Just over a decade ago, we were so enamored of the happy-hour burger at McCormick's Fish House & Bar in LoDo that we gave it an award for Best Burger in a Fish House. For $1.95, you could load up on the tasty (if not very big) burgers before settling in for a few rounds at the bar. This was back before the small McCormick's chain out of Portland was swept up by restaurant giant Landry's, Inc. — and before a tidal wave of restaurants, seafood and otherwise, inundated Denver with more choices than ever before.
With so many hamburger specialists in town, it hardly seems necessary to head to a seafood restaurant to quell your beef craving — but there are a few fish houses in Denver turning out surprisingly delicious burgers. The reason? We suspect it's because seafood restaurants don't sell many non-fish dishes, so when a burger order hits the kitchen, it gets a little extra love and attention — unlike at many jam-packed burger bars that crank out patties at a factory pace.
Here are three outstanding burgers at seafood restaurants, each made simply and presented without burger-bar bells and whistles.
560 South Broadway
The name of this charming South Broadway seafood shack tells you all you need to know about the specialty of the house, so by all means, head over for a creamy bowl of chowder. But chef Matthew Stein's Baker burger is worth a visit in its own right. Stein says he cooks the burger at his restaurant the same way he cooks it at home, giving an 80/20 blend of grass-fed beef a light seasoning of salt and pepper before it hits the gas grill. From there, the seven-ounce patty goes onto a grilled brioche bun slathered with the house secret sauce (in the ketchup/mayo style) and gets a layer of Tillamook cheddar cheese. Accoutrements are the standard lettuce and tomato, plus sauteed onions.
Stein agrees that burgers get a little more attention in his kitchen than they would at a burger bar because he doesn't want guests who aren't eating seafood to feel left out. That means that you'll get exactly what you request: The burger comes out the right temperature — juicy and tender every time — thanks to the light handling it receives and the perfect amount of fat in the grind. If you just can't skip the seafood, a cup of chowder on the side makes for a great partner for your burger.
Jax Fish House
1539 17th Street
Jax is an old-timer downtown, having stood catty-corner to McCormick's at 17th and Wazee streets since 1996. Most folks go for the stellar oysters on the half shell, but the menu hides a beefy burger sure to please even the most discriminating carnivores. A hefty half-pound patty comes adorned with pickle slices and a house mustard sauce; extras include white cheddar, bacon, bleu cheese, a fried egg and a fried oyster. If you're a purist, you'll want to skip everything but the cheddar to let the meat speak for itself. We like to add a fried oyster just because we're at Jax; the little mollusk coated in a cornmeal crust doesn't distract from the flavor of the burger and adds a nice crunchy texture.
Like the Chowder Room, Jax nails your requested beef temperature and uses a blend with enough fat to make each bite drippy and delicious.
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Stoic & Genuine
1701 Wynkoop Street
The lunch-menu burger at Stoic & Genuine is so good that it beat out the competition from fourteen other restaurants and burger bars at last week's Denver Burger Battle. What makes it so great? "We just try really hard not to screw it up," says chef Jorel Pierce. "Great ingredients, handled and cooked simply with salt and pepper. "
Those ingredients are the key: Pierce grinds New York strip trimmings for the twin patties and tops them with American cheese — possibly the best cheese for a burger despite its humble origins. A buttery bun, lettuce, tomato and onion are the only other additions; ketchup, mustard and mayo come on the side. The result is an explosion of beefy flavor with no other distractions. Despite its heft, the burger quickly disappears in a few bites because you just can't set it down. It's almost a shame that such a great burger lurks on a menu filled with delightful and creative seafood offerings, but on your next lunchtime visit to Union Station, resist the urge to splurge on seafood and take a chance on the beef instead.