The Franz bun makes a statement.
Given all the fine, artisanal hamburger rolls available in this city, it's a little surprising to see Hillsdale's Burger Stevens cart tucking its $7 burger into the most basic of buns.
"Everywhere I've worked, there's always been a high-end burger on the menu on a fancy brioche bun, and when it comes down to it, my favorite bun has always been a [Pennsylvania-based] Martin's potato roll," says cart owner Don Salamone. "Franz classic is just as good. I absolutely love it. Every time I cook one, I get so much pleasure out of buttering it and toasting it. When it's done, it almost has a Ritz cracker taste. Plus, it's fun to go to the outlet."
Those Ritzy buns are just one element of what helps Burger Stevens, which opened last month, make one of the better cheeseburgers in town. Salamone, who worked as a private chef in Los Angeles before moving to Southwest Portland, uses a custom 70-30 beef blend from Ponderosa Provisioners. The burger is padded with a large lettuce leaf, doused with a creamy orange fry sauce, stuffed into a bun and wrapped snugly in a sheet of deli paper. The thin patty gets a little crusty on the grill, and I especially liked it with a charred jalapeño (50 cents) and bacon ($2).
Skip the turkey burger, which needs more fat, and split the fries ($3), which are basically an extra-crispy version of McDonald's cooked until they lose their flex.
But double down on dessert. Portland is in the middle of a soft-serve boom. Having tried most of the contenders, I think Burger Stevens might have the best of all. It's richer and fattier than most, but still light and creamy enough not to cross the line into custard.
The secret is the soft-serve mix—or lack thereof.
"I'm blown away by how many people are not making their own mix," Salamone says. "I have a friend who works in a very fancy place in L.A., and he says they use powdered mix. No one knew the recipe, and it was driving me nuts."
Eventually, he found a pastry chef to help him create his own version of the soft serve he grew up with in Rochester, N.Y. It's mostly milk, with a little cream, and wonderful, with or without the berry topping ($3 cone or bowl, $4 berry sundae).
Given all the work Salamone is putting into that soft serve, it's probably good that he found Franz.
EAT: Burger Stevens, 6238 SW Capitol Highway, 971-279-7252, burgerstevens.com. 11 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday, 10 am-8 pm Sunday.