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Double Double

March to the beat of your own drum. Generally, we talk about fancy-pants burgers, which makes sense because that’s what we like. There have and will continue to be exceptions to that rule not only because we see you burger-traditionalists, and we respect you, but also because not all delicious burgers need come topped with 27 syllables worth of cheese and exotic vegetation. Over the course of our handful of hat-tips to the simpler burgers out there we’ve even come to coin the phrase “California Style” which, if your memory fails is, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and Thousand-Island dressing. What we have managed to NOT do (until now anyway) is pay homage to the creator of that style. To give credit to the establishment who re-wrote the fast food bible that WackDonald’s imposed upon the world. To shout out the institution that is a culinary pillar of Southern California, and whose quality and consistency will keep them adorned in that accolade. Today friends, we are going to In ‘N Out.

Animal Fries

Animal Fries

This is a burger blog about Southern California’s offerings, and if you’re reading this (you are), you probably live in Southern California and you probably like burgers. If both of those things are true, I’d bet the farm that you don’t need me to tell you about In ‘N Out’s food. So, I won’t. It’s great. You know that. Sometimes I crave their food in a way that can only be cured by their food. You probably do too. In very few contexts, processed-pasteurized-American-cheese-food-product is pure joy and the greatest of those contexts is known as “Animal Fries.” None of this is news to you. However, you may not be rich with fun facts about the company that has become a staple to residents and a to-do list top-liner for everyone who visits Southern California. Let’s change that.

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If you haven’t read Fast Food Nation, you should; though it will probably have you questioning (and rightfully so) not only what you eat but also just how shameful you should feel about it. Though the whole book is informative,  the very beginning describes Southern California as the Fertile Crescent of hamburgers and how that came to pass, which, if you’re like me (fat), is simply fascinating. Ray Crock, the industrious entrepreneur who took McDonald’s from one popular restaurant to a National force, created a blueprint that nearly all other fast food chains modeled their businesses after: Prime convenient locations and plenty of them, profitability through extremely low costs of both food and labor, market saturation, and a franchise business structure. In N’ Out’s philosophy agrees with exactly zero of those things. They only have approximately 300 retail locations despite nearly 70 years in operation, are entirely privately owned by the family that started the business and have offered no franchises, take excellent care of their employees both financially and in terms of available benefits, and have higher food costs so as not to compromise the company’s quality standards. If that wasn’t enough differentiation, the diversity of the menu is nil (there are basically a total of 4 things: burgers, fries, shakes, sodas, though one has a couple of style options per category), every store looks identical, and the pro-Jesus culture is subtle but visible on the bottom of every cup. So according to the fast food model followed by most of their competitors, In ‘N Out does everything wrong. Somehow that doesn’t equate to failure. I implore anyone to find an uncrowded location at mealtime.
In ‘N Out is another solid example of “if you build it, they will come.” Uncompromising standards yield consistent quality, and that makes for consistently happy customers, who are loyal. This chain’s contribution to SoCal’s burger Mesopotamia is an important one, and one that I suspect will continue to enjoy slow and steady growth at whatever pace it chooses, as has been the case thus far. If it ain’t broke…
– Geoff Sawyer

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Number 1 at 25 Degrees            Have you ever been introduced to someone with whom you have shared a social circle for years, but managed to never encounter? You’ll be at some engagement speaking to a friend, this new person comes up, you introduce yourselves, and your mutual friend says something like “Wait, how can you two possibly not know each other?!?” You spend the remainder of the evening discovering that you have quite a lot in common, and in short order are friends as if you had been all along. Though some variation of this story has happened to me many times, only recently has it happened with a restaurant.

25 Degrees, found in the heart of Hollywood’s touristy shit-storm, is my new friend who I can’t believe I only just met. Located on Hollywood Blvd. between La Brea and Highland, 25 Degrees shares a building with the famed Roosevelt Hotel and is quite the oasis of quality in an otherwise overwhelmingly underwhelming pocket of Los Angeles. No more than a block away you can find struggling actors dressed as your favorite character from Pirates of the Caribbean shaming themselves for a shot at your one dollar bill, and right across the street is Madame Tussauds; where you can have your photo taken with life-sized wax statues of famous people (if you happen to think that that sounds more like fun than like creepy). Foot traffic is always heavy in this area, and made worse by the wealth of pedestrians pausing every 4 feet to capture images of the experience in that ‘they just don’t have stuff like this in South Dakota!!’ Perhaps it is no surprise that 25 Degrees and I managed to miss each other until now, because I clearly hate her neighborhood. The food however, has got me wanting to be besties.

