Four on the Floor Hamburger Challenge

four on the floor hamburger challenge logo

UPDATE: PHOTO GALLERY ADDED AT BOTTOM OF POST!

Once every couple hundred years or so, the best and the brightest come together to collaborate, compete, and revel in the spirit of excellence. Saturday, June 25th, was one of those times. Or so I assume. I’m guessing somebody was doing something profound somewhere. My friends and I got together on that date to eat a lot of beef.

The premise is simple. Four hamburgers, four restaurants, four hours. We started with 18 people. Of those, nine were competing. Competing for what, you say? Mostly pride and satisfaction, but also for mastery over our bovine cousins. It’s like playing golf. Sure, you’d like to beat your buddies, what with their stupid shorts and condescending talk about “the plane of your swing,” but you’re mostly trying to improve yourself and master your own game.

The Legend

One evening, while talking about eating challenges, I wondered if I could invent my own. I thought that 4 burgers sounded achievable. My wife, Marisa, disagreed.

The Rules

It’s pretty straight-forward. Competitors had to eat the aforementioned hamburgers in the time alotted. They were allowed to remove one condiment of their choice, and were not required to eat fries or salad; this was all about the burgers. The rest of the gang was along to eat side dishes, drink beer, and laugh at our meat sweats.

The Restaurants

These were our stops, listed in the order in which we dominated their burgers. I selected these places because they all serve burgers, and they’re all walkable from my place.

1. Sckavone’s
4100 SE Division
Portland, OR
Website
2. Nick’s Coney Island
3746 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR
Website
3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s
3702 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR
Website
4. Dick’s Kitchen
3312 Southeast Belmont Street
Portland, OR
Website

The Competitors

Meet the Gang

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Our Journey

I asked all of the competitors to write brief summaries of their burger experiences, and after a few weeks passed, most of them did. A special thanks goes out to Brad, who served as our videographer and photographer.

1. Sckavone’s

Sckavone's

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This dependable and delicious neighborhood restaurant has awesome burgers, and that’s why I chose it to lead off; I figured that I’d enjoy the first burger the most, so it might as well be a really good one. Normally, I’d get the BBQ burger, which has loads of BBQ sauce and onions on it, or the California Chevre burger, with avocado and chevre. Today, however, it was the house cheeseburger, with blue cheese. The burger was delicious, with a sturdy bun and a healthy slathering of cheese. I also consumed my one and only beer. I didn’t want to fill up with liquid. Golden, delicious liquid.

Dan
A juicy delicious burger. Nothing complicated, but it went down quick and easy. The veggies were crisp and the patty was perfectly medium-rare.

Micah
The waitress was hot, the beginning of the burger challenge tension was palpable, I added cucumber to my burger and it was good. I remember it being a clean classic burger and at my hungriest state, I was very satisfied.

Colin
Tasted substantial, well-seasoned, a good size and was cooked well.

Kelly
I actually thought this burger was the best of the day. It don’t think it was just because I was hungry and it was the first. The meat was of high quality and the bun melded together nicely with the meat. A pleasure to eat and the staff did a great job in bringing out the team’s burgers in a fast orderly pace. I will go back to this place, maybe even for another burger.

Mike
This was a great burger. Granted I was hungriest here, but the salad was good, and thanks to Colin for donating half his potato chips for an extra topping. It was a good thick burger that washed down well with 2 Mirror Ponds.
(editorial note – Mike ate all his sides at each stop, which most of us did not. He was an eating machine.)

Kendra
This was one of the most amazingly delicious hamburgers i have ever had – and I don’t think it was just because I hadn’t eaten anything else for 2 days then exercised excessively to the point of delirium in preparation for this most monumental of events. and of not getting fat because of it.

Jon-Michael
Sckavone’s was awesome! Maybe it was because I was starving since I hadn’t eaten anything since 8:30 am, and it was about 5 pm when we got our burgers. I put fries on my cheese burger, which made it quite tasty. I finally figured out who our waitress was, after thinking she was some lady I saw in a band playing bass. She was a lady in the huge poster on Burnside advertising for the Timbers Soccer Campaign. I didn’t recognize her without her chainsaw. The burger was really tasty, regardless. Well sized and delicious.


