Episode 4: "Tussle & Bustle"



Hi everyone, Chef John here! On this episode of Cheap Date we are making my almost famous Elm City Burger from my downtown New Haven restaurant & cocktail bar, Elm City Social! This burger is savory with a touch of sweetness and acidity. The result is one tasty burger!


This week’s scenario:

In an effort to increase your karma points this holiday season (and let’s be honest, after the hi-jinx you got up to this past year, you could really use some) you have agreed to leave your Thanksgiving dinner with the in-laws early to camp outside of your local Walmart in an effort to acquire a Pomsies Pet for your niece. Pomsies are all the rage this holiday season and little Jocelyn has made it abundantly clear that she would be “so disappointed” if she didn’t have one to unwrap under the tree this year. You wouldn’t like Jocelyn when she’s disappointed.


So, dressed in a winter coat, gloves, two pairs of socks, a wool cap, and with a gut full of holiday cheer, your favorite collapsible lawn chair, and a thermos full of (x-tra strength) hot toddy, you take your spot in line outside the megalithic corporate box store.

You’re bundled up. You have booze in your thermos to keep you warm. And of course you have that trusty lawn chair which seems to be a huge advantage as most people in line around you are standing. You can feel a few of them burning holes into you with envy. “Poor, suckers,” you think. “Have fun standing in one spot for the next six hours while yours truly is living the high life by comparison.”


The hours go and you’re in increasingly good spirits, chillaxing in your lawn chair, sipping on hot toddy, as the poor suckers around you squat and crouch and moan. The guy in line next to you keeps trying to make small talk about the weather and the results of the recent local election, but you ignore him. You have your eyes on the prize. Nothing can keep you from acquiring the pink Pomsies Pet (Jocelyn made it explicitly clear only the pink one would be acceptable), and you’ve decided now is the time you earn that World’s Best Uncle coffee mug, she gave you for Christmas last year. You’ve got this!


Fast forward five hours and forty-five minutes:

The Walmart employees have lined up on the other side of the glass doors like an army of blue-vested riot police. The store manager nervously slides through the cracked open doorway, putting his arms out in front of him like a guy trying to convince a gang of thieves not to beat him to a pulp.

“Before I begin the countdown to opening,” he says anxiously, “I must stress the following rules…”

He goes on to say something about not shoving, and no fighting or something. You can’t say for sure because you’ve got about a liter of toddy in you and your mind has entered a zone where it can only concentrate on one single thought:


The manager begins the countdown. Everyone in line is eagerly anticipating their charge through the doors, muttering to one another, going over their planned routes, where they are going to hit first, prioritizing their wish list! You sneer at their over-complicated itineraries. While their plans are complex, yours is perfect in its simplicity. There is only one priority: acquire one Pink Pomsies Pet. Nothing is going to get in your way.


The doors open and everyone starts charging in! You stumble a bit with your lawn chair and thermos but you throw them to the ground. Sure the thermos was your grandfather’s and you’ve had it since you were a kid, but THIS IS NO TIME FOR SENTIMENTALITY!

You run as fast as your legs will carry you to the toy section. People are everywhere, it’s complete chaos and your Pink Pomsies Pet is nowhere in sight. The thermos-full of toddy has definitely left you buzzed, and for a moment if feels like you might lose the three helpings of turkey you ate earlier, but you collect yourself. Just then, you overhear someone saying they have Pomsies Pets in the electronic section and you go running!

You turn the corner and head right into the electronic section. It is complete mayhem! You turn your head to the right and see it! It almost appears to be glowing like the Holy Grail itself! The last pink Pomsies Pet in the store looking you right in the face!

You’re still about fifteen feet away and you notice another man looking at the toy. He’s about as far from it as you are and your eyes meet, his narrow, before he makes a break for the Pet.

“Not on my watch, pal!” you say as you take a leaping dive in its direction, grabbing hold of the bottom of the box. Success! You try to walk away with it when you realize the other guy is there and he’s got it as well, the other end of the box!

Okay. So, here is where things get a little hazy.

Allegedly, according to the Walmart security guard who pepper sprayed you before zip tying your hands behind your back and dragging you off to Walmart jail, you’re the one who incited the tussle. Words like “full nelson,” “body slam,” “Chin Music,” and “The Warrior Splash,” were bandied. You might have channeled your inner Ultimate Warrior for a minute there.

So, you’re in zip ties, eyes leaking peppery tears, sitting in the Walmart security office, wondering how you’re going to break the news to your sweet niece come Christmas morning, while your wrestling rival sits in the other room giving a blow by blow on how you assaulted him over an interactive stuffed animal.


After you calm down over some mediated conversation between you and your sparring partner, Walmart security lets you out of your zip tie hand cuffs and it’s at that point in your apology that you realize your opponent is the father of your niece’s best friend from school. You remind him of the great conversation the two of you had over instant coffee and sugar cookies last week at the reception following the kids’ Thanksgiving recital, and he agrees to drop the charges.

“I won anyway,” he says, patting the crumpled and battered Pomsies Pets box tucked under his arm. “I’d feel bad if you had to spend the night in jail as well.”

You’re about to lunge at the son-of-a-bitch again for that one, but you know you got lucky.

You’re not spending the evening in the clink, but your sister-in-law is not going to be too happy to hear about this entire ordeal. You need to do something fast in the next few days to cover your tracks. Lucky for you, Chef John is here with a delicious burger recipe for you to use in situations just like this!

We suggest you cook up some burgers and fries and do a lunch drop off to your formidable foe at his job and hopefully he will be cool enough to keep this story between just you two! Also check out Amazon they have plenty of Pomsies Pets for sale!

If all else fails, word on the streets is there’s a guy in a van down by the highway underpass selling them (at a substantial markup, of course.)

