CoqBull, refused the menu for fear I would stray from the task at hand and informed the waiter as to exactly what I required. Burger – rare. Cheese. Bun. Nothing more, nothing less.
A part of me expected a struggle, a puzzled look perhaps, even a gasp of horror, but no, what followed was quite amazing. “Perfect,” my young friend said, “and would you like fries with your burger?” This is where I went all ninja. “No,” I replied, “Just the burger.” Cue the dramatic background music. I had never eaten a burger without fries. Dun-Dun-DUUUUN!
Soon, my experiment in burger science arrived. The object before me was exactly as I had ordered. Burger. Cheese. Bun. But was it rare? I cut the burger in two and immediately the juices began to flow. Both on the plate and in my mouth. It was perfectly pink with the cheese melting in greasy strands at the edges as I lifted the burger to my mouth and took a bite.
What happened next, I can only try to put into words. My mouth was overwhelmed with the flavour of juicy, meaty goodness. Nothing was competing with the pure taste of the meat. The bun was just holding this explosion of flavour together. At the first bite, the bun itself all but evaporated, there was the slight crunch of the burger as I bit into it and then BANG! – savoury, juicy, meaty, just plain delicious. I’m sorry if I’ve used the same words over and over again, but I’m no Josh Ozersky or Jay Rayner.
And, for the record, my food gurus are absolutely right – this is the only way to eat a burger.
But now I must mention the ‘Coq’ (stop!) at CoqBull, and I defy you to try and find better ‘Hot Coq Wings’ anywhere. Or a half-rotisserie chicken from the spit that has been marinated for 24 hours before being roasted and basted in a secret sauce. The chicken was tender and delicious and served with a fantastic garlicky mayo.
All in all, you can come for the Coq, but you’ll stay for the Bull.
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, since my last visit to CoqBull, customers can no longer order RARE BURGERS. This has nothing to do with the quality of the meat at CoqBull, far from it, it’s just another example of our Nanny State in action.
I can only suggest that you recreate the ‘Ozersky Burger’, named in Josh’s honour, yourself at home. Go to a good butcher and get them to blend the meat for you. Choose some chuck and round steak. After that, the bun and the cheese are up to you. I use Dubliner cheese and everyday burger buns from the supermarket. Get your pan good and hot, add a drop of oil, season the burger with salt, no pepper it will burn, and off you go. If you decided to try the Ozersky Burger, let me know how you get on. Oh, and remember, rare, your burger must be rare.