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Monthly Archives: June 2012

This is a tale of a restaurant that does almost everything right. Built in a resurrected old theater, Mohawk Bend prides itself on good drinks and locally sourced, organic bar food. The menu is built to please everyone. Gluten-free? No problem. Vegan? No worries. Dairy free? They got you.  They’ve got munchies that suit any dietary need. Why? Because their pride and joy is the bar and they want you to hang out as long as possible. Mohawk Bend was built on fiery strong concoctions that will part your hair neatly down the middle and singe the ends. Even their homemade ginger beer will light a fire in your belly.

That being said, I should have known. I really should have known. Despite assurances to the contrary, any time a restaurant has a special notation for the NON-Vegan (N/V) things on the menu the burger isn’t going to be the highlight. It’s just not. Even if the description on paper is gorgeous, and on paper the Mohawk Burger is a supermodel: a respectable sized beef patty with arugula, parmesan, crispy pancetta, red onion, pickled chili, roasted peppers, and rosemary-garlic aioli with the option of adding gruyere, sharp cheddar,  bacon or vegan cheddar (although why you would add vegan cheese to a burger is beyond me. Lactose intolerance?) on a brioche bun. Sounds fantastic right? Wrong.

Okay, okay that’s unfair. It was more like online dating. You get all psyched up to meet someone in person and you do…and you realize…this is not what you had in mind.  The garlic aioli isn’t very strong, there’s no pancetta that you can discern, and there is far too much arugula. The only really fascinating part is the spicy pickled chilies and that alone does not make a sandwich. I mean, you’re not sorry you ate it, but you’re not going to call it again.

No, the lesson learned here is if you’re at a restaurant that has (N/V) on its menu I offer these four words of advice: Get The Veggie Burger. Trust me. If the establishment you’re at is tip toeing around the very mention of meat, get the veggie burger. That’s where they’re putting all of their love and affection. The vegan burger at Mohawk Bend is scrumptious.  It’s not very showy. Just a black bean, corn, and brown rice patty, with a thick layer of avocado, tomato, lettuce, and chipotle aioli on a whole wheat bun, but all the proportions are right, the textures are very gratifying, and the aioli is downright sassy, pulling everything together.

Wait, two lessons learned. I’m tacking another one on here. If you’re going to a place with 72 taps of beer running at one time: get the fries.  Whether your bag is the comforting cheesy, gravy goodness of poutine (which they carry in vegan and non) or sweet potato fries with their transcendent maple chipotle aioli or even just regular fries which they offer seasoned with togarashi or rosemary gremolata, you will not be sorry. Whatever you do, do not settle for the coleslaw. The coleslaw is a disgrace. I can’t believe they put it on the side of every burger. Watered down cabbage with no spices to speak of? Mohawk, you can do better! How can you put such love and energy into your fries and ignore your other sides? I think your chefs need to go visit Golden State and get a lesson in how great cabbage can truly be. Nobody puts coleslaw in the corner.

– Molly Bergen

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Learning a valuable secret about the place you live is such a delightful thing, even if the secret is not-so-secret really. Enter The Park, a fairly unassuming little café-ish joint on the corner of Sunset and Douglas in Echo Park. You may have driven past this place countless times and not noticed it, as I certainly did. Or you might be among the stable of dedicated attendees of The Park’s every Wednesday “Burger Night” wherein the delicious burger that is always found on the otherwise sporadically international bistro style menu is reduced to a mere $5. At least it starts at five bucks anyway, but more on that later.

As mentioned, a secret to me may in fact be very public knowledge, as this special weekly occurrence seems to be to the locals of populous Echo Park. I entered the tiny awkwardly shaped foyer with the ambition of adding my name to a list so that I might eventually get a table, and was not alone in this quest, as many necks craned either to note their position on the fate-determining little white pad, or attempt to draw eye contact with the young woman who grants said positions. Despite the situation seeming quite competitive, my name was added swiftly and called in only a few minutes. As I passed the manager on the way to being seated I jovially declared “you guys are getting pounded.” “Every Wednesday!” he replied with an entirely genuine smile.

