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Folks, it’s been fun. We should have probably told you this months ago, but we’ve retired- not from the burger game, but at least from the writing about the burger game (game). Having this blog was an absolute joy and we are limitlessly grateful to everyone and anyone who ever stopped by to take a peek. We’ll still be on the mean streets of L.A. crushing the finest burgers this town has to offer, and recommend that you do the same. If you see us, say hi.

 

Love,

Geoff and Molly.

 

Double Double

March to the beat of your own drum. Generally, we talk about fancy-pants burgers, which makes sense because that’s what we like. There have and will continue to be exceptions to that rule not only because we see you burger-traditionalists, and we respect you, but also because not all delicious burgers need come topped with 27 syllables worth of cheese and exotic vegetation. Over the course of our handful of hat-tips to the simpler burgers out there we’ve even come to coin the phrase “California Style” which, if your memory fails is, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and Thousand-Island dressing. What we have managed to NOT do (until now anyway) is pay homage to the creator of that style. To give credit to the establishment who re-wrote the fast food bible that WackDonald’s imposed upon the world. To shout out the institution that is a culinary pillar of Southern California, and whose quality and consistency will keep them adorned in that accolade. Today friends, we are going to In ‘N Out.

Animal Fries

Animal Fries

This is a burger blog about Southern California’s offerings, and if you’re reading this (you are), you probably live in Southern California and you probably like burgers. If both of those things are true, I’d bet the farm that you don’t need me to tell you about In ‘N Out’s food. So, I won’t. It’s great. You know that. Sometimes I crave their food in a way that can only be cured by their food. You probably do too. In very few contexts, processed-pasteurized-American-cheese-food-product is pure joy and the greatest of those contexts is known as “Animal Fries.” None of this is news to you. However, you may not be rich with fun facts about the company that has become a staple to residents and a to-do list top-liner for everyone who visits Southern California. Let’s change that.

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If you haven’t read Fast Food Nation, you should; though it will probably have you questioning (and rightfully so) not only what you eat but also just how shameful you should feel about it. Though the whole book is informative,  the very beginning describes Southern California as the Fertile Crescent of hamburgers and how that came to pass, which, if you’re like me (fat), is simply fascinating. Ray Crock, the industrious entrepreneur who took McDonald’s from one popular restaurant to a National force, created a blueprint that nearly all other fast food chains modeled their businesses after: Prime convenient locations and plenty of them, profitability through extremely low costs of both food and labor, market saturation, and a franchise business structure. In N’ Out’s philosophy agrees with exactly zero of those things. They only have approximately 300 retail locations despite nearly 70 years in operation, are entirely privately owned by the family that started the business and have offered no franchises, take excellent care of their employees both financially and in terms of available benefits, and have higher food costs so as not to compromise the company’s quality standards. If that wasn’t enough differentiation, the diversity of the menu is nil (there are basically a total of 4 things: burgers, fries, shakes, sodas, though one has a couple of style options per category), every store looks identical, and the pro-Jesus culture is subtle but visible on the bottom of every cup. So according to the fast food model followed by most of their competitors, In ‘N Out does everything wrong. Somehow that doesn’t equate to failure. I implore anyone to find an uncrowded location at mealtime.
In ‘N Out is another solid example of “if you build it, they will come.” Uncompromising standards yield consistent quality, and that makes for consistently happy customers, who are loyal. This chain’s contribution to SoCal’s burger Mesopotamia is an important one, and one that I suspect will continue to enjoy slow and steady growth at whatever pace it chooses, as has been the case thus far. If it ain’t broke…
– Geoff Sawyer

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The Steak House Burger

The Steak House Burger

I feel bad even bringing this up, but what can you do? The Black Sheep is doomed. No reprieve, just flat out doomed. There’s nothing to be done about it. It’s a matter of location. Why in the name of all that is holy would you put a burger place next to Cole’s famous French dip? Why? You can’t compete with that. Cole’s is a beloved institution with a secret speakeasy in the back. Their lamb dip with goat cheese is something that people would wait in line endlessly for. Their bourbon pecan pie is the stuff dreams are made of. And to top that all off, the Black Sheep closes an hour earlier than Coles. It’s just a mess.

If this burger joint had been placed pretty much anywhere else in the city (except for maybe next to Philippe’s or Golden State) it would have been fine. They have stunning array of gourmet burgers, sliders, and hotdogs. They’ve got drunk food down. They serve fancy beers, ciders, sake bombs and elaborate lemonades. Man, they even have cheesy truffle tater tots. Their buns are fluffy, their burgers are luscious, their toppings are unoriginal, but delicious, the prices are reasonable, but they are screwed.