Onion Rings 25 Degrees            Though they have a solid assortment of sandwiches, salads and sides, (in addition to a full breakfast menu during the hours that it would make sense to make such offerings) the burger is clearly the featured food media here. You can build your own via the broad but not off-putting list of toppings, cheeses and sauces, or you can go with any of their four pre-constructed formulas. I chose the Number 1, as I always go with the flagship/specialty/namesake of any place the first time I eat there. The Number 1 is: caramelized onion, crescenza, prelibato gorgonzola, bacon, arugula, thousand island. This tops a 6+ oz. beef patty, and comes on the best version of the pseudo-brioche I have ever had. There are no surprises, but the sum of the parts was just delightful. The gorgonzola was applied very sparingly so the strong flavor was quite subtle in context. Crescenza, a cheese of which, prior to this burger I was completely unaware, is mild and melty; as if mozzarella had twice the fat content but the same flavor. The bun is like many other places’ (The Park, Slater’s 50/50, Salt’s Cure, etc.) but unlike any of the others the inside was soft, flakey and malleable in exactly the right way. The patty was cooked a little more than the medium rare that I ordered but was still very flavorful and appropriately seasoned. French fries and onion rings (you can get half and half) accompanied this burger, and were as good as you can get anywhere. Having to pay an extra $2 for the sauce flight is a minor bummer, but on the upside they make all their condiments in house, and they were excellent. I’m a real sucker for house-made Ranch. Still not sold? They have a full bar and are open 24 hours. So next time you’re contemplating a post- Hollywood clubbin’ 4th meal, don’t you dare make that nice Uber dude take you to a drive through.

25 Degrees, let’s be friends. I’ll probably groan about having to come to your house because the area is lame, but I can already tell that every time I visit I’m going to be glad I did and wonder why we don’t spend more time together. I’m so happy we finally met.

-Geoff Sawyer

Number 1 Guts 25 Degrees

Grown ass cream soda 25 degrees

Interior 25 Degrees

Big Homie

Lions and tigers and burgers. OH MY. A reactionary phrase, generally reserved for encounters with intimidating stuff, be the subject predatory jungle cats, or just… big things. With regards to the latter, probably no restaurant has ever been more appropriately named than Oh My Burger. They most certainly make big things, including but not limited to their signature burger, known as the Big Homie.

Oh My Burger is located on Van Ness and El Segundo in Gardena in a modest stand-alone structure that is half kitchen, and which cozily seats about 16 people. Golden era west coast rap blasted through stereo (Tupac when we arrived, and Ice Cube as we walked out), which is definitely not lost on me. The interior is modest as well; this is much more of a neighborhood hearty lunch joint than any type of fancy restaurant, but the aspiration towards high design is evident though not at all yet realized. I’ve never been more sure than I was today: where hood meets bougie aspirational, I feel at home.

Oh My Burger comboSo the place is not fancy, but they have cool chairs, they play excellent music, and have incredible customer service. The only thing left to discuss is the food, and whether or not you are physically capable of internalizing as much as they give you. Oh My Burger does not half step when it comes to portions (also not lost on me) and as I said, they have earned their name. The Big Homie is a double cheese burger boasting two 1/3lb ground beef patties, bacon, cheddar cheese, grilled onion, pickle, lettuce, tomato, and their special sauce, which tasted like 1000 island with mustard where the ketchup should be, all on a toasted onion roll (Why they hell does nobody serve onion rolls? I totally forgot how awesome they are!). You order it and pick it up at the counter, and when you have your first look at this tower of food you just signed up to eat, well over half a foot tall, guess what you say? Oh. My. But then you go for it. Intimidation factor aside, this burger is void of gimmick. It’s simply good. There are no surprises, but each topping compliments the others just as they should and all work together to be a perfect bacon cheeseburger. You have to give it a dedicated smush before attempting to fit it in your mouth, but otherwise it wasn’t difficult to eat either. No substantial mess. Just eventual food coma. If you opt for a combo for another $2.50, the OMB fries come crusted with garlic seasoning and shaved parmesan, and the fried pickles (don’t you dare go there without ordering fried pickles) are the best I’ve had since being on the west coast. They not only came with ranch dressing (FINALLY someone knows how to serve fried pickles) but it was house-made ranch at that. A single diner is out the door for $12 too, which is half of what we end up spending at most of the gastropubs who don’t dare claim to evoke Oh My’s namesake reaction.

