Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Giant Burger with Mystery Seasoning - More Cave's

In my original post about Cave's Soul Food I mentioned that I'd, "heard from friends in the neighborhood that the giant, hand-pattied burgers at Cave's are some of the best in town." Since then I've had other friends in the neighborhood say the same thing. Then last week I saw a post on Facebook from Ken of Ken's Food Find about the wonders of the Cave's burger. This was followed up by a full blog post from him about how incredible it is. In Ken's post he challenged Seth at the Best Memphis Burger Blog to try the burger, saying Ken would pay for it if Seth didn't give it at least four out of five stars. Seth ended up giving it a four-star review on Monday.

Meanwhile, I've been grabbing to-go orders from Cave's on a regular basis since it is right around the corner from my house, but I still hadn't bothered to try the burger. Obviously it was time for that to change. On Tuesday night I picked up one of the huge burgers with a side of turnip greens subbed for the standard French fries since I was already going to be eating a jumbo bun and why waste stomach space on fattening starches when you are getting a half-pound of beef? 

The combination of the jumbo bun and the extra large plate mean that this picture really doesn't do justice to the size of this thing. There is easily a half-pound of ground beef on it.

All the reviews of the Cave's burger have focused on the tasty unconventional seasoning. Seth guessed that a lot of the flavor was from sausage seasonings and I think that is a fairly good guess. I love country sausage so I already think spices like sage, fennel, and red pepper flakes all go great with ground meat. Why not mix it in with burger meat? Of course, that guess could be wrong. But whatever is going into those giant patties, they taste great.

I'd also agree with Seth that the burger is more exceptionally tender than it is juicy. It didn't leave a puddle of grease behind like a double cheeseburger from the Tops Bar-B-Q a block down the street from Cave's. I had my burger dressed the same way I normally get one from Tops, with cheese, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion. I think it had at least three slices of cheese on it. I managed to eat the entire burger, which was an accomplishment for me and a compliment to the burger.

The turnip greens from Cave's seem to be a love-'em or hate-'em affair. I've always really enjoyed them. My wife always complains that they are overcooked and way overseasoned. Ken sided with my wife in his review, saying that the greens used way too much salt. I partially got some with my burger to speak on their defense. Then this order of them ended up being overcooked and oversalted even by my standards.

I'm usually quick to add some vinegar-based Bruce's Hot Pepper Sauce to my greens, and I don't make any attempt to limit my salt intake since as surprising as it may sound, there is no real research linking dietary salt to health problems. But these greens tasted like pure vinegar. It was near closing time when I got them and they were some of the last in a steam pan they had obviously been in for a while. Greens can cook down dramatically so that may have been what overconcentrated the flavor. The owner always shows you everything before he adds it to your order so I should have asked for the Broccoli, which looked much better than the greens on this visit, when I saw how overcooked the greens looked.   

Since Alex's Tavern sits in between Top's and Cave's, those of us that live in the Vollentine-Evergreen community may need to give that section of Jackson Avenue a nickname like Cheeseburger Alley. All three places serve up fantastic burgers, but they take completely different approaches to seasoning. Tops sticks to the standard salt and pepper while Alex's is locally famous for it's use of Greek seasoning in the Greek Burgers it cooks in an old cast-iron skillet. The owner's at Cave's said they also use a cast-iron skillet for their burgers.

Each burger fill a slightly different niche. Since Cave's is usually only open from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., it will be my new go-to spot for a burger when I am really, really hungry and want a burger during the daytime. Tops has longer hours and a burger there is less of a commitment. Alex's, as anyone who drinks in Midtown knows, pretty much never closes. It is the place you get a burger when you are hungry and still wanting to drink after somewhere nearby like Murphy's, P&H or Dublin House has already closed down and told you to go home.   

While writing about the burger I got hungry for more of Cave's food so I went up there tonight to get one of the few menu items I hadn't tried there yet. I discovered how good chitterlings can be during a recent visit to Joann's Family Affair Soul Food in Frayser. Tonight at Cave's I got chitterlings with green beans and yams. They were great. I ended up mostly ignoring the yams to eat every bite of the chitterlings and green beans, which were every bit as good as the green beans I loved so much in my original post about Cave's.

I've found it interesting to note how much a a hot dog flavor there is in chitterlings. It isn't too surprising. I don't think anyone believes there are ground-up pork chops going into Juicy Jumbos. But it is funny that there are vegetarian imitation hot dogs that a lot of vegetarians eat. Some vegetarians may try to claim meat is gross. But the fact is there are processed food companies spending a lot of time and money trying to mimic the taste of hog intestines for when vegetarians crave it.

Well-prepared chitterlings are great with hot sauce. Most soul food restaurants just have the standard Louisiana and Texas Pete hot sauces. Since it was the first time I brought an order of chitterlings back to my house I got to try them with my beloved Sriracha. Outstanding.

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  1. I'm glad that you tried Cave's cheeseburger. For me, it's one of the best burgers that I've had in awhile. Although you might not agree, I feel it's the best burger in the Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhood and possibly the best in Midtown Memphis. Of course, good arguments can be made for Cafe Eclectic, Alex's Tavern, Tops, P & H (even though many of its servers are douchebags) and many others.
    Also, I want to clarify what I meant when I said the ground beef was "juicy." I was trying to describe the meat's silky texture that melted in my mouth when I bit into it. To use a terribly inaccurate soul food analogy, Cave's burger is the meaty equivalent of buttery cornbread. Again, I know it's not a great analogy, but it's the best that I could come up with. I did not mean in any way that Cave's cheeseburger was overly greasy, for it wasn't.
    By the way, I want to thank you for the mentions in both this review and your review of Three Angels Diner. Speaking of that, I enjoyed the brunch that we had and I'm looking forward to doing it again.

    1. We definitely need to meet up again soon. I have several friends who work at the P&H but they tend to work really late. I hang out there a lot but I'm not sure what it is like during the day. Have you tried the pimento cheeseburger at Next Door? Another great Midtown burger.