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The Bistro Burger

Since Hoodburger began there has been a process of steady revelation for us that there is a frequently recurring style of burger in Southern California, which I have (for lack of a more clever name) dubbed SoCal style. Made famous by In n’ Out, who appear to have just added tomato to the toppings of a Big Mac, SoCal style is lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, American cheese (usually), and Thousand Island dressing. Several places employ this formula, and some of them are excellent (see Oinkster’s Classic Burger). What I did not realize though until this week, is that there is a second formula at work in this region’s burger scene, and it is responsible for some of the best and also most famed burgers around. I am not sure who did it first though I would not be surprised to find out that Father’s Office can claim the fame. Los Angeles’ second burger archetype is as follows: Patty with 1 or 2 kinds of melted cheese (usually a blue and sharp cheddar), strong bouillon flavored caramelized onions, arugula, and some sort of aioli (in most cases, though Father’s Office uses no condiment). This week, I went to 6th St. Tavern in DTLA, who just so happens to have both of Southern California’s burgers on its menu.

The Classic Burger

Catty-cornered from the Standard Hotel, 6th St. Tavern invites any passerby who might find joy in its modern décor and craft cocktails. On a Saturday afternoon they were busy but not crowded, and the vibe was mellow without being fully subdued. You order at the bar, and in my case the food came very quickly. As mentioned, these guys make 2 burgers, and each accurately represents a very similar list of ingredients to those of its competitors. The “Classic Burger” (it’s even named the same as the one at The Oinkster), is classic indeed: double patty, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, American cheese, 1000 Island and pickles (though they came on the side). Perfectly good in every way you’d imagine, and feel free to openly refer to it as Animal Style, because it is. I mean, if it ain’t broke…

Inside the Bistro Burger

The other Burger 6th St. offers is the “Bistro Burger” featuring a collective group of components that I have yet to nick-name, but much like Father’s Office and King’s Row, this burger comes dressed in Port Salut cheese (like a higher fat muenster- melty and mild), Worcestershire onion compote, arugula, and aioli. For my taste, this was a clear winner of the two, but in that the burger is constructed in the image of the King’s Burger at King’s Row (my favorite in LA), The Bistro Burger wearing the 6th St. Tavern burger crown comes as no surprise. The strength of the flavor of the onions and the excellent seasoning of the meat made this one the standout, bite after bite. And did I mention they have duck fat fries? The have duck fat fries.

Duck Fat Fries(!!!)

So the steady revelation continues. A talented few have thus far determined two failsafe means of assembling a burger, and intelligent burger peddlers are following suit. The good folks at 6th St. are doing at least as good a job as any one else in the same lane. If you’re looking for something amazingly unique or culinarily challenging you may want to look elsewhere, but if you’re in the market for superb quality pub food, be sure to add 6th St. Tavern to your list. As if the eats weren’t enough, the beer and whiskey selections are stellar too. Definite hoodburger green light.

-Geoff Sawyer

Classic Burger Guts

The Bistro Burger

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Fillet mignon burger

Let’s talk about show-offs; specifically those who strive to appear sophisticated. Generally, dedicating excessive effort to anything for the purpose of appearing as impressive as possible is misguided if not wasted entirely. I’m talking about people who name drop their favorite philosophers’ theses in otherwise modest conversation not because they actually have their heads around why Slavoj Žižek’s papers on false consciousness are the most brilliant shit ever (for example), but because they know that you’ll act like you know what that means and google it when you get home. I know I have. Forced intellectualism when paired with a distaste for simple (awesome) things is exponentially worse. People who universally  turn their noses up at things like bowling, dumb funny movies, and crummy domestic beer at a professional sporting event about which you actually care very little, tend to get the same smug “cool, bro”-themed reaction from me. Taking pride in your passion is one thing, but fancy for fancy’s sake is another, and it usually sucks. Usually. I am not sure who developed the recipe for the burger at the recently opened Los Feliz Scottish pub The Morrison, but that individual is most assuredly a show-off, and contrary to where the last several sentences seemed to be leading, one who deserves every praise soaked word of syrupy flattery that I am about to spew.

