Punch Burger might not quite deliver a knockout, but it certainly racks up the points in a highly-contested category with its quick, efficient service and its wholesome (not to mention delicious) take on our nation's most beloved comestible. Occupying a useful niche somewhere between gourmet and fast-food, and combining the best elements of both, Punch has rapidly established itself as a favorite of the downtown lunch crowd and the casual diner alike.
Frankly I've never understood the bigger-is-better approach to burger-building, which often results in an exploding edifice best approached with a knife and fork. The whole point of a burger, I've always believed, is that one should be able to get a taste of the whole thing in a single bite, ideally using only one hand (the other being on the wheel) without everything disintegrating into a messy heap onto your newly-pressed trousers.
On this count, Punch acquits itself with flying colors most of the time, offering moderately proportioned (one-third pound) sandwiches fashioned from grass-fed beef from Fischer Farms or Indiana raised turkey, both fresh and never frozen. Toppings are in proportion to the meat and bun, combining to form the perfect hand-sized burger.
Of the three buns we tried on a recent visit, the most solid, and therefore portable, was the outstanding pretzel, followed closely by the whole wheat. Both were sufficiently dense to support the contents, but adequately porous to absorb some of the delicious sauces.
Lagging a bit behind was the traditional white bun, which turned somewhat soggy (although no less tasty for that) and was best attacked with flatware. All the beef is cooked medium-well, which is probably the best way to approach this very lean meat, as the slight char and crispy edges serve only to enhance the already intensely beefy flavor.
Punch offers a small selection of proprietary burgers, including the truly outstanding Thai, topped with peanut butter and sweet chili sauce. Try it on the pretzel bun to get the most from the sweet/savory contrast. Also excellent was the Aloha, a highly satisfying creation featuring ham, pineapple, Swiss cheese and teriyaki sauce. Of the four burgers sampled, this one was the most problematic to eat, being slathered perhaps a bit too generously with sauce. Fans of all-day breakfast will love the Southern Sunrise, with its perfectly cooked fried egg and generous topping of guacamole and hot sauce.
In addition to the proprietary burgers, diners can choose from dozens of toppings to create an almost infinite variety of sandwiches. A vegetarian option in the form of a portabella mushroom cap is also available in place of beef or turkey.
Perhaps best of all, and what confirms Punch's advantage over every other fast food joint in town, is the availability of beer. With several local brews on tap by either the glass or pitcher, this is the clincher. Prices are moderate for downtown: a couple of burgers, a generous serving of excellent waffle fries and sweet potato tots in addition to a pitcher of Flat 12 porter came to just $36 for two.
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