Cheese fries!

Cheese fries!

We didn’t have the appetite to try all of their six burgers, so forgive me if I’ve missed something crucial. We managed to try three of their burgers. The Black Sheep which came with arugula, Gouda, caramelized onions and garlic aioli, which would please those who don’t like their cheese burgers too fancy. The Steak House Burger was for those who like their burgers really fancy. It came with spinach, fontina cheese, bacon and onion compote, mushrooms, and house steak sauce. The effect was sloppy and overwrought. The winner, however, was the Western burger was the clear winner with had spring mix, American cheese, onion rings, and chipotle BBQ sauce which had the exact right amount of sass. They were all quite delicious, a little small, and came out really fast. Did they beat the French dip next door? No, not even close.

Western Burger by Inna L.

Western Burger by Inna L.

Could the untimely demise of the Black Sheep be avoided? Sure. Here are five simple ways that could happen. One, hire a bouncer. If homeless men can wander into your restaurant and beg for change, it’s going to be a damper on the whole meal. Two, if your patrons request a lemonade and sake together, oblige them. Charge them extra if you have to, but answering “We don’t do that.” is insane when you’ve already served them a lemonade and a sake separately. Three, hire a wait staff. Having your customers order at the bar just leads to resentment and chaos. Your burgers aren’t good enough for that kind of nonsense behavior. That’s reserved for the major leaguers, like Father’s Office and Golden State. Four, stay open later than Cole’s. Like those birds that live on cleaning alligator teeth, you could eke out a living by pick up their leftovers. Five, hire someone who makes homemade pie. You might have a prayer if you serve really excellent dessert.

Oh who am I kidding? You can’t be saved. You’ve got a couple years, five at most. Enjoy your time while you can. 

 

– Molly Bergen

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Looks not terrible.

Looks not terrible.

Is it possible for everyone to be wrong about something? Are we, as a populace, so gullible that we can follow a false prophet as one virtually unbroken unit? Or perhaps even worse, know that we are willfully accepting something that we should not? If so, HOW did we arrive at this place? How is it possible that no one is lifting the veil, speaking the truth, and shouting at the top of their lungs that the Emperor has no clothes?!? Well, allow me to be the break in the chain, and quite possibly the first person you’ve ever heard say this: Little Dom’s SUCKS.

If you were to go there on a Saturday night at meal-time and did not make a reservation your wait will be roughly 60 minutes. It could be more. It’s always crowded. You will find yourself packed into a bar that serves Moscow Mules in copper mugs that might taste like mildewy bar rag, depending on who makes it. You’ll be surrounded by attractive, well-dressed, mid/late 30’s creative (looking) types, who at a glance, one might assume know a thing or two about food. (Spoiler: they don’t). Order a straight pour of good rye or the butternut infused Eagle Rare (it’s intended for Old Fashioned’s, but far better on it’s own [and it’s just lovely]) instead of a fancy drink. The bartenders are heavy handed when there’s no filler. Silver lining. Once you’ve spent an hour shouting at your date over the 60 other people in the room who are shouting at their dates over you, you’ll be lead to a paper topped table by a designer/actress/model/hostess who is a sweet as can be and will (though you won’t know it at the time) be a highlight of the experience. Next, your writer/producer/actor/director/server will be out with a stale sub roll in a paper bag for you to enjoy. Then comes the really fun part. Food.

I started with an arugula salad that was totally unremarkable but everything you need it to be, and the absolute best grilled octopus I have ever had in my entire life. Loads of lemon, smoked paprika and salt make this small plate that is not that small explode with flavor. I went back for it the following week, and it’s not a fluke: their grilled octopus is a perfect dish. Hence, the rest of their offerings being deplorable is even more confounding.

Little Dom’s has a burger that I obviously have to discuss because that’s what this blog is about, but in that the total experience of dining here is what I feel obligated to share, it’s going to be brief. According to the menu, it has burratta, speck, and roasted tomato mostarda. It’s served on focaccia, though the menu doesn’t say that, and mine had greens on it too. Innovative kind of? Yes. Burratta and cured pork, gloriously united? Yes again. Seems like it would have been hard to blow it, right? The bread was so stale I can’t imagine how anyone sent it out of the kitchen. Whoever cut it had to have been drunk or really hate the job, because no one could have not noticed how old that bread was. Inedible. Additionally, the heaping glop of tomato stuff was cold. As in, 33 degrees, cold. Hurt your teeth kind of cold. Frozen 30 seconds ago, cold. So the patty and the two ingredients that one can’t screw up, were far less attention grabbing. Ultimately the burger just got disected while I wished I had ordered more octopus.

