We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today, Don Rowe heads to Queenstown to see if a Fergburger lives up to the hype.
It doesn’t take much to become an institution in New Zealand. Cast adrift at the bottom of the Earth, we cling to whatever collective meaning we can find, sifting through cultural detritus like the gold miners of old, shivering in their Arrowtown huts. A list of Kiwi Institutions: jandals in the cold, gas station pies, “beached as”.
And then there’s Fergburger.
If Queenstown is the epicentre of our tourism industry, then – to hear them tell it – Fergburger is its meaty, pulsing heart. The place is open almost 24 hours a day, with queues out the door as late as three or four in the morning, which in a town where one of three candidates for mayor wants everything shut by two is quite impressive. Not that they’d be able to take down the Ferg – Fergburger basically cucked the council when it managed to secure several feet of what used to be public car parks to enlarge the footpath around its shops on the ratepayer dime.
(Sidenote: it’s an interesting development considering the upcoming mayoral election. The incumbent Jim Boult is the favourite heading into October, with hotelier Nik Kiddle on his heels, but what if an unheralded burger became mayor? Boult won in 2016 with just 5,531 votes. Fergburger is open 21 hours a day with lines out the street. What if, and I mean this, the mayoral chains were draped across a bun? What if the mayoral limousine pulled up, doors open – that’s not the mayor, that’s a burger and chips! But I digress.)
CNN Travel calls the Fergburger the best in the world. Ed Sheeran calls the Fergburger the best in the world (but between that and scones with Cindy he’s basically applying for citizenship at this point so can’t be trusted). Every blog worth its nose-ring pays tribute at the altar of Ferg. But these are foreigners, drunk on the beauty of Queenstown and probably drunk on beer too. What of me? What of the boy who’s spent $200 on fast food since getting the McDonald’s app a few months ago? What of me of the calcified heart?
As with any burger joint in the world, Fergburger should be judged by its signature product. We’ll call it the Fergburger Index.
At around 12:30pm the lines stretched out the door and down the road past Fergbaker and Miss Ferg, the Ferg empire’s expansions down Shotover Street. I ordered a Ferburger with cheese with fries and aioli. It cost $18.40. I waited for 23 minutes and 18 seconds. I snatched the bag, boosted up the street, cut left onto a grass step and got stuck in.
From the get-go, this is a burger with density and integrity. There’s no slop here. This is not a trough-burger. You simply won’t be able to question the physical heft of the Fergburger. I read once that you should only eat things that put up a textural fight, something that challenges your mouth. The Fergburger is a mouth challenger.
The mayonnaise is sweet without being saccharine, cut through by generous slabs of crisp red onion. The lettuce bounces, frilled like a deep-sea urchin. Vermillion tomatoes cut thick as steaks. Cheese melted on the patty, wrapped tight like the vacuum-sealed suit of a gimp. A playful chutney dances a sassy solitary fandango – alone, but not lonely. The buns are crisp, but not kale crisp, not the crisp of a trash brassica, not crisp like burned Vogel’s. The patty is perfect, daily-fresh mince on the right side of medium-rare.
The chips are chips, there’s not much else they can be or do beyond demonstrating restraint and maturity. They’re pretty good, but really it’s deep-fried potato. They’re garlicky, they go great with a pottle of aioli, but they’re not the star of the show here, nor do they pretend to be. As fries they radiate a quiet confidence, playing the supporting act, the humble best friend, the mate on the sideline.
Needless to say, I smashed a cheeky botty of Coke behind the scenes and thought again about how stupid it is to live in Auckland eating Burger Burger Tiger Burger Murder Burger Wank Burger when this is an option.
Verdict: Fergtown population me, bro.
Good or bad? Good.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.