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Burger Week

The Bell Beefer

What a week. The Oinkster has delivered again on it’s 3rd annual promise to bring the good people of Los Angeles seven consecutive days of awe inspiring burgers, be they homages to long-time staples, or original creations. The turnout of loyal burgerlords put last year’s attendance to shame, with some customers waiting 2 hours to place their order multiple nights in a row. 235 people successfully completed the challenge, meaning ate every burger on the week’s menu, one day at a time; myself included (duh). Though there were no real lowlights, there were a couple burgers at the head of the pack and one in particular was a clear favorite for me.

The Oink-o-Nator

Monday kicked off with the Oink-O-Nator, a shout to Wendy’s Baconator: 2 patties, cheddar, ketchup, mayo and a ton of bacon on a Kaiser roll. As is always the case when Oinkster does a tribute burger, the quality of the ingredients blew the doors off the original. That being said, there wasn’t much to this one- just simple and heavy. I was glad to get the meatiest task out of the way early. Tuesday was a Bob’s Big Boy recreation, and while like the previous day this burger did not boast frills, they nailed it, and blew the original away. Batting 1000 so far.

big boy

Burger Lord of the Rings

Day 3 was the Burgerlord of the rings, an original creation named after the theme of its toppings. Served on a bagel, this burger had grilled onions, a panko breaded fried pineapple ring, truffle Gorgonzola cream cheese, arugula, and chipotle bacon ketchup. Wild indeed, but in the bites heavy with bleu cheese, the sweetness of that pineapple was delightfully subdued and your 4-second flavor journey commences. My burger could have used more of that cream cheese overall, so my sincere hope is that this one will reappear as a burger of the month in the future giving me many more chances to decide just how highly it ranks on my love meter.

Weedeater (Grill Em All)

McRibster            The Grill Em All takeover day was predictably excellent, just as it was last year. Pulled pork, Jalapeno bacon, and Funyuns topped their burger, because they obviously know how to get baked and think of awesome shit. Day 7’s McRibster was great too, and again no surprise. From now on a half rack of de-boned baby back ribs is the only acceptable filler for a “rib” sandwich. The Bell Beefer was a bit more special, and required much higher levels of ingenuity. Taco Bell doesn’t make burgers, so there was some room for translation on this one. Oinkster’s solution was a Dorito crusted patty (I think they fried it), shredded cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, ranch dressing, and Tapatio. Why or how those things add up to taste exactly like a Taco Bell taco, I cannot speak to, but rest assured, they do. While it wouldn’t be the first burger I’d order from the week’s lineup, the Bell Beefer was perhaps the most impressive offering of the week (photo at the top of the page).

If you followed this blog last year when we covered burger week, you may recall my face melting off at the taste of the single original creation on the week’s menu, the adobo burger. Much to my dismay, the exact same thing happened this year, and the burger to leave burger week 2013 with the crown is none other than the menu’s misfit: The Thrilla from Manila. A lumpia style patty made from ground pork, shrimp and mushroom is wrapped and deep fried, then topped with pork belly, papaya relish, sweet Thai sauce on Pan de Sal. It was the least impressive looking, and the least photogenic burger all week, but with every bite I sat in stunned silence as to how so much flavor could possibly fit into so little space. Perhaps the fact that my palate is far less developed when it comes to Filipino flavors than more traditional American burger dressings makes me more susceptible to the elation experienced every time chef Andre Guerrero (owner) reaches into his motherland’s bag of culinary tricks, but I couldn’t care less. Each of the two times that he has made a burger that challenges what I think a burger is/should be, my world has forever changed. Let’s keep our fingers even more tightly crossed that this one shows up for a month in the near future, because anyone who missed it deserves a second chance.

The unassuming holy grail of burger week.

The unassuming holy grail of burger week.

