Since 2010, the Iowa Beef Industry Council has sponsored the Best Burger in Iowa contest. My quest is to stop at the places that have been awarded the best burger title and up to now I was four for four with stops at 2010 winner Sac County Cattle Company (click here to see the entry), 2011 winner Rusty Duck (click here to see the entry), 2012 winner Coon Bowl III (click here to see the entry), and 2013 winner 61 Chop House (now closed - but click here to see the entry). The 2014 winner is a place that I was somewhat familiar with, but had never been there before - Brick City Grill in Ames. On a recent trip driving by Ames I stopped into Brick City to try one of their burgers.
If you go back to review the places I've been to you'll see that I have not been happy with two of the four winners thanks to a very overcooked burger, mildly upset at one for a slightly overcooked burger, and happy enough with the fourth one, but it still wasn't the best burger I've ever had - even in Iowa. I was hoping that some of the anomalies that happened with the previous winners wouldn't be the same with Brick City. If the place served me an overcooked burger, then I would have seriously had to wonder about the credentials of the judges of the Best Burger contest.
To get the Best Burger in Iowa it took owner Jason Mikkelsen less than a year of being in business to achieve that award. Mikkelsen (pictured right - picture courtesy Farm Progress.com) had a background in the restaurant industry working for 18 years before opening Brick City Grill in May of 2013. Mikkelsen, a native of rural Creston, had 18 years of restaurant experience before he got the chance to take over the old Brewers location in the Somerset neighborhood of Ames after it closed in April of 2013 after nearly 10 years of being in business.
Mikkelsen added booth seating, about a dozen televisions and revamped the kitchen to accommodate the burgers that he would feature at his new restaurant. And to get the burger meat just right, Mikkelsen has a proprietary chuck-based blend that is ground early each morning and delivered to the restaurant at 6 a.m. for daily consumption. The burgers are hand-pattied, then flat grilled to keep the juices inside and the only seasonings added are minimal amounts of kosher salt and black pepper. The brioche buns are the key to the burger at Brick City - as they are with most great burgers - and are more expensive than what you'll find at other burger joints.
It was just after the noon hour rush when I pulled up to Brick City Grill on Stange Road in Ames. (see map) I found parking on the street just down the way from the place, but there is also a parking lot behind the establishment. It is literally around the corner from another place in Ames that has a pretty good burger - The Cafe. (Click here to see the entry on The Cafe.)
After being greeted at the front door, I was seated at a booth along the street side of the building and given a menu. They had a somewhat impressive list of beers at Brick City and I ended up ordered a Big Sky IPA while I looked through the menu.
The dining area was open and bright with a lot of natural daylight coming through the windows. Booths lined the walls and a number of wooden tables and chairs were in the middle of restaurant. A long bar with high chairs was the most prominent feature of the place. A number of bottled beers were visible in the glass-front refrigerators behind the bar.
They had 9 burgers on the menu including one that immediately caught my eye - the 60/40. It was 60 percent ground beef and 40 percent ground bacon. I thought for a moment about getting that, but I wanted to try the burger that got them the Best Burger in Iowa award.
But actually, there wasn't a notation on the menu as to which burger was the award winner. Signs throughout the restaurant shouted that Brick City had the best burger, but I didn't know which one it was. Their Classic burger was topped with lettuce, tomato, onions and dill pickles (cheese was extra). The Bacon cheeseburger was topped with hickory smoked bacon and your choice of American, Swiss, cheddar or pepper jack cheese. The Jalapeno Jack burger featured a spicy seasoned burger topped with pepper jack cheese, slice jalapenos and a housemade chipotle mayo sauce. And they had a Pretzel burger served on a pretzel bun and topped with American cheese, bacon and 1000 Island dressing.
They also had things other than burgers on the menu at Brick City Grill. They had a number of appetizers, salads and sandwiches including a reuben sandwich, grilled or fried chicken sandwiches, a B.L.T. and a beef brisket sandwich. Entrees included grilled salmon, a smoked pork chop and a 12 ounce rib-eye that is glazed in a sauce with a Jack Daniels base. And they also had hot dogs on the menus including the KC Royals BBQ Dog - it's the Brick City knock-off of the great All-Star Dog sold at the Dugout Dog House at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. (Click here to see my entry on Kauffman Stadium.) It could be the best thing I've ever eaten at a major league baseball park.
When my server came back around to get my order, I asked her what the award winning burger was and she told me, "Well, actually all of them are the award winners." I was sort of incredulous because I know how the nominating process works for the Best Burger in Iowa contest. Only one burger can be nominated. But, it could be that all the burgers on the menu had gotten enough nominations, but I doubt it.
With that out of the way, I decided upon getting the Worcestershire burger - a burger patty topped mushrooms sauteed in Worcestershire sauce and Swiss cheese. I asked if I could get some bacon on it, as well, and she said that would be no problem. For sides, I had my choice of a salad, fries, mashed potatoes or fresh vegetables to name a few. But then I saw that they had tater tots and I couldn't pass those up.
The burger came out about 15 minutes after I ordered it and it was sitting high and pretty on the plate. The presentation was outstanding. I could only hope that the burger tasted as good as it looked.
From the first taste, I knew I had a winner. Even with the Worcestershire-tinged sauteed mushrooms, bacon and Swiss cheese, I could tell the burger had great flavor, a nice ground texture to it kept it all together, and it was certainly juicy. The brioche bun held together very well and was a perfect compliment to the burger.
Even the tater tots were very good. They had a nice crispy outer shell with a flaky potato inner core. This was a very good lunch.
With apologies to the Rusty Duck - whose burger I felt was very good - the burger at Brick City Grill may have been the first Best Burger in Iowa that I felt was worthy of the honor. The burger patty was big and juicy, the Swiss cheese was fresh and pungent, the sauteed mushrooms had a subtle Worcestershire tang, and the bacon had a nice crispy taste that added an overall tasty flavor to an already very good burger. Finally, a Best Burger in Iowa worthy of being called the best burger.