Once seated, it’s strictly business. The Park has indoor seating for about 30, and outdoor seating for another 12 or so, which compared with the number of folks who show up for burgers, is not a lot of seats. Though the staff is sparse, they move like they’re being shot at, and as a result turn tables over with surprising speed. Burgers are ordered via scrawl card, sort of like sushi, and exactly like the Counter (if you’ve ever been there). While some customers find the printed topping buffet an undesirable and overwhelming pressure of possibility (me) others seem to prefer it, and in The Park’s case the number of options seems to be just right. One can go in any of several different directions with his/her burger, but there aren’t so many items that by the time you’re done reading you’ve forgotten half of it. All burgers come with lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickles- and ketchup and mustard are in squirt bottles on every table. Most of the other toppings (cheeses, sauces, grilled onions, mushrooms, slaw etc.) cost $1 each, and a few “premiums” (applewood bacon, fried egg, veggie chili, etc.) are $2 a piece. So, the $5 price-tag is a bit of a hoodwink, but every burger comes with a choice of side (the shoestring fries were astounding) so it’s still a good deal even if a few extra dollars are dispensed.

I went classic, and am glad I did. My only additions were applewood bacon, and gruyere, otherwise the burger was dressed only in what they all come with. The bacon was a tad undercooked but the flavor was excellent, and I’ve never met a burger that couldn’t make good use of gruyere. My dining cohorts and I all dug in at once, and the silence following everyone’s first bite was broken by the words “what’s everyone doing for the 4th of July?” I laughed out loud. The flavor of the Park burger is everything you dream a cookout burger to be. It tasted so much like nearly every fantastic backyard summertime memory any of us had, that each bite served as an undeniable olfactory window to the past. The Park uses a gas grill but very high heat so the burger has a bit of char to the outside resulting in an extremely fragrant grilled flavor, while remaining soft and rare in the middle. The bun looks like a brioche, but inside is flakey white bread, and according to a waitress they’re vegan. She added that the smooth shine on the outside was achieved by spraying the buns with water while they baked, rather than loading them up with egg. Secret revealed.

Overall this meal is a steal, even if you opt for a few upgrades. The Park’s burger offers a strange union of bougie and traditional, providing all the flavor Dad used to pack in and then some- though blue cheese, remoulade, and crispy onion strings are also available if the mood strikes. My recommendation is keep it simple and pretend you’re 9 again, because there are plenty of places to have a good bougie burger, but very few that have, if only for a moment, picked me up and dropped me into 20 years ago.

Some parting advice: Bring your whole party, because you definitely will not be seated until everyone is there. Be nice to the staff, they’re BUSY. No matter what the house made $3 dessert special is- get it.

-Geoff Sawyer

Walking through the doors of Oaks Gourmet Market, I found it hard to breathe. There was so much stuff. It was as if a foodie pack rat had decided to horde all of his favorite things about Los Angeles in one store. Rows and rows of obscure hot sauces, beer, fancy cheese, organic olive oil, fonuts (gluten free donuts), ice cream bars from Milk, homemade smoothies, a giant steam punk coffee roaster, and walls of wine lined the tiny shop. It was impossible to absorb all at once. I had to sit down for a minute and tried to figure out where the hell I was supposed to order a burger.

Fortunately a blonde lady at the middle register took pity on me and handed me a menu. It all looked lovely. It’s easy to see why this market inspires such devotion. Nestled between UCB and Gelson’s on Franklin it is open every day until midnight. Need a round of pink Himalayan sea salt at 11pm on a Sunday? No problem. Need a Zuberfizz cream soda at 10am? No sweat. And they build baskets for the Hollywood bowl.  Need them to deliver? Sure thing.  It’s hands down the fanciest convenience mart I’ve ever been to.

Their burger is a special point of pride, although there is scarcely space to eat it. One metal table wedged between the display cases of mojito mix makes for very close quarters.  There are a few tiny tables outside, but even there eavesdropping isn’t a possibility- it’s as inevitable as is viciously fighting for elbow space. So pray that you’re not stuck next to people sorting out their relationship problems, or worse, their acting reels.

