It’s over a century since the first review of the hamburger. A writer for the New York Tribune described the hamburger as ‘the innovation of a food vendor’ at the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. The fact that the writer failed to mention the name of said innovative food vendor hasn’t helped the endeavours of food historians to pinpoint the origin of the hamburger, with many different cooks claiming credit for its invention. Louis Lassen, a Danish immigrant to Connecticut, served minced beef (in the Hamburg style) between two slices of toast at his diner around the year 1900. Other theories point to Fletch Davis, known as Old Dave, to be the founder of the hamburger and indeed the aforementioned innovative food vendor that pleased the New York Tribune at the 1904 Fair.
Joshua Ozersky, food critic, founder of Meatopia and author of The Hamburger: A History (2008), claimed that a hamburger was *only* a hamburger when it was held together with a bun, and not just squished between two slices of bread. By this reckoning, the claim of Oscar Weber Bilby’s descendants that the first burger in a bun was served at their family farm in Oklahoma on July 4th 1891 may have some standing. Without a written history or proof of original provenance, the battle for recognition rages on.
Associated with the quaint 1950s ideals of drive-ins and milkshakes, hamburgers remain a cultural symbol of America. Though the reality of the American dream has made the country’s cultural imperialism less attractive over the last two decades, the draw of the hamburger remains. The cultural significance may not have the same appeal, but perhaps now we focus on the taste of this cultural import that has become an international speciality.
Wowburger, in the beer garden of Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay, appears committed to the quintessentially American diner-style burger; a sweet bun enveloping a juicy patty, thinner than what we’ve come to expect from a gastropub, but large enough to get the belly rumbling. In the style of an In ‘N’ Out or Bunsen Burger, this is the type of burger I like to eat; one that I can get my hands around and, with one single bite, enjoy a mouthful of the various components i.e. bun, patty, pickle and sauce. I order from the bar and collect from a second burger bar, where I get a wink (a wink!) from the young burger flipper as he expertly slides my tray of burgers and sides across the counter to me.
I’m supremely pleased with my Wow Hamburger (€5.95 with free toppings from a choice of 12) with jalapeños, pickles, lettuce and tomato doused in the Wowburger sauce, a tangy take on the iconic pink sauce immortalised by the Big Mac. The Wowburgers boast a double patty of Irish beef across the board, and the patties are generous yet compact, and juicy as opposed to ginormous, sandwiched between a sweet, soft brioche bun.
The bacon cheeseburger feels a little unwieldy; this is a burger for the gluttonous. The grilled mushrooms might work well as a topping in a simpler burger but in this behemoth they are one step too far down a rich, umami-lined road. Burger sweats take hold after just a few bites. The regular cheeseburger is more manageable, though my young burger flipper was too heavy-handed on the jalapeño toppings this time around.
The sides are all winners. A box of chilli fries (€3.95) covered in rich, meaty chilli con carne splattered with the Wowburger sauce is a hearty meal in itself. The more delicate garlic butter fries let the hand-cut skinny chips take centre stage (€2.95). The crispy onion bits make good use of the milder, sweeter taste of red onion wedges by covering them in crispy batter and frying them until puffed and glistening (€2.95). I’m disappointed by the vanilla shake (€3.95). I was hoping it would be frothy, thick and with a strong hit of vanilla. But, on the evening I visit, the shakes are thin and unmemorable. Room for improvement there.
We already know that Workman’s do authentic food well, with their side bar Bison serving (in my opinion) the best BBQ and ribs in Dublin. Wowburger has renewed my interest in the club and reminded me how much I love a good burger, served in a casual setting by friendly staff. Burgers and sides for three people, plus a shake, came to €32.65.
Workman’s Club Beer Garden, 11 Wellington Quay, Dublin 2
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Mark Duggan