A burger is not inherently an exotic food. However, in the hands of the right creative (or crazy) individual, that single slab of meat and two buns can become nothing short of "Burg-erotic"
Nowadays it seems like every chef or restaurateur is selling burgers. Bobby Flay has Bobby`s Burger Palace; Danny Meyer has his uber-popular Shake Shack. Gabrielle Hamilton at Prune throws a little ground lamb into her burger to make it gamier. And that`s not to mention all the chain burger joints creeping up around the country, from Umami Burger out west to Five Guys out east.
The first and most obvious answer to the question of why we`re so obsessed with burgers is: burgers are cheap. If you`re going out to dinner and the entrees cost $33, the burger almost always costs half. It fills you up just as much as the filet of trout would (if not more) and it almost always comes with a generous pile of fries. So it`s an economical, filling option. That`s appealing.
But I think the answer is a little more complicated than that. It`s not just that burgers are cheap, it`s that they`re easy to eat. Because the meat is ground up, you don`t have to do much chewing. Because it`s served on a bun, it`s easy to eat. There`s no cutting, only lifting. And because burgers come with an array of sides, you can build yours to your own taste. That`s appealing too.
Another factor may be familiarity. Sometimes, when we go out to eat, we don`t want to be challenged. We want the taste of the familiar and nothing`s more familiar, at least to Americans, than the taste of a burger.
Specifically the char that appears on the exterior of the meat after it hits the hot flame; that specific smell and taste conjures up memories of backyard barbecues and birthday parties from our childhoods. It`s comforting.
That`s not to say that burgers have to be boring. The burger above, which I ate at Falai in SoHo, was made with veal, served on toasted brioche and topped with a homemade mayonnaise along with mozzarella and tomato. It was interesting and, more importantly, it hit the spot.
All in all, burgers are popular because burgers are good. They do the job of feeding us when we want to be fed. And for that, we should all be grateful to the burger.