And whosoever of them ate of the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, had no longer any wish to bring back word or to return, but there they were fain to abide among the Lotus-eaters, feeding on the lotus, and forgetful of their homeward way.
– Homer’s The Odyssey, Book IX (translated by A. T. Murray)
CHURCH OF MISERY
Burger of the Month at Kuma’s Corner for May, 2014
- Chili lime lotus chips
- Pickled ginger, red onion and red cabbage coleslaw
- Ponzu sauce
- Honey glazed pork shoulder
- 10 oz. Beef patty
- Pretzel bun
The year is 2014 and May’s BOTM over at Kuma’s Corner is dedicated to Japanese doom metal band Church of Misery, and just like their songs it is one serial killer of a burger…. Aaaand my, oh my! Just looking at it makes the eldritch horror of the Russian Circles burger’s frizzled beets pale in contrast and shrivel in shame, for the Church of Misery is an equally tentacled, but thrice as weird, hentai alien composed of bright, non-Euclidean shapes that not even the likes of H. P. Lovecraft would ever dare to describe. By itself, this creation is a crazy tribute to the far, far Land of the Rising Sun, delivering lots of authentic Japanese flavors such as ponzu, lotus and ginger in a way that is not dumbed down for the American consumer, while also staying true to its burgery nature.
The unearthliest of ingredients here are the chili lime lotus chips, which were a zesty, crispy circles of fried lotus “seed cups” with an earthiness similar to frizzled beets and like delicate, sinewy Chile & Limon Funyuns riddled with bullets…on crack. If they were supposed to have a kick to them I didn’t notice one, but there was a lot of flavor overstimulation going on, but I definitely wouldn’t mind trying them on the side. The seem kinda healthy, though.
Then, the Church of Misery was topped with tons of pickled ginger coleslaw full of red onions and red cabbage, resulting in what’s probably the most vegetables I’ve ever seen on a Kuma’s burger. The coleslaw – a typical sidedish for the States was spiced up by the ginger… you know, the salmon-colored, thin slices that you always ignore at the sushi bar? The ginger, also called gari, so pickled in sugary vinegar solution, is a great lil’ palate cleanser between each bite, but the ginger in the Church of Misery lacked the vibrant pink of pickled young ginger, instead opting out for the mature yellow. The rest of the coleslaw was also great and on the sweeter side, with large pieces of shredded red cabbage and cartoony, pink rings of pickled red onions, and it all provided in time-consuming crunch. Ponzu (lit. “punch vinegar”) sauce kind of brought all the various flavors, textures and shapes together with the Holy Grail cocktail of Japanese cuisine, combining soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice mirin wine with simmered katsuobushi tuna shavings and blue kombu kelp, then (usually) flavored with various citrus fruits, resulting in a tangy and salty liquid full of that umami flavor which I still find mindblowingly hard to describe. But it’s there, and it’s it does an excellent job of turning this burger into something distant, with the notes of citrus setting over the horizon of mild vinegar, and when you combine that with the combo of shredded, honey glazed pork shoulder meat with the good ole 10oz. beef patty it becomes quite easy to imagine a quiet, lazy Sunday night in provincial Japan, with a grill doing its thang, and the cicadas doing their thang. Here the Church of Misery burger gets the award for most unique burger, providing us with lots of various veggies and sauces, and resulting in a strangely refreshing and alien concoction of flavors which did not alienate, and felt like a culinary bow to Japanese cuisine, rather than an exploitation.
When I pair my food with beer and other kinds of alcohol, I prefer to complement, rather than contrast, finding it to be more challenging and rewarding. When the Church of Misery burger was announced it became clear that it would go very well with a lighter, fruity ale or pilsner or perhaps even a complex APA such as Three Floyds Brewing Gumballhead American Pale Wheat Ale [5.60% ABV], which ALSO really got me thinking outside the range of citrus fruits, and about the tried and true spectrum of Dogfish Head Brewery’s seasonals, starting with the wintertime pear of Dogfish Head Brewery’s Piercing Pils Czech Pilsener [6.00% ABV], moving to the summer peach of Dogfish Head Brewery Festina Pêche Berliner Weisse [4.50% ABV] and even getting considering the bitey apricot of Dogfish Head Brewery ApriHop American IPA [7.00% ABV], which is currently in season!
Ultimately, however, I decided to pair this with the Californian Lost Coast Brewery and Cafe Tangerine Wheat Ale [5.00% ABV], which not only provided the complementing citrus taste, but also turned out to be a beer that’s going to be a local choice for Kevin, my partner in bovine genoice, who is moving to Eureka, CA, just a stone’s throw away from the source! Tangerine Wheat turned out to be a sweet and balanced ale, which actually tasted like tangerine and was crisp, extremely sessionable WHILE also not being unnecessarily tart or tangy, and in my opinion really matched the overall flavor of the Church of Misery.
After my first beer, but before I the burger was served, I also tried the Deschutes Brewery Fresh Squeezed IPA American IPA [6.40% ABV]. True to the message on the bottle, it delivered a punch of all kinds of citrusy hops (Citra and Mosaic, specifically), “faking” and succeeding at being a kind of a fruity IPA without actually messing around with actual fruit. I liked that, but I just knew that an IPA was not going to be an ideal pairing for the burger. India Pale Ales are great palate cleansers, ensuring that every bite you take is reintroduced to the awesome flavor of your food, but the Church of Misery’s gari ginger was already on it, which is why I got a second Tangerine Wheat and let it do its magic.