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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

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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

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

photo: Frederick Guerrero

photo: Frederick Guerrero

Happy New Year!! Mine is going to be anyway, and I certainly hope the same is true of your 2013. At the very least it is a continuation of this divine quest on Earth, and more specifically, our search for Southern California’s finest hamburger. In the spirit of acknowledging the fact that many folks make incredibly predictable New Year’s resolutions, I had planned to only review veggie burgers this month, in that I never otherwise see much reason to focus on them. However I abandoned that idea nearly as fast as some of you have abandoned your ambition to eat more healthily, so let’s celebrate what’s truly cause for jubilation: life on this planet post-apocalypse is not NEARLY as bad as I thought it was going to be. I’m kidding of course, and since I am sure we can agree the world didn’t end 3 weeks ago, we can probably also agree that filling our basements with long-life batteries and non-perishable foods was maybe not the smartest use of our Christmas bonuses. True as that may be, we should all find solace in the fact that one restaurant in particular has found a positively superb way to disseminate its unneeded stockpile by way of perhaps the wildest burger we have discussed to date, brought to you by long time favorite, The Oinkster.

For those who don’t know, the Oinkster has begun to do a “Burger of the Month,” each of which so far (there have been 3) is a pretty brave step away from the king of their permanent menu, the perfectly crafted Classic Burger. The prior two have been awesome: the first in November was a turkey burger that captured all the flavors one would expect to encounter at a proper thanksgiving dinner (including among other ingredients sautéed leeks and celery [that when combined in a bite with bun totally resemble stuffing] and cranberry sauce), and last month’s Cochinita Pibil burger (all pork patty, slow roasted Yucatan pork stew not unlike adobo, lettuce, tomato, mayo, guacamole, refried black beans and pickled onions). I ate and thoroughly enjoyed both of these but have never intended to cover burgers that you guys can only get for a few weeks- it just seems like such a tease. Today I eat those words because January’s burger blew my mind. It is titled: The Doomsday Prepper’s Burger.

photo: Frederick Guerrero

photo: Frederick Guerrero

You are going to be skeptical when I tell you what’s on this thing. I certainly was. It was obviously designed in the spirit of Armageddon bunker foods and consists of: 6oz. angus patty, grilled Spam, rehydrated onions, a healthy slab of melted Velveeta, thousand island, Funyuns, pickles, and fruit cocktail chutney(!!!) all on a sesame seed bun. Truthfully I only ate it out of morbid curiosity but please believe me when I tell you that it does not even make sense how delicious this burger is. The sum of the parts vastly outweighs their individual strengths and as you probably know I am rarely a fan of a busy burger. Go ahead, scoff. Assume that I must have just grown up eating trashy factory-made stuff like this (you’d actually be right to do so but I have not gotten excited about Velveeta processed pasteurized cheese food product since the early 90’s). Think that it just can’t be good. Think, “Who eats Spam?” All of these thoughts are natural and were native to my own mind until I bit into the burger. I made them bring me a little side of the chutney so I could figure out what made it so yummy. By itself, it is easy to tell that it’s flavored with curry but on the burger you almost wouldn’t ever pick it out. It just works. I grow ever fonder of throwing crunchy things in the mix too, in this case Funyuns. A dash of texture in a sea of soft savory salty stuff is always pleasant. This burger is one juicy sloppy doomsday mess in the best possible of ways.

Doomsday Guts

The Doomsday Prepper is rich and hearty, so don’t plan to play basketball immediately afterwards, but do yourself a favor and go get one. I have done you all a disservice by waiting until 10 days into the only month it will ever exist before sharing my experience with you (sorry!!). Also, if you go, tell me about it. I could really use some affirmation that I am not out of my mind and that against all odds, this burger is confoundingly delicious. I suspect you’re all going to be as blown away as I was.

