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The pljeskavica

The Pljeskavica

I should have listened to Geoff. I really should have. But when the venerable Jonathan Gold puts out his list of his favorite burgers in the city and there is one on that you’ve never heard of…it’s hard to resist. A Bosnian hamburger?  A pljeskavica? Listed as “among the best options in the great hamburger city of Los Angeles” by the famous Pulitzer Prize winning food writer himself, I had to know what that meant. Geoff in his wisdom pointed out that The Apple Pan had also made this list, and everyone knows that the Apple Pan has a vastly overrated burger. It’s a beacon of hype and mediocrity. (I will not knock their pie, however. Their apple pie a la mode is gorgeous.)

There is a reason why Geoff Sawyer is my burger partner and not Jonathan Gold.  Even IF Gold knew who I was and I could afford to pay him, I wouldn’t take him on because the man is just plain wrong about this burger. I need taste buds I can trust. Sawyer’s never lets me down.

The Aroma Café is an adorable establishment wedged in a strip mall in West LA on Overland St. The insides are covered in fake vines and paintings of the Dalmatian coast. You can buy mayonnaise in giant tubes and feta in great tubs. I ordered the pljeskavica with a side of grilled potatoes. I will say this, they do not skimp.  The burger was the size of a 7-inch record wedged between two slices of fresh flatbread with sliced tomato, hunks of feta cheese and a lettuce leaf. Inexplicably it came with a side of raw white onions that had been liberally peppered.  I took a bite and was immediately sad. This was not an amazing burger.  It was not juicy. It was not flavorful. It didn’t even have mayo or ketchup to give it some oomph. It was a perfectly ordinary chargrilled burger. The kind one might find at their cousin’s tailgating party in the parking lot of Soldier Field.  It was dull.

Grilled Potatoes

Grilled Potatoes

The grilled potatoes however did not disappoint. Golden and charred, they were perfectly paired with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cheese.  I ate the whole plate.

This is not to say I won’t be back to the Aroma café. They had a lot of really enticing things on their menu. Next time I go there I’m going to try their kebabs or their goulash. I’m a sucker for a good goulash. I bet it’s terrific.  But never again will I listen to Jonathan Gold and order their hamburger. That dude has lost his burger recommendation privileges for life.

-Molly Bergen

Gonpachi Burger

Anticipation is an immeasurably powerful tool. The drawn delay of an inevitably terrifying movie moment, the build up to a first kiss, or a day spent mentally revving up for a post-dinner date with one’s favorite dessert, all lead to an eventual experience largely defined by the moments that preceded it. The wanting of the thing in some cases can even be as important as the getting it (if not more so), and when those expectations deliver, the results are spectacular. When they do not, you may have just eaten a burger at Gonpachi.

Well before this blog was launched, a co-worker brought me an unsolicited gift one afternoon, wrapped not so neatly in a small white paper box. “You’re gonna love this” he gleamed. Without the slightest clue what might be inside, I thanked him and promptly tore it open (which is not a very good example of allowing anticipation to work its magic). What I found was a formerly glorious and delightfully unique looking cheeseburger, that appeared to have spent at least the last day in that little box and though obviously well past it’s prime was no less intriguing. A black (the first I had seen) carbon brioche sandwiched a thick beef patty, aged white cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, peppercress, and the sweetest/tartest tomato compote of them all. I still remember it clearly, because I ate the whole luke-warm spent-the-last-4-hours-in-the-front-seat-of-a-truck thing right then and there and was absolutely consumed by the thought of how good this burger would have been had it been constructed recently. Humbled by the surprise present, I asked where it was from so that I may treat us both to a future round of burgers there. “Miyako. It’s a hotel!” was cataloged for future reference.

Gonpachi is actually the name of the restaurant in the Miyako Hotel in Torrance, and for whatever reason I took my sweet time making it back. Absence, for me, does in fact make the heart grow fonder though, so the time passed was not lost but rather spent getting me geared up for my next dance with this burger, one fond memory at a time. The menu described it exactly as I remembered, and my excitement magnified as the moment of reunion quickly approached. Upon ordering, the waiter directed me to a salad bar that is apparently free with any meal, the mediocrity of which came as quite a shock once I actually dug in. Its freeness garnered prompt forgiveness however, because my long awaited burger was soon to be mine.

Gonpachi Burger Plate

Then it came. And it was completely not at all what it was supposed to be. Not even close. I just looked at it. Moved it around. What’s the orange stuff? Wait is that mustard? What is this? The server assured me that this was the only burger they had. The menu still describes the old one, but what they serve now is this thing, which turned out to be a straight up, regular-ass, eighteen-dollar(!!) chili cheeseburger. I will say, the grind, seasoning, and flavor of the beef were impeccable, but the toppings were so confusing. Said delicious patty was dressed with white cheddar, tomato, diced white onion, yellow mustard, and chili that I am fairly certain was just canned Hormel ballpark-style hot dog chili that had been smoothed in a food processor. The (depressingly not black) bun felt like a potato roll but was so thick with the flavor of movie-theater popcorn feaux-butter that onions and chili actually had to compete with it. I moved my shoestring fries and mystery aioli around the large plate and wondered how my life might have been different had I come here a few months earlier.

