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Molly Bergen

 

The P Dub Burger

The P Dub Burger

Koreatown is full of surprises. One night on my way home from work on 6th street, I saw a bright sign with one word glowing forth “Whiz.” Just Whiz. No explanation or details given. So I decided to pullover and investigate. It turns out Whiz is a new Philly cheesesteak/burger joint run by Wes Leiberher from South Philly, who used to whip up batches of cheesesteaks for those savvy enough to request them at Beer Belly, and now has his own storefront. The shop itself is tiny. About the size of a walk in closet, there is barely enough room to order, but the staff is friendly and hip hop blares from the speakers. Black metal benches are arranged artfully outside, but most of the patrons eat in the parking lot balancing their sandwiches on their cars.

The menu is a testament to Food that is Bad for You. It is gorgeous. Things that make your heart swell with joy and dread at the same time. Things like cheesesteaks, fried chicken, burgers, bacon sandwiches, cold Italian hoagies, wings, and fries festoon the menu. I decided to try their signature sandwich Whiz Wit, a Philly cheesesteak on an Amoroso’s roll with grilled onions and house made cheese whiz. That’s right. They make their own whiz. I couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous. Why would you make your own whiz? That’s like making your own Twinkies. The whole point of whiz is that it’s wholly unnatural and unidentifiable.  Turns out, everyone should be making their own whiz. (Man, that sounds disgusting.)

Whiz Wit

Whiz Wit

I always considered the Philly Cheesesteak to be the dirty older cousin of the more traditional Cheeseburger. The kind that has served time in jail for assault and could get you a fake ID. I don’t know why. Something about the visuals. You look at a cheeseburger and sometimes there’s a lettuce leaf or a slice of tomato or a mushroom. Something that reassures you that this is, in fact, a good idea, like a boyfriend who knows enough to hide his tattoos with a long sleeved shirt when visiting your parents. Nothing about a Philly cheesesteak looks like a good idea. It is the biker gang boyfriend dressed in a leather vest and chaps. It’s a testament to bad living. A foot long length of sliced “frizzled” beef with grilled onions and artificial cheese. This bad boy will get you in trouble with your digestion, which is why you love them SO MUCH. My God, just the way the grease glistens makes your weak in the knees.

Strangely enough, after sampling the Whiz Wit and their signature burger the P Dub, I preferred the burger. Blasphemy, I know. Why? I’m blaming it on the fried shallots or perhaps the house made Sriracha Thousand Island Dressing or perhaps the fried egg on top. I like my sandwich with nuance, I guess. The P Dub is made on a brioche bun with sliced American and Tillamook cheddar, spicy dressing, sweet shallots, and a little cilantro. You can add bacon and a fried egg for a buck extra, a move I highly recommend. It is a lovely greasy mess, which requires two hands to hold on to. At seven bucks a pop, it’s an incredibly reasonable deal.

Sriracha Beast Fries

Sriracha Beast Fries

But that’s not why I’m going back to Whiz. Nope. This has all been a ruse. I apologize. The reason I will circle the block endlessly, singing Whiz’s praises in iambic pentameter, is simple. The fries, dudes. The fries. Not just any fries either. The Sriracha Beast fries, named for the guttural moan that is emitted after your first bite. The Beast contains hot salty fries covered in spicy Sriracha Island dressing, creamy Whiz, and sweet grilled onions. It covers all the bases: salty, sweet, spicy, and greasy. My God, if I drowned in a vat of these things I would die a happy woman. They would find me covered in cheese with a big grin on my face. In fact if the world ended tomorrow, I would make a beeline over there and order seven rounds. You can feel your heart clogging with every bite, but can’t seem to bring yourself to stop. Truth be told, I might do that tonight.  So if you find yourself in Koreatown and you want to indulge in some truly guilty pleasures, Whiz has the goods to satisfy your darkest desires.

 

– Molly Bergen

photo (30)

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Photo by Eli G.

Photo by Eli G.

What happens when a super fancy chef decides he wants to open a little diner? Super fancy burgers, of course. Would he stock just any beef burgers? No, they would be wagyu burgers, of course. Chef Bruce Marder of Capo fame opened up a tiny café on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica right across the street from some enormous hotels.  I wandered inside one rainy day and was immediately charmed by its black and white tiled floors, wooden furniture, and the speakers which pumped out hits from Buddy Holly and Otis Redding. It’s exactly the kind of vibe you would want from a diner. Crowded, warm, and unpretentious.

