Smoking Bun: The Savior Burger in Mar Mikhael
They say the best things in life hit you when you least expect them, and that the best plan is no plan at all. It’s called serendipity. We experienced it last night in the form of a burger.
But first let’s rewind. We had booked a casual dinner at Moules et Frites, a small eatery in Sofil that boasts almost exclusively Belgian mussels and fries. One DailyStar reporter had fawned over it, and I’d been hearing warm praise from other sources about just how delicious it was. So at 7.30pm, we found ourselves inside the joint, which more precisely resembles a café than it does a restaurant. While the service was friendly and inviting, the food and hygiene fell short. The French bread served was noticeably days old and reheated. Think chewy, not crispy. The mussels were of the frozen sort and weighed in on the small end of the size scale. I’ll concede that the sauce was flavorsome. We tried the “Beyrouth,” a medley of coriander, garlic, and parsley that evokes the taste of mloukhieh.
But what really wrenched our guts was the bug problem. We intentionally chose to sit indoors, because outside was hot, sticky, and unbearable. But inside, flies and gnats swarmed around us, dipping into the balsamic oil and wine and camping out on the bread. Then the unthinkable happened: a wasp swooped in and bit my dining companion’s thumb. That’s when we tossed our napkins on the table, got up and left. I told the waiter that the vermin infestation was unacceptable and had made our experience thoroughly unenjoyable, but his profuse apologies did little to reverse that, and there didn’t seem to be a manager on duty to rectify the situation. So we showed ourselves out.
We walked along Rue d’Armenie in Mar Mikhael, scanning restaurants and pubs and noting the transformations in the façade—this street is constantly under construction. Down a narrow alley that inlets into the highway, we noticed a parked VW Beetle with a fluorescent sign in the windshield: “Smoking Bun.” But this Bug seemed more promising than the other variety we'd just encountered. A small burger shack sat next to it, and we wandered inside. The concept is simple: this place only serves one standard burger type (12,000LL), fries (5,000LL), draft beer (7,500LL), and soda (3,000LL).
We ordered two burgers and a can of pop, sat back and watched as the cook dropped two coarsely-packed and roughly-shaped patties onto the griddle. He prepared the buns on the side: brioche bun, aged cheddar, lettuce, tomato, butter pickles, and the house sauce. The patties were then covered by a domelike lid, perhaps to ensure a medium-well finish and the retention of all the meat juices. In no time at all, our burgers were ready for the gorging. And they were divine.
The tender flesh, oozing with juice, was sandwiched between slightly sweet bread that easily absorbed it without falling apart. The sauce was light and subtle. The vegetables were crisp and delicious. In brief, the burger was a marriage between gourmet and street-food, and it sated our hunger. We strolled back to the car, giddy with excitement at our find and pleased the night had ended on a happy note.
Moral of the story? Lebanese flies have refined taste, preferring to dine in over fruits de mer rather than buzz outdoors over peasant burger nosh. And I’m certainly not complaining.