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Monthly Archives: March 2013

the 50 50

I’ve never been a huge team sports fan. Of course when playoff season comes around, regardless of the name of the featured ball, I tend to keep up based on frequent alcohol-lubed small-talk sessions and friends who care more than I. Thai Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts hold my attention much more dependably, but neither of those sports have the invariable American household ubiquity that the professional versions of activities available to middle school students do. I bring this up because my lack of dedication to team sports has resulted in a smaller number of stimulating Sports Bar experiences than have likely been had by those who never miss one of their favorite college basketball team’s regular season games. This is important for one reason: today’s burger is served at what might be one of the greatest Sports Bars ever, but I don’t think I’m qualified to make such a determination.

Slater’s 50/50 is located on N. Raymond St. only a few short blocks from the epicenter of Pasadena’s most consumer driven pocket: the intersection of Fair Oaks and Colorado. A very quick walk from the Memorial Park Metro (on the way there at least, the walk back to the train was much slower) it’s quite accessible too, assuming you’re on the East end of Los Angeles to begin with. Early in the day the place was a ghost-town but being that there was seating for 200 or more, logic suggests they pull a crowd from time to time. The vibe is very corporate, and my guess is that the folks involved in the design have a TGIFriday’s pedigree or something comparable. Slater’s is a bit nicer than your average chain, but they do turn all the barstools to the door so they look “inviting” and make sure that any and every staff member introduces themself before saying “and I’ll be taking care of you today.” It ends up feeling like the kind of place where family functions would occur if you all did the Cheesecake Factory was last week and/or there is a game on. To be fair though, it’s a sports bar, and you don’t go somewhere with 80 tables and nearly as many HD screens to be wowed by the individuality of the table settings. You go for cold beers and good bar food, and Slater’s delivers big time in both departments.

The 50 50 egg spill

50/50 refers to the blend of their burger, which is half ground chuck, and half ground bacon. Bacon. Half of it, by WEIGHT, is bacon. This pleased me. Slater’s has a respectable collection of burgers, ten in all (or you can design your own), some of which are recommended to be ordered with the 50/50 patty and some that aren’t, though you can have any menu burger with the patty of your choice. Naturally, I chose the signature burger (The 50/50), which comes adorned with a sunny side up egg, avocado mash, pepper-jack cheese (though mine had no spice whatsoever), and adobo-chipotle mayo, served on a white brioche. Being that half of the patty is ground bacon, the rarest they serve the 50/50 is medium, which I requested. This burger was delicious. All that bacon in the patty predictably makes for a very unique flavor, and they actually grill them, so the patty had a good char, crust and smoke flavor on the outside while still being pretty pink in the center. Any burger with a sunny egg on it is going to be messy, particularly when accompanied only by slathers of other slimy stuff, but it was manageable somehow despite its toppings. There was no spice; as I said the cheese was not in fact pepper jack, and the mayo though flavorful was not actually spicy. This is not a problem or complaint, simply an observation. The singular thing I would change about this burger would be salt on the avocado. They didn’t season it individually, which made it taste like negative salt when perched atop a grilled wad of bacon. Otherwise the 50/50 is an all around great burger, and inventive.

frieds

Slater’s sides were good too and even the ketchup has bacon in it. Perhaps my fried pickle bar has dropped since having them at The Escondite, but I thought Slater’s fried pickles were the best I’ve seen in a while. You have to request Ranch, sadly it seems that there is a west coast epidemic of not knowing what the only condiment meant for tempura dill chips is, but it’s a small price to pay and the server that you will know by name should be happy to grab it for you. They also have 101 beers on tap. You read that right. Over one hundred draught beers. This selection, the great food, and the absolute impossibility of finding a seat from which you can’t see a T.V. leads me to believe that Slater’s holds a strong position in the sports bar pantheon, but I do have some bad news. Myself, and my dining partner, were absolutely wrecked by the food. Slater’s represents the worst Gut-Bomb I’ve experienced since this site’s inception, to such a degree that I feel obligated to warn you readers. When I say wrecked, I mean call in to work and keep coconut water in hand all day kind of wrecked. Tummy bubbles that you wouldn’t wish on an enemy. My sense (hope) is that we got unlucky, and got semi-mild food poisoning at a place that does not generally have this issue. Their food quality certainly appeared up to snuff. My advice, don’t feel weird about ordering this burger cooked. I was pleasantly surprised at how pink ours were, but it seems we paid dearly for it.