That busted little sushi place on Los Feliz blvd. just East of the L.A. River finally shut down. I never ate there, nor had I ever heard anyone speak of it. What replaced it however, immediately bore allure. Several friends made mention of the new phoenix of a Gastropub, risen from the sushi slums ashes before the paint dried it seemed. It still took me a few months to get there, mainly because no one managed to note that this new neighborhood watering hole had a burger. My suffered lag in discovering this place is of no consequence. What matters is this: I know about it, and now you will too.

Morrison Burger total package

The Morrison is fancy, and it’s no accident. The menu features Scottish themed cuisine and from what I am told some of it is pretty legit, though I wouldn’t claim to be able to grade the authenticity of Highland inspired dishes. They have a specialty cocktail menu that I did not fully explore but the apple wood smoked apple bourbon is definitely worth a go, which is not something I often say about an eleven dollar drink. The smoked salmon and scotch egg appetizers are good too: the first being huge sashimi sized hunks of house smoked salmon on grilled rye corners, and the latter a runny egg deep fried inside a sheath of lightly breaded venison sausage. Neither would have me writing home, though both are recommended. The burger however, has got me writing right now.

The Morrison Filet Mignon burger

The Fillet Mignon Burger at The Morrison is called that because (care to guess?) it has a steak on it. Predictably, this instantly flipped my skepticism switch on. Allow me to build this thing for you, from the bottom up: English Muffin, celeriac remoulade, ground sirloin patty, port salut cheese, a fucking steak, and marrow butter. Now allow me to elaborate on some of these ingredients in case they don’t sound snobby enough. Celeriac remoulade is a thin caper (and possibly anchovy) aioli with coarsely chopped celery root, which ended up being best described as sloppy, salty, cole slaw. Port Salut is very similar to muenster cheese but with a higher fat content so it’s extra creamy, and marrow butter is literally soft butter with roasted bone marrow folded in, because plain butter just isn’t rich enough (obviously). This burger’s description is the kind that makes me say “cool bro” and assume that their goal is more to create something impressive to discuss than delicious to eat. Well I sincerely hope that this is the only time I have ever been so completely wrong about anything. This burger is stunning. The distinctly different flavor and texture of the fillet vs. the patty was far more discernible than I expected, and the other 3 components add a TON of richness without any strong or competitive flavor, so you really taste the quality of the meat. The caper in the remoulade must come from the juice, you don’t see them in the “slaw” but the distinct flavor is in there and nearly the only thing offering any sharpness at all. Every other component is mild and as rich as can be. A side of heirloom pickles, which were also spectacular, perfectly contrasted the soft round flavors of the burger with cold crunch and acid. Butter and remoulade will run down your arm, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll look good eating this burger, but rest assured you will not care. Also, it’s small compared to what L.A. restaurants have trained us to expect, which works out perfectly because if it were significantly larger it would be overwhelming. When I say it’s rich, we’re talking RICH. I’ve never had anything quite like this burger, and I went back 2 days later to eat it again just to make sure that I hadn’t gotten lucky the first time.

PICKLES!

Apparently sometimes fanciness is genuine. The Morrison definitely gets my full cosign, and while this burger is probably not something you’re going to be craving once a week till the end of time, if you have a taste for well-executed, quality, non-traditional and RICH, then you have really got to experience the fillet mignon burger from this place.

-Geoff Sawyer

The Morrison Burger Guts

Check out the puddle of marrow butter on my plate.

the 50 50

I’ve never been a huge team sports fan. Of course when playoff season comes around, regardless of the name of the featured ball, I tend to keep up based on frequent alcohol-lubed small-talk sessions and friends who care more than I. Thai Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts hold my attention much more dependably, but neither of those sports have the invariable American household ubiquity that the professional versions of activities available to middle school students do. I bring this up because my lack of dedication to team sports has resulted in a smaller number of stimulating Sports Bar experiences than have likely been had by those who never miss one of their favorite college basketball team’s regular season games. This is important for one reason: today’s burger is served at what might be one of the greatest Sports Bars ever, but I don’t think I’m qualified to make such a determination.