Big Homie guts

If I could fathom a complaint about this place it would be that they empowered me to run right through a 2,000-calorie meal without hesitation. I’m kidding of course, but truthfully, if you aren’t the type to eat 2lbs of food in a sitting, you may want to split your Big Homie with a homie, at which point the value for dollars spent is virtually unbeatable. Your only other options at that price are value menu trash chunks, and if you’re the type to enjoy a Mcpigbarf combo over quality independently produced food, then you’ve got too much to learn for me to teach you. Gardena has a crowned king of working man’s burgers, and you can find it at Oh My. Be prepared to say those words too, because it’s big, homie.

– Geoff Sawyer

Fried pickles

OMB Fries

GIANT Jolly Rancher juice pops :)

GIANT Jolly Rancher juice pops 🙂

VIP options.

VIP options.

Tiny cheeseburger goodness

Tiny cheeseburger goodness

Wedged between Delancey and Mission Cantina on Sunset Blvd is a new sliders joint called Twin Sliders. It is just an orange window.  Outside there are aluminum seating for four people and a lonely umbrella.  Their menu is very simple. They have two kinds of sliders cheeseburger or fried chicken and you can only order them in pairs of twos. (I assume this has something to do with the name.)  Other than that, they have three kinds of fries: plain, cheese, and “dirty” (code for Thousand Island dressing and cheese) and milkshakes. That’s it. But you know what? It’s genius.

Why? Location, location, location. If you’re running to a show at the Palladium or the Fonda up the street and you don’t have time to grab a bite at a nice restaurant, these are your guys. Gone are the days when Arbys was the only dismal option.  Just hop up to the counter and the kids in orange hats will be happy to assist you. Actually they will be more than happy. They were the most attentive burger staff I have ever been served by. I’m assuming that’s due to the fact that they’re stuck in a shoebox all day flipping burgers with only three other people to talk to, but let me tell you, they were incredibly sweet and were very interested in what I was ordering.

Fried Chicken Slider

Fried Chicken Slider

Actually it probably had a lot to do with the fact that I got straight down to business and ordered the Big One. I must confess that even though this is Hoodburger and not Hoodshake, the place piqued my interest only after I heard about the twenty you-got-to-be-kidding-me dollar milkshake. Named “The Big One” this 44oz beast contains fudge brownies, oreos, Captain Crunch cereal, graham crackers, M&M’s, Reese’s peanut butter cups, marshmallows, Cinammon Toast Crunch, butterfingers, cookie dough, and a whole twinkie. That’s right. An entire twinkie just floating in the middle of it like a little golden manatee in a sea of vanilla ice cream.

Now you’re probably thinking, unless there’s $17 floating in it too there is NO WAY a milkshake is worth $20. I felt the same way originally. I had a whole plan snootily total up all of the ingredients and then ask for change, but here’s the thing…it took them forever to make.  It took three teenagers probably around 20 minutes to make the whole thing. That’s a dollar a minute or 33 cents per person. Or if you look at the sheer magnitude of the thing, 44oz of milkshake is not a reasonable quantity by any standards to consume alone, so I divided it up amongst my three buddies. That’s 11oz of milkshake per person or $5 for a milkshake with all of the candy. That seems pretty reasonable.