-Geoff Sawyer

50 50 guts

Ketchup

photo (2)

I’m just going to start by saying I expected this to fail.  You could blame it on the spelling. (Lyfe? Really?) You could blame it on the giant ad campaign I’ve been subjected to for the past couple months before the place opened with cheery ad people letting me know that Lyfe Kitchen is coming. You could blame it on the fact that on their website they have mission statements and TV clips with celebrities before you can even find the menu.  You could blame it on the fact that their mission statement includes this “With every interaction, we look to awaken our “Sixth Sense”– the intrinsic desire to do right and make powerful purchasing decisions that inspire good in the world around us.” Did I mention the CEO and Chief Brand officer were both former executives for McDonalds? Blame it on whatever you want, but the whole thing felt so false.

Yes, sustainability and community responsibility are things I love. Eating right and supporting local farmers are hallmarks of the way I cook, but MAN this really felt like corporations cashing in on environmental ideals. But who am I to judge? Maybe they really did have a change of heart. Maybe they really wanted to get Americans to eat better after selling them junk for years. People can change and the fact of the matter is they’ve built a beautiful restaurant in the heart of Culver City that is trying to walk that delicate line between healthy and delicious.

Naturally when I found out they had a burger, I knew I had an easy target. A healthy burger? I don’t think so.  Walking into the place, I must admit it looked pretty great. Antique bulbs hanging from the ceilings, shelves of fresh herbs, bare brick walls, and hip music on the stereo (can’t go wrong with Spoon) it felt very inviting. The line for lunch was incredibly long, but it gave me time to analyze this burger. The Classic Burger is listed as 100% grass-fed beef with organic romaine, tomato, red onion, agave pickles, agave ketchup on a golden flaxseed bun with the calories neatly listed underneath 562. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I think listing calories is the absolutely most unromantic thing you can do to a menu. It’s the equivalent of watching a live birth video before going on a first date. It makes you want to abandon the whole idea.

Undeterred, or perhaps to spite the calorie counter, I got my burger with cheese which turned out to be laughable. Adding cheese to this burger as it turns out meant a paltry sprinkling of low fat cheddar. Hell, the lettuce had more presence on that burger than the cheese.  That being said…the burger was pretty good. It’s not going to win any awards in a beauty competition, I know, but the seedy bun had the right amount of crunch that countered the sweetness of the pickles and the agave ketchup, and the burger itself was quite hearty.  I’m serious. It was good, people. My only gripe is that the only side possible for that burger was a kale salad with grated carrot dressed in lemon juice. No sweet potato fries? No coleslaw? I’m willing to be as healthy as the next person but the only option is KALE? You’re killing me, Smalls.

 

Provencial Turkey

Several months ago I investigated the newly opened Fusion Burgers of Highland Park, whose menu at the time was a pretty ramshackle recreation of Umami’s (though the burgers themselves were quite good), and I harshed on them for it. I have since noticed slow and steady improvement to the exterior of the restaurant (the décor was my other firm critique upon my first visit), and it seemed about time to see what improvements have been made, if any, since I have always maintained that it would be nice to see these guys succeed. If slow and steady wins the race, Fusion just might pull it off.

Aesthetically, the improvements have not been major but are both felt and functional. A tented seating section of about 4 tables has been added outside, and the inside has received a fresh coat of paint and some nearly hip typography decals on the windows of food words. Otherwise, the interior still has the vibe of a check-cashing place, but baby steps are better than no steps.

Ordering something that was an obviously original creation was important this time, and I don’t know if I just got lucky, but I had one of the best turkey burgers of my entire life. According to the menu, the Provincial Turkey Burger is topped with: “olive tapenade, pesto sauce and goat cheese.” What it actually had on it: tapenade, creamy pesto, oven dried tomato, spring mix, and a deep fried goat cheese fritter. Why they would describe it so modestly is beyond me, but it was delicious in any case. The acid of the tomato put the brakes on all the salty stuff (olives, pesto) and the goat cheese is a lot but if you like chevre you’ll like it even more as a gooey centered crispy fried slab. The patty was juicy too, which is an art form in and of itself with turkey. I would recommend The Provincial above probably any other turkey burger.

