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Where to find Charleston's once-in-a-blue-moon burgers

Unicorn Burgers

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Here's the problem with pop-up dinners. They pop. I realize that's the whole idea, but it's like a the food version of a Missed Connection.

To the hot burger at The Daily's Short Grain pop-up last fall:
I saw you on the griddle.
You were stuffed with Charleston Cheese House cheese curds.
I wanted to eat you again.
But you never made the menu after that.
Hangry in Harleston Village

For anyone who tried Short Grain's short-lived juicy lucy burger at the Daily's pop-up last autumn, you know what I'm talking about. Short Grain, a Japanese comfort food truck makes, of course, Japanese food. But we have it on good authority from owner Shuai Wang that his mirage of a burger may in fact reappear once more.

But what of the other unicorn burgers that, like leap year babies, we can only celebrate seemingly once every four years? Were they even real or just tomato-topped figments of our imagination?

We laced up our eating boots and decided to find out. Firing up the interwebs, we tracked down this city's most fleeting of meat masterpieces.

Like Short Grain's juicy lucy, Pink Bellies' In-N-Out-esque Animal Style Burger arrived like a swift Chinook Wind, fast and furious last April. Food truck owner Thai Phi says he was inspired by the California burger chain's beloved mustard- and grilled onions-heavy burger.

"When our bakery closed in July, we discontinued making banh mis and thought it was the perfect time to bring back the animal-style burger with actual hamburger buns," he says. And fans of the special dish needn't mourn the passing of Phi's creation. He promises it will return sometime soon at a date to be determined.

Over at 2Nixons, Jeffrey Stoneberger's burger is of a similar mystique. The ramen maven doesn't reveal his burger often, but when he does, you better show up on time. When he cooked some up in January at Craft Conundrum, they sold out in two hours.

"We don't serve the burger all the time because we use super high quality ingredients and honestly the burger isn't the best financial decision," explains Stoneberger. The 2Nixons burger patty is made from a combination of ground dry-aged beef chuck, short rib, and brisket. Stoneberger dresses his burger with house-made pickles and a cheese blend of Cabot Super Sharp cheddar and an American made Parmesan from Wisconsin which he says has a Gouda like finish.

"The burger is a celebration of our concept which is to combine all the elements of the fancy and strip out all those trappings which are unneeded and feel inauthentic like $60 flowers on a table," says Stoneberger. The result is a decadent meal fans eagerly anticipate.

But for other chefs, adding a burger to a menu is more of a whim. Xiao Bao Biscuit chef and owner Joshua Walker once served one — a lamb X'ian-style burger — and he says he might do it again.

"I think it was year one at some point," says. "It's called rou jia mo. It's similar in a lot of way to our biscuit that we do on Fridays. It's just one more cool fact about the Chinese — it's been around forever. It may be the original burger."

So see, they were real, not mere flights of char-grilled fancy. And with any luck, these unicorn burgers will return to Charleston and run free once more.

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