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Bun Appetit 

Acme’s brilliant burgers mark the return of a screwball chef.

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I doubt that Adam Kreisel thought he’d be flipping burgers at this stage of his professional cooking career. After all, his pedigree includes a California Culinary Academy education; work in San Francisco’s Acquerello, Oritalia and Mecca restaurants; serving as executive chef and co-owner of the much missed Globe Café by Moonlight here in Salt Lake City; and a stint as executive chef for Sundance Resort. But now Kreisel is behind a grill flipping burgers. And that is exactly where he wants to be. You see, this isn’t just any old burger.

When I heard, well over a year ago, that the talented and creative Kreisel intended to open up a burger joint, I thought he’d lost his mind. Not that he’d have far to go—this, after all, is the zany chef who used to dye his mutton chops various shades of pink, purple, blue or whatever other hue he deemed appropriate on a given day. His cooking at The Globe was by far the most adventurous I’d ever encountered in Utah, regularly breaking culinary norms and rules that hadn’t even been created yet. So, when I learned that Kreisel had decided to become Burger Boy, I figured he’d finally gone around the bend. At the very least, he’d surrendered to an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” philosophy and had abandoned his lofty culinary standards and goals for something a bit more pedestrian.

I should have known better. Just one bite of the Classic hamburger at Acme Burger Co. was enough to rekindle my belief that although he may be crazy, or at least eccentric, Kreisel is also a genius. How on earth could a hamburger possibly taste this good?

It’s a case of the whole being much more than just a sum of the parts. Sure, Acme Burger Co. only employs top-quality grass-fed beef in its hamburgers. The yummy buns are made in house, and burger accoutrements include fresh, crunchy Bibb lettuce, sliced red onion, sweet pickle slices and ripe tomato. Still, those fine ingredients don’t alone explain the unique flavor experience of an Acme burger. If there is an Aristotelian essence of hamburger, this is it. I’ve never tasted better.

Incredibly though, the Acme beef burger—which comes in Mini ($3), Classic ($6), Grande ($12) and Colossal ($20) sizes—isn’t even the best burger on the Acme menu. Rather, I’d cast my vote for the seared-lamb burger ($12) with hints of cardamom, served with a cucumber-yogurt relish and baby arugula on a sweet potato bun. Neck and neck in quality and flavor is chef Kreisel’s savory salmon burger, served on toasted pumpernickel bread with pickled ginger cream cheese, shiso vinaigrette and curly endive. In fact, there’s not a burger on the Acme Burger Co. menu that isn’t outrageously tasty.

But don’t get the idea that Acme is only about burgers. In fact, the name is a bit of a misnomer, since more than half of Kreisel’s menu consists of salads, fish and seafood dishes, soups, appetizers and even an artisan meat and cheese board. Offerings such as Kobe skirt steak tataki-style ($22), lotus leaf steamed King salmon ($18), poached monchong in lemongrass broth ($18) and Grandma Sari’s potato latkes ($4) illustrate the eclectic inclinations of Kreisel, his versatility and an adventurous approach to feeding the public.

A sushi-chef friend of mine commented that the Pacific ahi tuna tartare ($12) at Acme was as fresh as any he’d ever tasted. I don’t disagree. It’s adorned with fried lotus root, roasted fennel and tomato oil. Kreisel enjoys bold flavors, and sometimes that can mean a minor misfire, as with his curried acorn squash bisque ($6), where the fiery curry overwhelmed the otherwise delicate dish. But that’s the only food foible I found at Acme. A salad of jerked Sonoma duck and green apple-ginger dressing ($8) was a joy, and barbecued oysters topped with scallions and crisp bacon bits ($8) were extraordinary.

The look of the Acme Burger Company is as bold as its chef, from the galaxy-blue-and-corrugated-tin exterior to the vibrantly colored interior, with its circa Studio 54 leather and chrome chairs. This is not your father’s hamburger joint.

There’s a slender but smart selection of inexpensive wines at Acme, as well as locally brewed suds and a nice smattering of after-dinner Ports, dessert wines and digestives. I’d especially recommend the Domaine de Mas Blanc Banyuls ($9) and Yalumba Old Sweet White Barossa Museum Release ($8).

Open for only about a month, it probably is to be expected that the service at Acme Burger Co. hasn’t quite caught up with the kitchen. Not that I mean this literally, but if I were looking for a word to describe the service there so far, “stoned” would be the word. Neither of two servers I questioned could tell us what cheeses and meats we were eating from the “board” we ordered. An order of Hawaiian monchong ceviche ($8) simply never showed. And servers on a recent Saturday night seemed perpetually confused about what dishes were going to which tables. Granted, Acme proudly flaunts its laidback vibe. But it isn’t exactly cheap to dine at Acme, and upping the professionalism in the front of the house would certainly be welcomed given the marvelous food coming from the kitchen. Burgers this fabulous deserve respect.

ACME BURGER COMPANY 275 S. 200 West, 257-5700, AcmeBurgerCo.com

FoodMatters
Lunch & dinner daily By far the most expensive—but also one of the most delicious—hamburgers I’ve ever eaten was the $30 21 Burger at New York City’s 21 Club. I mention this because the infamous 21 Burger is the stepfather, in a sense, of the great hamburger at Acme Burger Co. Alan Ireland, one of the owner-partners of Acme Burger Co., is a veteran restaurateur whose vitae includes not only opening and operating world-class eateries like Maui’s Mañana Garage and The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, but also a spell as vice-president of the 21 Club, whose patrons over the years have included Richard Nixon, Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gloria Vanderbilt and a slew of other celebrities.

• When I reached Acme’s chef Adam Kreisel by phone recently, he was generous enough to divulge the secrets behind his marvelous Acme hamburgers, saying, “If people want to try to duplicate my food at home or in their restaurant, I say, ‘Go for it!’” It turns out Kreisel was barely even conscious of the 21 Club Burger, although one of his secret weapons is the use of ground coriander seed in his burger mix, which is also done at 21. In addition, he incorporates kosher salt, cracked black Tellicherry pepper and a very small amount of Dijon mustard and Worcestershire Sauce (no more than a tablespoon or so for a 5-pound batch of meat. Just as important as the ingredients, “The grind of the meat is critical,” says Kreisel. Most hamburgers are made with “smashed” meat, he postulates. With an optimal hamburger-meat grind, Kreisel says that, in effect, a single hamburger is made up of “300 or so tiny filets.” He makes sure when forming the burger mix and making the individual burgers that he doesn’t smash the mix, using no breading and only a couple of eggs for binding in a burger batch. In other words, be gentle with your burgers.

Quote of the week: You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars. —Charles Kuralt

Send Food Matters information to teds@xmission.com. Hear Ted over the airwaves on Sound Bites, Thursdays on KSL NewsRadio 1160 AM and 102.7 FM.
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