The burger itself is relatively simple.  It’s got Black Forest bacon, tomatoes, Taleggio cheese, arugula, red onions, and a grilled brioche bun, but what makes it special is the jalapeno-pineapple compote. Not enough people pay attention to the sauce on a burger. It truly can make or break a sandwich. Just ketchup or mustard is fine if you’re playing it safe, but to make something really stand out, pay attention to the sauce. This softball sized, two-handed affair meant there was no chance of a side dish for me. All my concentration had to be focused on not dropping the deliciously greasy thing all over my (ill-advised) white shirt.  Next time I’m standing in line for UCB I will definitely grab this burger (and a bib) for sidewalk munching.

– Molly Bergen

I spent all night dreaming of pickles. Well no, more specifically one pickle. But more on that later. Yesterday was Day 7 of Oinkster’s burger week and like every single day previous, they had a line out the door. People’s hunger for cover burgers could not be quenched. And who could blame them? I for one was dying to see if Oinkster could handle the Big Mac because the Big Mac isn’t just a burger. Oh no. One could argue that McDonald’s Big Mac is an American icon right up there next to tater tots and Buffalo wings.  It is the burger cover equivalent of screaming out “Freebird!” at a concert.  In fact many people have composed their own musical odes to this thing. It is a huge part of McDonalds “billions sold” claim that they plaster their welcoming signs. So the question was…could Oinkster do it?

Absolutely. The “secret” sauce is no longer a secret.  The Big Max was eerily similar to the actual Big Mac with one glaring exception…the ingredients were better. The beef fresher, the sesame buns fluffier, the cheese…okay the American cheese was exactly the same, but the thing that has been driving me crazy are the pickles. How on earth did they manage to do that? The right size, the right ridges, the right flavor? How? Unless this is all an illusion and they bought them from the same place (If that is true, please let me know. Maybe then I can get some sleep.) Mimicking sauce is one thing. Mimicking pickles is a whole new level of talent.

Unlike the actual Big Mac, the Big Max did not make you feel ill afterwards, which is actually a very strange sensation. Having all those flavors together and not having any consequences is a little unsettling. (I mean, aside from the consequences of having to hike the entire Santa Monica mountain range to make up for the glory that was burger week.) It’s amazing what good ingredients can do.  In fact if this week has shown anything, it’s what the fast food chains could be capable of if they actually gave a shit about their customers.

Yes, the Oinkster claims this is a “tribute” week, but it’s more of a wakeup call week. (Or as Geoff puts it “a nut flexing exercise”). The Oinkster outshone all of these fast food joints by cooking their signature burgers better than those who actually created it, but that’s not the most interesting part of the experiment. Is it impressive that they built a better Big Mac than McDonalds? Yes. But what is more impressive are the conversations heard around the tables this week. Everyone was talking about the ingredients and the effects that they were having on their bodies. There is nothing like being shown the ghosts of poor decisions past to really take stock of what it is we’re eating and how it’s being prepared. It was a week of taking a good hard look at the fast food burger and how little we settle for if it costs 99 cents.

-Molly Bergen

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t… no actually it totally belongs. This week is about bad-ass burgers right? Absolutely, and the Pork Adobo burger of Day 6 was definitely bad-ass. It’s different because as we all know by this point, the purpose of the week was to pay tribute to the burger recipes made famous by others, and this one particular burger is a chef/owner Andre Guerrero original. For Day 6, rather than pay respect to another great burger, he paid respect to his Filipino heritage, with inspirations drawn from traditional Adobo stew, and pandesal. Just how little I know about Filipino cuisine became instantly apparent with this one, as I not only had to google basically everything, but also use life-lines. Though in fear about my ability to intelligently discuss this particular burger right up to this moment, I can say one thing in total confidence: holy pig it was good.

