I had a conversation tonight with an old friend, who is a cook at Saison, one of San Francisco’s few Michelin rated restaurants boasting more than 1 star. I have yet to eat there, but undoubtedly will because this place is NUTS. My friend directed me to this review, which according to him paints a pretty accurate picture of what Saison does and how they do it. Saison (to my knowledge) does not have a burger, and their menu probably does not suffer for it. I bring this place and this gent up though, because we had a great talk about burgers (duh). He walked me step by step through the recipe to the finest burger he has ever had, from ratios of cuts in the grind, to cooking process, to dressings, all the way to the plate. Now this is a guy, whose job is to smoke fish bones over almond embers until they are ready to be the base of a broth that gets brushed on a single aged sashimi piece. This is a guy who serves coldwater Bluefin robin that are killed instantly after being line caught by having their spinal chords severed so that the amount of lactic acid that builds in the muscle from the struggle on the line is minimized, resulting in a sweeter and finer grained flesh (according to a review by Michael Hung). This is a guy who serves 20 (TWENTY!!!) -course tasting menus of exotic and insanely ornate dishes at what is lauded as one of the best and most exciting restaurants in the WORLD. Yet, somehow, his burger sounded totally normal. I was sworn to not reveal the recipe and will not, but it wasn’t that crazy. I expected Foie Gras in the grind, a 3-day assembly, and rare oils and botanicals making up the aioli. Nope. This burger, despite being the holy grail to one of the fanciest food folks I personally know, would not stand out visually in a lineup. The moral of the story: make a quality product, and you don’t need a gimmick.
The Bucket in Eagle Rock, looks to have been there for quite some time. Cracks in the concrete on the patio are worn just as smooth as the edges on the ramshackle bar inside. The heat of the tiny grill and 2-basket fryer just on the other side of that bar are enough to chase most anyone outside who cares to avoid sweating profusely while they dine. The beer selection is not vast but accommodates everyone, with a few good ones on draught for those who have done their homework, and 32oz bottles of Corona or Tacate tall-boys for the rest of us. The menu is only burgers, and only a few at that, save the standard fare of sides and a couple appetizers. One of the non-burger bites that I ordered (sadly they were out) was labeled as “NOT for cholesterol counters” which though doesn’t exactly make sense certainly makes their point. Granted, deep-fried bacon-wrapped fried shrimp and faux crab definitely (no it is no accident that I said fried twice) is not a dish for those with heart health concerns, but I will confess a little confusion as to why the entire menu was not adorned with the same disclaimer. One of their signature burgers for example, which I ate, known as the Cardiac.
All of the Bucket’s burgers start with a half pound patty, with the exception of the Cardiac, which has two. For those without a death wish (such as myself), you can order a Mild Cardiac, which has only one patty but all the same toppings as its Daddy: cheese, bacon, one hearty ham slice, grilled onions and mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and ketchup. Now that’s a lot of stuff. Typically I prefer only a few ingredients that truly compliment one another, but these guys really pull off the whole totally over-indulgent burger execution. Despite having to eat the better part of it with a fork and not having every ingredient present in nearly any bite, the Mild Cardiac is a delicious exercise in irresponsible dining. While the patty cooks over open flames, each is covered with seasoned salt, ultra fine garlic powder (it looked like the garlic flavored stuff you put on popcorn) and a serious dousing of worcestershire sauce. The result tastes like… home. The burger is huge I probably ate a 2500 calorie meal at this place, and I certainly moved slowly afterward. Even still, the waitresses being unnecessarily friendly, at least half the clientele being made up of obvious regulars, and the grungy unassuming décor all combine to provide the diner with a sense of comfort that few LA dives are able to deliver. The Bucket is not frilly, but they make a great burger.
Of the few side choices offered I very strongly recommend the onion rings. They outshine the other options by a large margin. I didn’t get to try the fried wrapped shrimp with the cholesterol caution, but I did have the wings, which were ok- no more no less. The infallible trifecta of burger, onion rings, and beer, is why you go to The Bucket.