March Madness has dominated the water-cooler talk at Play headquarters for the past month -- mostly about how busted our brackets are. So while the NCAA finishes its basketball season with this weekend's Final Four, we here at Play held our own tournament. The purpose was to answer once and for all, in the most scientific way possible, one burning question: Who serves the best hamburger in town?
So in the spirit of March Madness, we introduce our Burger Bracket.
The selection committee had its work cut out for it. There's no way we could include every candidate in our bracket -- at least no healthy way. After some hemming and hawing, we narrowed the field to these eight: Long Branch Saloon, Burger Cache, Club Paris, Lucky Wishbone, Tommy's Burger Stop, Arctic Roadrunner, Kriner's Diner and Wee B's Burgers.
Another issue to address: Is each restaurant represented by a signature burger or by how well they tackle a basic, no-frills burger? We went with the latter, partly because one of our five judges is lactose intolerant and partly because a good burger doesn't need dressing up. You can't win a championship without a command of the fundamentals of the game.
That eliminated a number of strong candidates like Spenard Roadhouse's Bacon Jam Burger, but the competition was still formidable. Each of our five judges tried the same burger off the menu at each restaurant and voted for a favorite in each match. Here's how the field breaks down.
Long Branch Saloon
1737 E. Dimond Circle, 349-4142
While the Long Branch has a reputation as a party school, the institution is committed to at least one study. Unlike a number of the competitors in the field with menus that stray far beyond the game in question, Long Branch mostly sticks to the dish it does well. The burgers at the Branch are among the best in the city, and the buns made in-house might be enough to send them to the final four.
2126 E. Northern Lights Blvd., 272-6973
It's hard to talk about burgers and not mention Burger Cache. Given the cheap prices and greasy-spoon appeal, the restaurant has a devoted following, but the bi-monthly $1,000 giveaway might raise a few red flags regarding recruiting violations.
417 W. Fifth Ave., 277-6332
Burgers only on lunch menu, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday
This Anchorage institution, which has served steaks and burgers for more than 50 years, is the UCLA of our field. Old-timers wax poetic about its past dominance but the younger generation isn't fully aware of it. One thing is sure: The roster always has the one stud player --ground filet mignon -- necessary to make a deep run.
1033 E. Fifth Ave., 272-3454
Like Notre Dame -- where a storied football team outshines an always solid hoops squad -- Lucky Wishbone is often identified with its first-rate fried chicken. But the straight forward burgers should not be overlooked and have been a favorite of many in Anchorage for more than 55 years.
Tommy's Burger Stop
1106 W. 29th Place, 561-5696
This Spenard spot is a destination for burger lovers thanks to tapping a European recruit: the French baguette. Tommy's po' boy-style -- with three 2.5-ounce patties -- gives them the length of a 7-foot center amid a field of guards.
Wee B's Burgers
1260 O'Malley Road, 522-1260
Stepping into Wee B's feels kind of like stepping into an old A&W Restaurant -- the stand-alone ones, not the ones inside gas stations. Long a south-side staple, Wee B's isn't a flashy team. You won't find them tossing alley-oops on "Sportscenter's" top plays, but they're big on the basics.
5300 Old Seward Highway, 561-1245
This is definitely the team with homefield advantage. None of the other competitors stress their all-around Alaska-ness quite as much as Arctic Roadrunner, so it's no surprise that they're a fan favorite. Will that be enough to add another trophy to the wall?
2409 C St., 929-8257
The crew at Kriner's are gaining renown for their specialty items -- like the Andy's Awesome burger -- but the new kid on the block is a dark horse in a field of storied contenders. However, a sizable patty, a specialty bun and a surprise sauce show that Kriner's has the chops to pull off a shocker.
Long Branch vs. Burger Cache
Long Branch won 5-0
Burger Cache provided the cheapest burger in the field ($3.45), which kept it in the game early, but the top-seeded Long Branch ($9.25 with fries) proved too tempting. The bigger, juicer patty carried the day and the fresh bun turned the contest into a blowout.
Club Paris vs. Lucky Wishbone
Club Paris won 5-0
There would probably be little reason to organize a fried chicken tourney -- just give the trophy to Lucky Wishbone and call it a day. Wishbone's burger program is no slouch either ($5.50). One problem: Neither is Club Paris' ($9.50 with fries). This is Tobacco Road-meets-Fifth Avenue, and Club Paris' blue-blood Duke -- cooked-to-order, high-grade beef -- is too fierce for the Wishbone-as-North Carolina's solid, simple approach.
Tommy's Burger Stop vs. Wee B's Burgers
Tommy's won 5-0
The Tommy's po' boy ($9.50) proved to be a force for Wee B's ($4) -- our analysts agree that you can't teach size. But the mismatch continues on all fronts -- beefy flavor, crisp lettuce, fresh tomatoes, toasted bun -- and Tommy's looks like recent Kentucky teams: loaded with lottery talent.
Arctic Roadrunner vs. Kriner's Diner
Kriner's won 3-2
Like Norfolk State upsetting Missouri and Lehigh shocking Duke, this one had all the makings of a Cinderella. The upstarts at Kriner's ($9.49 with fries) left just the right amount of pink in the middle, and apparently we hadn't studied enough tape because we weren't expecting the Thousand Island-like dressing. When the dust settled, Kriner's Diner advanced in a close one over the much-loved Roadrunner ($5.20).
Long Branch vs. Club Paris
Long Branch won 3-2
Some would argue this is the title game in its own right but, like March Madness, our selection committee had a hard time dividing the top seeds. As expected this proved to be a classic; the two stalwarts battled patty to patty. In the end, Long Branch's sumptuous bun proved to be the difference-maker in a matchup that will leave some fans screaming at us like we are blind referees.
Tommy's vs. Kriner's
Kriner's won 3-2
In their second match, Kriner's found themselves paired with another heavy favorite. Tommy's baguette and patty trio proved too much for the Wee B's defense, but Kriner's had plenty of offensive weapons of their own. The game turned into another shootout, and while our judges will probably never reach a consensus on this one, the Kriner's crew slipped into the title game with a buzzer-beater upset.
Long Branch vs. Kriner's
Long Branch won 5-0
You can think of Kriner's as the Butler of the Burger Bracket -- a scrappy team that surprised everyone with how well they stacked against the elite programs. But, like the Bulldogs, when they reached the championship, they were outgunned by a better team. Long Branch, like Duke, had been here too many times before. In the end, there was only one burger to rule them all, and that burger came from the Long Branch Saloon.
By Matt Sullivan and Barry Piser
Anchorage Daily News
Alaska Dispatch Publishing