Corn, Triumphant

The Burger Shed, corner of Military Road and Raglan Street, Mosman, 15 July 2013

It’s rare for a meal to be salvaged by corn. Nothing against the vegetable. It just doesn’t strike one as a headliner. You don’t rush home from work thinking ‘I bloody hope there’s corn’ or fumble for the last bits of change after an epic drinking binge at the window of a corn van. It isn’t something you’d write about, and there aren’t corn-wankers who sit trying to pick the side of the field the current vintage came from.

But corn saved The Burger Shed.

There’s something comforting about a restaurant called Burger Shed – it brings visions of cheese-soaked meat in industrial quantities, whistling chefs wheeling slabs of cow to workers who apply mustard with brooms and pickles with T-shirt guns. And in Mosman, a suburb where natty cafes abound, but proper, stonking, ‘sometimes’ food is rare (or at the bottom of a very long hill), this new scoff-house stood as a polite middle finger to the rosy-cheeked and lycra-clad, the gyms and trainers, the banners out for “Fun Runs”.

I’d seen the menu, of course. It was up in clean, hipsterish font as the place was still being hewed from brick, and I’d paused on my way to get the paper, gawping at promises of Riverina lamb and mountain peppers, home-made mustard and truffled fries. I’d watched the tables arrive and the fridges fill, the chrome installed and the workers start.

And so, when at last it opened, I rubbed the hands and said a few ‘oho!’s. I bounced a bit on the couch. I counted the hours until I could respectably call it ‘dinner time’ (6pm). And then Reb and I bundled up and toddled off to try it out.

The ‘Shed’ in Burger Shed is more garden than industrial. We squeezed in to order amidst a jostle of wide eyes and licking lips. Still, big windows and clean wood planks, an untreated brick wall with a vintage logo, make it feel bigger than it is. And after dark streets it was light and bright, with plumes of steam and the scent of cooking beef and melting cheese.

We ordered a Federation Burger, a Shed Burger, parmesan truffle fries (seemed sensible), milkshakes, and salted chili butter corn, and congratulated ourselves on a tidy little haul.

The milkshakes were first. I watched the light dim in Reb’s eyes as two very small glasses were put in front of us.

“It’s just … in Texas they’re so much …”

“I know … let’s just drink.”

They didn’t work. The milk was nearly room temperature, and the trumpet blast of flavor that should accompany something called “salted caramel dulce de leche” or “chocolate fudge” managed a crap sort of ‘paarp’.

“Flavoured milk,” we both said at once, shaking heads.

Still, our spirits were high and the place was new and the staff were still cocking up orders and the night was filled with the optimism of a populous hitherto forced to eat in trendy Italian delis. When the burgers came, I thought – sod the milkshake. Who cares about milkshakes when there’s Riverina lamb and homemade mustard?

Mine (ordered without tomato), arrived with extra tomato. Still, our spirits were high and the place was new and … when it arrived again, it slumped rather on its plate. I pulled it open and there was a shiny patty of lamb with a whisker of lettuce and a little dap of pickled beetroot. I bit and it was … it just didn’t really taste of much. Slap on some home-made mustard aioli. Then it tasted a bit like home-made mustard aioli. In the ordinary course of things, even sans tomate, a burger should fill the mouth with salted meat and crisp veg; there should be a sauce that zings a bit against a sweet, soft bun. This one, luke-warm and greasy, didn’t do that. I looked across to Reb who sat, looking like a cat being pushed towards a bath. She inspected the very rare burger in front of her. (Rare in the sense that if she’d squeezed it, it might have mooed a bit.)

“Do you think I’ll get food poisoning?”

“Probably not,” I said cheerfully.

“No, probably not.”

“It’s like a blue steak,” I added. “Fancy.”

“It’s … more like raw mince.”

 How? How could this be happening Burger Shed?! The place had toyed with my emotions and my hopes were foundering. I felt as if a misbehaving child I’d showed patience with had just pissed on my carpet.

But then the fries and corn arrived, wreathed in steam. Firstly they were hot, the only part of the meal that was at a proper temperature. But crucially these side-dishes, unassuming and ancillary, contained the promise of Burger Shed’s greatness. We tucked into fries that were piping and crispy, with a dusting of parmesan underlain with the rich glory of truffle oil. And we dipped corn in its bowl of salted chili butter and bit. We looked up at each other. We grinned. We nodded our heads. The butter was salty and smoky, with a tickle of chili and a nuttiness to counterbalance the sweet and char of blackened corn. It was campfires and the rustling green of cornfields, it was corn transformed and I felt that I should stand and give a slow-clap to the chefs.

I have no qualms in saying that after I’d finished the corn I dipped the husk in this magnificent stuff like a popsicle. In its subtlety and nuance of flavor, its judgment and its composition, Burger Shed’s corn displayed a culinary mind capable of much better things than its burgers. And so we left the shed, left our burger plates and milkshake cups, with a new respect for corn and a belief in the promise of better things to come.

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