There was a burger joint here. And it looked pretty cool.
My recent visit to Argentina was just a bit overwhelming. It was a week full of “what if”‘s, “if only”‘s, and “well I’m glad I didn’t…”‘s. There were 1-in-a-million chance ex-boyfriend spottings and ghosts lurking around every corner. There were effeminate hissy fits from more recent flings and a dramatic, intensely metaphorical goodbye from someone who perhaps could’ve, would’ve, should’ve been just right. There were also good friends who reminded me of how happy I used to be as a silly American in Buenos Aires, a silly American in Hong Kong. Most importantly, there were moments of profound reflection and exhaustive self-analysis. Hours-long hikes alone in Patagonia were strenuous exercise for both the body and the soul. But then there were moments of walking around and looking at things as if for the first time, with no strings attached and no memory to elicit either nostalgia or sorrow.
Walking through Chinatown in BsAs, I grabbed his hands and chirred spiritedly. “It was right here! I will bet you anything.” What I was referring to was a place on the corner of Libertador and “that street that goes to Chinatown” that I had noticed and committed to memory more than 2 years ago now. No first kisses or tearful goodbyes had happened here. It just kind of looked like a spot with good burgers. And it still looked that way when we came across it, so I insisted on trying it. The place is called MAD bar and is inspired by Mad magazine’s depiction of pop culture. There are funky celeb caricatures, plenty of blue neon and a big ass Harley parked by the window. There’s also a very fully stocked bar to fuel the cocktail-centric establishment. Happy hour seems a religion here, with the bartender choosing 6 different specials to offer each night. Their Jack Daniels and Pernod creation comes served with the whiskey in a flask on top of a glass of ice. They do other ridiculous stuff with presentation too. It’s a tacky place but it embraces its gimmick proudly and turns it into something clever and ironic. And the furniture is pretty neat, if a tad uncomfortable.
The place to get at MAD is a burger and a side of something with a mean house cocktail. They seem to have a patty for just about everyone. There are two traditional beef patty based burgers, along with a pork burger, a lamb burger, a chicken burger, a salmon burger and a veggie burger made with sauteed seasonal veggies. Everything, including the buns, are house-made, the meat house-ground. Sides include fries, sweet potato fries and onion rings. There are also a variety of salads for pesky vegetarians. As a side we ordered the onion rings, which were surprisingly well-done by the standards of any “American” restaurant in BsAs. The strips of onion inside were a tad too thin but the casing was crisp instead of chewy, left in the oil for the perfect amount of time to get golden brown. Squeeze bottles of ketchup and mustard on our table were a nice surprise and a much appreciated bonus. We shared the MAD Burger, which came with a patty made with a blend of beef and bondiola (pork shoulder). It was topped with green onions (chives, if you will), mushrooms, gruyere cheese and a thick wad of smoky BBQ sauce. The bun was fluffy and porous white bread that could have had a bit more of a sexy tan-line to it. But it also proved to be a mercifully light part of a very filling burger, which we were happy about at the end of the meal. The meat was crumbly and coarsely ground but, well, overcooked for my taste. But it’s Argentina and that’s just the way porteños like wasting their perfectly ambrosial beef. Who am I to tell them what to do with what remains of it in their own country? It should be enough that half of it is shipped out to mine, where they know to cook it medium rare. The toppings added extra moisture and flavor to the meat, though, so it turned out alright. Caramelized, slippery green onions blended nicely with plump slices of button mushroom that seemed to have taken a turn in some sort of red wine sauce. The veggies were held together by gooey wads of melted gruyere and a pool of sticky, shiny ‘cue whose sweet and smoky flavors breathed some good old fashioned American swagg into each bite. It was a messy, delicious, fat little burger with absolutely no refinement to it but enough dumb goodness to be appealing in quite another way. It’s the type of burger you take big bites of and take a second to gauge how you feel about afterwards, but one you do not regret demolishing voraciously.
That place near Chinatown that looks like it might have good burgers. It does. Glad I settled that.