an American fish in & out of Estonian waters

The Best is Still to Come … Five Estonian Burgers to Watch


While I’m still searching for that perfect Estonian burger which tastes like I might have grilled it in my own backyard, I’ve come across some new Estonian burksid (burgers) that are worth watching to see if they might turn out to be The One which becomes Estonia’s first Real Burger. Sadly, each one is now somehow flawed – although these flaws would be so easy to fix with some proper burger guidance (see my Five Easy Steps to Better Burgers)!

As a true burger is ultimately all about the meat, I would have to say that Estonia’s best burks might just be the one at the Black Bull Restaurant (restaurant perhaps being too ambitious of a word …) on the Ranna Villa Farm near Mustjala on Saaremaa. The reason for this is simple: Ranna Villa is home to one of Estonia’s few herds of true beef cattle – they raise Scottish Highland. Ranna Villa therefore gets to make its own burks out of its own beef. While everything really does seem to taste better on Saaremaa (or at least until it gets cooked) and you really would be hard pressed to beat the million-dollar view of the Baltic Sea from the Black Bull’s terrace, I will do my best here not to be biased. After all, the Black Bull’s burks fails on both steps one and two: they use a bland second-rate burger bun which they don’t even bother to grill and then they use boring, check-the-box fixings. While their meat is excellent, it can’t make up for this failure to pay attention to basic burger details. Ah, and both these flaws could be so easily fixable ….

While I wouldn’t otherwise list them in second place, the roving red Grillburger Food Truck makes a burks that is almost the exact opposite of the one at Saaremaa’s Black Bull. The Grillburger guys seem to give the bun and its fixings all their love and attention. You guys nail the first two steps – even if you prefer to serve up a standard pre-packaged array of burger fixings. Still, you prepare the perfect burger delivery vehicle. Even your umani note – your cheese – works. But where you Grillburger guys fail is that you use regular Estonian beef. This means that your meat – the most important part of any burger – tastes far too gritty and chewy. Oh, Grillburger – please go and find yourselves some better beef! If you want, you could even buy Ranna Villa Highland beef straight from the farm or from Mikhli at Balti Jaama Turg (BJT). Or if this beef is out of your price range, then go directly to my step five. Let me know when you fix that meat thing and I will “come over red rover” for another burger round. I know where to find you these days hidden behind the Olerex gas station between the two branches of Ahtri Street.

Every so often, I hear a rumor that somewhere out in the Estonian countryside the perfect Estonian burger is being made. As Saaremaa’s Black Bull delivers on their meat, I still believe in that promised Estonian burger land and take all such rumors very seriously. My resulting quests have taken me everywhere from Tabasalu to Tapa and – most recently – to Rakvere. In an Estonian town synonymous with meat, Grillers is doing their very best to grill up a real burks. Sadly, just like the similarly named Grillburger, Grillers falls short of expectations by using chewy and gritty Estonian beef to make their patties – just like the vast majority of Estonian burger joints that I’ve tried. Again, Grillers, you need to hack your beef according to step five. Maybe you could even score some real beef fat in town. And, yo, Rakvere – I respect that you’re all bullish on your bull and on your own meat. However, I must confess that I switched over to Saaremaa beef long ago as it is much easier to hack. Oh – and you may also want to look into a new supplier for those buns of yours ….

Next – but definitely not fourth on my list – comes the boxy white VLND food truck burks. I have a soft spot for these peripatetic guys from Viljandi – especially as they will often make an appearance somewhere near my favorite BJT. (This is one of the reasons why I recommend that you always look around the market when you’re trying to figure out Where to Eat in Kalamaja.) The reason I like these guys is that they had already figured out – all on their own – that Estonian beef needs to be hacked without even reading about my step number five. Right on! I might even give you guys at VLND a number two ranking on my list except for two things. First, you guys tend to over-hack your Estonian beef by adding far too much salt and other flavors (perhaps even some MSG?) into the mix. And, secondly, your EPIC FAIL is that you use American Cheese. I mean WTF?!? How can you guys both understand the importance of good flavor (your beef patties) and yet completely misunderstand the importance of the proper accompanying umami notes (good cheese). Dudes! Don’t just think inside the Mickey Dee box! Instead, follow my easy five steps – with special attention to step three – and you just might be the first ones to rise to the top of the Estonian burks hill (hill because Estonia has no mountains).

Now maybe some would say that I’ve saved the best – or at least the oldest – for last: F-Hoone’s Furger. As I’ve never been all that wild about Telliskivi Creative Hub’s first restaurant, it took me a while to get around to trying your signature Furger. Yes, I find it rather quirky that you guys don’t even call it a burger – but perhaps that’s because your bun is made of black bread. While I was skeptical at first about such an All-Estonian riff on the All-American burger bun – after all, the bun is the very thing which makes a real U.S. burger a real U.S. burger, I’ve since decided to live and let live. And so, I’ll accept your Furger for what it is – an unusual Estonian-American hybrid. And I’ll go along with your variation on the burger theme because you guys at F-Hoone (Building F) understand that Estonian beef is the main problem with most Estonian burksid. And so, I’m glad to see that you make your patties from Aberdeen Angus beef. Cool. And I like that your fixings are also your own – aside from tomato slices, you include arugula (rocket) instead of lettuce and a chili-parsley aioli instead of the traditional American trinity of ketchup, mustard, and mayo.  You also understand cheese and so you serve your burks with a nice melted cheddar. So far, I’m completely on board. And yet, your culinary fail comes with the other half of your umami equation – your bacon is completely limp! Ah, if only you had taken step three to heart and crispy fried that bacon …. Oh, yeah – and it may also help if you served up your Furger with some better tasting fries.

As everyone can now see, there are a handful of Estonian burks that are just about ready for U.S. prime time. All they need to do is make a simple fix or two and they’ll be able to make the grade. As soon as they do, I plan to revisit these places and give them another try. If they’ve succeeded in making a Real Burger, I’ll remove them from this list of “Five Estonian Burgers to Watch” and give them a real review of their own explaining how they became the first Estonian burks to get everything right. You’ll be able to recognize that review, gentle reader, as it will end with the words: “Tell them that flatfish sent you.”

Of course, all this active burger competition out there doesn’t mean that you should stop trying to grill your own perfect backyard burger at home. Why? Let me tell you a little secret: just about all the places I’ve reviewed here skip over that all-important step four. So, if you follow the other four steps – and then cook your burgers on a covered grill over an open charcoal fire as directed, then you can give your backyard burks that extra hint of smoke which will make it taste just that much better than any other Estonian burks out there. Happy burger grilling!


Image: My favorite “shallots saved her from mediocrity” refrigerator magnet given to me by a friend who sometimes mocks me for taking food too seriously (designer unknown).

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