There’s a burger joint in Greensboro that Matt used to like to frequent. I say used to because TripAdvisor named Hops Burger Bar the best burger in the nation, and now it is impossible to get a table — or even a seat at the bar. Matt stopped by on a Thursday night at 8:30 for dinner a few weeks ago, and he said the place was packed. He ended up eating somewhere else.
Hops has a daily special, and on that particular day it was the ‘smoke ring’. It had Matt’s name written all over it — a juicy burger with red pepper aioli, brandied mushrooms, smoked gouda, and onion rings. He showed me a picture of it from Facebook when he got home to which I said, “I could make that.” And so I did.
Barb’s Version of the Smoke Ring Burger
I used 80/20 ground chuck. Made them into patties and seasoned them with salt and pepper. Matt grilled them for me, placing a slice of smoked gouda on each right before removing them from the grill so the cheese would melt and ooze over the sides. While he grilled, I worked on the rest of the items.
Red Pepper Aioli
- 1 cup mayo
- 1/4 cup jarred, drained roasted red peppers
- 1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
Blend in blender until smooth.
- 1 pound button mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 shallot, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup brandy
- salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and shallots and saute until tender. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Pour in brandy, season with salt and pepper. Let the mushrooms cook down until the liquid cooks out.
Beer Battered Onion Rings
- 2 large red onions
- 1 cup AP flour, plus additional for dusting
- 1 12 ounce beer
- 2 teaspoons corn starch
- 1 teaspoon salt
Mix flour, cornstarch, and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk in enough beer to make a smooth batter. (I found this to be an experiment. I ended up using the whole beer but adding more flour too. You don’t want it to be too runny but you don’t want it to be too thick either.) Slice your onion into large rings. Place a few inches of vegetable oil in a heavy skillet on medium-high until it reaches 375 degrees. Dredge your rings in some flour first, then into the batter, then place them in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown. Remove and place them on a cookie sheet lined with paper towel and sprinkle with salt immediately.
Hops used brioche buns, but of course this is Columbia, Tennessee. Kroger doesn’t carry brioche anything, so I used Pepperidge Farm potato buns, and they worked nicely. To assemble, smear the aioli both on the top and bottom bun, place a burger on the bottom half, top with the mushrooms, two onion rings, and then the top half of the bun.
This was probably one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten, and Matt thought the same. The combination of flavors was amazing, plus it was so satisfying on so many levels for me. Mostly because it was the first thing I’d bitten into since the gum graft surgery experience.
No whopper of a burger could be served without a special drink. When I sat it in front of Gray with his burger he asked, “We get to have this with dinner?” When I responded with a ‘yes’. He then said, “I absolutely love you, mom!”
Chocolate Cream Soda
- Chocolate syrup
- Half and half
- Soda water
- Vanilla ice cream
To make one soda, take a tall glass and pour in 3 tablespoons chocolate syrup and 2 tablespoons half and half. Mix well. Pour in enough soda water to fill roughly 2/3 the way full. Add 2-3 scoops of vanilla ice cream. Top with whip cream and sprinkles.
Golly, what an awesome and fun dinner! Totally worth the calories and the running required the next morning.