Is there anything better than a secret? Having someone pull you aside and say “I need to tell you something, but you can’t tell anyone else,” is a delicious moment. The possibilities could be endless. At that second they have chosen you as a confidant (the fools) and the secret could be anything from “I am the King of Brunei” to “I killed a man in cold blood in the jungles of Brazil” to “I have three children out of wedlock in three different states” to “that’s not really chicken.” I mean, usually it’s something boring like “that soup isn’t really vegetarian,” but a secret is always thrilling no matter how mundane. Which is why when my buddy Chris told me about a super secret burger that wasn’t on the menu at the bar at Café Stella, I headed over there immediately.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the popularity of the bar at Café Stella. Located in the belly of Sunset Junction, the café is warm and inviting and exceptionally classy. The restaurant is the kind of place that I don’t frequent very often because I’m usually not dressed for the occasion and rarely have the money to spend on chic French bistro food. The bar, however, is very romantic with low lighting and Ella Fitzgerald playing on the speakers. Perfect for a low key date. Something everyone else knew but me, so the first time I tried to get a burger, a waifish teenager in a giant floppy hat who guards the door to the establishment informed me that there was simply no room for me at the bar. Fighting my instincts to take her hat and throw it into the street, I planned my return much more carefully.
At the stroke of six pm I arrived yesterday with my friend Marisa and barreled past the indignant texting guard, and we had the whole bar to ourselves. It was lovely. The bartender, Vincent, seemed even happier that we knew about the secret burger than we were. Glowing with conspiratorial glee, he delivered our meal on slabs of wood. It was well worth the trouble. The Café Stella burger is wedged between a brioche bun, covered in confit tomatoes, fennel onion jam, and absurdly large leaves of butter lettuce, but what makes it great is the blue cheese inside the burger. The blue cheese is actually inside the ground beef giving it a satisfying earthly tang that blended with the sweetness of the onions and tomatoes perfectly. There was clearly a lot of time and love spent figuring out how much blue cheese to put in the burger. Too much and it would overwhelm the flavor of the beef. Too little and it wouldn’t matter that it was there at all. The burger also comes with a cone of golden shoestring fries that were perfectly crisp.
So if you’re in Sunset Junction in the early evening, Café Stella is a great place to get a burger. However, if you have no patience to wrestle other patrons for a seat at the bar, they have the burger in the main restaurant on their weekend brunch menu as well. However, I would imagine without the secret knowledge, the brunch burger doesn’t taste quite as good.