The Big One

The Big One

 

The sheer magnitude of the Big One

But did it taste good? Uh…no, not really. I mean you can’t really go wrong with ice cream and candy, but with that much stuff, it was more like a game of Name That Ingredient than something enjoyable. There were just too many flavors fighting each other at one time. The result was a peanut butterish, oreo-esque, vanilla milkshake. The other result was the three kids who made it, sticking their heads out the window constantly asking if you liked it. Next time, I think I will go for date shake.

The article is supposed to be about sliders, isn’t it? Sorry. Let’s get down to those. The mini cheese burgers are lovely. They’re just like tiny In And Out burgers complete with special sauce. The fried chicken sliders are dressed up exactly the same although they are marinated in Cajun sauce giving them a slightly spicy kick. The fries were golden and hot and lovely, made even better with a liberal slapping of Thousand Island dressing and gooey American cheese.  Are they unique? No. Are they perfect snack food? Yes, indeed. In fact the main query is why on earth does this place close at 10pm? Why make perfect drunk food and then close before the bars do? It’s insane. They could make a killing if they were open past 2 am. I’m hoping they do, but until then, if you’re running late to a show and need a quick snack, this is the place to drop by.

-Molly Bergen

Dirty Fries vs. Plain

Dirty Fries vs. Plain

Our attentive burger staff

Our attentive burger staff

I drew a picture of masculinity. Here it is.

Portrait of Masculinity

That’s a lie I didn’t draw it, I stole it off of SuperMachoMao’s flickr page, but the rest is true. That drawing is of Nick Offerman, and he is masculinity personified. When Nick is not making canoes with his hands, or shaving and growing a new mustache every 6 hours as he likes to do, you might find him collaborating with his favorite local restaurant, The Oinkster, on the ultimate mascu-meal: the burger.

American_Ham3

The “American Ham” as curated by Mr. Manliness himself is constructed as follows: 6-oz. ground chuck patty topped with shaved ham, two layers of gruyere cheese, hot sweet mustard, mayo, and house-made bread and butter pickles on a sourdough bun. If a Cuban sandwich bore a child fathered by a monster truck that runs on fireworks, you would have this burger. My bench press max went up 40 lbs after the first bite. All that cheese and warm smokey-sweet ham were meant to be together, and atop a meaty burger the match is truly heavenly. The healthy mound of house-made pickles aren’t terribly sugary and are brined with thin sliced onions, making for a little crunch and tartness that ties it all together. A sourdough bun trumps all other choices because if you don’t like it you’re obviously a vortex of testosterone. It’s a lot of meat. And cheese. And bread. And it’s fucking AWESOME. Awesome like “God Bless America” sang by a chorus of 50 bald eagles with perfect pitch as lead by Bruce Springsteen. It’s heavy and delicious and you’re going to love it because you’re a MAN (or at least you like to eat like one).

American_Ham2

All good things must come to an end and The American Ham is no exception. This triumph of nationalist cuisine is only available for the month of October, so if you hope to ever really be an American, get to Oinkster stat. While the burger itself will not be with us for long, mourn not, the chest hair you grow as a result of eating it will be with you forever. One nation, under this burger. God Bless Nick Offerman.

– Geoff Sawyer

– Photos by #BURGERLORDS

The most American of them all

 

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

 

Grill em Art

Grill Em Art

If you build it, they will come. Sometimes the universe rewards crazy. In the case of one 1989 triumph of cinema starring a dreamboat-era Kevin Costner, he was crazy enough to build a baseball field on his farm land on the hope that the spirits of dead baseball stars would come a-running. Though the parallel might be a stretch, the boys of Grill ‘em All were crazy enough to think that they could build a restaurant in Alhambra that featured a far more comprehensive menu than what they serve on their truck (a menu that was already populated solely by crazy-ass burger concepts) and that people would flock to it. Well, fictitious late 80’s farm-boy stud and former Cleveland based heavy metal/burger gods collectively rejoice, because in both cases, they were right.

