Burger Ordered: Cheeseburger, with caramelized onions, tomatoes, lettuce, special “burger sauce.”
The Experience: Inspired by his experience at New York Style Steak & Burger a few weeks ago, Burgermeister Josh embarked on his second career mission for Burger Weekly. A few burger slinging establishments near Josh’s office offer Monday evening happy hour specials, so he decided to take the ten minute walk down to Piro in the French Concession, where a free pint of Stella Artois awaited all burger seeking patrons. Piro marked Josh’s second consecutive burger joint that advertised a top burger award – this one from Time Out Shanghai magazine.
Despite its somewhat eclectic name, Piro is your basic sports bar. There are college banners prominently hung up, greeting you as you enter. The fact that the bar purports to be both a University of Wisconsin bar and a Penn State (two Big Ten rivals) provides a reminder that this is Shanghai, after all, and American sports subtleties are bound to be overlooked occasionally. A strange combination of top-40 pop and country music serenaded the burger-eaters at a comfortable volume – perfectly tolerable until, after only about 20 minutes, a repeat played (big time demerits). The televisions featured Australian Open tennis action, a rare opportunity to watch live sports at a reasonable hour in Shanghai which Burgermeister Josh enjoyed.
The Taste: Burgermeister Josh poured over the 20-something burger options on Piro’s menu before ultimately deciding on the Cheeseburger – a compromise between the appeal of the caramelized onions that came with it, and his theory that in order to aptly gauge the quality of a burger, one should taste the classic, no-frills option. When it arrived, Josh’s initial reaction was one of disdain. The cheese, arguably the most important non-beef part of a cheeseburger, consisted two sad-looking Kraft singles. Different colored Kraft singles, but Kraft singles all the same. It’s difficult to make a burger look tasty when it looks so….processed. Is investing in some real cheese too much to ask?
Presentation aside, the first few bites of the cheeseburger were quite satisfying indeed. The meat was soft and juicy, well-cooked, and tasted like a good patty should taste like: ground beef, unadorned by over-attentive marinades or spices. The caramelized onions provided a deliciously sweet and tangy counterpoint to the savory flavor of the meat (then again, how can you possibly screw up caramelized onions? They’re God’s gift to burger accompaniments).
Unsurprisingly, however, the cheese added very little to the taste (Kraft singles tend to get overpowered by literally any other competing flavor). The “special burger sauce” – nothing more than a light chipotle mayo – was also uninspiring, and provided little more than additional mess. The mess was magnified halfway through the experience, when the entire burger fell apart. Eating the second half of his burger with a fork, while perhaps just as tasty, was naturally slightly less satisfying for Burgermeister Josh.
The French fries that came with the burger were a definite bright spot: thick wedges, full of potato-y fluff, and salted well within the Goldilocks range (not too much, not too little). The two Czech dudes sitting next to Josh, who opted for the mashed potato option, spent part of their meal gazing longingly at Josh’s fries after their mashed came out topped with some unidentifiable bean-based glop.
The Verdict: Burgermeister Josh feels bad that he is being so hard on Shanghai’s burger scene. But he’s a New Yorker at heart, and he can’t ignore his roots. Piro’s cheeseburger, while above average based on what Josh has experienced thus far in Shanghai, is passable, but certainly not exceptional. It is not difficult to make a ground beef patty with caramelized onions taste good. Piro succeeded in that endeavor. But the disaster that was the cheese, the calamity of the burger’s halftime collapse, and the ennui of the bun, burger sauce, and everything else other than the fries all add up to a solid “needs improvement” rating from this demanding New York City burger lover. New York Style Steak & Burger defended its “best burger in Shanghai” rating more admirably than did Piro.