Every other Wednesday, Meg van Huygen's Sub Missives tell the stories of the Seattle area's best sandwiches. Know a hot sub? Write to us about it @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
A couple of years ago, I had a low-key weeknight birthday soiree at Gainsbourg in Greenwood, my local spot at the time. I’ve always had kind of a boner for the neighborhoody faux Frenchness of that place. I know it’s not really French. Just like… the pressed tin tiles, the scruffy old mirrors, the floral flea market plates, the antique wooden bar, the art nouveau lady-shaped absinthe fountain—it’s all so pretty to me. Equal parts comfortable and recherché.
I invited friends there for this birthday happy hour, and some of them included my parents, who emigrated to Mukilteo from Queen Anne when they retired and really did not venture into the city anymore ever. The complaints began rolling in immediately:
I put on a thousand-yard stare and just ordered a bunch of shit and was like, “Here, guys, try this,” and my mom was like, “What is it!! I don’t like beets or olives!!” I’d thought that Gainsbourg's tame little bistro menu was gonna be a slam dunk, but it was shaping up like the Griswolds stopping for directions in downtown St. Louis.
The whole point of coming here during happy hour was the six-dollar Gainsbourger, so I ordered two of those, please. (I didn’t mention that the Gainsbourger has lamb mixed into the beef because they probably thought they didn't like lamb.)
So, I know that you guys know about the Gainsbourger, and I certainly knew about the Gainsbourger, but my dad had never seen anything like it. “It’s so juicy!” he raved, “and I don’t know what kind of French cheese this is, but it’s incredible.” (It was Gruyère.) Dad decreed it the best burger he’d ever had in his life, and Mom scarfed hers down too. She was super impressed by the caramelized onions. “What do they put in there??” (A: butter, and probably balsamico.)
After witnessing their endorsement, a couple of other people in our group ordered Gainsbourgers and raved similarly. If they didn’t know, now they knew. The mood was transformed, the stress cloud dissipated, and everyone was chill and happy again—and weirdly, my mom ordered escargot after that, after being repulsed by duck confit and castelvetrano olives, and ate them all. Mom and Dad both got a cocktail with celery shrub and Becherovka in it—the Microphone Czech—that delighted them, and they were pleasant and chatty with my friends after that.
The day was saved. For years to come, both of my parents would speak casually and often of the Gainsbourger’s marvelosity, and whenever they went to the city, my dad would announce that he wanted to go to The French Hamburger Restaurant.
You don’t have to be a boomer food rube to be astounded by the Gainsbourger, though, is the thing. It’s an exquisite cheeseburger, empirically. The meat’s just impossibly lamby and savory, served on a brioche bun to soak up the richness. But not too lamby! It’s the correct balance of beef and lamb. (Case in point: I waited about a week to tell my mom that that burger had lamb in it, and she said, “I don’t like lamb.” Au contraire, madame—but you do.)
It comes dressed simply with caramelized onions, dijon mustard, and a slice of melted Gruyère—you don’t need ketchup or mayo. They offer a bunch of add-ons for a dollar each, e.g. bacon, sauteed mushrooms, a fried egg, but you honestly don’t need to customize it either*. It’s standalone delicious as is. It woke up like this. Just eat it.
(*Well, it’s fun to get the egg. What a spectacle. And that brioche is perfect for the job of soaking up an egg yolk swirled with lamb fat—it was born for that shit.)
All of this in addition to being six bucks. The Gainsbourger’s easily the best damn happy hour burg in the city, but it’s also a strong contender for the best burg in the city, full stop.
Speaking of animal fat, a note: Do not sleep on the fries at Gainsbourg, which are skinny Benelux-style frites fried in duck fat and served with housemade ketchup and garlicky aioli. They don’t come with the happy hour version of the Gainsbourger, but for $2, you can get a mountain of them for the table to share. Or if you’re feeling fabulous, get them in poutine mode, with more Gruyère and their to-die-for mushroom-shallot gravy, and then dunk your burg in the morass. Oh, jesus.
My dad passed away in March, but I will refer to Gainsbourg as The French Hamburger Restaurant for the rest of my life and, when I go there, think of how the Gainsbourger essentially acted as a Thundershirt for my city-panicked suburban parents. And how lovely my birthday evening was thereafter. This is a cheeseburger with mystical qualities that brings people together. It made my mom eat snails. Un sandwich extraordinaire. Thanks, Gainsbourger.