Slater’s 50/50 is located on N. Raymond St. only a few short blocks from the epicenter of Pasadena’s most consumer driven pocket: the intersection of Fair Oaks and Colorado. A very quick walk from the Memorial Park Metro (on the way there at least, the walk back to the train was much slower) it’s quite accessible too, assuming you’re on the East end of Los Angeles to begin with. Early in the day the place was a ghost-town but being that there was seating for 200 or more, logic suggests they pull a crowd from time to time. The vibe is very corporate, and my guess is that the folks involved in the design have a TGIFriday’s pedigree or something comparable. Slater’s is a bit nicer than your average chain, but they do turn all the barstools to the door so they look “inviting” and make sure that any and every staff member introduces themself before saying “and I’ll be taking care of you today.” It ends up feeling like the kind of place where family functions would occur if you all did the Cheesecake Factory was last week and/or there is a game on. To be fair though, it’s a sports bar, and you don’t go somewhere with 80 tables and nearly as many HD screens to be wowed by the individuality of the table settings. You go for cold beers and good bar food, and Slater’s delivers big time in both departments.

The 50 50 egg spill

50/50 refers to the blend of their burger, which is half ground chuck, and half ground bacon. Bacon. Half of it, by WEIGHT, is bacon. This pleased me. Slater’s has a respectable collection of burgers, ten in all (or you can design your own), some of which are recommended to be ordered with the 50/50 patty and some that aren’t, though you can have any menu burger with the patty of your choice. Naturally, I chose the signature burger (The 50/50), which comes adorned with a sunny side up egg, avocado mash, pepper-jack cheese (though mine had no spice whatsoever), and adobo-chipotle mayo, served on a white brioche. Being that half of the patty is ground bacon, the rarest they serve the 50/50 is medium, which I requested. This burger was delicious. All that bacon in the patty predictably makes for a very unique flavor, and they actually grill them, so the patty had a good char, crust and smoke flavor on the outside while still being pretty pink in the center. Any burger with a sunny egg on it is going to be messy, particularly when accompanied only by slathers of other slimy stuff, but it was manageable somehow despite its toppings. There was no spice; as I said the cheese was not in fact pepper jack, and the mayo though flavorful was not actually spicy. This is not a problem or complaint, simply an observation. The singular thing I would change about this burger would be salt on the avocado. They didn’t season it individually, which made it taste like negative salt when perched atop a grilled wad of bacon. Otherwise the 50/50 is an all around great burger, and inventive.

frieds

Slater’s sides were good too and even the ketchup has bacon in it. Perhaps my fried pickle bar has dropped since having them at The Escondite, but I thought Slater’s fried pickles were the best I’ve seen in a while. You have to request Ranch, sadly it seems that there is a west coast epidemic of not knowing what the only condiment meant for tempura dill chips is, but it’s a small price to pay and the server that you will know by name should be happy to grab it for you. They also have 101 beers on tap. You read that right. Over one hundred draught beers. This selection, the great food, and the absolute impossibility of finding a seat from which you can’t see a T.V. leads me to believe that Slater’s holds a strong position in the sports bar pantheon, but I do have some bad news. Myself, and my dining partner, were absolutely wrecked by the food. Slater’s represents the worst Gut-Bomb I’ve experienced since this site’s inception, to such a degree that I feel obligated to warn you readers. When I say wrecked, I mean call in to work and keep coconut water in hand all day kind of wrecked. Tummy bubbles that you wouldn’t wish on an enemy. My sense (hope) is that we got unlucky, and got semi-mild food poisoning at a place that does not generally have this issue. Their food quality certainly appeared up to snuff. My advice, don’t feel weird about ordering this burger cooked. I was pleasantly surprised at how pink ours were, but it seems we paid dearly for it.

