The Guilty Pleasure: Pig Mac Where To Get It: Brat Haüs, downtown Scottsdale The Price: $9 ($10 with a fried egg) What It Really Costs: I'm glad they don't post calories on the menu like McDonald's does.
It has long been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's the case, the most sincerely flattered burger must be McDonald's Big Mac. Fast-food establishments everywhere have made their own versions of the iconic burger. Even the Big Mac itself is an imitation, created to compete with Bob's Big Boy and its namesake Big Boy sandwich. (Side note for those of us old enough to have Bob's Big Boy nostalgia: There's a very well-preserved Bob's waiting for you the next time you're in Burbank, California. You're welcome.)
There's a reason everyone and their brother replicate the Big Mac. At its core, the Big Mac is a well-crafted burger. Modern burger makers have gone topping-crazy and forgot that a great burger is about the synergy between beef, toppings, and bun. The Big Mac has all three components in perfect balance.
Any fiddling with the original formula throws off the whole thing. Even when components are prepared better than the Big Mac (It's McDonald's, almost everyone prepares things better than them), almost every other version I've had still pales in comparison because the burger loses that essential balance. The trick for restaurants to succeed is to change the burger enough to make it their own but still keep it recognizable. It's a difficult balancing act. There's one place in town that has pulled it off with aplomb: Brat Haüs.
While the centerpiece of Brat Haüs's menu is housemade sausage, the sleeper hit of the menu has to be the Pig Mac. The lineage is obvious: Two patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun. The Pig Mac takes the McDonald's classic and cranks up everything across the board, yet keeps the whole thing in perfect harmony.
The bun is more substantial (all the better to hold the burger's extra-juicy innards), and crusted with plenty of sesame seeds. Big Mac's lone slice of barely melting American cheese is replaced by two slices of gooey Cheddar. Reconstituted dehydrated onions are gone (thank goodness), replaced with suave, deeply caramelized onions infused with root beer.
Then there's the meat. Oh my, the meat. Instead of two all-beef patties, one of the patties is a housemade sausage patty the same size as the beef patty. The sausage seasoning brings out the proteins' flavors that much more, while the beef patty keeps everything tasting like a burger instead of a breakfast sandwich experiment gone horribly wrong.
As with most any burger, it's worth your while to add a fried egg. I know most people aren't fans of eggs on burgers, but adding one here is a definite improvement, taking it over the top in a very good way. The Pig Mac is certainly fine without, but the easy-cooked runny egg is proof positive that anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
There is one major flaw with the Pig Mac. This kind of burger is exactly the kind of thing I crave in the dead of night after extensive socialization, but Brat Haüs's kitchen packs up at 10 p.m. on weekends. There is an easy fix to this predicament. You'll have to stay tuned for the next Guilty Pleasures column to find out.