brb!

Posted: May 27, 2013 in B^4

Burger lovers of this fair world:

Just wanted to stop in and let you know that I am out traveling the world this spring/summer while I’m single, young, free, and not so broke!

So while I have been devouring more than my fair share of Southeast Asian culinary delights, I have to be honest in saying that my burger consumption has decreased drastically, as many of these places are…well…not known for their In n Out equivalents.

I had a decent burger in Taipei at a burger joint run by some kiwis, but had an absolutely dreadful excuse for a burger at a Cambodian fast food joint (I had to try it, it was called BBWorld!) But really not much to blog about in this realm.

DSC_0418

 

(Stopped on the side of the road while motorbiking outside of Yen Minh, Ha Giant, Viet Nam)

But fear not –  I’ll be back to burger blogging this fall! Stay tuned!


campanula

Campanula (warning: website has loud music/sound)

Ah, 5 PM on a Thursday. I’ve got a part time job right now to save up for more traveling, so the aformentioned time signifies the weekend for me. I met up with my good friend, Doug, for some dinner. We had other plans, but he mentioned he’d bought a deal for a place called Campanula. He said it had a great burger, and wondered if I was interested in going there instead. I think he knew the answer before he asked, but without a doubt my Thursday evening was about to get better.

It turned out, of all the restaurants “near” Doug’s room in Chinatown, we’d actually stopped and looked at Campanula last Thursday on our way to the car after AYCE sushi across the street at Sushi Hunter. Quite a coincidence, but I remember thinking the place we’d randomly stopped and looked at was pretty good, so I was excited that we were going to eat there! Doug had bought the deal independently of our jaunt past the establishment the week prior.

Since we were hear for the burger, we didn’t really need to look at the dinner menu; that said, there are some nice looking options on there!

However, once my eye caught the Happy Hour offerings (daily, 5:30-7 PM), I knew it was time to deviate from the norm, and order a classy drink, since Campanula is by all observations a classy restaurant, and I was dressed oh so classily in my baby-blue Nike collared shirt and jeans. OK, so I don’t have a very strict dress code, but dang it, $5 Manhattans are classy as far as I’m concerned.

campanula manhattan

This Manhattan features Four Rouses Bourbon with sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters. Definitely a very mellow Manhattan – I had to force myself to sip it slowly (already a glass of wine in at Doug’s house).

Note the oils in the above picture – (ciabatta?) bread was served with a house-made basil oil – yum!

So I mentioned this is a classy establishment – don’t expect to walk out of here with an 8$ burger. Rather, the Kobe burger here will set you back $15 (+$1.50 for cheese).

OK, so I’m going to go on a tangent now because this is the first “Kobe burger” I have reviewed, and I know foodies are now thinking one of two things. At some point I’ll make an entire post about Kobe burgers, but for now it’ll just be here:

1) Kobe burger!!!! NOM!!!!!! YES WANTTT OMG!!!!!!!!

2) Kobe burgers are a scam!

In my case, you’re probably thinking both. How so? Let’s answer these questions in reverse order.

2) I won’t write a treatise on “Kobe burgers”, but I’ll give you some basic details here, in case you haven’t heard.

“Kobe” burgers are misleading – they’re almost always made of American wagyu beef. American wagyu cattle is raised similarly to their more well known Japanese cattle brethren, and in steak form, it is still divine, but it’s a whole helluva lot cheaper to buy than the real deal. Yes, some places in the US do actually serve burgers made with authentic Kobe beef from Kobe Bryant, Japan. I hate to quote Anthony Bourdain again, lest you start thinking I am a Bourdain fanboy (which I totally am), but I really do think he’s right on this one.

This is posted without permission, and does anyone actually read this thing anyway? I’ll take my chances.

