Burger Showdown: Stella's Lounge/Wealthy St Station

If there’s one food that’s sure to bring down harsh judgement or blind love from foodies, it’s the Burger. In our travels, we’ve had the opportunity to try many different versions from visionary chefs to greasy spoon line cooks. We felt it was time to begin a quest...a worldwide search for The Best Burger. To begin, after much prodding and talkback on Twitter, we decided to pit Stella’s Lounge against Wealthy Street Station in Grand Rapids...

He Fed:

I am guilty of instigating this burger-on-burger showdown. A few months ago, the brilliant chef at Reserve, Matthew Millar, debuted a very special burger on the menu. It is a mix of Kobe and bacon, a smoky, meaty, and utterly breathtaking accomplishment that haunts me when I’m craving beef. I promptly proclaimed it the Best Burger in Grand Rapids. Of course, some fellow foodies took issue with this annoucement and before I knew it, we had embarked on a mission to prove my theory. Thanks to @Mark_L_Curtis @grgrub @bryanesler and @joelleo we seek the #BestBurger in #GRmi

We begin by heading to Stella’s to try their signature stuffed burger. At the last minute, our buddy Pappy announces he will be in the neighborhood, so we invite him along for the challenge. There is some concern that, since this is Stella’s 1 year anniversary, there might be a crowd. Indeed, we have a rough time finding a spot to park nearby...not because of the birthday, but because Kenny Chesney is in town. We are the only patrons at Stella’s for lunch.

Since we’re early, we start with the D&B, deep fried pickles and olives. The pickles are spears, not slices, while the olives are medium-large pimento-stuffed. Though they are deep fried, the batter is light and crispy, almost tempura. I’m a big fan of the spicy chipotle dipping sauce. Pappy joins us and he goes for the chili dog, while Juliet and I opt to split the burger stuffed with blue cheese and bacon. We also upgrade to the chronic fries, and I’m so glad we did. The fries are coated in a dusting of dehydrated Frank’s Red Hot that is spicy and addictive...maybe better than HopCat’s crack fries. Maybe. The burger is juicy and blue cheese oozes out of the center when we cut it in half. I take a big bite...and taste nothing. The quality of the meat is good, but it’s nearly tasteless. I am not getting much in the way of blue cheese either. Bacon? Nowhere to be found. Maybe it’s in there, but I’m not detecting any salt component whatsoever.

We zoom next to Wealthy Street Station. It is a fantastically nice day out, hot and sunny. By this time, the lunch rush is over and we find a parking space in front of the restaurant, kitty corner to Sandmann’s barbecue. The place is clearly an old garage or gas station, converted to a greasy spoon. Seems promising! A friendly counter jockey takes our order; Pappy continues with the chili dog theme (he is a glutton for punishment), instead opting for a polish sausage smothered in chili, while we order the olive burger. We are already full from our previous stop, but the show must go on! We grab a table outside, soaking up the sun and drinking Vanilla Cream soda until the counter guy literally bangs on the garage door from the inside to let us know our order is up. I slice the sandwich in half and take a healthy bite. The meat patty is anemic—clearly pre-fab from Gordon Food Service—and though the ingredients on top are fresh, they completely overwhelm the beef. It reminds me of the old Hot-N-Now olive burgers (which I used to worship a quarter century ago) and that’s probably not a good thing.

For this underwhelming burger extravaganza, Stella’s clearly wins out over Wealthy Street Station, only for quality of meat, if not taste. In Grand Rapids, Reserve’s burger remains top dog in my book with Brewery Vivant a close second.

She Fed:

Stella's is dark with lots of retro 80's memorabilia floating about and voluble but not ear-splitting punk rock playing. The menu is black with red ink and I struggle to read it. One entire side of the menu is dedicated to the 200 whiskeys they have in stock. I feel about 187 years old right now and it's not helping my mood. I distract myself by reading all the used concert ticket stubs under the plexiglass layer of the bar. Lou Reed, Psychedelic Furs, Wilco. Maybe I'm not completely out of my element.

We already know we're getting a burger and since all of Stella's are stuffed, we just have to figure out which one we want to share: the cheddar, blue cheese, or pepper jack. I'm not up for anything too fiery today so I vote for the blue cheese stuffed burger medium-rare and Jeremy seconds. He orders the "D & B" appetizer—deep fried pickles and olives, which is delivered quickly and we both start with an olive. The batter is slightly sweet and interestingly enough, my first olive is still slightly cold on the inside. The second olive I try is hotter. The dill pickle spears are pretty standard (and they're piping hot—beware of scalding squirting dill juice!) but it's the sweet batter combined with the slow burn of the accompanying dipping sauce that gets me. I wish I was in the mood for a retro beer. Stella's has plenty and it would go well with this fry up.

Our burger arrives and it's a massive beast. It takes a few seconds, but Jeremy cuts it in half and begins to dig in. Even halved it's a messy eat that takes two hands and lotsa napkins. While he leans over the burger basket, I snitch a few fries. The bartender explains they dehydrate Frank's Red Hot Sauce and sprinkle the dust over the fries. The results are fabulous and quite possibly the best fries I've ever eaten.

I can't put it off any longer; I've got to battle the remaining half of the burger. It's cooked medium-rare and between the meat juices and the abundance of blue cheese stuffing, my hands are slathered before I swallow my first bite. The meat is flavorful and the blue cheese is sharp, but not overpowering. The bun is room temp, not grilled, but at least not cold from the cooler. (I hate that!) Over all I'd say the burger at Stella's is standard fare, but the fries are worth a special trip.

Our next stop is Wealthy Street Station which has been recommended by a reader as the "best burger in Grand Rapids." It's in a former gas station and has a walk-up counter for ordering. We go with the basic burger which is grilled to order. When it arrives, the meat is obviously from a box of frozen patties; it's much too uniform in appearance and texture to be anything else. It's overcooked, closer to medium-well than medium-rare. Even with the mayo, shredded iceberg lettuce and olives, the burger is plain and relatively tasteless. The bun is pretty good and it's toasted which I like. But I find it pretty disappointing given that this was touted as the best in town. We split this burger too and I end up leaving more than half of my half, thinking instead of Stella's fries.

In the end, neither one of these is the best burger in GR in my opinion. Which is really all this is, right? One person's opinion (or two if you count that column to the left). The hunt for the best burger continues...

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