The worst part is, this was probably one of the best chili cheeseburgers that I have ever had.  Had I gone into Gonpachi with an expectation of what I might actually get, or with no expectations at all, ‘lackluster’ would surely not be my first choice of adjective for the experience. Anticipation got the best of me though, and Gonpachi ultimately did not compare to my imagination.

-Geoff Sawyer

Gonpachi Burger Guts

 

The Bison Burger Done Rodeo Style

The Bison Burger Done Rodeo Style

On the windy stretch of Hyperion Blvd right before Trader Joes is a tiny hamburger shack called the Fix. Whoever put it there chose the location wisely. It’s right next to a gym. There is something remarkably satisfying about eating a burger and fries while knowing that on the other side of the wall there is a room full of sweaty joggers, frantically trying to keep up with their treadmills.  Also I cannot imagine a more inviting carrot than promising yourself a burger if you go to the gym.

The Fix is not a glamorous spot. You order at the counter and fight for a seat in the tiny dining room. But what it lacks in style it more than makes up for in variety. They have six types of burger, with six different styles you can have it (not including original), plus nine types of cheese, six types of fixings, and five sauces. All of these options can be really overwhelming. I spent half an hour planning out my strategy.  Here are the results.

The Wild Boar Burger Done Traditionally

The Wild Boar Burger Done Traditionally

The Wild Boar Burger done with standard toppings (mayonnaise, tomato, lettuce,  and onions). They had wild boar. How could I turn that down? I imagined the chef had gone out with a bow and arrow and hunted the creature down himself.  How macho would that be? Wild boar also goes down as the animal I would least like to fight on this list. Those things are lethal. Needless to say, I anticipated this burger to be infused with naturally gamey deliciousness. As it turns out, it was infused with…nothing much. That’s right. The boar tasted pretty much like nothing. It was just kinda mildly meaty. If you had told me it was made of tofu, I might have believed you.

Deliciousness Ranking: 3/10

Molly’s Chances of Winning Against this Creature in a Fight: 2/10

The Bison Burger Done Rodeo Style

The Bison Burger Done Rodeo Style

The second choice was also a clear one. The Buffalo burger done Rodeo style, which in this case meant with BBQ sauce, onion rings, cheddar cheese and mayonnaise. What those ingredients have to do with rodeos, I’m not sure, but you could count the things I know about the rodeo on one hand.  The burger was a little salty, but very juice and the contrast of the salty bison and sweet BBQ sauce was really lovely. Add some unnecessary cheddar cheese and fried onion rings and you’ve got yourself a good time. The mayo was a mystery to me. You couldn’t taste it over the BBQ sauce.

Deliciousness Ranking: 7/10

Molly’s Chances of Winning Against this Creature in a Fight: 1/10

The Turkey Pilgrim Burger

The Turkey Pilgrim Burger

The third burger that caught my eye was the Pilgrim Burger. Considering they founded our nation (Yeah okay, debatable) there aren’t many foods that we name after them. In fact I can only think of Pilgrim’s Spiced Wine. This burger was clearly created after the chef’s favorite holiday, Thanksgiving.  What makes a Pilgrim burger different from a regular burger? Cranberry relish and a turkey patty. That’s it.  I was a little disappointed there were no sweet potato fries shoved in there or stuffing or gravy, but hey, what can you do. And you know what? It was delicious. They’ve really got that turkey patty down. It was hearty and flavorful and played really nicely against the cranberry relish that came dripping down my hands like a crimson tide. (That doesn’t sound good, does it? It was delicious. I swear it.)

Deliciousness Ranking: 8/10

Molly’s Chances of Winning Against this Creature in a Fight: 9/10

The Beef Burger Done Silver Lake Style

The Beef Burger Done Silver Lake Style

The last burger I tried was their standard beef patty done Silver Lake style, because when in Rome right?  Turns out Silver Lake style means lettuce, onions, tomato, cheddar cheese, bacon, and thousand island dressing.  Not what I would have pegged as distinctly Silver Lake, but one bite made me understand why they named it that. They didn’t name the burger after their neighborhood. They named their burger after their love of their neighborhood. As bacon cheeseburgers go, this one was pretty damn delicious. Not complicated or groundbreaking, but quite good.  The bacon was crispy and complimented the sweetness of the thousand island dressing blended perfectly into the ground beef. It was hands down the winner.

Deliciousness Ranking: 9/10

Molly’s Chances of Winning Against this Creature in a Fight: 5/10

The fries were disappointingly mealy.

The fries were disappointing.

Now, I didn’t manage to eat all the burgers. There are still three other styles I didn’t get to, but I look forward to going back and having another swing at it.  One thing I have learned, though, for all their exotic burger options, the one thing The Fix does best is beef.

PS. According to their twitter, they have an Ostrich burger. They no longer do. I’m a little bummed about that.

PPS. The fries and the garlic fries were both bummers. Both were mealy.  Next time I’m going onion rings.

PPS. Their chocolate peanut butter  milkshakes are awesome. That being said, what chocolate peanut butter milkshakes are not?

fix