A burger that goes bump in the night
An encounter with the Nitty Gritty's grotesquely conceived Halloween charity special.
As a kid, you might have participated in one of those Halloween rites of passage where adults blindfolded you, put your hands in bowls of wet noodles and said they were smooshed-up brains, or olives that they said were eyeballs. Well, the Nitty Gritty, best known as the place to go on your birthday and drink for free, is leaning way into that idea of nightmarish sensory confusion with the EC Burger, a new item that will be on the menu only through the end of October.
A six-ounce beef patty, stuffed with "unicorn rainbow cheese," topped with jalapeño-candied bacon, Flamin' Hot Cheetos-dusted avocado, and neon-green garlic aioli, all entombed in a deathly black sesame-seed bun, the EC Burger is a monster of a thing worthy of Dr. Frankenstein himself. If, like me, you were hoping that the burger's name was a reference to EC Comics, home to Tales From The Crypt and other gruesome titles, I've got some bad news. The EC stands for Epicurean Chronicles, the social media agency/confusing food website that teamed up with Nitty Gritty chef Ryan Kirby to bring this abomination to life.
This double-dog-dare of a burger is the first of Epicurean Chronicles' new #ECGivesBack program, which involves partnering with local chefs on unique limited-edition dishes and donating a portion of the proceeds to charity. Two dollars from every EC Burger, for instance, will go to Little John's, a non-profit pay-what-you-can restaurant on the way from chef Dave Heide, also of Liliana's in Fitchburg and Charlie's on Main in Oregon. There's no telling if every exclusive short-term menu item will be as consciously Instagrammable as this one, but people take pictures of their food no matter what, so I guess tying it to a decent cause is all the better for everyone.
Anyways, the burger looks gross as hell, and purposefully so, with electric green-goo squishing out over its dyed-black bun and bright orange-crusted chunks peeking out here and there. If it's true that you eat with your eyes first, your guts might just start cramping up before you get to that first bite. It's not until after that crucial chomp, though, that the "unicorn rainbow cheese" starts flowing from within the stuffed patty and the EC Burger begins to somehow look even more unappealing. Basically just muenster that's been mixed with some food coloring and injected, Juicy Lucy-style, into the middle of the beef patty, the "unicorn rainbow cheese" marks the point of no return for anyone who's still on the fence.
If you can get past all the pointedly grotesque visual elements in play, what you actually end up with is a fairly interesting burger. There are some flaws for sure, with my main gripe being a bun that was big, dense and dry. And while avocado chunks rolled in Cheetos dust is the sort of mad-genius move that pops on paper and looks (contextually) good on a plate as intentionally macabre as this, the coolness of the avocados neutralized whatever peppery punch might have come from the Flamin' Hot crumbles. Speaking of spice, I didn't pick up much heat from the jalapeño-candied bacon, but the slightly sugary crunch it added to each bite was the most surprisingly pleasant part of the whole meal.
Could anyone in good conscience recommend that another person eat the EC Burger? I don't even begin to know. If you're reading this, you likely made up your mind the second you saw the photos, so it's doubtful that there's anything I could say that will sway you either way. It's certainly an experience I have no regrets about, but I'm the kind of mark who sees some crazy novelty food thing or other and has to give it a try, so your mileage may vary. That said, the EC Burger absolutely lived up to the hype as a profoundly offensive thing to behold, and if you're adventurous enough, there are more than enough flavor bells and texture whistles to make it worth your while.
The $15 meal (add $3.50 for the vegan "Impossible Burger" version) includes a side of buffalo cheese curds and a soda. It's available until Halloween, so you've got a couple of weeks to try it out... If you dare.