2. Nick’s Coney Island

Nick's Coney Island

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As the name implies, Nick’s Coney Island is best known for its Coney Dogs, not its burgers. That said, Marisa and I have had their burgers and sliders a number of times, always with pleasant results. The burger itself reminds me of the kind you’d make on your backyard grill, only a bit greasier. You could definitely tell it was fried on a stovetop, not flame-grilled. That takes it down a notch in my book. That said, I did enjoy the burger. It was unpretentious and delicious.

Dan
Slightly greasy and perhaps not perfectly cooked, but still tasty. I ended up with some kind of tangy sauce on mine that brought it from mediocre to decent.

Micah
I like the classic diner atmosphere and the pinball, but the service was slow and unorganized. For this burger, I added coleslaw, and despite the refreshingly crisp taste of my addition, I was not impressed with the rest. The burger seemed thrown together with little love.

Colin
Smaller than I was expecting. It wasn’t bad, but it was kind of overwhelmed by the toppings for me. Given its name, the place probably does a lot better with hot dogs.

Kelly
I thought this burger was a bit unremarkable, but when I smothered it in hot sauce it felt nice going down. Next time I go back to Nick’s I will stick with the coney cheese fries. I think I may have ate this one in four large bites. At this point I still felt fine, just another day eating more than my fair share of beef, of which I have had plenty.

Mike
The most surprising burger for me. Thought it might suck, but it was just greasy enough. I had to add the chips myself on this one, and for my only strategy, switched over to 2 Bombay Sapphire and Tonics. Had to save some space.

Kendra
A perfectly average hamburger – like the kind you’d get at a state fair, or a bar-b-q in the suburbs, or a slightly better than average state campus cafeteria line. If an alien landed and said “show me the epitome of the average American hamburger”, that’s probably where I’d take him. Plus it was the cheapest.

Jon-Michael
Nick’s Coney Island was good as well. I ordered their regular burger, to which I added their very creamy cole slaw on top of the meat patty. Pretty tasty. I was pretty par for the course as far as stomach stretching went at this point of the competition. I was worried this burger would be the worst of the four places we would go to, but it was far from it. Surprisingly very tasty. I also became aware of the awesome power that both Micah and Sasha have on the ol’ pinball machine. They were masters of the flippers and royalty of the “four-legged ball flicker contest”! Unreal!


3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s

Back Stage

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This is one of my favorite hidden bars in Portland. Located right behind the Bagdad Theater (as the name implies), I can’t believe this place isn’t packed all the time. The ambiance is incredible, with its 4-story ceilings, beautiful bar, pool tables, and projection screen for sports. Plus, awesome McMenamin’s beer and the chain’s reliable food.

McMenamin’s burgers are generally best when you get one of their specialties, like the Communications Breakdown (covered in onions and peppers) or Dungeon Burger (mushrooms and swiss). Their regular burger is okay, if unspectacular. I do think they’ve improved it since last we met. The bun is now whole-wheat, which added a nice, hearty chew. It was after this burger that I felt like I might be getting into trouble. My stomach felt a bit bloated, but I was confident I could finish the challenge at our final stop.

Dan
Already fading at this point and struggling to enjoy the flavor of food. I think I ended up with blue cheese on this somehow, which I love, but I struggled to finish. The patty, as is often the case with McMenamin’s was a little dry, but still adequate for consumption.
(editorial note – Dan decided to quit here, but was talked back into the competition by Micah. Who says peer pressure is a bad thing?)

Micah
The group came in with low expectations but I enjoyed mine. This time, despite warning from my fellow competitors, I added on their famous tots and bit down on the sandwich with determination. The tots created the perfect texture change from the rest and I ignored my stomachs aches and pains.

Colin
The 1/3 pound size was appreciated and the pickles cut through well on this one. Overly greasy though, and that knocked it down a bit.