House Burger

So hats off to the boys at Fusion for hanging in there and working hard. My most critical comment this time is that they should stop under selling themselves. I also tried the house burger, which among other things is topped with (according to the menu) “yellow cheese.” I asked our waitress to please elaborate, since I found that description to be sub-par, at which point she sheepishly explained that they MAKE BEER CHEDDAR FROM SCRATCH, and it’s so soft they have to freeze it to slice the shit. They put the frozen slice on your piping hot burger and it instantly turns into the most melty goodness of all time. I’m a sucker for a process people, you have to tell me these things. Tell me that my goat cheese puck is perfectly golden fried. Tell me your pesto is the result of you magically force-fitting the flavor of the entire Genoa region of Italy into an aioli, and tell me how much more impressive your yellow cheese is than “yellow.” I’m still rooting for you, and you’re still making ever-improving food. Let’s both keep it up. Deal? Deal.

-Geoff Sawyer

Tossos

Slim Pickins

Product is key. If you want to sell something, pour your energy into making that thing awesome. An amazing product does not require particularly creative marketing, because people want the thing; they don’t want to win a game to get it or be wowed by how cleverly and/or strangely said thing is presented to them. Radiohead hardly markets their records at all anymore; they just put it out, and people find it and tell everyone they know. Ok Go on the other hand, has constructed an entire career (and a lucrative one at that) on their penchant for making brilliant video content centered around their otherwise unremarkable music. Not to say that they are bad by any means but I, like many others, would never have heard of them had it not been for this viral video. Smoke and mirrors, bells and whistles, call a concept whatever you like but a gimmick is a gimmick and is most functional as tool used to draw attention away from the mediocrity of a product. This week we travel to Skid Row to the Escondite: which is flush not only with gimmicks but also, perhaps predictably, mediocre burgers.

Boss Hog

The Escondite is unfortunately located in a particularly neglected pocket of downtown LA, just a couple blocks East of where you would ever want to go. The inside is lit like the type of club that reeks of Axe aerosol cologne during all operating hours, and a large sometimes covered outdoor patio would be more inviting if it faced something other than a huge parking lot. They have a pretty comprehensive menu (it’s not JUST a burger spot, as you can read in the pages of would-be witty literature on their website), but they do have a pretty lengthy list of specialty burgers and not a single one of them is not weird. Each burger is named after something you’ve probably heard of, in many cases fictitious TV characters and in others more failed attempts at levity, but there doesn’t seem to be much method to the naming. I tried the Boss Hog, and Slim Pickins; both of which appear on the regular menu. There is also a rotating burger of the day menu, which features a few more weird burger formulas named after 80’s and 90’s TV roles. I had one of these the only other time I went, and I don’t remember what it was called but it had Mac and Cheese on it. Maybe a Seinfeld character. I digress…

Boss Hog Guts

The Boss Hog is the Escondite’s chili-cheese burger, and was the better and less strange of the two I tried. It features vegetarian chili(?), sour cream, cheddar cheese and a “special crunch” (Fritos). The burger is not bad, but is generally unimpressive and the low quality of ingredients was obvious. The buns look attractive but were just dry white bread, and the flavor of the meat was disappointing. The Slim Pickins was even more lackluster- boasting Canadian bacon, cheddar, onion, BBQ sauce and its own special crunch, which this time was Funyuns. Not much more to say about it really. You know what all that stuff tastes like. The chosen sides were poutine (pretty good actually), fried pickles (breading was too think and they served them with thai chili sauce because these guys are clearly the only people on earth who know about fried pickles but do not know that ranch dressing is the fried pickle’s universally irrefutable soulmate), and a side salad that was comprised of shit that I laughed when I saw, including 2 types of cheese cube.

Slim Pickins Guts

If you, like myself are on a Los Angeles burger quest, let me do the work for you on this one: you can guiltlessly skip this place. If a burger served on doughnuts with maple syrup sounds good to you, or you would prefer yours to be topped with garlic mashed potatoes and gravy instead of things that belong on a burger, then maybe this is your spot after all. I however, am content to save my naughty meals for places that focus on the quality of their product, rather than cloaking them in silly ingredients and silly names.

-Geoff Sawyer

Poutine

Fried Pickles