A couple weeks ago, Hungry Sasquatch began hosting a smash-burger pop-up shop called Goon Burger every Tuesday. From now until February, the Goons will serve burgers, fries and grilled cheese from Sasquatch’s kitchen from 4 p.m. until they sell out.
Smash burgers already dominate the Portland food scene. Goon Burger is ahead of hit the spot!, which plans to open in a former Starbucks, in bringing this method to Main Street, Vancouver.
To make a smash burger, a cold beef patty is smashed down within 30 seconds of hitting a hot skillet or griddle. This method creates a tender, flavorful burger with a crispy exterior.
Goon Burger owners Jake Shaffer and Brian Pouppirt met slinging tacos at another well-known Vancouver spot, Little Conejo.
“We spent a lot of nights after work drinking, looking around for burgers, and listening to hard-core music,” Shaffer said.
It was difficult to find a good burger in downtown Vancouver and smash burgers were nonexistent, so they began experimenting with recipes and dreaming of opening their own burger joint.
To develop their burger recipe, Shaffer and Pouppirt watched videos by Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats, “The Burger Show” with Alvin Cailan, and nerded out over “Hamburger America: A State-By-State Guide to 200 Great Burger Joints” by George Motz.
Little Conejo co-owner Mark Wooten let the pair use the downstairs kitchen at his restaurant to test their recipes. Shaffer and Pouppirt spent a year getting the patties right, perfecting their pickle recipes, deciding on toppings and experimenting with sauces.
Their final product, the Goon Burger ($9), contains two burger patties with a crispy exterior and chewy meaty interior, a slice of melted American cheese, zesty Goon Sauce, housemade pickles, shredded lettuce and thinly sliced raw onions encased in a Franz Bakery brioche bun. Sara Newton, general manager of Hungry Sasquatch, described the patties as “candied ground beef.”
Many self-styled foodies may frown on American cheese, but to Shaffer it was perfect for his burgers because of its meltability. Double patties were a given for the adult version of the burgers, as were raw onions. Tomatoes were out of the question. The pickles had to be crisp, not too sweet, and not look radioactively bright.
Developing the sauce took some work. After much trial and error, Goon Sauce was born — a mayo-based sauce that doesn’t contain the most obvious ingredients like mustard, ketchup, pickles and relish. The secret is thinly sliced raw shallots that macerate in the mixture.
“I’m not going to lie, we were nervous that the sauce might throw people off, but it turned out to be something people really liked,” Shaffer said.
I detected a whiff of vinegar in the sauce, but Shaffer wouldn’t reveal every ingredient in this burger-friendly concoction.
The name Goon originates in Shaffer and Pouppirt’s days working together at Little Conejo. They would call each other goons if they messed something up. Shaffer believes the term was partially inspired by the scene in the 2008 movie “Step Brothers” where Will Farrell and John C. Reilly are called goons by their father for wrecking his boat.
“We listen to hard-core music and smash burgers,” Shaffer said. “Goon seemed like an appropriate name.”
In its short time as a pop-up shop at Thirsty Sasquatch (2110 Main St.), Goon Burger has scored average sales of 200-plus burgers a night. Plus, it received a boost when Bill Oakley, former “Simpsons” writer and fast-food maven with over 56,000 Twitter followers, stopped by and then tweeted, “HOLY HELL this is a superb burger!”
On a recent Tuesday about an hour and a half after opening, the line spread to the doorway, families with kids chomped on burgers and fries, “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones played, and the smell of seared meat filled the space.
I slipped into the bar area and ordered a pint of 54°40’ Brewing’s Kascadia Kolsh while waiting for my buzzer to go off to let me know my burger and fries were ready.
The burger lived up the hype. I liked that the whole thing squished in my hands and fit easily into my mouth. I hate those Insta-friendly restaurant burgers with a mountain of stuff held together by a samurai-sword sized toothpick. I never could figure out how to eat them with a regular human-sized mouth.
The Goon Burger fit together like a 3D edible puzzle with a bit of everything in each bite. The Franz brioche bun was pliant and the pickles were crispy, vinegary and not sweet. The burger sauce was creamy, zesty, and thankfully not filled with every condiment found in a Costco food court. The patties had a crisp, well-salted exterior and chewy, meaty interior reminiscent of gyro meat.
If heaven is like this — punk rock music, excellent burgers and a cold beer — I may consider modifying my behavior.