This Vashon Island Chef is Serious About His Burgers

His secret blend is what burger dreams are made of.
“The buns took a little research,” says Gravy chef/co-owner Dre Neeley of his quest for a vehicle for his sirloin/pork/duck/ham hock burger blend.

Most everyone grew up eating burgers in some form, whether at a fast food counter, out of mom’s frying pan or hot off a summertime grill. Burgers are easy food—patty, cheese, bun and done. They are certainly not the type of dish one would expect a chef to lose sleep over.

“I was having dreams about this burger before I put it together. It kept me up at night,” says Andre “Dre” Neeley, chef and co-owner with his wife, Pepa Brower, of Gravy, a restaurant on Vashon Island (17629 Vashon Hwy. SW; 206.463.0489; specializing in American cuisine with Southern and French influences. Neely calls his creation the “Trifecta Burger,” and it’s his vision of the perfect hamburger.

At Gravy, Neely hand-grinds and blends duck breast, smoked ham hock, extra pork fat and sirloin steak for the patty, adding onion and fresh thyme to the grinder. The ham hock is a nod to his Southern roots and amps up the smoky flavor while adding fattiness to the meat. “I hate dry burgers,” notes Neely, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. “Juice is a very important quality [in a] burger. Dry burgers are sad.”

He cooks the patty on a wood-fired grill, then tops it with dandelion greens and a house-made parsley-spiked aioli, and serves it on a pub bun from Portland-based bread factory Franz Bakery. It’s elegant in its simplicity and a classic burger with a twist. “I was trying to contain myself,” says Neely who made it a point to keep the burger simple yet memorable. “It’s hard to be a cook and contain yourself, sometimes.”

Pro Tips

Nice Buns
Neely’s ideal hamburger bun needs to hold its shape, not be too dry. He likes to grill the bun before adding the patty and toppings. Neely prefers Franz buns, because they hold together well and you can grill them hard.

The Flavor Is in the Fat
Fat in a burger is not a bad thing, particularly because much of the fat will render out of the patty onto the grill. This produces fiery flare-ups that help char and flavor a patty. At home, fold minced pork or beef fat into your burger mix for added flavor and moistness, and cook over a flame, if possible.

How Would You Like That Cooked?
Contrary to the popular medium-rare treatment, at Gravy, Neely cooks burgers until well done. Because there is pork in the recipe, it’s important to  cook completely. If strictly using beef and beef fat, you can cook anywhere on the spectrum from rare to well done.

Photograph by Hayley Young. The Gravy Trifecta Burger.

The Gravy Trifecta Burger
makes 6–8 patties 
Ask your butcher to grind the duck and ham hock for you. If you prefer, you can grind them at home using a meat grinder (some mixers come with a grinder attachment) or you can use the “pulse” setting on a food processor. Be sure to finely mince the onion, or add to the food processor along with the meat so it’s ground fine and blends into the patty.
2  pounds ground pork
1  pound ground sirloin
1  pound ground duck
1/2 pound smoked ham hock or bacon
1  sweet onion, finely minced salt and freshly ground pepper
3  tablespoons fresh thyme

In a large bowl, add all ingredients and blend well using your hands to mix. Shape into equally sized patties and season both sides liberally with salt and pepper. To cook, heat grill to high. Cook the patties until dark and seared on one side, about 3 minutes. Flip the burger and continue cooking until meat is thoroughly cooked through and browned, about 3 minutes more. Serve on toasted buns (see sidebar) with bitter greens and a seasoned aioli.

Parsley Aioli
Makes about 1 cup
1 egg yolk
1 cup light oil, such as grapeseed or canola oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
3 tablespoons minced parsley
Dash of salt and pepper

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, salt and pepper. While whisking continuously, drizzle in the oil at a slow trickle. When you notice the mayo getting fluffy, pour in the rest of the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while. When the aioli is emulsified and you have about 1/2 cup of liquid, whisk in the vinegars. Fold in the shallot and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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