Having survived another burger week challenge and lived to wear the shirt, I tip my hat yet again to the boys of Oinkster. I saw first hand this week that their following is a cult. The genuine joy and camaraderie present in that 90 minute line to order a hamburger is rarely seen ANYWHERE, much less a scenario that sounds awful if you don’t know it to be otherwise. If you were there, you get it. Oinkster is building a brotherhood- visible in the twinkle of every glance exchanged between a proud “burger week survivor” T-shirt wearer and each passing person who knows what that means. To quote a completely insane but surprisingly eloquent lady who cornered me on the way to my car on day 3: “Everybody loves something. For the lucky ones, it’s food.”

-Geoff Sawyer

Burger Week 2013 Line Up

One year ago today, Hoodburger was born. On the commencement of The Oinkster’s 2nd annual burger week, Molly and I began our quest by covering the week’s wild happenings at one of my very favorite neighborhood restaurants. We’ve since gone on to eat at over 50 more of Los Angeles’s finest (and a few not so fine) burger joints so that we can tell you the tales. Look for a soon-to-come highlight reel of our year in burgers, as it has been a great one.

This week however is not really about us, it is about burgers, and it is about Oinkster. They have concocted another stellar line-up of fast food homages and original creations this year, each of which has my interest piqued and appetite in hulk-mode. Unlike last year, there will not be a daily review of the previous day’s burger because it seems mean to rub in your faces that which you can no longer have each and every day. I will however be there every night affirming my title of burgerlord (peep this tumblr if you don’t already know about it) and talking amazing burgers with any and all of you whilst the bread breaks. Come say hi.

-Geoff Sawyer

I spent all night dreaming of pickles. Well no, more specifically one pickle. But more on that later. Yesterday was Day 7 of Oinkster’s burger week and like every single day previous, they had a line out the door. People’s hunger for cover burgers could not be quenched. And who could blame them? I for one was dying to see if Oinkster could handle the Big Mac because the Big Mac isn’t just a burger. Oh no. One could argue that McDonald’s Big Mac is an American icon right up there next to tater tots and Buffalo wings.  It is the burger cover equivalent of screaming out “Freebird!” at a concert.  In fact many people have composed their own musical odes to this thing. It is a huge part of McDonalds “billions sold” claim that they plaster their welcoming signs. So the question was…could Oinkster do it?

Absolutely. The “secret” sauce is no longer a secret.  The Big Max was eerily similar to the actual Big Mac with one glaring exception…the ingredients were better. The beef fresher, the sesame buns fluffier, the cheese…okay the American cheese was exactly the same, but the thing that has been driving me crazy are the pickles. How on earth did they manage to do that? The right size, the right ridges, the right flavor? How? Unless this is all an illusion and they bought them from the same place (If that is true, please let me know. Maybe then I can get some sleep.) Mimicking sauce is one thing. Mimicking pickles is a whole new level of talent.

Unlike the actual Big Mac, the Big Max did not make you feel ill afterwards, which is actually a very strange sensation. Having all those flavors together and not having any consequences is a little unsettling. (I mean, aside from the consequences of having to hike the entire Santa Monica mountain range to make up for the glory that was burger week.) It’s amazing what good ingredients can do.  In fact if this week has shown anything, it’s what the fast food chains could be capable of if they actually gave a shit about their customers.

Yes, the Oinkster claims this is a “tribute” week, but it’s more of a wakeup call week. (Or as Geoff puts it “a nut flexing exercise”). The Oinkster outshone all of these fast food joints by cooking their signature burgers better than those who actually created it, but that’s not the most interesting part of the experiment. Is it impressive that they built a better Big Mac than McDonalds? Yes. But what is more impressive are the conversations heard around the tables this week. Everyone was talking about the ingredients and the effects that they were having on their bodies. There is nothing like being shown the ghosts of poor decisions past to really take stock of what it is we’re eating and how it’s being prepared. It was a week of taking a good hard look at the fast food burger and how little we settle for if it costs 99 cents.

