NEW YORK – The world had already seen the doughnut burger, made famous by Paula Deen, which squeezed a beef patty inside a halved Krispy Kreme doughnut instead of a bun. So when New York baker Dominique Ansel invented the croissant-doughnut hybrids known as Cronuts earlier this year, Canadian foodies knew just what to do with them: Slap two around a ground-beef patty!
Unfortunately, the Cronut burgers served at a Canadian food festival in August made more than 200 people sick.
This summer also saw the rise of the ramen burger, which uses two fried noodle cakes in lieu of a bun. But the country’s leading champion of the burger-with-something-else-taking-the-place-of-the-bun is a Philadelphia restaurant called PYT, which has served burgers made with fried rice patties instead of buns, burgers made with crab cakes instead of buns, and burgers made with fried spaghetti clusters instead of buns, among other variations. This week, PYT is serving its most ambitious creation yet: a burger made with deep-fried Twinkies instead of a bun.
What accounts for our era’s explosion of bunless stunt burgers? One harbinger might be KFC’s infamous Double Down – bacon and cheese sandwiched between two breaded chicken patties. The Double Down was not a burger, but it was definitely a stunt, and by all accounts a successful one: It’s not every fast-food offering that gets an appearance on the Colbert Report.
The low-carb craze of 10 years ago, which had people eating burgers swathed in iceberg lettuce leaves instead of buns, may also be to blame – although the recent iterations of the genre are obviously not low-carb. Their over-the-top unhealthiness, in fact, is the key to their archness.
A burger made with deep-fried Twinkies is just another example of foodies valuing foods precisely because most people find them disgusting. Contemporary food culture has taken on a Fear Factor-like ethos, in which he who eats the most bugs and offal without vomiting wins, as Dana Goodyear demonstrates in the upcoming, entertaining “Anything That Moves.”
My main objection is that gourmands who replace hamburger buns with deep-fried [fill in the blank] willfully ignore the architectural purpose of hamburger buns. They are not just there to provide flavor contrast to your seared beef patty. They are there to sop up beef juices and whatever delicious condiments you have smeared on your burger. They are also there to prevent your hands from getting messy. Deep-fried things are very, very bad at sopping up juices and sauces. A burger sandwiched between two deep-fried Twinkies or bundles of noodles will fall apart after the first bite.
These days, crazy burgers are common enough that the food gossip blog Eater has a topic tag devoted to the genre. In other words, novelty burgers aren’t novel, and they don’t push the envelope. A deep-fried Twinkie burger doesn’t say anything new about our culture – it just fecklessly recombines familiar symbols of excess. And then falls apart.