“Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.” – Miguel de Cervantes “Don Quixote”
- Manchego cheese
- Sun-dried tomato tapenade
- Spinach greens
- 8oz. Hereford beef
- Toasted bun
On a rainy day spent geocaching and sightseeing all things Americana, the fiance and I found ourselves on the other side of the Ohio River and in Paducah, KY, and I’ll be honest – I did not expect to find exquisite food in this picturesque town. For some reason, when we parked in Paducah, I was expecting your typical river town situation like Dubuque, Iowa… or the Quad Cities IA/IL or… well… Erm.. That’s all the river towns in the USA that I’ve seen. Well, that certainly does explain it, doesn’t it? I think I just did some self-discovery right there. Boy, did I got proven wrong. After we had to walk out of The Freighthouse Restaurant when we learned that we were totally not dressed for the occasion, we spent a few minutes “window-shopping” and just getting to know the downtown area. We saw a man struggling with a 2 pound T-bone at Doe’s Eat Place, and even considered “cheap and quick” eats, we were that hungry. Eventually, however, we settled down for Shandies. Was it the warmth of the stained glass or the facade of something between a pub and a Chicago-style diner? I dunno. One thing’s for sure though – I did NOT expect I’d find myself quoting Cervantes in a review of a burger from a small river town in Kentucky.
One out of about half a dozen location-inspired burger, the Barcelona burger immediately had my attention. For some reason I could picture all of its flavors very vividly, just like I could, for some reason, picture large bonfires and shrimp cocktails by the Mediterranean sea. I think it was a documentary about Basque independence that first introduced me to the region’s tapas and especially the pan con tomate. It’s grilled bread seasoned with good quality olive oil and salt, and then you rub a ripe tomato and a garlic clove on it. That’s it. Done. Now, it’s not like this simple dish is endemic to the Basque region. Good recipes tend to travel. Catalonia, the autonomous region in Spain to which Barcelona happens to be the capital of, also prides itself with its tomato-on-bread rubbing skills – they call it pa amb tomàquet. What’s often served alongside a good pa amb tomàquet? Why, chorizo, of course. Mystery unraveled.
I’d have to say that so far, the Barcelona burger has been my favorite burger of 2017, aaand I’ve had a few. Not only is it refreshing to see a Mediterranean twist on Hispanic cuisine rather than the usual Tex-Mex spin on things, but it was just a delight to try so many different ingredients on a burger. Without a doubt, the winner on the Barcelona burger was the sun-dried tomato tapenade. I am a tomato freak, and all I need is some bread, tomatoes, salt and some Bulgarian feta cheese to be happy. Sun-dried tomatoes sound exotic and tapenade sounds complicated. They are not. One takes some time and patience to let nature run its course, and the other one is a quick and painless process. It’s all about the ingredients (it always is – and it’s usually the downfall of American cuisine). The tapenade was exquisite. So much umami packed with a little bit of smoke, lingering acidity, earthiness, saltiness, sweetness, and just a slight hint of pickling vinegar from the olives. You have such a wide ranged of notes that love to linger, and the paste delivers all of them in a beautiful, uniform way. The chorizo sausage sprinkled on top adds a hint of heat, and the manchego cheese, very reminiscent of gouda, adds a persistent, creamy aftertaste and another dose of nutty sweetness.
And this is where things got interesting. It took me a few bites to notice, but the Barcelona burger’s overall taste reminded me of something. I struggled to put my finger on it at first, then had an AHA! moment. The chorizo, sun-dried tomato paste, the spinach greens and the beef patty all sort of turned into a deconstructed meatloaf! Specifically Andrew Zimmern’s Grandma’s Meatloaf recipe of which I am so fond of. The final touch of massaging the meatloaf with tomato paste is phenomenal!
I’ve never had green olives in a meatloaf before, but I bet I’d like it. A lot. And, as bizarre as it was, it was also a totally unexpected experience for me – to sit there, eating what should have been an exotic Mediterranean-inspired dish, only to see it transform into a familiar favorite of mine. The whole thing was rewarding on so many levels. AND I think I’ve learned not to underestimate the foodie scenes of small river town in the USA.
See? Burgers are educational.