Kelly
I have never been a huge fan of McMenamin’s burgers, or their food in general. You know it is never going to be horrible but also never really that good. They tend to never ask how you want your burger cooked, and it always seems to come out overdone and a bit dry. This burger was no exception. I felt that I hit a bit of a wall half-way through this one. The last few bites were particularly unpleasant. My eating partner Kendra claimed that her burger had been infiltrated by horseradish, and that somebody must have played a trick on her because they knew she can’t stand horseradish. I chalked Kendra’s complaints up to paranoid over-eating-caused delusions, but Captain Nick confirmed the taste of horseradish as well. To be honest, I think there may have been a hint of horsey in the mustard.

Mike
No surprise this burger ranked last. As always with McMenamin’s, overpriced and flavorless. It probably didn’t help it that it was third in line, but no pity can be granted. Also with McMenamin’s, go for the beer, tolerate the food. The Ruby was the best part.

Kendra
There is only ONE food on earth that I cannot stand and that food is horseradish. Not only did this place surreptitiously sneak horseradish onto my burger, but they did it by mixing it into a “secret sauce” of grease and watery mustard which they injected into the bun. I have my suspicions that the waitress then wrung her dishrag onto it. . . But that might have just been mine cause I asked for happy hour prices 2 minutes after happy hour ended and I think that made her mad.

Jon-Michael
Bagdad Theatre… oooh boy. Worst. Burger. Ever. Soooo greasy I thought they used old tater tot oil as a condiment. There was a literal pool of grease under the burger and tots. Luke Warm as well. Disgusting. The patty was obviously previously frozen and machine shaped. I could taste the formaldehyde. It was that repulsive. I wolfed it down, just to get to the next round. I did add said Tater Tots inside my burger, just to keep the extra “Pat on the Back” points going. Man, that was a tough burger to get down, after having two already. I was still feeling pretty good though. I remember I had to do something similar when I was about 22. I went to a friends girlfriends house for Easter lunch/dinner. They were really excited about their Easter hams they had prepared. Apparently the person in charge of cooking the hams forgot to actually COOK the hams, as they came out nearly raw. We were all sitting around a table, where I had to eat the oinking ham, as to not insult them. I didn’t want to insult the purity of this burger challenge, so I did the same by eating this burger at the Bagdad Theatre. Let’s skip this place for next year, how about that?


4. Dick’s Kitchen

Dick's Kitchen

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I have to say, I picked Dick’s Kitchen because it looked good, and it was right where I wanted to end the night. I am really glad that this was our final stop of the night, however, because the food was amazing. The restaurant staff was nice enough to dedicate some tables to our enormous group at 7pm on a Saturday night, which is prime dinner time. I ordered the French Onion “Zizou” Burger, which was the only non-standard burger I got all night. It was fried with onions mashed into the patty, with a delicious gob of cheese melting on top. The burger was sensational; rich and flavorful, it was juicy without being overly greasy.

The owner, Dick, stopped by each of our tables to say “hello” and to explain his approach to cooking, which was really interesting. He has an agreement with a ranch that supplies all of his beef, and all of the cows we ate were grass-fed. Dick seemed like a nice guy, and he was clearly passionate about his burgers, which showed on the plate.

Dan
The only burger that felt gourmet, although I lacked the capacity to enjoy it in any way. The patty was clearly fresh ground and the flavor of the meat was perfect. I’ll go back sometime when I can properly appreciate it.
(editorial note – Despite urging from Micah to finish, Dan did quit in the middle of this burger, just a few bites short of burger immortality. As for actual immortality, he’ll likely die like the rest of us: with arteries clogged with beef.)

Micah
Despite my dangerously full belly, each bite gave me pleasure. The beef was just too pure and cooked to perfection. I added nothing to this one, party due to my fear of not finishing, but mostly because I didn’t need to do anything to distinguish it from the others.

Colin
I could really taste the beef quality. Good pairing of meat and bun. While it seemed a little odd to have a burger that wasn’t salted and/or peppered a bit before cooking, adding the pickles and pickled onions that came on the side made up for the lack of salt.