“Why Meathead Eat Kobe Burgers” (2007)

Enterprising restaurants are now offering the “Kobe beef burger,” enticingly priced at near or above $100 a pop. And if there’s a better way to prove one’s total ignorance of all three words – Kobe, beef, and burger – this, my friends, is it. It’s the trifecta of dumb-ass. The Kobe experience is principally about the marbling, the even distribution of fat through lean. A hamburger is a bunch of lean beef thrown into a grinder with varying degrees of fat. If you are foolish enough to order a Kobe burger, you are entirely missing the point. Firstly, the fat will melt right out of the thing while cooking. Secondly, you are asking the chef to destroy the very textural notes for which Kobe is valued by smarter people. Thirdly, for an eight-ounce Kobe burger, you are paying for the chef to feed you all the outer fat and scrap bits he trimmed off the outside of his “real” Kobe so he can afford to serve properly trimmed steaks to wiser patrons who know what the hell they’re doing. And fourthly, you’re paying a hundred bucks for a freakin’ hamburger! Get over yourself! You’ve already established you’re too drunk and stupid to enjoy it in the first place.

- Anthony Bourdain 

But chances are the “Kobe burger” you’re ordering is an American wagyu burger. If it was a true Kobe burger, it wouldn’t cost $2-$5 more than a regular burger – it would cost a LOT more. And don’t get me wrong, good American wagyu steak is fantastic, but the concept behind American wagyu beef is similar to that of authentic Kobe beef; in other words, the same cooking and restaurant principles Bourdain mentions hold true for the American version. So when you order a “Kobe burger” you are missing the essence of what wagyu beef is.

In my experience, your basic American wagyu burger tends to sell for $15-$20, so it’s not like you’re not getting taken for your whole paycheck. But it is good to be aware that there’s not much discernable value in ordering a “Kobe burger” over a “regular burger”. Knowledge is power, ya?

1) Burgers are delicious. Wagyu beef is delicious. Despite the fact that you’re eating the scraps of higher quality beef, it still tastes good. It’s not like you’re wasting your money on stuff like this. I just don’t think the fact that it is wagyu beef makes it any better. Burgers are just good, in general.

Bottom line: If you order a Kobe beef burger, you’re probably getting played for a few bucks. Your meat is not from Kobe, it’s probably American wagyu beef, and this “better” beef is really not designed to be ground up and served as a burger. But wagyu or not, damnit, ground up meat tastes good, so if I’m at a place to try the burger, and all they offer is a “Kobe burger”, then fine, I’ll order it. You still have to have some skill to make a burger taste good, no matter the animal, or the way it’s raised. But if I have my choice between a “Kobe burger” or a regular one, I’ll almost certainly choose the cheaper option, which is always the regular burger.

/exhale + end treatise. Whoa, you’re still with us? Sweet!

As I was saying, I ordered the only burger on the menu, a “Kobe burger”, for $15. It came with Kennebec shoestring fries. I opted not to add cheese because I’m on a diet the combination of caramelized onions, calabria chilies, and housemade pickles seemed like a nice combo on their own. But yeah $15, this better be pretty good.

While sipping on my classy drink, Doug excused himself for a moment. I was impressed when our French waitress came over and folded his napkin. I really think that’s a nice touch, and she did the same for me, when I got up later in the meal. Really on all fronts, the service here was really top notch. Water glass was always full, bread was replenished, napkin folded, very attentive. Really augmented the experience, and our tip reflected that.

The presentation of the burger and fries (pictured at the top) was extremely inviting – not skimpy on the fries at all, and the burger as a whole had some nice color contrast, and was just asking to be eaten.

In terms of the “Kobe” aspect of the burger, the experience was how “Kobe burgers” usually go for me – it tastes a bit fattier and richer, which is a positive in my book, but not an essential, but there’s no real augmentation in flavor.

The mix of chilies and caramelized onions is a great combination. I’d never had calabria chilies before, so I didn’t know how spicy they were. I like heat, and to me, they were fairly mild (they weren’t seeded either, and they were roasted), but that semimild level of heat was a nice contrast for the burger. The pickles were a nice acidic note, too, though I admit I ate most of them by themselves.