Unlike any of the other burgers of the week, this one is all pork (yes you can do that. It’s still a burger). A ground pork patty sits right in the middle, and is topped with shredded Adobo stewed pork. According to the flyer The Oinkster posted on facebook to describe this sandwich, the Adobo meat is stewed and then fried for texture, which is the first of many things that I might have never guessed. Topped then with pico de gallo and a smear of garlic aoli, it’s all held together by a pandesal bun, which feels and tastes a bit like a firmer version of an American yeast roll (think Golden Coral, but in a somehow flattering way). The next and perhaps most important thing that I would have never known, is what made this burger taste like what it tasted like. Thanks to the Internet, and The Oinkster’s willful relinquishing of some insider info, I was made aware that the Adobo flavor comes from soy sauce, white vinegar, black pepper and bay leaves, none of which with the exception of soy I was able to specifically identify. This burger was the perfect example of melded flavors. Knowing that it would be my job to review it, eating this burger was a little stressful because with each bite I had one less chance to figure out what the hell was making this thing taste so good, but contrarily seemed to have zero control over the hand that continued lifting it to my mouth. I got a couple bites with the specific zing of tomato from the pico, and a couple wherein garlic in the aoli was distinguishable, but all told the Pork Adobo burger was a clinic on the blending of ingredients into a finished product. I’m surprised to find myself saying this because I think of burgers as beef (even after reading the wiki page), but Mr. Guerrero’s singular original creation of the whole program turned out to be the highlight of my week.

This review was a learning experience for me (admittedly new to food writing) and in hindsight, my approach would have been different knowing what I now do. In order to successfully identify any of the flavors in this burger one would have to pick it apart and try each ingredient separately. Maybe you should do that anyway if you truly wish to enjoy any given dish, or at least if you need to discuss it. The dichotomy of my nearing anxiety attack while coming to grips with the fact that I had no idea what to say about this burger, and simultaneously loving it about as much as anything I have ever eaten in my life ever- was fortunately specific to Day 6 only.

– Geoff Sawyer

Day 5 of Burger week was a tad more subdued then the rest of them. There was still a line of famished people out the door, but it did not trail into the parking lot. The reason for this? I’m betting on the style of burger. Oinkster had chosen to recreate Jack in the Box’s Sourdough Jack as Sourdough Josh, which means a burger, bacon, tomato, white American cheese (aka Swiss-style cheese on the official Jack menu), ketchup and onion mayo all squished between the soft confines of Frisco sourdough rounds. Now apparently this is a midnight favorite with some, but I couldn’t find a single person who named that as their favorite burger. Although there was a guy who had brought his own Jack in the Box mask which he had bought for Burning Man and was letting people try it on and take pictures. Most of the people were there because Oinkster would pour love and care into an otherwise mediocre product and turn it into something magical. They would use good beef, fresh bread, and make all the sauces themselves, giving you an idea of what was actually possible if this burger was done right.

To be fair, I have never eaten at a Jack in the Box in my life. Why is this? Three reasons. The first is that I’m originally from Chicago and we just don’t have them around, so they were never on the list of questionable food choices at 2am. The second being that as soon as I moved out here, my curiosity was crushed when one of my friends referred to their quality standards as “prison food.” But the main reason, I have never seen fit to enter one of their establishments are those godforsaken Jack ads. The horrible clown with a golf ball head and business suit, with taglines written by, I’m guessing chimpanzees (No, that’s not fair to chimps. Let’s say maggots, if they were capable of clutching a pen.) Whoever came up with these ad campaigns should be dragged from their homes, tied to a chair with their eyelids taped open, and forced to watch them on repeat for hours and hours (like the rest of us do when we watch Hulu) until they break down sobbing.

My sadistic fantasies aside,  the Oinkster’s Sourdough Josh was delicious. The sweetness of the tomato played off the bacon’s salty bite and the sourdough gave it a homey tang. Was it the best burger of the week? Not by a long shot, but considering the model they were working with, it was delicious. The one thing I couldn’t get my head around was the cheese. This is not the Oinkster’s fault. I understand they had to use white American because it was authentic. I get that, but using white American on a burger is the equivalent of wearing sweatpants to the supermarket. You’ve clearly given up on life. With the myriad of cheeses on this planet why would you chose the one that tastes like nothing? The cheese steers the flavors of the burger and is just as important as the type of seasonings on the beef you use or the quality of the bun. Whether its blue cheese, gruyere, cheddar, Swiss, brie, or even regular American cheese use something with an identity. Something with dignity.  Have some pride in your cheeseburger. Otherwise it might as well not be there at all.