We’ve talked about Grill ‘em All before, not only in the context of their truck, but because they do a kitchen takeover day on Oinkster’s burger week, year after year. Everything they make is always not only head-scratchingly clever, but consistently delicious. The menu at the first brick and mortar location, located in the same quaint shopping center as Alhambra’s Edward’s Renaissance Imax theater, is made up of the truck menu’s greatest hits, a few retired specials that previously debuted at the truck, and a handful of gems that you can only get in the restaurant (I made it a point to try things only available at this location). You can probably guess that from here I’m simply going to gush about how good their burgers are, and you’re right, but what you might not know is that they have other foods that are also better than any other version that exists on this earth, namely chicken wings.

Duck fat chicken wings            At my insistence, Executive Chef Kenny Smith talked me through how these are made, after the first one I ate fell, literally fell, completely off the bone like a short rib that had been braised for 3 months. The wings are totally submerged in duck fat, and roasted at low temp. for 4 hours. They are then thrown in the fryer for just a few minutes to add color and crispness, and finally doused in a small lake of sweet, sweet chipotle sauce. House made blue cheese finishes them off, and if you’re a wing fan, don’t even waste time reading the rest of this- just go there right now. These dudes have changed the game. I never realized to what extent wings don’t like to come apart, until I found the ones that can’t stay together. I will never, NEVER go to this restaurant without ordering wings.

Trouble            Given that there were so many gorgeous things from which to choose on the menu, and being that I am an aspiring fat person, I got 2 perfectly seasoned burgers, each ½ lb 80/20 ground chuck lead out of the grinder and sliced so all the threads of beef run vertically (just like they do at Playground). The first, dubbed “Trouble” is a special of the month, so waste no time getting in there and eating this masterpiece- you’ve only got a couple weeks. It came adorned with Chicago style Italian thin sliced roast beef, grilled sweet Italian peppers, house made giardinera, and the most stunning jus imaginable. It’s a meaty, salty, warm drippy mess and it is pure joy. The locally sourced bun (from Wheatland bakery) gets soaked with the jus but the flavor is so luscious you will not care if even notice, and the giardinera provides the perfect amount of crunch, tartness and spice. I really hope they decide to make this one available until forever.

The Exciter            Burger number 2 was the “Exciter,” a full-time offering that tastes like everything you love about thanksgiving in a single burger bite. This one wore duck con fit, frise, arugula, truffled herby goat cheese and cranberry gastrique. The duck had the look and texture of perfectly smoked Carolina style pulled pork, but with the mild gamey richness of duck meat. The goat cheese was strong with rosemary, which when accenting the duck and complimented by the cranberry was truly so reminiscent of a traditional thanksgiving flavor palate it should easily be the meal of choice given an out of season craving for turkey and family drama. Saddled up next to an order of “high on fries” which are french-fries buried under buffalo chicken and blue cheese, the possibility of happily dying right then and there crossed my mind innumerable times.

High on Fries

Still got room to spare? Well you’re gross, but fret not, Grill ‘em All also has dessert. There is only one choice currently, but don’t be saddened by your lack of options, because if they had other choices and you ordered one of those instead of the deep fried rum/apple bread pudding with maple bacon glaze (I know. Just saying that feels like sex), then you’d have really screwed up. Bread pudding is never a thing that I feel like my life is missing. Or it wasn’t until I had this. So rich, so sweet. Every flavor present, none over powering. The bacon adds salt but is hardly recognizable as meat unless you get a big piece. The apple chunks are many but still feel like prizes. Perfect texture, perfect…everything. Perfect.

Bread pudding            At 3:30p.m. on a Sunday afternoon (a decidedly non-meal time in any western diet), I sat shoveling very modestly presented and priced gourmet food into my eager face, in a PACKED dinning room filled with unanimous agreement that Grill ‘em All is doing everything right. Each vegetable in the giardinera on the burger of the month is cooked and pickled individually, but you would never know that unless you cornered one of the busy cooks and asked them. Do you know what a pain in the ass that is, for what essentially serves as a condiment? Those chicken wings are slow roasted in duck fat for hours, but you can’t find that written anywhere either. The point is not to brag, it is to deliver a quality product, and these fellas do it impeccably. You built it, and they came. I recommend doing the same thing 1,000 more times all over the world, because they will keep coming.

-Geoff Sawyer

Notice how all the threads run vertically.

Notice how all the threads run vertically.

Trouble guts

A band or two...

Inside