Better Than a Burger: In Praise of the Patty Melt

Credit: Photograph by Christopher Testani

Think of it as the messy alter ego of your classic cheeseburger," says Chris Kronner of KronnerBurger, in Oakland, California. He is talking about the patty melt — the sandwich that has made him a hero to meat lovers in the Bay Area and beyond. "Patty melts," he says, "are about that heap of sweet onions, all caramelized and layered onto the patty with creamy, oozy béchamel sauce and melted cheese and spicy mustard. It's what a chef does with ground beef when he wants an awesome sandwich."

Kronner has been a fixture of the region's culinary scene since 2004, when he took over San Francisco's Slow Club, a beloved late-night burger-and-martini joint. But after head-chef gigs at some of the city's top tables, he decided that his true calling lay in perfecting his favorite sandwich and its closest cousins. KronnerBurger, which opened last May, has won accolades for its classic burger. But the revelation has been the patty melt, which has its roots in the Hollywood of the 1940s, where a coffee shop called Tiny Naylors served it as an alternative to the standard cheeseburger. It's more labor intensive than a burger, but don't let that intimidate you. "It's a great late-night dinner," Kronner says. "It's also an awesome hangover cure or maybe Saturday lunch after you got up early and did something. It's like, 'Time to chow down and hit the couch.' "


The KronnerBurger Patty Melt (Serves 4)

Béchamel

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 1 bay leaf
  • dash of red wine vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • pinch of nutmeg

Onions

  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • salt to taste

Patties

  • 1 lb ground beef, preferably 25 percent fat
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 tbsp Chinese hot or French Dijon mustard
  • ¾ cup grated cheddar cheese

1. Make the Béchamel
In a small pot over medium heat, melt butter, whisk in flour, and cook, whisking, until golden brown. Stir in milk and cream and whisk until it boils and starts to thicken, 4 or 5 minutes. Add bay leaf. Take pot off the heat, stir in a dash of vinegar and a pinch each of salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and pour into a bowl to cool.

2. Caramelize the Onions
Set a frying pan over medium heat, melt butter, and add onion. Reduce heat to medium-low, and stir occasionally until onion turns golden brown, 30 to 45 minutes. Season with salt.

3. Press the Patties
Divide beef evenly into 4 balls and press with your hands into ½-inch-thick patties. Just before you're ready to cook, season each side of the patties with ¼ tsp salt.

4. Put It All Together
Preheat your oven's broiler. Butter one side of each slice of bread, and place buttered side down on a baking sheet. Spread mustard on the unbuttered sides and top 4 of the slices with béchamel and grated cheese. Put baking sheet under broiler until cheese melts, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add patties and cook until deeply browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook for another minute. Set each patty on a slice of bread, top with caramelized onions, and make a sandwich with remaining slices of bread.

5. Finish
Wipe skillet with a paper towel, reduce heat to medium, and toast sandwiches on one side, about 2 minutes. Toast other side, then serve.