Looking for Number 1

Burger hunting readers are rediscovering their city.

Meet Greg Underwood and Dan Doerger. They live in Covington’s Licking-Riverside Historic District. Greg is a dance instructor. Dan is a professor at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. They are active in local theater. They love burgers.

Shortly after our July issue featuring the best 40 burgers in the city hit newsstands, I received an e-mail from Greg explaining that he and Dan were recreating the burger quest by visiting all 40 featured restaurants, eating all 40 burgers, and recording their experience within their own rating system. At that point, they had devoured their way through 21 of the burgers, an impressive feat even by our gluttonous standards. They invited me to join them at the last restaurant—Wildflower Café in Mason—for the burger we had rated No. 1. I was intrigued by Underwood’s outlook: “An unexpected surprise was just how much fun we are having getting to know our city.”

As writers for a city magazine, this is one of the fruits of our labor. No matter the subject—burgers, retail therapy, family recreation, or where to get things fixed—we’re constantly poking around the area’s neighborhoods, uncovering hidden gems (and a few things better left hidden). In the process, we experience Cincinnati for better and worse (mostly better), and it enriches our lives. Hopefully it does the same for readers.

I agreed to meet Greg and Dan at Wildflower on a Friday evening. I had a photo to help identify them. It wasn’t necessary. Wildflower Café is so intimate—two rooms seating about a dozen each—it seemed as if the entire restaurant was in on the quest by the time I arrived. Every table had at least one Wildflower burger, and several customers were on similar burger missions (including another Greg Underwood at a neighboring table—really). I ordered the burger as well. It was decent, but inferior to those I had enjoyed there before. The consensus throughout the dining room was similar: This was the best burger in the city? As chef /owner Todd Hudson explained, there’s an unintended consequence to that crown. Overwhelmed by the public’s demand, Hudson struggled to maintain the quality. One week after the issue came out, his tiny restaurant saw a sixfold increase in the amount of burgers served. The small herd farmer who supplied Hudson’s specialty grass-fed beef could no longer accommodate him. The relentless crush of burger fans has only recently dwindled.

So, in Dan and Greg’s excellent burger adventure, our No. 1 burger became their No. 17. And though diners that night each had their own version of burger “bests,” there was a more meaningful sentiment that echoed through the group. By the power of the humble hamburger, each had discovered, or rediscovered, places within their own community, neighborhoods where they had never before set foot. Like Mason. And Wildflower Café. And for me, that is definitely the best thing on any list.

Greg and Dan’s ratings (and their No. 1 burger) will be available online soon.

Originally published in the December 2010 issue.

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