Things You Might Want to Need…

Cuisinart CMD-108 Melting Dome, Silver

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Smoked Aioli



2 cups mayonnaise

1 tbsp. smoked paprika

3 cloves roasted garlic

1 tbsp. salt & pepper

2 tbsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. olive oil


1. In a small sauté pan heat up oil on medium heat, add peeled garlic cloves and roast until golden brown. Turn off heat and set aside.

2. In a food processor add all ingredients and blend together until smooth. Your aioli is finished, set aside or refrigerate for future use.

Red Onion Jam



2 red onions peeled and julienned

2 cups of red wine vinegar

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 tsp salt & pepper

1 tbsp. olive oil



1. In a large sauté pan add oil and heat on medium. Add julienned onions and sauté, moving them constantly around the pan, until semi translucent


2. Add remainder of ingredients, mix in and let reduce on low to medium heat. As the vinegar evaporates and the sugar caramelizes you will see the red/purple color in the onions begin to be very vibrant.

3. Once done let cool at room temperature and set aside.


Hand Cut Fries



2-3 whole GPOD or Idaho Potatoes

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

2 quarts of peanut oil

1 bunch of parsley

1 bunch of rosemary

salt & pepper to taste


1. Cut the potatoes carefully using a knife into French fry shape. You could do this with other tools like a mandolin or a fry cutter but rustic cuts with your chef’s knife will do just fine.


2. In a medium sized bowl add your cut fries, apple cider vinegar and fill with cold water until all your cut fries are covered. Cover and store in your refrigerator over- night (12-24 hours).

3. Clean your herbs off the stem, mince, combine and set aside.

4. In a large pot heat peanut oil on medium to high heat. Strain your fries from the water, set out on a sheet tray and pat dry with a towel. Once dry add your fries to the pot and cook for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown.


5. Remove from the pot carefully using a strainer or a frying basket, shake excess oil off fries, pour into a mixing bowl and immediately add fresh minced herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Your fries are ready to serve!


The Burger



1 cup smoked aioli

1 cup red onion jam

1 cup baby arugula

1 tsp olive oil

1 cup salt & pepper mix

1 ripe heirloom tomato

salt and pepper to taste

1 pound ground beef (20-30% fat)

2 slices of thick cut sharp cheddar

2 English muffins


1. Using a scale; measure your ground beef into two 8 oz. portions, ball up individually and set aside.


2. Heat a large cast iron pan on medium to high heat. Once your pan is hot, season your burger balls heavily with salt and pepper on one side and press into your hot cast iron pan using a spatula.


Let the burgers cook for 5-6 minutes on one side, season the raw side, flip over, cook 5-6 minutes, top with cheese (cap the burger using the steam cap or another pan) and your burger is ready to go perfect medium rare. If you are looking for medium or medium well cook the burger longer with the steam cap on top before adding the cheese to melt.


3. While your burger is cooking slice your English muffins in half, butter the nooks & cranny side and grill until golden brown.

4. To plate the burger; dress your arugula with olive oil, salt & pepper to taste, place a small amount of smoked aioli on either side of the muffin, then baby arugula and sliced tomato on the bottom half, onion jam on the top half, add your burger with melted cheddar, top and enjoy!


Chef’s Tip

When cooking your burger make sure not to be sparing with the seasoning. A good seasoned crust makes a good burger better and here are three things that make that happen: 1) a hot pan, 2) a well-seasoned burger and 3) Letting it cook for 5-6 minutes on each side without touching it! Let it cook!

Chef’s Tip

Cut your cheese thick. A nice piece of thick cheese will add that gooey savory mouthfeel that helps a good burger be the best burger!

Chef’s Tip

Remember the chuck roll scraps from Episode 2 that you have in your freezer vacuum sealed? Those are perfect for your burger. Pull them out, let them thaw in your refrigerator overnight, grab your kitchen aid meat grinder attachment and go to town! This makes a cheap recipe even cheaper…and it’s always fun to grind some beef!

Plating and other Stuff…


Plating a burger is all about cooking it right. In many ways, you are almost the plating burger as you; toast the bun, melt the cheese, spread the aioli, sear the meat, dress the greens. A burger is meant to be eaten with reckless abandon for the shirt you are wearing, there is something primal about it but simultaneously something intimate and communal.


What to drink?

Miller High Life


Look, I love a good hoppy IPA just as much as the next guy but I require something a bit more down to earth when indulging in a good burger. Miller High Life is the champagne of beers, an example of a proud American brewing tradition and it’s cheap!

Chef’s Tip

If your feeling fancy go for the ponies! Drinking these little beers will make you feel like your back in college crushing a 30 pack when you really only had 5 beers! Miller high life is one of the few beers that come in this cute little format...go ahead…have a good time.


What to listen to?

The Pulp Fiction Sound Track


I’m not sure if there is any album more appropriate to listen to while cooking up some tasty burgers than Quinten Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction Soundtrack! It’s full of Tarantino’s hand-picked throwback tunes which have defiantly gained popularity since the movie’s release and listens great as an album.

Chef’s Closing Notes:

Burgers are about as American as apple pie. A good burger can change someone’s mood, bring political enemies together over a BBQ, it is truly a communal food. Someone once told me that eating a burger is an intimate experience. It one of those things; no one looks regal eating a burger as the juices drip down your hands back onto the plate/your shirt… ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise still left on your face. Its humanizing, brings us back to our roots but still reminds us of who we are today. Cheers to cheeseburger!


Oh yes and a I couldn’t possibly end this episode without a shout out to the legendary Louis’ Lunch! I’m always proud to share the great city of New Haven with one of its tried and true veterans, the inventor of the hamburger!

Michael Sivak