In search of the perfect burger
Southwest Portland may as well be South Dakota when it comes to those ubiquitous local restaurant guides published by the hipster press.
If space is found to include eateries located west of the Willamette River and south of downtown, a handful of establishments, at most, will get a mention.
One of those is the distinctive blue 8-by-16-foot food cart called Burger Stevens, located in the Hillsdale Food Cart Park in front of Wilon High School..
Don Salamone opened Burger Stevens on Capitol Highway at Sunset Boulevard in June of 2016. Not long after that, he got a call from the folks who manage the civic plaza known in its early days as "Portland's living room."
"They invited us to open in Pioneeer Courthouse Square," Salamone said, slightly amazed. "Hundreds of food carts apply for a spot right on the Square and we got asked. We never applied. We were like 'You mean right in Pioneer Courthouse Square?'"
Without the rave reviews for his first location, there might not have been a second and third location. Salamone opened a Burger Stevens last August in Southeast Portland at the Dig A Pony Bar, 736 S.E. Grand Ave.
Leaving Los Angeles three years ago, he and his wife settled on a home about two miles from where he would establish his first food cart.
"I looked in Portland for a job as a chef but the pay wasn't anywhere near what I was making in L.A. I decided I couldn't work for anyone else and the cheapest way to do anything on my own was to start a food cart," Salamone said. "The whole role of Burger Stevens was to create the perfect burger in my mind. Just like the ones I ate growing up in Rochester, New York."
To concoct that "perfect burger" he buys his beef, which comes from Prime and Choice grade cattle, from Creekstone Farms out of Washington state. He learned, working at high-end restaurants in New York, the importance of fresh-ground Prime beef trimmed from the best cuts of meat.
His burgers are made with a high fat content compared to what we buy at the supermarket.
"I get the 27% fat ratio beef. Because of the high fat content even if it's cooked through (rather than being rare or medium rare) it's still juicy," he said.
But Salamone doesn't start with brrger patties.
"We make a ball of meat, put it on the griddle and smash it with a five pound weight," he said. "By smashing it on the griddle with that high fat content, it cooks in its own fat and tastes great. That's the way burger joints in Rochester do it."
As for seasonings and condiments, Salamone keeps it simple.
Don't forget the fries. Salamone says his Hillsdale cart can sell 60 orders of fries (for $3) in 30 minutes during the lunch break at Wilson High School.
Asked about the best burger he's ever eaten, he recalled "The burger at a restaurant where I worked in Las Vegas called Bradley Ogden's. Made with the trim from Prime ribeye steaks, cooked on a wood-fired grill, and served on house-made buns with some secret sauces. That was the burger that set me on this burger trail."
Back in Hillsdale, "Business is great and it it's only going to get better when the sun shines again," Salomone said
"We opened in June, 2016 just as the school year was ending. Which was fine because, as we found out, summer is the busiest part of the year for us," the chef-turned entrepreneur said.
So what's next? "Brick and mortar, absolutely," Salamone said. "We're looking to open a nostalgic burger joint with an expanded menu from what we now offer. Burgers sell more than anything. We're actively looking. We'll see what we can get."
For Burger Stevens menu and locations visit /
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