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Excess Collides with Appetite at Foster Burger

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I'M OUT OF MY BODY, floating happily above a pile-up on SE Foster. But this spectacle isn't the aftereffect of a Southeast Portland crash; it's contained between two buns, in a paper-lined plastic basket, on a table at Foster Burger. Cue the rubberneckers.

One beef patty, serious bacon, a fried egg, caramelized onions, a thick-sliced pickled beet, and a choice of cheese—either aged cheddar or blue—have all collided in the Foster Road Pile-Up. It's a delectable wreck, and I'm the willing victim.

Against all odds, the flavors and textures in the Pile-Up remain balanced. The fat is cut by the pickled beet and house-made pickles. The beet's solidity contrasts with the tender beef patty, which contrasts the sturdy bacon, which contrasts the rich egg. A champ of a bun from Foster Burger's neighbor An Xuyen Bakery just barely holds the sloppy mélange together. Still, it's a messy situation. Wet naps are necessary.

There are some delicate flowers who'll see the Pile-Up on Foster Burger's brief menu and say, "I'll pass." There's a word for these people: "milquetoast."

Is the Pile-Up excessive? Yep. Still, the delicious way Foster Burger deals with excess is telling. Consider the Wedge—a whole head of iceberg lettuce, quartered, topped with Green Goddess dressing, Rogue's Oregonzola cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, sieved egg, and a length of amazing tesa. What's tesa? It's pork belly, fried in duck fat and grilled until nice and crisp—essentially grilled fat-fried fat. Credit should be given to Foster Burger for not calling the Wedge a salad. It is, in fact, a meal easily shared by a family of four, and should be enjoyed in one sitting considering how poorly the leftovers keep.

The Wedge is one of the few non-burger items on the menu. Alongside it you can find a plate of brain-puckering house-made pickles, coleslaw, and standout soups—on one recent evening, the soup was a particularly aggressive and tangy roasted red pepper bisque.

But Foster Burger is, of course, mainly concerned with meat and bun. The basic Foster Burger is good, cooked spot-on medium (standard) with a mellow char. Likely thanks to backfat joined in holy union with house ground beef, the juicy patty has a delightful tender consistency.

The basic burger arrives complete with those lovely, slightly sweet pickles, lettuce, onion, and an inoffensive "Foster Sauce." The $7.50 price tag increases with additions like cheese (topping out at the startling $11.50 Pile-Up), but thankfully includes addictive crisp fries and salad or soup. You won't leave hungry.

Variations on the theme include the Kiwi Burger, offering a substantial and delicately gamey lamb patty, complemented nicely by the pickled beet and sharp aged cheddar. Fried egg adds richness to the affair. It's easily the most interesting and flavorful option on the menu.

By contrast the veggie burger is subtle, and just adequately flavorful with its Chez Gourmet veggie patty crisped on the outside and soft in the center. The Foster Sauce is most beneficial on this option, helping to tie the whole thing together.

Don't pass up the french fry specials. The black-and-white fries are tossed in aromatic white truffle oil and come with a squid ink aioli. The effect is like eating truffled salt-and-pepper squid.

You may also come across duck confit fries and bacon aioli, which should always be paired with an enormous chocolate malted shake and a shot of whiskey. It's like a life of sin that ends in heaven, and you're one lucky bastard.

There's little to gripe about at Foster Burger. The service is friendly, but can seem overwhelmed on one night and overwhelming on the next. One evening an order was poorly expedited, bringing too much food to the table at once. The prices do seem a bit steep for a burger joint, and the loud room might cause distress to the very old or the very young—both of which seem to frequent the place in large numbers.

But, again, Foster Burger is about excess: excessive noise, excessive prices, excessive flavor, and excessive enjoyment. Some dislike this kind of thing; you can tell from the hilarious one star Yelp reviews framed on one of Foster Burger's walls. But for me, I'm happy to have been caught by the Pile-Up, drifting away over the fatty wreckage and heading toward the light with a satisfied grin.

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