-Geoff Sawyer

50 50 guts

Ketchup

PCB CloseThe irrefutable power of marketing. It sure is amazing when properly executed. Are any of my hoodburger loyalists also whiskey drinkers by chance? Would you describe yourself as a whiskey drinker? Aficionado even? Do you like Jack Daniel’s? I bet it makes you feel like an outlaw biker when you order it. Choice drink of Rock n’ Roll badasses worldwide. Each sip provides a tiny snippet of affirmation that you’re tough and/or cool. I have a secret that I must share: Jack Daniel’s is GARBAGE. There are economy budget-barrel bourbons for half the price that are far superior in quality- but you won’t see anyone wearing one of those brands’ belt buckles on the sunset strip. Jack Daniel’s has presented its product in such a way that consumers believe so strongly that it’s good, the fact that it’s a shit whiskey makes little to no difference. Granted my feelings about JD far outweigh those regarding this week’s burger spot, but nonetheless. The best thing that Plan Check does is careful presentation of otherwise unimpressive food.

The Ocean is nearly the only thing with enough pull to get me out that way, so traveling West of the 405 is a rare occurrence. My personal proportion of culture to money appears inverted to that of (my personal experience of) the typical West LA resident, for which reason I tend to feel out of place there. However, Plan Check has been on the Hoodburger hit list for a number of months, and upon confirming that I actually had several friends who wanted to try it, we did. The establishment is not huge but it manages to make efficient use of the space with communal seating and tight fitting booths. Hard woods, concrete and iron adorn the interior, and the space is not only quite nice but very much looks the part of fancy gastropub, which is currently an extremely popular restaurant genre for those of you living under rocks. If you show up at 8:00pm on a Saturday, expect to wait at least half an hour to be seated. Having only been once I am no authority on how busy the place usually is, but my party of 4 waited about 45 minutes to be seated, and there is not a particularly comfortable place to do it. The wait did provide ample time to familiarize oneself with the menu, which is written on chalkboards and placards above the seating at the bar.

PCBUpon being seated at the communal table I immediately began sniffing at the food of strangers over their shoulders (as I am prone to do), and thankfully my privacy invasions were consistently met with polite and informative conversation. The service start to finish was excellent; both well timed and informative. Presentation is also a strong suit for Plan Check; as all the dishes are served in tiny cast iron skillets, with each ingredient placed just so. Most of the menu items sounded delightful and interesting, like the “Short Rib Pot Roast” which is served with “red wine, bone marrow turnover pie, sweet n sour mirepoix.” The only real problem, albeit a significant one, is that the food (at least most of what I tasted) wasn’t exceptionally good.

Pastrami friesAs I tend to do when eating anywhere for the first time, I ordered the signature dish, which is in this case the self-titled “PCB” or Plan Check Burger. Akaushi red wagyu beef comes adorned with “Americanized dashi cheese, ketchup leather, schmaltz onions, mixed pickles, crunch bun.” To me this sounded like an unnecessarily fancy way to describe a relatively simple hamburger, which is exactly what it proved to be. For once, the patty came cooked a little more rare than I would have liked, and was not noticeably seasoned. Ketchup leather is cool. You get tartness with no saucy mess. The pickles were not mixed, they were pickles. The cheese was American cheese. The bun was a bun. All of this is ok. But if you wish to present yourself as fancy, PCB, I shall require that you be fancy.

PCB GutsFortunately, having dined at Plan Check with friends, I was afforded to opportunity to try many things on the menu. The Chef’s Favorite Burger (cheese two ways, bacon two ways, ketchup leather, sunny fried egg, hot sauce), and the Blueprint burger (smoked blue cheese, pig candy, fried onions, roasted garlic steak sauce, peppercress) both outshined my own, with the Blueprint being the clear winner. The verdict is in, blue cheese is yummy. I also tried the fried chicken, which was decent, as well as pastrami fries, sweet potato fries, a butter lettuce salad, and pickled eggs. None of it was terrible, but none was impressive either, and with the burgers at $14 and sides averaging about $8, Plan Check is too expensive to not have better food. Even still, the line out the door of people eager to geotag their next several instagram posts of pretty dishes served in neat little skillets on a cool table, would likely disagree.