Usually it’s incredibly crowded, but I lucked out and grabbed a table right away.  The menu was speckled with fancy ingredients in an otherwise traditional diner menu. Their bagels come with a side of burrata cream cheese. Their vegetable omelet has artichokes and tarragon. Instead of a tuna melt they have a fresh albacore tuna panino.  And of course, their burger is a wagyu “kobe” burger.

Photo by Brian S.

Photo by Brian S.

Now honestly I couldn’t give a damn whether my beef was wagyu or kobe or whatever. I don’t care if the cow was massaged during its life or not. I don’t care if it was born in Japan or Omaha. What I do care about is how it was raised, how it was fed, and whether it was killed humanely, but they never put those details on a menu, now do they? Occasionally they’ll put grass-fed (which is good in my book. It means the cow may have seen the sun.) And organic is always a plus although if you put a gun to my head and asked me what passes as organic meat these days, I would not be able to tell you.  I can only give you a list that I found on the Whole Foods website. 1. Must be raised organically on certified organic pastures. 2. Must be fed certified organic feed for their entire lives. 3. No drugs, antibiotics or growth hormones are allowed. 4. Must have year-round outdoor access. Those all seem like good things.

But you’re not interested in my feelings about organic meat. You want to know how this fancy burger actually was.  On top of a fresh bun with butter lettuce, slices of red tomato, red onion, and melted gooey cheddar cheese, it was very good. Well-seasoned and full of herbs the meaty patty stood out on its own against the traditional array of flavors. Here’s the thing, though. It was fourteen bucks. Fifteen dollars with the cheese, which wouldn’t have bothered me too much if they sides had not been so very dreadful. It came with a lump of the worst potato salad I’ve ever had. It tasted vaguely like sardines with just a hint of gasoline.  And the complimentary pickle was a cucumber with pretensions of grandeur. I don’t believe it had even touched brine. I think they just chopped up a cucumber, dunked it in water, and called it a day.

At that price point, I expect better. I expect my sides to be made with love and at least tried before they’re sent out. A decent side of fries, is that too much to ask? Otherwise, I’d just as soon go to the Hole in The Wall and spend ten bucks on a gorgeous gourmet burger in a paper bag.

 

Photo by Joan S.

Photo by Joan S.

Muddy Leek's slider

Muddy Leek’s slider

This is a story of moderation. Let’s be clear. Moderation in burgers is usually a very bad thing. Our waistlines might demand a turkey burger with no mayo, but by God, our hearts want the biggest, baddest, cheesiest behemoth that money can buy. Preferably with bacon. Right? Right. Which is why, when sliders are on the menu, I usually pass. Two or three dinky little burgers? No way, man. I want something I can barely hold in my hands that threatens to slip away from my greasy fingers with every bite.  But there are exceptions. One of these exceptions resides at Muddy Leek.

On the part of Washington Blvd in Culver City which is festooned with galleries and artsy coffee shops, you know, the hip part, is a very nondescript sign that reads Muddy Leek. Do not be fooled by its appearance. This place is CLASSY.  Their turkey club sandwich has fried shallots and apple butter on it. Their shrimp and grits has black kale in it. Every meal is served with fresh bread and sea salted butter. Their mustard is seedy and French. So when I found out they had sliders, naturally I had to investigate.

It's all in the sea salt.

It’s all in the sea salt.

Now on paper, the deal sounds terrible.  For fourteen dollars, you get two sliders.  That’s right, just two. Preposterous, right? Highway robbery! Who cares if they’re made of wagyu beef on homemade brioche buns with wasabi aioli and green onions? That is insane. And it would be too if it weren’t for just one tiny little detail. The soup. With your order of sliders you get a bowl of freshly made, piping hot, extremely delicious soup and a side of their freshly made bread. I chose the lentil with fried leeks on top. It was insanely tasty.  I could almost feel my mother giggling from far away. A burger place that made me eat my vegetables first and enjoy it? This was definitely a first.

By the time the sliders arrived with only four (!) sweet potato fries, I was pretty full. The spicy aioli was salty and greasy and everything those darling little patties needed to embellish their meaty flavor. The brioche added some sweetness and the greens gave it a little crunch. Would I have preferred that they had cheese? Of course. Would I rather they had bacon? You betcha. Do I feel like a responsible adult for eating moderately by accident? Sigh, yes, yes I do.

Lentil soup with fried leeks

Lentil soup with fried leeks

The kicker was a dark chocolate truffle in a champagne glass with the bill. You don’t get classier or more moderate than that. Would I preferred a box of truffles to gorge myself on? Naturally, but Muddy Leek is there to keep your wild urges in check. They’re very clever that way.  So if you want an indulgent lunch, but don’t want to regret it later, I highly recommend these sliders. They give you just enough, so you feel satisfied, but no more than that. They are the kings of balance.