Little Dom’s presents itself as an Italian restaurant, so perhaps their burger’s lack is due to the fact that their energy and skill went to more traditional dishes, right? Like, spaghetti and meatballs, for example. Well I ordered that too. Pasta: huge. Looked like udon noodles. Sauce: whatever. Meatballs: so impossibly bland that I think there has to have been a mistake. I truly believe that whoever made that batch of meatballs forgot to put salt in it. It was not as if there wasn’t enough, there was NONE. ZERO. They tasted more like newspaper than food. I hope that the person who forgets to salt meatballs is the same person who serves 3 month old focaccia and that s/he has since been fired.

Naturally, I felt that some credit must be given to the masses. As mentioned, this place is always packed, so I began to ask around as to whether I am the only one who is unimpressed by the food. I tweeted “Hurry somebody tell me something that doesn’t suck from Lil Dom’s.” Responses: “Beer.” “Prosecco.” “Ye Old Rustic” (which is a sports bar across the street). So I asked strangers at surrounding tables to rate their meals. Mediocrity at best was all that anyone had to report. A young woman at the table to my left sent her spaghetti back only to be presented with a new dish that was incorrect in the exact same way as the first. She confessed her disappointment but resigned to cope. The guys to my right had oyster po-boy’s and said that while the quality and freshness of the oysters was superb, every other single thing about the dish was a bummer. Then, myself and my new friends all started eavesdropping on the conversations of more surrounding tables as THEY complained about how their dinners were shitty too. Not a single person I talked to had exemplary things to say about anything they ordered. So I ask you, all of you Little Dom’s patrons: WHY THE FUCK DO YOU GO THERE? If your response is anything other than the words “grilled octopus,” then I urge you to reevaluate your experience and/or goals. I think you have been fooled, or are accepting sub-par cuisine for reasons I can’t understand. Fun fact though, if you image search “Little Dom’s” it’s not food, it’s famous people. TMZ style pics of actors leaving brunch. So perhaps I’m the odd man out of the clientele, and to enjoy such cardboard meatballs requires the palate of someone with a script for sale. I’ll never know. If you do find yourself roped into a meal there though, I beg you, do not stray from that octopus. It’s the only thing worth eating.

-Geoff Sawyer

January Jones likes shitty food.

January Jones likes shitty food.

Katherine Heigl and this baby like shitty food.

Katherine Heigl and this baby like shitty food.

K dunst and trash burger

Kirsten Dunst is high. (and also likes shitty food).

Megan Fox likes smoothies and shitty food.

Megan Fox likes smoothies and shitty food.

Zachary Quinto likes shitty food.

Zachary Quinto likes shitty food.

Alexander Skarsgard likes hugs and shitty food.

Alexander Skarsgard likes hugs and shitty food.

Photo by Michael S.

Photo by Michael S.

If you drive down Culver Blvd until it reaches the sea, you end up at Dockweiler Beach. Dockweiler is one of the only places in Los Angeles where you can still have a bonfire on the beach. Fire pits have been built into the sand, and on most nights the sand is lit up like some very organized post-apocalyptic refugee camp. It is one of my favorite spots in the whole city. You can drive down there and roast marshmallows and hot dogs while the sun sets over the waves. It’s like a little piece of wilderness at the edge of the city.

All of this is to explain why after years of driving down this stretch of road, I never noticed The Tripel. Right before Culver Blvd curves and is reborn as Vista Del Mar, there’s the tiny beach town (suburb?) of Playa del Rey. The size of a shoe box, this gastro pub is warm and inviting. Candle light glowed off the wood paneled walls and an impressive row of beer taps above which the word “lubrication” was written in red.

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Even though it was a Tuesday, I had to fight for a seat at the bar at 7pm.  It wasn’t hard to figure out why after perusing the menu. Spicy coconut and red curry biscuits with clotted cream? Crispy pig ear salad with poached egg? Melted brebirousse d’argental with soaked wild mushroom toast? These dudes were not messing around. Why the hell had I been roasting hot dogs on the beach when I could have been in here dining on charred baby octopus? Ah well.

