The world is full of burger places. There is one in almost every strip mall in America, and then there are the chains which are often the culprits or the scapegoats of many a country's poor eating habits. Burgers stretch the gut, go well with less healthy things like milkshakes, chili fries, extra cheese, and bacon. People think of burgers when it comes to fast food, but Brazilians go out of their way to spend their nights at a burger joint.
Burger joints are making it big and cleaning up in São Paulo. The reigning champion is Ryan Hansang Kim's Butcher’s Market which, this fall, took home the coveted 2011 Veja Magazine’s Food and Drink prize for Best Burger, only six month after opening.
My invitation to opening night seven short months ago gave me a sense of worry for my newly arrived friend, Ryan, who was dead-set on a New York-styled burger joint. His love of New York and time spent there with his NYC local and cousin Jae H Kim, inspired him to bring a piece of the city to his newly adopted city São Paulo -- New York’s bigger and better cousin (that’s right) in the south.
Ryan, owner and mastermind behind Butcher's Market.
Ryan brought his Brazilian-born wife and their kids to be with her family and get started on the project. He has had incredible success, as setting up shop in bureaucratic Brazil is not usually this smooth.
Renaissance man and cousin: Jae H. Kim.
Ryan worked closely with his cousin Jae H Kim, a Renaissance man who doubled (or quadrupled) as architect, fashion designer, and recipe builder. They were onto something visually very beautiful and delicious.
Butcher's Market is gorgeous. Every detail of the restaurant has been thought out and it really is like a museum full of all detailed working vintage: wooden tables and bar, vintage bulbs, phonograph coned lighting, hand printed menus, chalk menu, a meat grinder collection, and hand drawn butcher's cut chart that lines the eastern wall. Love was put into every last detail.
Hand-stamped, textured kraft paper place mats.
Lamps hand-picked piece by piece.
In Burgers We Trust
At the soft opening last May, Cousin Jae was struggling to teach the Brazilian chefs his recipes and the burger fell flat. São Paulo burgers -- though often overloaded with mayo --always trap the meat flavor. The New York-style burger Jae had hoped for got lost in translation and had the taste of iron that screamed, “I’m a Burger, wanna piece of me?” But I didn’t.
Ryan found a chef capable of carrying out Jae's recipes just two weeks later when Paulo Camargo entered as a customer. The three quickly picked up the pace and soon found themselves serving packed houses.
Fast forward seven months and Ryan’s New York-style burger had won the Veja award! I went back to see what all the fuss was about. The place was slammed with a 40 minute wait. We were introduced to the new chef -the animated, experienced, and creative 23-year old Brazilian Camargo.
Chef Camargo throwing up his butcher's tats. The guy loves the smell of meat.
Camargo has been working in restaurants since he was a kid, climbing his way “from busboy to sou chef” in Italy, studying the culinary arts (against his father’s will) in London, then working at two of São Paulo’s most recognized restaurants, the French Allez Allez and Fasano, one of the best Italian in São Paulo.
Every visit Camargo recommends a new menu item that he says we will love -- and he's right. The Joint Burger which is one of several (the list is still growing) perfectly crafted burgers each with its own sauce, and style.
The Joint Burger was a sweet burger grilled really really hot to seal the flavor with caramelized sweet onion with a magical sauce. It killed me. I had a mouth-gasm upon first bite, and continued to shovel it into my mouth -- while the more civilized Brailians used their forks and knives.
Use hands. Get dirty.
Burgers are for hands and mine were covered in dripping burger flavor to the wrists. The burger brought the carnivore out of me that I hadn’t felt at ANY other burger place since my arrival and possibly anywhere else. It is just that much better than the other places here which skimp on things like lettuce or cheese or bacon. They are weak and meek in comparison.
2011 Super Faminto official prize for best burger!
Other burger recommendations are:
The T.O. Burger has a tower of three onion rings to tear through.
The mushroom burger.
Chili Fries- dirty, messy, and still in my beard.
Chef's surprise: Marshmallow milkshake... mmm marshmallows.
The Ice Cream Sandwich is less of a sandwich and more of a football of cookie and ice cream.
Thanks to the hard work of Ryan, his visionary cousin Jae, chef Camargo, and staff, I have been back weekly -- always with a Brooklyn beer in hand, chili fries in my beard and a smile on my face. It is a perfect story of: if at first you don’t succeed, try harder and then bring the competition to their knees.
Nary an empty chair at Butcher's Market.
Next up: Their ribs!