Like the rest of the United States, St. Louis has been witness to a seemingly never-ending burger renaissance that has taken the humble hamburger - ground beef, formed into a patty, grilled and slapped between slices of bread - from a bar and pub staple to the heights of chef-driven cuisine.
Yet, for all the specialization and customization of the burger (secret-recipe meat mixes with higher-than-average fat ratios and a boundless array of toppings) it is the hamburger bun that is so often overlooked as transportation of the patty and accouterments from plate to waiting mouth. That is, until recently. It would seem that finally, the bun is getting its due.
So, what makes a great hamburger bun?
A hamburger bun is like a good utility player with attributes that are often overlooked until it is apparent they are not there. Change or remove it from the mix, and the whole team never seems to play as well.
A hamburger bun must be soft and chewy, yield to pressure yet remain strong enough to hold its integrity from the first bite to the last of a really juicy hamburger. A bun that falls apart before the last bite has failed the diner, as anyone who has been forced to knife and fork a burger can attest.
Great buns tend to come from versions of the classic Kaiser and brioche rolls verses breads like ciabatta, whose dense structure makes it better suited for sopping sauce than supporting a burger and toppings.
Size is important as well; buns should never be smaller or larger than the patty they carry. No matter the bread style, hamburger buns should be quickly grilled or toasted on a flat top before plating.
Who in St. Louis is doing it right?
In St. Louis, there are a growing number of great burgers that feature better-than-average buns. These burgers fall into two categories, originating from restaurants that bring in rolls daily and a smaller group that maintains in-house bread programs.
Scroll through the pictures above to find out what makes the buns at Brasserie by Niche, Five Bistro, Dave & Tony's Premium Burger Joint and Baileys' Range worth sinking your teeth into.