-Molly Bergen

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t… no actually it totally belongs. This week is about bad-ass burgers right? Absolutely, and the Pork Adobo burger of Day 6 was definitely bad-ass. It’s different because as we all know by this point, the purpose of the week was to pay tribute to the burger recipes made famous by others, and this one particular burger is a chef/owner Andre Guerrero original. For Day 6, rather than pay respect to another great burger, he paid respect to his Filipino heritage, with inspirations drawn from traditional Adobo stew, and pandesal. Just how little I know about Filipino cuisine became instantly apparent with this one, as I not only had to google basically everything, but also use life-lines. Though in fear about my ability to intelligently discuss this particular burger right up to this moment, I can say one thing in total confidence: holy pig it was good.

Unlike any of the other burgers of the week, this one is all pork (yes you can do that. It’s still a burger). A ground pork patty sits right in the middle, and is topped with shredded Adobo stewed pork. According to the flyer The Oinkster posted on facebook to describe this sandwich, the Adobo meat is stewed and then fried for texture, which is the first of many things that I might have never guessed. Topped then with pico de gallo and a smear of garlic aoli, it’s all held together by a pandesal bun, which feels and tastes a bit like a firmer version of an American yeast roll (think Golden Coral, but in a somehow flattering way). The next and perhaps most important thing that I would have never known, is what made this burger taste like what it tasted like. Thanks to the Internet, and The Oinkster’s willful relinquishing of some insider info, I was made aware that the Adobo flavor comes from soy sauce, white vinegar, black pepper and bay leaves, none of which with the exception of soy I was able to specifically identify. This burger was the perfect example of melded flavors. Knowing that it would be my job to review it, eating this burger was a little stressful because with each bite I had one less chance to figure out what the hell was making this thing taste so good, but contrarily seemed to have zero control over the hand that continued lifting it to my mouth. I got a couple bites with the specific zing of tomato from the pico, and a couple wherein garlic in the aoli was distinguishable, but all told the Pork Adobo burger was a clinic on the blending of ingredients into a finished product. I’m surprised to find myself saying this because I think of burgers as beef (even after reading the wiki page), but Mr. Guerrero’s singular original creation of the whole program turned out to be the highlight of my week.

This review was a learning experience for me (admittedly new to food writing) and in hindsight, my approach would have been different knowing what I now do. In order to successfully identify any of the flavors in this burger one would have to pick it apart and try each ingredient separately. Maybe you should do that anyway if you truly wish to enjoy any given dish, or at least if you need to discuss it. The dichotomy of my nearing anxiety attack while coming to grips with the fact that I had no idea what to say about this burger, and simultaneously loving it about as much as anything I have ever eaten in my life ever- was fortunately specific to Day 6 only.

– Geoff Sawyer

Day 5 of Burger week was a tad more subdued then the rest of them. There was still a line of famished people out the door, but it did not trail into the parking lot. The reason for this? I’m betting on the style of burger. Oinkster had chosen to recreate Jack in the Box’s Sourdough Jack as Sourdough Josh, which means a burger, bacon, tomato, white American cheese (aka Swiss-style cheese on the official Jack menu), ketchup and onion mayo all squished between the soft confines of Frisco sourdough rounds. Now apparently this is a midnight favorite with some, but I couldn’t find a single person who named that as their favorite burger. Although there was a guy who had brought his own Jack in the Box mask which he had bought for Burning Man and was letting people try it on and take pictures. Most of the people were there because Oinkster would pour love and care into an otherwise mediocre product and turn it into something magical. They would use good beef, fresh bread, and make all the sauces themselves, giving you an idea of what was actually possible if this burger was done right.

To be fair, I have never eaten at a Jack in the Box in my life. Why is this? Three reasons. The first is that I’m originally from Chicago and we just don’t have them around, so they were never on the list of questionable food choices at 2am. The second being that as soon as I moved out here, my curiosity was crushed when one of my friends referred to their quality standards as “prison food.” But the main reason, I have never seen fit to enter one of their establishments are those godforsaken Jack ads. The horrible clown with a golf ball head and business suit, with taglines written by, I’m guessing chimpanzees (No, that’s not fair to chimps. Let’s say maggots, if they were capable of clutching a pen.) Whoever came up with these ad campaigns should be dragged from their homes, tied to a chair with their eyelids taped open, and forced to watch them on repeat for hours and hours (like the rest of us do when we watch Hulu) until they break down sobbing.