Kelly
The owner of this place is a Dick in name only. He was very friendly and went out of his way to talk about the high quality local beef that is used at his establishment. The burger looked good, but that’s were I have to stop with my praise. To be fair, I can’t say that my burger didn’t taste good objectively, but at that point my own subjective biophysical difficulties could not be ignored. Tasting, chewing, and swallowing another burger was just not what the doctor (or my insides) ordered. I SLOWLY got this one down and completed the challenge, but it wasn’t easy. I think Kendra and I were the final competitors to finish. Kendra put down a whole strawberry milkshake as well!

Mike
Although I’d like to denounce a burger that flaunts such froo-froo grass-fed nonsense, it was quite excellent. Especially being the last of the 4. It went down well with the Dry Hop Orange IPA. I was stuffed at this point, and couldn’t even attempt the cole slaw, though it looked excellent as well.

Kendra
This one’s kind of a guess. I have a feeling it was really good. Unfortunately, I was a little full by this point and everything was kind of a blur. Sitting by the kitchen and eating in 95% temperatures didn’t help, nor did the sight of the cooks with their abundance of body hair and shortages of hair nets. The strawberry milkshake was fantastic though!

Jon-Michael
Dick’s Kitchen was interesting. I got the lamb burger, but looking back I wish I had gotten the French Onion Soup burger, since it looked a little better than the one I got. I just can’t resist lamb when it’s available. It’s the curse I have to live with. Still pretty good burger. I added the “No-Fries” to it, thus completing my “Pat on the Back” extra credit points. I need to go back there and get the French Onion Soup burger to see what I missed. I do remember the owner of the place coming out and talking to us about how he runs the place. Seemed nice, but I got the feeling that I was being sold something. Perhaps more burgers for another time… He was wearing a shirt with Michael Jackson and E.T. on it, that read “Alien Vs. Predator”. That was pretty funny.

Summary

I had each person rank his/her favorites, and as you’ll see, Dick’s Kitchen was the winner. It gets moderately more interesting after that, though.*

Me
1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s
4. Nick’s Coney Island

Dan

1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s
4. Nick’s Coney Island

Micah
I highly enjoyed the event even-though I was extremely sluggish the next day. The group walking felt like a traveling circus and most establishments warmly welcomed us. I look forward to other food challenges in the future and would like thank the organizer, Nick Voll.
1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s
4. Nick’s Coney Island

Colin
1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s
4. Nick’s Coney Island

Kelly
1. Sckavone’s
2. Dick’s Kitchen
3. Nick’s Coney Island
4. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s

Mike
What a contest. Almost 24 hours later, I’m still not ready for another burger.
1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. Nick’s Coney Island
4. The Backstage Bar – McMenamin’s

Kendra
1. Dick’s Kitchen
2. Sckavone’s
3. Nick’s Coney Island
4. The Back Stage Bar

Jon-Michael
Afterwards, we went down to Swirl on Hawthorne to get some pallet-cleansing Frozen Yogurt, which hit the spot. After 4 burgers, I needed the variety. Delicious challenge! Looking forward to the sequel. Street Tacos? Waffles? Pitas? Kabobs? Pizza Slices?

*That was a lie. It was almost unanimous.
Nine competitors, eight winners. I’m glad Dan couldn’t finish, so that way we had at least one loser. It would have made me feel like less of a winner to not have beaten anybody. I know that’s not what I said at the beginning of this blog, but whatever.

Some competitors want extra credit for eating more, but I refuse to grant it. I will, however, give those who ate extra food a little bit of a shout-out. Mike, Jon-Michael, Kendra, Micah, and a couple of other people ate some of their side-dish options throughout the night. Most notably, Kendra drank a milkshake at Dick’s Kitchen, which looked so tasty we went back on the 4th of July to get one for ourselves (it was awesome). I will also give an approving head-nod to Mike and Jon-Michael for eating frozen yogurt at Swirl immediately after the competition.

I would definitely do this again, but at four new restaurants. I was really, really full, but I had fun, and I love hamburgers. There was talk of a taco or wing-eating competition later this summer, but we’ll have to see. I’m not sure if my arteries will be clear by then.