by LUKE BAUMGARTEN, MICHAEL BOWEN and TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & ZIP'S & r & multiple Inland Northwest locations & r & & r & When I was a kid, my grandma ate so many regular Zip's Hamburgers that the Five Mile location named them after her. While growing up, I spent a lot of time with her, so fry buckets and Papa Joes were diet staples. When we wondered which cheap fast-food burger equates with comfort food, my mind immediately shot back to my grandma's basement and plowing through a double cheeseburger. Zip's was the only contender in my mind. Surprisingly, the room concurred, almost unanimously. People had different reasons, but nearly everyone agreed that, when you're in Spokane and you need a cheap, fast, tasty burger, you go to Zip's. (LB)
Papa Joe ($1.50) - Luke
Though it was my boyhood burger of choice, I haven't had a Papa Joe in probably a half-decade. Dissecting it now -- a hamburger patty, a slice of ham, shredded iceberg lettuce and that weird not-thick-enough-to-be-mayonnaise sauce -- the burger seemed thin on flavor-adding ingredients. Consequently, biting in was a less-than-explosive taste experience. The mayo sauce and lettuce had intermingled in a really odd way, the ham lacked the smokiness I expected. The patty? Well, it tasted like a burger all right. For me, though, the comfort aspect of fast foods has always been the fry-and-tartar-sauce combination. The crinkle-cuts and Zip's homestyle tartar recipe still rank among the best.
Salad Burger ($2.70) - Bo
Belly Buster, Double Papa Joe, Super Burger, Big Buster -- could I really do that to my arteries? Ah, the Salad Burger -- two beef patties, Thousand Island dressing, lettuce and tomato on a bun. That's gotta qualify as a greasy burger, right? It offers double the meat and lots of fat in the rich, creamy dressing. Except that it didn't: The Thousand Island was thin and the shredded lettuce, skimpy. Plus the entire deal was put together assembly-line fashion, with all the tasty, gooey stuff down below decks. The result? Biting into one side of my Salad Burger was an arid experience. Still, at one point, a large dollop of dressing provided a big, satisfying swallow of grease and fat. Ahhh.
The Wrangler ($4) - Ted
Usually I'm not a big fan of barbecue sauce on a hamburger, but this is my exception. And it's a big exception -- in fact, it's HUGE. With two patties, cheese, barbecue sauce from Spokane's own legendary Longhorn and bacon, all on a bun the size of a brick, you'll have trouble wrangling every bite down. But what bites! Meat, bacon, sauce -- this is a meal any carnivore can love. The bliss fades after an hour or so when the caloric reality of what you just ingested settles in. But that can be a pretty happy hour. Zip's fries aren't particularly noteworthy -- pretty much your basic middle-of-the-road, crinkle-cut fries. But there's nothing middle-of-the-road about the Wrangler.
River Park Square * 363-1100
Sawtooth's ski lodge d & eacute;cor feels all warm and snuggly no matter what the weather's like outside. Leather seats surround a central fireplace; books and photos are arranged on the mantle; snowshoes, sleds and ski poles criss-cross the walls. Sawtooth's service is cheerful and attentive: Kids get crayons to scribble with and celery and carrots to munch on at the start of every meal, along with a soft-serve ice cream cone at the end. None of that, however, has much to do with manly men tearing into medium-rare meat with their incisors. We arrived at Sawtooth for a business lunch, and we meant business: greasy, I-need-extra-napkins business. (MB)
Burger "Oscar" ($12) - Luke
Dungeness crab, asparagus, B & eacute;arnaise sauce... At any point, do those items make you think "hamburger"? Me neither. It was so bizarre seeing them all under the heading of "burger" that I had to ask the server if there was actually any beef in the thing. There was, and the pairing -- especially the hamburger and the B & eacute;arnaise -- was amazingly sweet, juicy and delicious. As a delicate meat, the Dungeness was overpowered by the beef, though it added a little sweetness to the B & eacute;arnaise. The only real problems with the burger were the asparagus spears, which were too fibrous to bite through cleanly. I'd definitely recommend the Burger "Oscar" -- but hold the asparagus.
Kentucky Bourbon Burger ($10) - Bo
The Bourbon Burger features Swiss cheese, mayo, tomato, circlets of red onion, "spring greens" (romaine and spinach leaves were in evidence) and "fresh mushrooms that have been saut & eacute;ed and then deglazed in a shot of bourbon." (I was all for skipping the deglazing part and asking for a shot glass on the side, but this was lunch, and the boss's eyes were narrowing into slits.) It's those mushrooms and that secret sauce that make the Kentucky Bourbon go down smooth. As advertised, it's subtle -- there's just a hint of bourbon -- but the entire package was delicious. It spelled out "greasy satisfaction."
Blue Ribbon Chili Burger ($10) - Ted
When you finally get to it, you'll find the patty itself here isn't particularly greasy. It's just a nice lean grind of beef. But it's the entire package that will fill your belly with that familiar satisfaction. At Sawtooth, they make their chili fresh daily -- from scratch -- and you can taste it. Buried under that hearty stuff, there's the patty and an open-faced bun. (Clearly, this is a job for Mr. Fork.) To present the impression of lightness, they sprinkle shredded lettuce on top, and it's a tasty garnish that does make it all go down easier. I predicted I'd never finish this beast, but at the end of the meal, there I was, a member of the Clean Plate Club.