-Geoff Sawyer

photo: Frederick Guerrero

photo: Frederick Guerrero

 

Imitation. The sincerest form of flattery to some, punishable thievery to others. With regards to burgers, it stands to reason that there will be some recipe overlap- since there are thousands upon thousands of places to get one, and certain constructions that just work well. Dressing your burger the same way that In-N-Out dresses theirs does not make you a biter or imposter, it means that you know what’s good. However, some burger peddlers’ offerings are specifically familiar to such a degree that there is no denying the origin of their recipes. Fusion Burgers is an unapologetic example of exactly that.

Fusion Burgers began as an irrefutable Umami knock-off. A little background: Fusion Burgers of Highland park was opened by a father/son team who both used to cook at the Umami in Santa Monica, and I have seen references to the fact that they parted with Umami on undesirable terms (though I can’t find any legitimate corroborating evidence). The first menu that was issued for Fusion upon its grand opening was almost identical to Umami’s menu, down to design and layout. They must have either caught enough flack (or a cease and desist letter) to make them want to update it, because only weeks after opening, a new menu was released with slightly modified recipes, less obvious names, and different fonts. As has been addressed previously, we LOVE Umami. Before I ate at Fusion, I had basically already decided that I was going to like it, and would simply try to be accurately critical of just how unoriginal their entire dining experience is.

Upon walking in the door for the first time my sympathy level for Fusion skyrocketed, because the place is BUSTED. It looks more like an off-track betting station than a burger spot. A false wall separates a small kitchen from a small dinning area, and it doesn’t even reach the ceiling. The difference is made up with lattice. If you have it in your mind that these guys are attempting to compete with the incredibly design savvy Umami, your first impression of the interior will be so bad that it’s endearing. They only have seating for about 15, and you order and/or pay at a little window in that false wall by the front door, much like a window through which you would pick your lucky horse, and pass your cash. I took a seat with a menu and located Fusion’s version of Umami’s signature burger- the Parmigiano burger.

Since having dined at Fusion, the menu has undergone further subtle modification. At the time of my meal, the single difference between the ingredients of the Parmigiano burger and the Umami burger, were the sesame seeds on top of the bun. Now Fusion lists the ingredients balsamic onions, sun-dried (rather than oven dried) tomatoes, and the white truffle infused “house ketchup” is now nowhere to be found on the Fusion menu, though it was certainly on my burger. Shiitake mushrooms and the famous parmesan crisp are still very much amongst it all. The grind, seasoning, and flavor of the beef was (though perhaps not surprisingly) identical to Umami’s. The tomato, and bun as well had extremely reminiscent taste and texture. The biggest difference was that the mushrooms were more chewy than I have ever been served at Umami, surely because they use dried ones and do not reconstitute them as much. The chewy shiitakes were not a shortcoming though, they added an interesting textural layer to what would otherwise be all soft components.

Overall the Parmigiano burger was spectacular, and despite my rather accusatory tone up until this point, please note that Fusion Burgers’ lack of originality in no way equates to bad food. They do cheesy tots just as well as Umami does, the burgers are slightly bigger, and slightly cheaper too. I have also tried the Noir Burger (Umami’s Truffle Burger) and I think Fusion’s was actually better. The pinot noir sauce they use is positively stellar. The only real bummer about Fusion’s menu is the fact that the original recipes pale in comparison to the doppelgangers. The Mexican BBQ burger with its Al Pastor pork patty and grilled pineapple slice sounded quite intriguing, but was more sloppy than flavorful, and the same could be said about the chili cheese burger. The gents running this place are making obvious effort to develop the restaurant’s own identity, surely in no small part due to the fact that every bit of press they’ve gotten has fingered them for swagger jacking L.A.’s alpha burger spot, but nonetheless. In an effort to clarify my opinion: I’m rooting for Fusion. The development of Highland Park’s dining scene is exciting, and Fusion Burgers not only meets a need but they take nothing away from Umami by being where they are and doing what they do. I hope they find their customer base and continue to expound upon the existing menu, but do not envy the task of having to figure out the most appropriate offering to follow spot on replicas of the best burgers around.

-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