Burger Madness is a seeded tournament pitting 64 Portland patties against each other. Our critics ate through the best Bistro Burgers, Bar Burgers, and Brewery Burgers and Burger Burgers in Portland—and will reveal their picks round by round until the best burger in Portland is crowned. Our four tasters began from a field of over 100 burgers, whittling them down to a seeded 64 + 4 play-ins.
Well, we're down to the championship. Bar Burger regional champ Grain & Gristle knocked out the Toro Bravo bistro burger in a down-and-dirty, ugly fight in which neither burger was at its best. Burger stand Stoopid Burger knocked out the burger at much swankier Ecliptic Brewing.
This time for the championship, we mixed it up a bit. We were forced to acknowledge that the unholy meatbath of the Stoopid Burger at Stoopid Burger was a different creature entirely from the simple version of the Grain & Gristle gastropub burger consisting only of lettuce, pickle, burger, bun and aioli.
A guy hanging at Stoopid Burger, entreating everyody to vote for the Stoopid Burger on championship day—although, sad to break it, there's no voting—said it best: "They're both good burgers, but they have a very different vibe."
And so we got two versions of each burger: stacked and simple.
At Stoopid burger, we got both the $5.50 Get Yo Bread Up—a simple cheeseburger with special, tangy Stoopid sauce—and the meat-stacked titular burger. At Grain and Gristle, we got the $12, half-pound burger without even a cheese addition, then added every weapon in the arsenal—house-made bacon, sunny-side up egg, blue cheese—for a whopping $17 monstrosity.
Here's the original stats on the Stoopid and the Grain & Gristle:
3441 N Vancouver Ave., 971-801-4180, stoopidburgerpdx.com. 11 am-9 pm Monday-Friday, noon-9 pm Saturday.
There's nothing as stupidly good as the Stoopid Burger ($11.75), which comes with salty, hot fries served in a paper bag. It's got beef, bacon, ham, a hot link, and egg, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles, for God's sake. If you want more, you always will. Although you'll be unable to get everything in your mouth for the first few bites—it's served basically like a taco, it's so full—every bite stands on its own as a thing of wonder.
Grain & Gristle
1473 NE Prescott St., 503-288-4740, grainandgristle.com. Noon-midnight Monday-Friday, 9 am-3 pm and 5 pm-midnight Saturday-Sunday.
The ingredients are as simple as a scratch-made pie: The thick half-pound patty of medium-rare beef comes from a line of Herefords cultivated since 1856 at Oregon's Hawley Ranch, butchered by sister restaurant Old Salt in Cully and fresh-ground each day. The pickles are housemade, as is the garlic-lemon aioli. The bun is baked by Grain & Gristle's former in-house baker, the green lettuce shocked in frigid water for crispness. And that's the end of the ingredient list. It is simplicity as virtue, with all things made only for their purpose in this burger.
All four burgers were on point on this day.
Stoopid Burger's simpler Get Yo Bread Up revealed the beautiful merits of that beautiful, tangy, Thousand-Island-style Stoopid Sauce, and the Stoopid Burger remained an unholy balance of many meated parts, an old-school burger both in stacked and unstacked form.
But Grain & Gristle, holy fuck, was a juicy, meaty, perfect-breaded dreamboat, both in classically simple and stacked, perfectly sunny-up-egg, house-cured bacon form. It was a showcase for its wonderful Hawley Ranch meat, while also being a carefully measured harmony of parts all made only for their participation in this burger. God, it's a beauty. And it was almost better in its simple than stacked form—even as we weighed the potential merits of throwing those fried onion-ring strings on top of the burger, too.
WINNER: The unanimous vote went to Grain & Gristle, our Burger Madness winner. On a different day, perhaps, different burgers could have ascended the brackets to win—whether Slow Burger or Le Pigeon Burger. But not this day.
Today, Grain & Gristle reigns triumphant, and it's endured through round after round. I've personally had six of these G & G burgers since this contest began, and I regret none of them. What a good goddamn burger.
At the beginning of this contest, we asked readers to submit their own brackets, March Madness-style, for a chance to win a $150 gift certificate to Bar Bar, who has a wonderful burger of their own.
Congratulations Dustin Micheletti! You knocked out [Edit: almost] every other motherfucker, with 60 points in the brackets up to the Final Four—which almost no one cracked with their picks. You get $150 in Bar Bar credit, to be spent on burgers or drinks but not show tickets.
Because, quite frankly, the Final Four surprised even the judges—not a single number-one seed made it in. Close runners-up? Tom Jeanne, with 56 points, and Trevor Woolman and Laure Voss, each with 51 points.
Here's Dustin's brackets:
UPDATE 11:38 am: Whoops! Turns out an entry went missing on its way to the scoring desk—we blame the mob—and the actual high-scorer went lost.
Dustin, you'll still get your $150 Bar Bar prize, but so will Matthew Brown, whose bracket is below. He picked up 67 points, and—as it turns out—was the only person in the city of Portland to pick Grain & Gristle as the overall winner. He scored a perfect bar-burger and near-perfect brew-burger bracket despite being personally unknown to us. Congratulations, burger lover and probable barfly!
Also! Just for the hell of it, we're handing out a boobie prize—unannounced, for obvious reasons. To Sam Oltman, who likes the Bar Bar burger so much he rode it all the way down the bar bracket, we will give $75 in Bar Bar credit for attaining the lowest score of all entries received, with 24 points.
Congratulations Sam! You disagree with us more than anyone in Portland!
(Despite what's pictured there, Mr. Oltman should have 24 points, with 4 added for the final bracket of Ecliptic. It's still the lowest, by one point.)