My sadistic fantasies aside,  the Oinkster’s Sourdough Josh was delicious. The sweetness of the tomato played off the bacon’s salty bite and the sourdough gave it a homey tang. Was it the best burger of the week? Not by a long shot, but considering the model they were working with, it was delicious. The one thing I couldn’t get my head around was the cheese. This is not the Oinkster’s fault. I understand they had to use white American because it was authentic. I get that, but using white American on a burger is the equivalent of wearing sweatpants to the supermarket. You’ve clearly given up on life. With the myriad of cheeses on this planet why would you chose the one that tastes like nothing? The cheese steers the flavors of the burger and is just as important as the type of seasonings on the beef you use or the quality of the bun. Whether its blue cheese, gruyere, cheddar, Swiss, brie, or even regular American cheese use something with an identity. Something with dignity.  Have some pride in your cheeseburger. Otherwise it might as well not be there at all.

– Molly Bergen

Every day thus far this week, our collective compulsion here at Hood Burger has been to begin each Burger week post by acknowledging the impressive row of hungry food fans, meandering its way out the door and around the building, while no doubt providing a forum for innumerable conversations on beautiful burger possibilities. Well this day shall be no different, for upon my arrival on Thursday evening I personally saw more humans congregated in a relatively civilized fashion on the Oinkster’s grounds than ever before in my time on this Earth. This line (as they all have) began inside at the counter, backed out the door, and down the sidewalk all the way to the back of the building, but for the first time it did not stop there. People spilled from where the sidewalk ends into the parking lot, around the fabled truck whose presence assured that the wait would be worth it, and up a neighboring street. Absolutely unbelievable. Grill ‘Em All is one of LA’s more lauded food trucks, offering a menu of 8 particularly creative burgers, fries and mega-tots (known as h-100’s, hand rolled tater tots filled with cheddar jack cheese), and often an additional limited run special burger. They also bear the added charm of somehow insisting that heavy metal music is an inextricable part of their identity. I knew these boys had a pretty dedicated following, but I would never have wagered that their draw would be quite like this. Perhaps that is because before last night, I had never tasted their wares.

For the first 3 days, The Oinkster has conjured up one burger based shout-out per day to a well recognized burger of a fellow purveyor, but the boys of Grill ‘Em All did no such thing with their day. Rather, they offered 3 burgers that maintain real estate on the truck’s regular menu, and one unbelievable GEA/Oinkster collaboration made especially for the occasion. Lest my dedication be doubted whatsoever, I ate all 4. Not entirely mind you, but I made a pretty valiant effort. There was really no other way to do it, which you would understand had you been there. To write a full review of each of the 4 would be excessive, but I will say that they are all worth trying should you get the chance. Big thanks to my dining cohort and fellow blogger/burger nerd Teri Fisher, who if you don’t know takes the most beautiful photos of food that you have ever seen.

As much as I would like to explore each burger at length, and probably will eventually, I’ll keep the first three quick. Each was delicious, and served on a lightly toasted brioche bun. There were no wrong answers, but definitely a clear hierarchy, listed in ascending order:

Hannah Montana: American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup. Simple, and delectable.

Waste ‘Em All: Green chilies, pepper jack, and beer soaked onions. The peppers had a little kick, but much more flavor than spice, making the overall taste extremely robust. This one is not only a joy to eat, but I think is a colab with Virgina Thrash Metal band Municipal Waste, which if true is totally awesome.