The burger was cooked medium as I requested, which is always nice in a good, thick patty. I could’ve gone with a bit more seasoning, which is a common trap for “Kobe burgers”. The richness/fattiness doesn’t add the required salt a burger patty needs, but if you add salt to a piece of fatty meat, the salt is going to draw out more of that fat moisture. So I craved a bit more seasoning, but the burger was far from bland.

Bun was a bit bulky, but tasty. I actually found myself tearing off some of the edges and dipping them in aioli. Problem solved, more deliciousness attained.

All in all a very good burger, but you’re not walking out of here for under $20, so part of me expected perfection in a patty. A few little tweaks, and Campanula would have a winner on all counts.

Moving onto that wonderful looking mound on the left side of the plate. I have to be honest, I’m not usually a big fan of shoestring fries because most places don’t take the time to make them right. Some good knife work is required to cut potatoes “shoestring style” effectively. But when they’re cut consistently and fried to perfection, and ideally served in a generous portion, they’re as addicting as fries come. I’m inclined to say these are the best shoestring fries I’ve ever had. All of the above gets a check mark, plus a bit of deep fried parsley added in, and I could not stop eating these fries. Not to mention the aioli with which they were served was a nice addition.

Doug asked for some hot sauce when we got our food. Our waitress promptly returned with a ramekin of spicy aioli, a ramekin of a spicy vinegar sauce, and a ramekin of sriracha. Surprised a place like this has sriracha, but I was impressed that the other two sauces showed up. Great for fry dipping! All you have to do is ask! Another view of the meal, in case you’re too lazy to scroll up (but you can see the full portion of fries at the top picture. So huge.)

campanula top view

All in all, Campanula really takes care of its customers – we felt very welcomed and relaxed throughout the entire meal. On my way out, I realized, I could just take the extra dollars I spent for “Kobe beef” and pretend like I paid for extremely awesome service. Foodwise, they serve up a very good burger, and some insanely good fries. Might I recommend you stop in for a side of these fries with a well-made Manhattan during Happy Hour? Pretax, that’ll run you $9. Nice, I think I’ll do that sometime.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: B+

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): A (fantastic fries, memorable service+experience)

Keep on nomming!

Triple Rock

Triple Rock Brewery

When my turning-21 good friend said she wanted to celebrate at Triple Rock in Berkeley, I felt silly because I’d never heard of it! An alehouse on Shattuck I didn’t know? Dang, I must be slowing down.

But hey, there it is, right on Shattuck near Hearst. Looks like the kind of place that would have an hourlong wait on a weekend night. Fortunately we were here on a Tuesday night, so we managed to squish six people into a four person booth (at a packed house). The joys of being in your early 20s, right? And I’ve gotta say that after a long day of work in which I darn near sprained my left pinky toe, a burger and a beer was pretty much top on my list of things I could possibly want. Walking was definitely an issue, but eating would be no problem.

This is first and foremost a brewery, so I had to start with a beer. A general rule of thumb for me is that IPAs (or anything that’s really hoppy) pair really well with burgers. Why is this you ask?

IPAs (or India Pale Ales) are very hoppy beers (i.e. they have lots of hops in them) – I’d describe the hoppy taste in the same ballpark as bitterness. As a result, the intensity can be too much for some. Not for me though – I find that an IPA before a meal primes my palate for rich, salty foods. And once I am enjoying said gustatory indulgence, the beer helps keep a nice balance on my taste buds.

I was in luck – Triple Rock’s #1 seller is their IPAX. It delivered on all levels – I love citrus-y, hoppy beers. And sure enough, the more I sipped it, the more I was ready for a burger. So let’s move on to the meat of the matter.

In my experience, breweries tend to be extremely hit or miss on the grub side of business – their food is either great, or decidedly meh. So I approached the menu with guarded excitement. A couple choices stood out for me, but I was pretty easily won over by a great combo sported by The Mesa burger: pepper jack cheese, smoked bacon, and chipotle mayo. I was a little surprised that fries cost extra as a substitution for cole slaw – brought my meal total up to $11. Figure a burger and a beer, with tax and tip, will run you about $20.

