Well, not my plate, actually: on a thick slab of wood, such has become de rigeur at gourmet eateries these days. Regardless of presentation, having once before found steering feel in its purest form at the tiller of a yacht, I once again found it when dining out in Slovenia. Yes; to really get your head around the myriad sensations you’ll experience in the driving seat, here’s a tip: grab yourself a tasty burger.
Hooniverse is entirely non-partisan, and the principles behind this digest equally apply to a falafel – in no way is steering feel exclusive to carnivores. However, it was this particular burger, the BRGR from the distinguished menu of Foksner’s of Ribcev Laz, Bohinj, that has surpassed all others that I’ve experienced when it comes to replicating the thrill of the hard corner.
The first thing you notice when lifting the BRGR is its apparent weight and density. It feels pleasingly substantial, not like those flimsy efforts from mass-consumption chains; the kind you might easily launch skywards if picked up from the counter too energetically. It’s less malleable than your average quarter-pounder, too – far from flopping when waved around, it remains all of a piece, with resistance that builds when compressed in your hands.
That substance is vital to overall satisfaction, and becomes all the more vivid when between your teeth. Once you’ve calculated just how much jaw angle is required to accommodate the BRGR, clamping your incisors down on it provides our first solid steering metaphor. The burger in its entirety represents the full left-to-right lock of a car’s steering, and the bread is that portion of movement used when wheel-twirling in a parking lot. It should be easy and consistent, and the brioche bun of the BRGR is exactly that.
It splits obediently when your jaws begin to close, and resists your effort just enough to be satisfying – never presenting anything close to hard work. However, with mayonnaise and ketchup beginning to permeate the inner percentile, the sensation changes a little. Effort builds up as your teeth draw closer to the main event.
The meat (or vegetarian alternative) is the heart of the burger, and here represents that sector of steering movement where all the vital stuff happens. This is where all the fun is found, and where the metaphor becomes a little more complicated (and possibly a little laboured, but please stick with it because I’m having fun here). Foksner grills its burgers to Medium, with a nicely charred outer skin but moist, pinkish interior, and it’s at the very centre of the patty– our steering wheel’s straight-ahead position – where all the most delicious juices can be found.
Here, the relationship between steering effort and driver reward come into sharp focus. Many cars suffer a slightly dead feeling around 12 o’clock, and, likewise, the effort needed to bite through a BRGR’s patty remains pretty constant, with no additional weight right at the centre. That’s fine, though, because the pleasure of the burger is only partially in the biting. There’s flavour to consider, and it’s when your tongue explores the patty’s core – the few degrees between pointing the car left or right – that all those delicious juices come flooding out.
Flavour is ultimately the most important attribute of burger satisfaction – it defines whether you want to continue eating it. Feel is entirely secondary, but the more of the latter you have, the more rewarding the overall experience. The sheer, overwhelmingly full flavour of the BRGR’s lovingly grilled patty keeps you wanting more. You yearn for the next corner. However, thus far we’ve only discussed effort and reward – there’s so much more to steering than ease and flavour.
That melt-in-your-mouth patty is bordered by cheese, crisp, fresh lettuce and tomato, and (because I paid an extra €1 for the pleasure) bacon. These perform a segue between brioche and beef, and represent our initial turn-in: the sensation felt as our front tyres bite into the blacktop. There’s zero feedback to be found in those microwaveable supermarket atrocities, but your freshly assembled artisan burger has no excuse for soggy salad. With the BRGR, there’s a physical CRACK when your top incisors penetrate the upper lettuce, and a similarly pleasing resistance when your lower jaw pushes through the juicy slice of tomato.
There are those philistines that suggest such wholesome ingredients as having no place in a burger, and how foolish they are. Among people like these, the importance of well-judged power steering, or a tactile manual gearchange, is entirely lost. That crispness when you first apply steering lock, where you can feel the tyres interacting with the road, as well as taste it, is vital for driving enjoyment.
As is grip, of course. The crispest initial turn-in, and the most beautifully weighted steering action, achieve nothing if the car just ploughs straight on when you heave at the wheel. In the case of a burger, if you’ve felt the lettuce give way on turn-in, and you’ve sampled the flavour at the core of the patty, then something worthwhile must be happening. It’s now the responsibility of all those other burger essentials to influence just how much cornering effort the front tyres can deliver.
Here, the mayonnaise, burger sauce and that bacon of mine all come into their own. They ensure that the BRGR doesn’t just serve up flavour where the action is at the heart of the patty, but that it continues well around the straight-ahead position. In fact, as the juices outside the meat soak further through the brioche, the delight continues way beyond initial turn-in. It permeates every aspect of the overall experience, leaving only the outer boundaries of the brioche dry. Not to take any credit away from the bread itself, incidentally – a delicately baked brioche bap mirrors the tactile delight of a well-shaped, Alcantara or Napa-wrapped steering wheel.
And then there’s that little mesh basket of potato wedges that orbits the BRGR. They’re tangential to the steering but very much augment the overall driving experience. Think of them as the background noise. If the side accompaniment is delicious (which mine is), think of it as a rich, soulful exhaust note. If dry and unappetising, perhaps it’s more like a background drone or overbearing tyre or wind noise. The potato part of the meal can quite easily take the gloss away from the entire platter.
Of course, portions can be too big, but the best meals leave you satisfied without risk of a Monty Python Mr Creosote-style stomach explosion taking place. At the very least, a burger should have you looking forward to the next time you visit the restaurant. Get stuck with a car whose steering doesn’t whet your appetite, and you’ll really wish you could dine elsewhere.
(All images are of food from Foksner’s burger joint in Ribcev Laz, Bohinj, Slovenia – this isn’t an advertising promo, by the way – judging by how busy it gets there, they don’t need much more trade)