If burgers lived in the wild, hamburgers would undoubtedly be the dominant species, though with their perch regularly being threatened by the powerful but far less numerous lamb burgers. Garden and veggie burgers, meanwhile, would be mostly left to their own devices, grazing amongst their own kind, blending into the foliage, and trying to keep out of everyone else's way. Other burgers, containing things like venison, ostrich, and buffalo, would be fringe contributors — dangerous, but not a threat to overtake the top of the food chain.
Then there would be turkey burgers. These large flocks of inconsequence are the peacock of the burger kingdom, if you will. Ordinary creatures, though dressed up in the most lavish and extravagant colors, craving attention, but little more. In honor of this odd breed of burger, two very different turkey versions — in full display and pining for our consideration — are the subject of today's food fight, namely Akasha in Culver City vs. Umami on La Brea (and soon, I guess, everywhere).
In real life, turkey is the healthful burger option, but it is also the least flavorful of those other meats (remembering, of course, that “garden” and “veggie” aren't meats), and needs to be cooked all the way through. Because of this, you can fill your burger with more aggressive flavors — essentially treating your humble protein vessel as a blank canvas.
Umami Burger takes full advantage of this conceit. They have only one turkey burger on their menu at a time, but it changes regularly. They often differ depending on which location you visit too. We tried “The Greenbird,” a tall and rather pretty thing, filled with Shelton Farms turkey, avocado, sprouts, butter lettuce, green goddess dressing, and “green cheese.” It was messy, its green juices spilling across the plate almost immediately upon first bite, but was also packed full of bright, refreshing flavors.
The avocado lent a bit of necessary fattiness, and the green cheese — a mixture of goat cheese, ricotta, and green goddess — was both pronounced and restrained. The turkey itself was moist, and mostly dominated by the other flavors, though probably by design. The bun was a tad sweet and dry for our taste, but was toasted very well, giving it some needed crunch on the interior. And while we enjoyed the dressing, we probably would have enjoyed it slightly more if it were a tad more citric. But it was a very satisfying turkey burger, especially if you look at its messiness as a positive — the healthful alternative to a chili burger or sloppy joe.
Akasha's is a simpler burger concept, with most of the work going into the patty itself, a “spiked” burger, with jalapeño, olive, and red pepper worked into the meat. Beyond that, you are given your choice of Gruyère or cheddar, with ketchup, lettuce, onion, and tomato served on the side. The big surprise though, was that temperature-wise, it was absolutely the hottest burger of any kind we've ever bitten in to. It was staggeringly hot, and were it not for a life spent stealing bites directly out of pots and ovens growing up, we would surely have had to drop the bite into our napkin. An anomaly? Surely. But surprising nonetheless.
Once cooled, we found that the patty was a bit over-stuffed, and tended to crumble and fall apart too frequently. On this day, was it cooked a bit longer than necessary? All signs seem to point to that being the case. But on the other hand, the accompanying internal vegetables did help it stay somewhat moist despite that, and it did maintain decent flavor. As at Umami however, the bun was also a tad drier than is ideal.
The victor on this day is of course Umami. Their turkey burger was the most interesting, flavorful, and well-cooked. Were both burgers out in the wild, peacock-like and presenting to us as a possible suitor, the Greenbird's plumage would surely have won us over.