Quest for the Perfect Cheeseburger


My Quest for the Perfect Cheeseburger

Ship’s Log – Day 15...

Lost sight of the Southern Cross. Steady trade winds 12 knots, comfortable beam reach on 2-foot rollers. All are well onboard ... except me. I’ve started obsessing about cheeseburgers!

Tahiti is far behind in our wake, and Hawaii is only four days away if all goes well. After nine months of threading our way through French Polynesia and eating mostly whatever we could spear, I’m craving an old fashion, juicy American cheeseburger ... plus fries ... plus a very cold Coca Cola with double ice. I haven’t seen an ice cube for ages.

Credit April Winship

This passage is taking longer than we anticipated. The fresh food was gone a week ago, and for some reason the fish aren’t attracted to our lucky red and yellow feather lure.

My husband Bruce tried to cheer me up by serving me a SPAM burger with sliced dill pickles on freshly baked bread, but that missed the mark. To make matters worse, after my confession of burger cravings we’ve been torturing each other on night watch by conjuring up images of our dream burger in extreme detail, toppings and all. I ventured the traditional route with a mushroom bacon cheeseburger, while Bruce delved into the more extreme version of burgers piled high with pulled pork, a fried egg, and (yuck) even peanut butter.

Luckily the skyline of Hawaii poked over the horizon just before cannibalism set in. The dock lines were barely secured before I beelined for the Waikiki Yacht Club restaurant to be rewarded with the meal of my dreams. For now, I was sated and the prospect of another cheeseburger waiting for me in Long Beach, CA, made our upcoming 19-day jump home far more palatable.

In my world, anything that happens twice becomes a tradition, and traditions die hard, so even after making these landfalls decades ago I still crave that perfect burger whenever we complete a passage or arrive in a new destination. Bruce thinks it’s a little ironic that we live on a boat, surrounded by the freshest seafood, and after spending the day on the water, all I’m craving is a cheeseburger.

Imagine my delight when we tied our boat Rogue One up in what some Tampa Bay locals affectionately call “Burger Town USA.” It became my mission to seek out the best cheeseburgers in town.

Somehow within the first five minutes of tying up at the marina, the topic of cheeseburgers comes up. Funny how that happens. Dinner time was fast approaching, and I already had on my walking shoes and a direction where I wanted to head.

Credit April Winship

When I showed Bruce my list of six burger-centric restaurants, he wanted to know which one I wanted to try. “Oh, you mean try first?” Yes, we only had a couple weeks in the area, but I was on a quest.

St. Petersburg is a college town, so we started with the local campus pub known as The Tavern. Sitting on stools listening to open mic night while drinking $2 draft beers was fun, but I knew why I came. I zoomed in on the M.O.S. Burger, which lit all my buttons. Mushroom, onion and Swiss cheese were plentiful, but what put it over the top was their fresh baked rosemary herb roll.

Surprisingly Bruce passed on the Black & Blu and went for the Mac & Cheesy Burger served on soft Cuban bread and a double order of sweet potato fries. The mac and cheese was made from scratch with buttermilk, cream and four kinds of cheeses. Served with a knife and fork, it was a meal fit for two. Fortunately, the marina was only a 15-minute waddle back to the boat.

We took the next day off to accomplish boat projects, but really, I think Bruce needed to rest his stomach before continuing my burger crusade.

Recommended by several boaters as a “must see,” Engine No. 9 was next on the list. This famous establishment is an old brick fire station resurrected into a trendy burger bar. Just reading their menu was worth the trip alone. I couldn’t decide which burger: Heart Attack or One Bad Pig or Alice in Pain or Saganaki. Going with the Heart Attack, Bruce’s burger showed up with a half-pound of prime Black Angus beef topped with a fried egg, three slices of American cheese, four slices of bacon and slathered with Chipotle mayo. Whew, we’re not telling his doctor about this one. My Saganaki burger came with fried Kasseri, tzatziki sauce, feta, pickles and Kalamata olives. Cheaper than a trip to Greece, but just as delectable.

We made it through my list of the top six burger bistros evaluating the best they had to offer, but for the final comparison I was ready for Bruce’s classic Rogue One Burgers. It’s rather unassuming compared to the wildly crafted burgers we encoun- tered ashore. When we are on the move, stocking exotic toppings can be impracti- cal, so we keep it simple and stick to the basics ... with a twist.

Using the tips in the following sidebar, Bruce grills the perfect foundation and adds a slice of my favorite cheddar. Next comes the tomato slice, a pickle and then thinly cut red onion. On a toasted bun he dollops mustard, ketchup and mayo. Now comes the finale. One item that’s difficult to keep aboard is crisp lettuce, so when we’re missing that satisfying crunch, that’s where the Rogue One Burger features a layer of ... potato chips. Nothing beats taking a mouthful of a juicy burger combined with that salty crunch.

No one believes me — until they do.

Set Sail and Live Your Dreams (Seaworthy Publications, 2019) is the Winships’ book about their 10-year adventure cruising aboard their 33-foot catamaran Chewbacca. It is available in paperback and e-book editions at Amazon. The Winship’s are currently cruising aboard their Albin 34 family trawler along Florida’s West Coast.


Credit April Winship

The cut of the meat is crucial, so start with freshly ground chuck containing at least 20% fat, which guarantees the juiciest burger.

- Skip adding the onions, herbs, spices, egg or breadcrumbs to your mixture, unless you are making a meatloaf    sandwich.
- Keep the meat cold while hand forming it and be sure not to overwork or pack your meat patties into dense    little hockey pucks. Keep them light and fluffy for a moister and more tender burger.
- Liberally salt and pepper only the outside of the cold patties just prior to putting them on the grill. Salt added    too soon will result in a dense and dry burger.
- Put a small “thumbprint” or depression in the middle of the patty to prevent it from swelling up like a meatball    during grilling.

- Flip the burgers only once. Wait until a seared and caramelized crust has formed on the bottom side before flipping. Turning too soon or too often may result in the    patty falling apart and a dryer burger.
- Never squish the patties flat with your spatula. This drives out the natural juice you’re trying to preserve.
- The perfect burger is pink and juicy in the middle. Using a meat thermometer, look for an internal temperature of 145 degrees.
- Now your burger is ready to be placed on a toasted bun and topped off to your heart’s desire.

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