They had two beef burgers on the menu and one lamb, and I regret to inform you that I had only brought one buddy along. There was not enough appetite to demolish all three. So we stuck to the beef. (Of course, this meant that all of the other diners scolded us for choosing incorrectly AFTER we had ordered. Apparently the lamb burger is something of a legend. Figures.) The hand ground beef patties were luscious and came in two varieties the Pretzel Burger and the Tripel. The Pretzel Burger (shockingly) came on a pretzel bun and was draped in aged cheddar, poppy seed coleslaw, and carmelized onions. It was a thing of beauty, reminding me very strongly of Langer’s Deli’s famous #19, which features hot pastrami on rye bread with coleslaw and cheese. The sweetness of the coleslaw and onions contrasted with the sharpness of the cheddar, but didn’t overwhelm the burger or the pretzel bun. There was something very comforting about the whole thing, like a hug from your Bubbe.

If you squint, there's a pretzel burger. I swear.

If you squint, there’s a pretzel burger. I swear.

The Tripel burger on the other hand was kind of a mess. It wasn’t bad, but it reminded me a bit of a date trying too hard to impress you. It’s listed as duck confit, pork, and aged beef patty on an onion brioche bun with truffle pecorino, arugula, and house made apricot jam. Sounds hot, right? That’s why you would agree to go out on this date in the first place, but when you get close to your beau your nostrils are assaulted with cologne or in this case apricot jam. Now I am not opposed to apricot jam in theory. It’s very nice on biscuits or cookies or with cheese. I’m even open minded enough to admit that it might be nice with a piece of meat, in the right proportion, but I’m telling you this thing was covered in it. All of those complex flavors were drowned in the sweetness. Like Axe bodyspray, it overpowered everything it touched. It was such a shame. No amount of scraping could rectify the situation. So if you find yourself in that part of town, do yourself a favor and get yourself a pretzel burger. It’s lovely.

-Molly Bergen

 

 

 

Barnburger

Apparently, you don’t have to have a cancerous tan, steroid induced bicep bloat, dreadlocks, the ability to juggle, an iguana on a leash, or any of the other numerous stereotypical attributes that I associated with this place, to hang out at Venice Beach. While finding one or many individuals in possession of any of the aforementioned qualities is not a tall order, there are plenty of plain-old, happy, boring folks such as myself, who like a good drink and a good meal. The other thing that I did not know is that Venice is very much a home to both.

Pacific Ave. and its beach front tributaries have a short but densely packed pocket of purveyors of vittles and libations, and if they are all as good or even comparable to my first Venice Beach dining experience, then what a lovely little pocket it is. Barnyard was opened in February of this year by Jesse Barber (the opening chef of Tasting Kitchen) and his wife Celia, and is by no means a burger restaurant, but they do however, like many of their contemporaries (Comme Ca, Rustic Canyon), have a damn good one. The menu is primarily local and seasonally driven, because the chefs who get it, know that the best food is made with those ingredients. Its offerings are rustic and fairly eclectic though not necessarily inspired by a particular culture’s cuisine, and the short list of small plates and mains hits all the necessary marks. They also have a great and affordable wine selection if that’s your bag. It’s certainly mine.

pretty grilled breads barnyard olives

My meal began with grilled breads, a meat plate (soppressata, picante, and wild boar), and warm castelvetrano olives- which were the closest thing to butter that I have ever eaten that was actually not in any way, butter. Who knew, all you have to do is make them hot? Next up was a panzanella salad, with prepared arugula, candied nuts, white raisins and monstrous semi-soft croutons, which, though are this dishes namesake ingredient, were sparse enough that it still felt like a salad. Oh and burrata. A huge, beautiful wad of creamy, mild mozzarella. I enjoyed all of this over the better part of a bottle of Bielsa Garnacha, which is a medium-full bodied Spanish wine not unlike a Tempranillo, and before I knew it I had already been drinking and nibbling for over an hour. Entrance of a time vortex is a pretty sure sign of a solid meal. Time for that burger.