-Geoff Sawyer

PC Chicken

Pickled eggs

Happy accidents. How cool are they? Can you imagine being the first person to accidentally heat your dried corn until it exploded, or spill a bit of rennet in your warm milk and watch it thicken? Even the non-world-altering ones are terrific; like finding an un-cashed check that is bigger than anything you ever thought you’d forget about, or getting rained out of an outdoor adventure only to have a more awesome time with Netflix and a snuggle buddy. I love them, and to me, today’s burger was a happy accident.

King’s Row is a Gastropub in Pasadena that not only had I never visited before this week, I had never heard of it. Since this blog’s inception, there has been a spreadsheet separated by Hood, listing all the places that deserve my time, money, thoughts, and subsequent metabolic strain. Molly and I both visit it regularly to add new spots as we hear of them or they occur to us, as well as to shop for each week’s culinary quest. (If you have a recommendation, holler: hoodburger@gmail.com). I was supposed to review Father’s Office this week, which, if you haven’t heard is very frequently mentioned among the L.A. burger scene’s fan favorites. I have only been once since moving to California, to the location in Culver City, at which the hostess was SUCH a bitch I can hardly remember what the food tasted like. I’m a sucker for good service, and equally appalled when it is terrible. I digress. The Santa Monica (and original) Father’s Office was on the agenda but I was in Pasadena pumpkin shopping and just didn’t have time for the drive. So- I consulted the list. “King’s Row,” started back at me from my phone. Though I recall those two words residing in the Pasadena column since the beginning of this blog, I have never heard anyone talk about this place. I Google it, and come to find a very bland and uninformative website. $5 happy hour burger with no description. Not looking good. I call Molly. Me: “Hey so is this a place that you want to cover, because I didn’t add it to our list… No? …You’ve never heard of it either? Huh. …Random suggestion from a forgotten friend. Alright well I’m going. Let’s hope it doesn’t suck.”

I map to this place and park across the street from where my phone tells me it is without ever actually laying eyes on the building. Upon walking up and looking at addresses, I determine that I should be right there but all I see is a watch repair shop and an ice cream parlor. Above the single inset door that separates those 2 stores is a very simple and plain sign that says “King’s Row.” I walked right under it. The door opens to a long and dimly but beautifully lit corridor with loads of naked hanging bulbs each emiting the tiniest bit of light. The hall opens up into a huge nouveau-rustic pub, complete with an entire ceiling of skylight. Two moderately sized indoor rooms connect to a large outdoor patio, which on this day was packed. Unless you happen into the alley that the patio faces, you could walk right past King’s Row a thousand times without ever knowing it was there. Within seconds of seating ourselves a friendly waiter appeared out of thin air to let us know that we order from the bar, and that happy hour was upon us. Thanks dude. Now take me to your burger.

The part of the menu that I was able to access from my phone was only the happy hour menu (because I am a dummy and not because their website is inferior as it turns out), and featured nibbles such as cod cakes, wings, and grilled cheese. You can imagine my complete elation when I discovered that they also have a more formal burger than the mini $5 one (3 of them actually), and it is made from 21 day aged ground rib eye (as they all are). Be still my hard-working heart. I had the self-titled “Dry Aged Rib Eye Burger” in that it appeared to be the basic version. This burger featured an 8oz. (guessing) ground rib eye patty, seasoned to absolute perfection. There truly is no substitute for quality meat. This patty is adorned with St. Agur Bleu and White Cheddar cheeses, duck fat caramelized onions, arugula, lemon-garlic aioli on a ‘house bun.’ This burger was nearly perfect. The flavor of the meat was staggeringly delicious due to the aging, and strong enough that the loudness of the cheeses did not totally overpower. The onions were mild and rich, the aioli uniquely bright and surprisingly salty. The bun was like a rosemary dinner roll, and by being a little on the dry side constitutes the singular reason I can’t give the burger a 10.0. It stayed together as I ate it, each bite was as delightful as the one it succeeded, and the fries that come with it were almost as brag-worthy.  At $14 I expect a pretty fine meal, and King’s Row delivered in every measurable way.