– Molly Bergen

Every day thus far this week, our collective compulsion here at Hood Burger has been to begin each Burger week post by acknowledging the impressive row of hungry food fans, meandering its way out the door and around the building, while no doubt providing a forum for innumerable conversations on beautiful burger possibilities. Well this day shall be no different, for upon my arrival on Thursday evening I personally saw more humans congregated in a relatively civilized fashion on the Oinkster’s grounds than ever before in my time on this Earth. This line (as they all have) began inside at the counter, backed out the door, and down the sidewalk all the way to the back of the building, but for the first time it did not stop there. People spilled from where the sidewalk ends into the parking lot, around the fabled truck whose presence assured that the wait would be worth it, and up a neighboring street. Absolutely unbelievable. Grill ‘Em All is one of LA’s more lauded food trucks, offering a menu of 8 particularly creative burgers, fries and mega-tots (known as h-100’s, hand rolled tater tots filled with cheddar jack cheese), and often an additional limited run special burger. They also bear the added charm of somehow insisting that heavy metal music is an inextricable part of their identity. I knew these boys had a pretty dedicated following, but I would never have wagered that their draw would be quite like this. Perhaps that is because before last night, I had never tasted their wares.

For the first 3 days, The Oinkster has conjured up one burger based shout-out per day to a well recognized burger of a fellow purveyor, but the boys of Grill ‘Em All did no such thing with their day. Rather, they offered 3 burgers that maintain real estate on the truck’s regular menu, and one unbelievable GEA/Oinkster collaboration made especially for the occasion. Lest my dedication be doubted whatsoever, I ate all 4. Not entirely mind you, but I made a pretty valiant effort. There was really no other way to do it, which you would understand had you been there. To write a full review of each of the 4 would be excessive, but I will say that they are all worth trying should you get the chance. Big thanks to my dining cohort and fellow blogger/burger nerd Teri Fisher, who if you don’t know takes the most beautiful photos of food that you have ever seen.

As much as I would like to explore each burger at length, and probably will eventually, I’ll keep the first three quick. Each was delicious, and served on a lightly toasted brioche bun. There were no wrong answers, but definitely a clear hierarchy, listed in ascending order:

Hannah Montana: American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup. Simple, and delectable.

Waste ‘Em All: Green chilies, pepper jack, and beer soaked onions. The peppers had a little kick, but much more flavor than spice, making the overall taste extremely robust. This one is not only a joy to eat, but I think is a colab with Virgina Thrash Metal band Municipal Waste, which if true is totally awesome.

Blue Cheer (shown above): Blue Cheese, Cranberry Gastrique, Munchos (the potato chip). This was the clear standout of the trio of Grill ‘Em All regular menu offerings. The sharpness of the blue cheese was perfectly balanced by the sweetness of cranberry, and in every bite they seemed to cancel each other out just in time for the finish to be fresh rare beef. With Munchos added for additional salt and texture, the Blue Cheer lacks nothing, despite only claiming 3 toppings. This burger was stellar, and my recommendation by a large margin if you ever hit the truck.

This brings us to the real showpiece, designed by both parties to really make a mark on Burger Week: The ULTI-MEATUM!

Where to start. So much meat. So many verbose flavors. The Ulti-meatum begins as do the other 3, with a rare grilled beef patty on brioche. On top of that patty, lies a heap of the Oinkster’s house cured pastrami, and Swiss cheese. Under the patty, one finds a bed of blue cheese cole slaw, topped with an equally healthy heap of the Oinkster’s Carolina style pulled pork (which, as an NC native I feel fully qualified to say is a particularly respectable homage unto itself), and “Himalayan Ketchup” which is actually a blend of garlic aoli, ketchup, pop rocks(?!?!) and red food dye, to ensure this thing looks as crazy as it actually is. Don’t even bother trying to deduce how these guys came up with this combination, just hear me now: It worked. Obviously the Ulti-meatum is very dense and rich, but one should expect as much based purely on the title. The pastrami was as much present as complimentary, and the ketchup appears and sounds much more intimidating than it actually was, playing the part of perfect spreadable element despite a rather shocking appearance. Every time my teeth hit a cool crisp bit of cabbage from the slaw the bite turned to perfect- each was its own little oasis in a vast meat desert. All told the Ulti-meatum was certainly a memorable culinary happening, and one of the more boastful burgers I have ever eaten.

 

I’m left with little to say after the first 4 days besides The Oinkster is still batting 1000. They really know how to make a fine burger, and apparently also know just the right folks to conscript when it’s time for a sidekick. Grill on, bros.