Barnyard’s burger is, in a word, tart. Now don’t go thinking that that adjective is chosen critically, because it is absolutely delightful, but among those restaurants in the same lane in terms of price and quality, they all seem to strive for richness. Fatty grinds, high fat content cheeses, and an assortment of aiolis are standard fare when it comes to the $17 burgers of Los Angeles. Barnyard chose a different path and I salute them. This wonderfully seasoned, medium rare, coarsely and loosely ground patty came adorned with butter lettuce, house made pickles, stone ground mustard, aged sharp cheddar cheese, and a small smear of pickled pepper spread (the pepper type I am not sure but it wasn’t spicy at all), which all add up to one loudly flavorful burger. Buttered and grilled brioche housed all the acidic accoutrements, and in tandem with the richness of the beef was just enough to reign in all those sour elements.

Barnyard burger

A brief recap of things I learned this week: my sense that Venice is lame is just as wrong as my sense that you need fatty/salty things on your burger for it to be delicious. Both biases were undone in one spectacular evening, of which I expect to have many more. Barnyard is a place that you should just go. The burger is stellar but if you don’t get it, that’s fine. This is a great restaurant, period. Take friends, order a bottle of wine, course your meal out and be prepared for time to pass at an alarmingly brisk rate, as it is known to do when you’re having fun.

– Geoff Sawyer

p.s. It was too dark to take a decent photo by the time any of my food came, so if I stole your pics from Yelp, thanks.

Gonpachi Burger

Anticipation is an immeasurably powerful tool. The drawn delay of an inevitably terrifying movie moment, the build up to a first kiss, or a day spent mentally revving up for a post-dinner date with one’s favorite dessert, all lead to an eventual experience largely defined by the moments that preceded it. The wanting of the thing in some cases can even be as important as the getting it (if not more so), and when those expectations deliver, the results are spectacular. When they do not, you may have just eaten a burger at Gonpachi.

Well before this blog was launched, a co-worker brought me an unsolicited gift one afternoon, wrapped not so neatly in a small white paper box. “You’re gonna love this” he gleamed. Without the slightest clue what might be inside, I thanked him and promptly tore it open (which is not a very good example of allowing anticipation to work its magic). What I found was a formerly glorious and delightfully unique looking cheeseburger, that appeared to have spent at least the last day in that little box and though obviously well past it’s prime was no less intriguing. A black (the first I had seen) carbon brioche sandwiched a thick beef patty, aged white cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, peppercress, and the sweetest/tartest tomato compote of them all. I still remember it clearly, because I ate the whole luke-warm spent-the-last-4-hours-in-the-front-seat-of-a-truck thing right then and there and was absolutely consumed by the thought of how good this burger would have been had it been constructed recently. Humbled by the surprise present, I asked where it was from so that I may treat us both to a future round of burgers there. “Miyako. It’s a hotel!” was cataloged for future reference.

Gonpachi is actually the name of the restaurant in the Miyako Hotel in Torrance, and for whatever reason I took my sweet time making it back. Absence, for me, does in fact make the heart grow fonder though, so the time passed was not lost but rather spent getting me geared up for my next dance with this burger, one fond memory at a time. The menu described it exactly as I remembered, and my excitement magnified as the moment of reunion quickly approached. Upon ordering, the waiter directed me to a salad bar that is apparently free with any meal, the mediocrity of which came as quite a shock once I actually dug in. Its freeness garnered prompt forgiveness however, because my long awaited burger was soon to be mine.

Gonpachi Burger Plate

Then it came. And it was completely not at all what it was supposed to be. Not even close. I just looked at it. Moved it around. What’s the orange stuff? Wait is that mustard? What is this? The server assured me that this was the only burger they had. The menu still describes the old one, but what they serve now is this thing, which turned out to be a straight up, regular-ass, eighteen-dollar(!!) chili cheeseburger. I will say, the grind, seasoning, and flavor of the beef were impeccable, but the toppings were so confusing. Said delicious patty was dressed with white cheddar, tomato, diced white onion, yellow mustard, and chili that I am fairly certain was just canned Hormel ballpark-style hot dog chili that had been smoothed in a food processor. The (depressingly not black) bun felt like a potato roll but was so thick with the flavor of movie-theater popcorn feaux-butter that onions and chili actually had to compete with it. I moved my shoestring fries and mystery aioli around the large plate and wondered how my life might have been different had I come here a few months earlier.

The worst part is, this was probably one of the best chili cheeseburgers that I have ever had.  Had I gone into Gonpachi with an expectation of what I might actually get, or with no expectations at all, ‘lackluster’ would surely not be my first choice of adjective for the experience. Anticipation got the best of me though, and Gonpachi ultimately did not compare to my imagination.

-Geoff Sawyer

Gonpachi Burger Guts