Echo Park

This is a tale of a restaurant that does almost everything right. Built in a resurrected old theater, Mohawk Bend prides itself on good drinks and locally sourced, organic bar food. The menu is built to please everyone. Gluten-free? No problem. Vegan? No worries. Dairy free? They got you.  They’ve got munchies that suit any dietary need. Why? Because their pride and joy is the bar and they want you to hang out as long as possible. Mohawk Bend was built on fiery strong concoctions that will part your hair neatly down the middle and singe the ends. Even their homemade ginger beer will light a fire in your belly.

That being said, I should have known. I really should have known. Despite assurances to the contrary, any time a restaurant has a special notation for the NON-Vegan (N/V) things on the menu the burger isn’t going to be the highlight. It’s just not. Even if the description on paper is gorgeous, and on paper the Mohawk Burger is a supermodel: a respectable sized beef patty with arugula, parmesan, crispy pancetta, red onion, pickled chili, roasted peppers, and rosemary-garlic aioli with the option of adding gruyere, sharp cheddar,  bacon or vegan cheddar (although why you would add vegan cheese to a burger is beyond me. Lactose intolerance?) on a brioche bun. Sounds fantastic right? Wrong.

Okay, okay that’s unfair. It was more like online dating. You get all psyched up to meet someone in person and you do…and you realize…this is not what you had in mind.  The garlic aioli isn’t very strong, there’s no pancetta that you can discern, and there is far too much arugula. The only really fascinating part is the spicy pickled chilies and that alone does not make a sandwich. I mean, you’re not sorry you ate it, but you’re not going to call it again.

No, the lesson learned here is if you’re at a restaurant that has (N/V) on its menu I offer these four words of advice: Get The Veggie Burger. Trust me. If the establishment you’re at is tip toeing around the very mention of meat, get the veggie burger. That’s where they’re putting all of their love and affection. The vegan burger at Mohawk Bend is scrumptious.  It’s not very showy. Just a black bean, corn, and brown rice patty, with a thick layer of avocado, tomato, lettuce, and chipotle aioli on a whole wheat bun, but all the proportions are right, the textures are very gratifying, and the aioli is downright sassy, pulling everything together.

Wait, two lessons learned. I’m tacking another one on here. If you’re going to a place with 72 taps of beer running at one time: get the fries.  Whether your bag is the comforting cheesy, gravy goodness of poutine (which they carry in vegan and non) or sweet potato fries with their transcendent maple chipotle aioli or even just regular fries which they offer seasoned with togarashi or rosemary gremolata, you will not be sorry. Whatever you do, do not settle for the coleslaw. The coleslaw is a disgrace. I can’t believe they put it on the side of every burger. Watered down cabbage with no spices to speak of? Mohawk, you can do better! How can you put such love and energy into your fries and ignore your other sides? I think your chefs need to go visit Golden State and get a lesson in how great cabbage can truly be. Nobody puts coleslaw in the corner.

– Molly Bergen

Learning a valuable secret about the place you live is such a delightful thing, even if the secret is not-so-secret really. Enter The Park, a fairly unassuming little café-ish joint on the corner of Sunset and Douglas in Echo Park. You may have driven past this place countless times and not noticed it, as I certainly did. Or you might be among the stable of dedicated attendees of The Park’s every Wednesday “Burger Night” wherein the delicious burger that is always found on the otherwise sporadically international bistro style menu is reduced to a mere $5. At least it starts at five bucks anyway, but more on that later.

As mentioned, a secret to me may in fact be very public knowledge, as this special weekly occurrence seems to be to the locals of populous Echo Park. I entered the tiny awkwardly shaped foyer with the ambition of adding my name to a list so that I might eventually get a table, and was not alone in this quest, as many necks craned either to note their position on the fate-determining little white pad, or attempt to draw eye contact with the young woman who grants said positions. Despite the situation seeming quite competitive, my name was added swiftly and called in only a few minutes. As I passed the manager on the way to being seated I jovially declared “you guys are getting pounded.” “Every Wednesday!” he replied with an entirely genuine smile.

Once seated, it’s strictly business. The Park has indoor seating for about 30, and outdoor seating for another 12 or so, which compared with the number of folks who show up for burgers, is not a lot of seats. Though the staff is sparse, they move like they’re being shot at, and as a result turn tables over with surprising speed. Burgers are ordered via scrawl card, sort of like sushi, and exactly like the Counter (if you’ve ever been there). While some customers find the printed topping buffet an undesirable and overwhelming pressure of possibility (me) others seem to prefer it, and in The Park’s case the number of options seems to be just right. One can go in any of several different directions with his/her burger, but there aren’t so many items that by the time you’re done reading you’ve forgotten half of it. All burgers come with lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickles- and ketchup and mustard are in squirt bottles on every table. Most of the other toppings (cheeses, sauces, grilled onions, mushrooms, slaw etc.) cost $1 each, and a few “premiums” (applewood bacon, fried egg, veggie chili, etc.) are $2 a piece. So, the $5 price-tag is a bit of a hoodwink, but every burger comes with a choice of side (the shoestring fries were astounding) so it’s still a good deal even if a few extra dollars are dispensed.

I went classic, and am glad I did. My only additions were applewood bacon, and gruyere, otherwise the burger was dressed only in what they all come with. The bacon was a tad undercooked but the flavor was excellent, and I’ve never met a burger that couldn’t make good use of gruyere. My dining cohorts and I all dug in at once, and the silence following everyone’s first bite was broken by the words “what’s everyone doing for the 4th of July?” I laughed out loud. The flavor of the Park burger is everything you dream a cookout burger to be. It tasted so much like nearly every fantastic backyard summertime memory any of us had, that each bite served as an undeniable olfactory window to the past. The Park uses a gas grill but very high heat so the burger has a bit of char to the outside resulting in an extremely fragrant grilled flavor, while remaining soft and rare in the middle. The bun looks like a brioche, but inside is flakey white bread, and according to a waitress they’re vegan. She added that the smooth shine on the outside was achieved by spraying the buns with water while they baked, rather than loading them up with egg. Secret revealed.

Overall this meal is a steal, even if you opt for a few upgrades. The Park’s burger offers a strange union of bougie and traditional, providing all the flavor Dad used to pack in and then some- though blue cheese, remoulade, and crispy onion strings are also available if the mood strikes. My recommendation is keep it simple and pretend you’re 9 again, because there are plenty of places to have a good bougie burger, but very few that have, if only for a moment, picked me up and dropped me into 20 years ago.

Some parting advice: Bring your whole party, because you definitely will not be seated until everyone is there. Be nice to the staff, they’re BUSY. No matter what the house made $3 dessert special is- get it.

-Geoff Sawyer