Blue Cheer (shown above): Blue Cheese, Cranberry Gastrique, Munchos (the potato chip). This was the clear standout of the trio of Grill ‘Em All regular menu offerings. The sharpness of the blue cheese was perfectly balanced by the sweetness of cranberry, and in every bite they seemed to cancel each other out just in time for the finish to be fresh rare beef. With Munchos added for additional salt and texture, the Blue Cheer lacks nothing, despite only claiming 3 toppings. This burger was stellar, and my recommendation by a large margin if you ever hit the truck.

This brings us to the real showpiece, designed by both parties to really make a mark on Burger Week: The ULTI-MEATUM!

Where to start. So much meat. So many verbose flavors. The Ulti-meatum begins as do the other 3, with a rare grilled beef patty on brioche. On top of that patty, lies a heap of the Oinkster’s house cured pastrami, and Swiss cheese. Under the patty, one finds a bed of blue cheese cole slaw, topped with an equally healthy heap of the Oinkster’s Carolina style pulled pork (which, as an NC native I feel fully qualified to say is a particularly respectable homage unto itself), and “Himalayan Ketchup” which is actually a blend of garlic aoli, ketchup, pop rocks(?!?!) and red food dye, to ensure this thing looks as crazy as it actually is. Don’t even bother trying to deduce how these guys came up with this combination, just hear me now: It worked. Obviously the Ulti-meatum is very dense and rich, but one should expect as much based purely on the title. The pastrami was as much present as complimentary, and the ketchup appears and sounds much more intimidating than it actually was, playing the part of perfect spreadable element despite a rather shocking appearance. Every time my teeth hit a cool crisp bit of cabbage from the slaw the bite turned to perfect- each was its own little oasis in a vast meat desert. All told the Ulti-meatum was certainly a memorable culinary happening, and one of the more boastful burgers I have ever eaten.

 

I’m left with little to say after the first 4 days besides The Oinkster is still batting 1000. They really know how to make a fine burger, and apparently also know just the right folks to conscript when it’s time for a sidekick. Grill on, bros.

For a third day in a row the line around Oinkster was a never ending snake of people, all anxiously awaiting their chance to try today’s tribute burger, The NorthEastern,  faces pressed to the glass trying to catch a glimpse of the Kings as they floundered unexpectedly against the New Jersey Devils on glowing flat screens.  Today’s burger was an homage to Carl’s Jr.’s Western Bacon Cheeseburger, a burger built with bacon, American cheese, BBQ sauce, a beef patty, and two onion rings. Now I’m just going to come right out and confess, I have never eaten at Carl’s Jr. Not ever. Perhaps you think this makes me ill qualified to judge this burger, but if that’s true, I would like to hear your reasons why Carl’s Jr. is worth visiting in the comments section. Educate me.

Now that that confession is over, I want to talk about why I was so excited about this burger. It’s all the guilt. Everyone has a list of foods that for some reason or another either their parents or rabbi or doctor have forbade them from eating.  And being the humans that we are, when we break those rules the food tastes even better slathered in a coat of guilt. If you can hear a voice in your head saying “You really shouldn’t be eating that,” the food will be delectable. We can’t help it. We want what we can’t have.

As a Jew the holy grail of this feeling is found in the bacon cheeseburger, which manages to break two of the three kosher laws (I have often thought they should just garnish it with a shrimp and go for the hat trick. Go big or go home.) As if that wasn’t enough; they added onion rings IN the sandwich. I could hear my mother and doctor’s shrieks of horror ringing in my head, as I took the first bite. But I’m not sorry.

Unexpectedly the star of the burger was Oinkster’s homemade tomato based BBQ sauce, which had a smokiness that reigned in the salt of the bacon without overpowering the beef or taking away from the tang of the American cheese.  The effect was so dramatic that I’m considering writing a petition to the powers that be to add BBQ sauce as an option on the regular Oinkster burger. Why not let us indulge in that sweetness all the time?

Epilogue: For those of you who are taking the trek to Oinkster tonight be forewarned.  The Grill ‘Em All boys are taking over and there is not one special burger tonight but FOUR. Wear your elastic pants and bring your friends.