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Quest for the Best: A Reintroduction

Our summer long series relocates and reviews Des Moines' local favorite burger joints.

The cheeseburger is one of the most intelligently designed sandwiches ever made. Think about it; it has meat, it has dairy, it has grains. That's three of the five major food groups in one hand held meal, and if you add a side of fries you've eaten your vegetables, too.

Now, those in the nutrition world will try to dissuade you by focusing on the negative elements such as "saturated fats" and "cholesterol" but I believe those to be made up words the pharmaceutical industry has created to sell more drugs. My doctor confirmed this for me last fall as he wrote me my first prescription for a simvastatin after I concluded my first round of burger reviews.

Thankfully, the drugs worked and with my LDL back under control, I have decided to continue my quest to find the best cheeseburger available for commercial consumption. Last summer I was living some 1,400 miles west of central Iowa and thus I focused on restaurants you, the readers of this blog, had hopefully at least heard of if not visited a time or two making the information somewhat relatable. You probably wouldn't be overly interested in reading my thoughts of Cheeburger-Cheeburger, a small yet expanding 50's themed burger chain with two locations in the Las Vegas area, because their closest location to you is in Topeka, and who wants to go to Topeka?

It was awful, by the way, so there still remains no good reason to go to Topeka.

This summer, as I told you earlier this month, I am back in Iowa, the motherland, and plan to focus on what the new and improved Des Moines area has to offer me and others like me, the burger aficionado.

I'll begin my explorations by reviewing a Des Moines original, B-Bop's, because Twitter told me to and also it is the most convenient to my current home. By the way (shameless plug), if you don't follow me on Twitter, @VegasCyclown, you should do so for my silent takes on today's top social issues and daily live tweeting of Let's Make a Deal (I plan to start this soon). That and I only have 150 followers. Science tells us you need at least 500 to be considered a reputable blogger. Which I'm not. Whatever.

This time through, I'm going to try and avoid national franchise fast food type places, unless my deadline approaches and I'm in need of someplace fast and easy (looking at you, Culver's, even though you're regional at best). This means I will need your suggestions on Des Moines area establishments that you think are strong enough to withstand my scrutiny. More on that later.

Before I launch back into the series, however, I wanted to offer a refresher piece on last summer's establishments and a reintroduction of my review criteria.

Las Vegas Franchise Ratings and Rank






Shake Shack





Twin Peaks











Red Robin




Tie 6th



Tie 6th

Five Guys



Steak ‘n Shake



Each burger is graded on a scale of 0-10 in three different categories I detail below. I will not be ordering anything fancy if it can be avoided, just your basic two patty burger served as it is described on the menu. If it comes standard with onions, pickles, tomatoes on a toasted sesame bun, I will eat it with onions, pickles and tomatoes on a toasted sesame bun. I've learned that deviating from this can often lead me down a path of dissatisfaction. Meat, cheese, bun. That's all a burger needs if done properly. Everything else is a marketing gimmick.

My core criteria hasn't changed much from last year. I still like my meat greasy and cheese melty, but I did switch up the ranking order (cheese-meat-bun to meat-cheese-bun) because I felt I was putting too much preferential treatment to the dairy group and if I wanted cheese to be the star then I should be rating grilled cheese sandwiches, not cheeseburgers. So, yeah. Fixed that. You're welcome.

Meat - The ground beef is the heart of any well-made cheeseburger. Don't serve me a dry, flavorless disk of processed cow and cover it up with a fancy sounding sauce to try and fool me into thinking I'm eating something succulent. That won't work. If my bun is going to collapse under the unrelenting weight of liquid from above and below, that liquid better be rendered fat and not a blend of cheap mayonnaise and spices disguised as an aioli.

It should also not look as though it was stored in a box in the freezer until the waiter submitted my order, it's almost perfect circular form giving away its secret. A freshly made hand-formed patty is perfectly imperfect and spherical balls of meat pressed flat on the griddle by the back of a well-seasoned spatula is the preferred method of cooking here.

Salt and pepper are all that are needed to bring out the beef's natural flavor and nothing short of 80/20 should be used. Ever.

Cheese - Even though meat is the foundation, cheese provides the pizazz. It is the smirk in Mona Lisa's smile, the Hutch in Starsky and Hutch; not the focus but not the same without it. Without the cheese you're just eating a plain hamburger which is one of the eight original sins that was later edited out of the bible when a dairy shortage struck Puritanical settlers in the late 1700's. Google it.

There are many varieties to choose from when selecting a cheese and really it comes down to personal preference as long as your preference isn't "none". Mine is American as that seems to be the most patriotic choice and I love my country.

Cheese will often set the tone of my reviews and it is best to keep the patty to slice ratio at 1:1 or greater or you will hear about it in an unfavorable way. Just ask Steak ‘n Shake.

Bun - The bun has the easiest path towards satisfaction in my ratings metric. Its lone task is to provide a grease resistant transport of meat and cheese from table to mouth. The only "do-not-do's" on this list are; don't be too big, don't be too small, don't taste like nothing and don't fall apart. Oh, and it should be lightly toasted.

Simple, right?

I don't care if it comes with sesame seeds on top or not, but you better not use the word "artisan" if you are a large chain where I know workers are not hand making the buns on site. Lying will cost you points.

Condiments and Toppings - I will not be judging burgers based upon any salad item that may, or may not, be served as a compliment to the rest. Lettuce, tomatoes, onion/ketchup, mustard, mayo - all can be included or left off for all I care. All I ask is that it compliment the burger, not distract from the sandwich. Should I feel you have violated this policy, you will also have points deducted from your total.

Now I need your help. As stated earlier, I've already visited B-Bops and will be providing you with my review later this week. And there has been a discussion about forming an outline of a plan to do a group review of Zombie Burger at some point this summer, but what else is out there that you want me to sample and share my thoughts? My reach is somewhat confined to Des Moines area, Ankeny and Ames depending on how seriously I take this. Let your voice be heard. Whether I listen or not is totally up to me.