Deceptively dinky.

Deceptively dinky

Delicious!

Delicious!

photo (15)Granted,  not the most inspired name for a restaurant, but I need to confess to you something right off the bat, I love this place. I’ve been eating here ever since I moved to LA in 2008. All of their food is fresh and homemade. I love their soups. I love their salads. I love their pies. I love their sandwiches. Jesus, even their butterscotch pudding is wonderful. (Fans of Mozza’s butterscotch budino take note.)  The staff knows me by name. I get all of our office lunches catered here. I buy people birthday presents like Noble’s bourbon maple syrup or Sqirl jam or some of their homemade candy  from their display cases.  What I’m saying is, Food LA is my boyfriend.

So when I showed up on a rainy Tuesday evening right before they closed, I was nervous. Why? I had never had their burger before. Yeah, that’s right. Never. We’ve been together for almost six years and I’ve never had a burger there. Why? Honestly, I never have had the time. I usually rush in there and rush out without the time to wait for a burger.  Or maybe I was scared.

Photo by Ed K.

Photo by Ed K.

What if it was terrible? What if I then had to report that to the internet? How could I look them in the eye and say something like “You do everything perfectly, except for the burger, my favorite food in the whole world.” It could get awkward. However I started to relax when I was asked whether I wanted my cheese to be cheddar, blue, or Gruyere. All three of those cheese are statement cheeses. You don’t put those on there unless you’re confident in your burger. (In case you’re curious, the most insecure cheese of all is white American cheese. If they put that on your burger, you’re in trouble.  It’s got no taste. What is the point?)

When it arrived, though, I got really excited. On a brioche bun lay a hand crafted 4oz beef patty with gruyere cheese melted on top, sautéed onions, a thick slice of tomato and arugula. Next to it were five golden spicy potatoes covered in aioli.  One bite and I knew, all of my fears were completely unwarranted. The herbs and spices that were lovingly folded into that burger was something that I had only had in someone’s mother’s kitchen. There was no need for sauce or any kind of condiment. The herbs, cheese, and onions were enough to compliment the burger’s juicy flavor. I’m thinking about proposing to this place at New Years. Maybe a June wedding? Maybe August? Who knows. All I know is I’m going to put a ring on it.

 

– Molly Bergen

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

The pljeskavica

The Pljeskavica

I should have listened to Geoff. I really should have. But when the venerable Jonathan Gold puts out his list of his favorite burgers in the city and there is one on that you’ve never heard of…it’s hard to resist. A Bosnian hamburger?  A pljeskavica? Listed as “among the best options in the great hamburger city of Los Angeles” by the famous Pulitzer Prize winning food writer himself, I had to know what that meant. Geoff in his wisdom pointed out that The Apple Pan had also made this list, and everyone knows that the Apple Pan has a vastly overrated burger. It’s a beacon of hype and mediocrity. (I will not knock their pie, however. Their apple pie a la mode is gorgeous.)

There is a reason why Geoff Sawyer is my burger partner and not Jonathan Gold.  Even IF Gold knew who I was and I could afford to pay him, I wouldn’t take him on because the man is just plain wrong about this burger. I need taste buds I can trust. Sawyer’s never lets me down.

The Aroma Café is an adorable establishment wedged in a strip mall in West LA on Overland St. The insides are covered in fake vines and paintings of the Dalmatian coast. You can buy mayonnaise in giant tubes and feta in great tubs. I ordered the pljeskavica with a side of grilled potatoes. I will say this, they do not skimp.  The burger was the size of a 7-inch record wedged between two slices of fresh flatbread with sliced tomato, hunks of feta cheese and a lettuce leaf. Inexplicably it came with a side of raw white onions that had been liberally peppered.  I took a bite and was immediately sad. This was not an amazing burger.  It was not juicy. It was not flavorful. It didn’t even have mayo or ketchup to give it some oomph. It was a perfectly ordinary chargrilled burger. The kind one might find at their cousin’s tailgating party in the parking lot of Soldier Field.  It was dull.

Grilled Potatoes

Grilled Potatoes

The grilled potatoes however did not disappoint. Golden and charred, they were perfectly paired with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cheese.  I ate the whole plate.

This is not to say I won’t be back to the Aroma café. They had a lot of really enticing things on their menu. Next time I go there I’m going to try their kebabs or their goulash. I’m a sucker for a good goulash. I bet it’s terrific.  But never again will I listen to Jonathan Gold and order their hamburger. That dude has lost his burger recommendation privileges for life.

-Molly Bergen

 

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