You can keep your thick-ass, hockey-puck-pattied, boffo burgers. Me, I like 'em done in the classic manner, like the ones Lou Reed sang about in "New Sensations"; the kind you'd find at a roadside diner near the Delaware Gap; a burger with greasy buns, nuclear-yellow cheese and a patty crisped around the edges and flat as a pancake. My favorite is the one ol' Bill Elwell, the crusty 93-year-old proprietor of Bill's Burgers, makes at his Van Nuys, California, burger stand — no fuss, no frills, just the poster burger of burgerdom. Nat Russell, the gifted chef of Sanford's Tennessee Truffle, is no Bill Elwell, but he does pay homage to flat-top burger classicism at What the Chuck, his stall inside Sanford food hall Henry's Depot.
I refer specifically to the "1960's Smash Burger" ($9) – the patty, an 80/20 mix of chuck and sirloin ground on premises, comes charred, crusty and draped with melted American cheese. Grilled onions and yellow mustard give it all the flavor it needs, and the squishy bun (it's brioche) is toasted with aioli and branded with grill marks on top. It's all very throwback America and it's all very gratifying.
I had the back patio at Henry's Depot all to myself one late afternoon, and enjoyed the burger there along with a side of thick-cut fries ($2.50) and a root beer. ($3) All I could think of while eating those fries was how much better they'd be slathered in a dark beef gravy along with some cheese curds. C'mon, there's nothing wrong infusing a bit of Canadiana with this all-American burger, is there?
WTC's other smashburger, the "Classic" ($10), fancies it up a bit with Grafton Village sharp cheddar, sweet and sour pickles, and whole-grain Dijonnaise mustard. Those pickles, by the way, can be ordered as a side for $1 more. I'd make the splurge.
Despite all my grousing against the pub-style burger in the opening lines of this review, I will say Russell crafts some impressive contemporary renditions. The towering "Tennessee Truffle" ($12), named after his restaurant across the street, doesn't feature any of the namesake pickled ramps, but the addition of smoked kale, crunchy charred scallions and "cowboy candy" pimento cheese (it's got candied jalapeños) is a beefy ode to the South. Then there's the "Celery City" ($13), named in honor of the city of Sanford and its celery farms. Its flavors, however, are more Byblos than Bokey, with marinated feta and mint mixed with pickled celery slaw and green apple.
Really, whether your tastes veer toward the classic or the modern, What the Chuck adds quality burgers to Henry's Depot, and Sean Kelley, owner/operator of this railroad-station-turned-food-hall, deserves credit for the vendor curation.
Now, if they could just get on the gravy train ....