I am definitely going back to this restaurant. Look at the whole menu. Based on the care given to the construction of the burger, I can imagine that every dish these folks serve is something to celebrate. The entire patio was alive with happy people drinking, laughing and merrily gorging on beautiful food. You could enjoy just going here and having a cocktail. Yet again, I find myself attracted to a place where grown ups go, and yet again, the joy of food outweighs the pains of aging. I hope to be so lucky as to stumble into a few more similarly incredible finds while this burger quest continues.

-Geoff Sawyer

First and foremost, I would like to apologize for how dark these photos are. The Parish is mostly lit by candlelight and while this makes everyone very attractive, it’s disastrous for taking photos.

I was lured to the Parrish for two reasons. The first being it had a $17 burger. That’s right. Seventeen whole smackeroos for a burger. This I had to try. Gourmet burgers are by and large pricey, but never more than 12 or 14 bucks. When you hit $17 you’re basically saying “This is the best damn burger you can buy! How do I know? Because you’re going to pass up buying a steak frites at a respectable restaurant for a burger.” When your burger costs as much as that, it better make you writhe with pleasure.

Reason number two is a sillier one. The fact of the matter is that British gastropubs are becoming a thing in Los Angeles and whenever a new one opens  as a half British person I feel it is my duty to try all of their sticky toffee puddings. Every single one. (By the way, if you are a gastropub and there is no sticky toffee pudding on your menu, you’re doing it wrong.)

The Parish is located in Downtown where Main St. splits and gives birth to Spring St. It is wedged so tightly between the two it’s shaped like a slice of pie. They have a downstairs patio, but we were ushered upstairs to the main restaurant. Let me tell you they had a perfect blend of British and Angeleno elements upstairs. There was a dead pheasant hanging over a Spanish tiled fireplace. There were overstuffed leather chairs pulled up to dark wood tables. The walls were covered with busy English wall paper patterns and a giant map of downtown LA. It was lovely if super dark.

The bar is tended by gentlemen poached from Seven Grand, so the drinks were delightful. The menu was whimsical and expensive. Three deviled eggs were $6! (Worth the investment though.) To start my roommate and I had an array of scrumptious things: deviled eggs covered in chili sauce, beet salad with sharply tart molasses yogurt and wheatberries, ripe peaches and green beans covered in burrata cheese,  and most decadently of all, a rich chicken liver mousse with sherry toast and onion rings. That’s right onion rings WITH chicken liver mousse. It was scrumptious.

Finally the big moment arrived and they put the burger down in front of me. The description of it on paper was outrageous. It had epoisse, argula, and pickled carrots on it. For those of you who haven’t yet experienced epoisse, let me tell you, it’s one of the stinkiest cheeses known to man. Just a waft of it has known to fell men at twenty paces. Imagine a cheese that stunk of drains combined with pickled carrots on a burger. Gutsy, right? How could one possibly pass that up?

Turns out they spent so much time on the cheese, the pickled carrots, and the chiabatta bun, the Parish completely forgot to pay attention to the burger itself. The patty was chargrilled and too salty.  I expect that kind of patty at Burger King not a fancy pub.  It broke my heart.  It was like those hoodrat cars you see with expensive rims. It doesn’t matter what racing stripes you paint on a 1986 Ford Fiesta, it’s still a 1986 Ford Fiesta.

My faith in the place was restored with their sticky toffee pudding, which was warm and rich and golden. Honestly 90% of the meal was fantastic. I will be back Parish to try your meat pies and fried chicken, but there’s no way I’m getting your burger ever again. It seems to be your Achilles heel. The black hole on the otherwise stellar menu.

-Molly Bergen