Food was brought out quite quickly, which was nice, as I was ravished, and expected a looooooooong wait with the packed house.

My first reaction was that I was a bit thrown off by the state of the cheese. It didn’t seem to be all there, though upon further study, the bun just appeared to be hogging the cheese from the burger. OK…that’s all well and good, but it made evident that there wasn’t much bacon – just two thin strips – not enough to compliment a burger sporting bold flavors in a chipotle mayo and spicy cheese.

Before digging in, I opted to add some ketchup and the habanero hot sauce they provided us. Mixed together, they turned into a fiery Hell Ketchup. The chile masochist in me may have put a bit too much on, but not enough to upset the balance of the meal. A fun little twist on routine.

Ah, but enough is enough, Conrad, just eat your damn food already!

I wolfed it down in five minutes flat. It was definitely a spicy burger, no thanks to me. The meat was conservatively seasoned – the effort was there, although it probably could’ve used a bit more salt. This salt lack should’ve been made up for by the bacon, but my suspicions about insufficient bacon levels were confirmed – just not enough bites with that salty bacon kick. But when all of the flavors (including the bacon) came together in one mouthful, the vision was certainly there. The smokiness of the bacon brought out the meatiness of the burger, mixed with the creamy chipotle may (which had undertones of that deep chipotle spice), as well as the upfront bite of the jalapeno in the pepper jack, and my own Hell Ketchup. But at the same time, that was also frustrating – there was a lack of consistency. The confluence of flavors should show up in most, if not every bite – not just a few. That bugged me.

In the end, there was nothing really bad about the burger, but there was nothing very memorable about it either – good, not great. Could be improved with an extra slice of bacon, if you ask me. Which was evidence against my hit-or-miss theory with brewery food – it wasn’t really either (is that a miss? I don’t know? I certainly left thinking I enjoyed my meal!)

As far as the sides go, I’m glad I made the decision to upgrade to fries, but was a bit irked by the fact I had to upgrade to them. They were fine – served warm, seasoned correctly, and went nicely with the aforementioned Hell ketchup. They did their job.

The service was really on point at Triple Rock. Despite being filled to capacity, our waitress came by all the time, and even the manager was taking care of us with a smile. Then the waitress even bought the birthday girl a 21st birthday beer! This was about the time another dinner-goer gifted his 3/4 full pint of beer to me (side note train of thought: Pinnacle Pale Ale – very light, a bit watery, OK but wouldn’t get it again, good beer for the faint of heart.) Can’t say no to that! Made for a nice post-dinner stroll with the birthday girl!

I’d definitely come back here with a group of people – the beer is great, the food is more than passable, and I felt really welcomed by the staff on my first trip here. Probably won’t rock your food world, but it won’t disappoint for a fun evening out.

To finish, some food for thought: we sat underneath their gigantic “Lunch” sign (stole this picture from the interwebs). When I go to a brewery [during the day], I always think, hey, it’s 5:00 PM somewhere. But you know, it’s always lunch somewhere, too – no reason to be ashamed of a lunchtime brew.

 

Triple Rock lunch sign

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: B-

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): B

Keep on nomming!

Fenton's

Fenton’s Creamery

Some places rely on their reputation.

I’ll be honest upfront. Fenton’s is a fun, family friendly establishment that will make even the most well-behaved children giddy. I went there as a kid a few times – the food was good, the ice cream even better, and I certainly didn’t care how much it cost! So if you want a fun family evening out (translated: your kids will be happy), Fenton’s will fit the bill perfectly. But after going here as an adult, with other adults, I’m not in any rush to go back.

The biggest issue is that the food isn’t very good. But the quality of dishes served here will never increase because the restaurant is packed every night – and people are eating full meals, not just ice cream. There’s no reason to change what doesn’t seem broken. But how did Fenton’s get this way?

1) From all reports I’ve heard (+ my 11 year old memories), the ice cream is very good.

Well, this fact is a relief, since it is Fenton’s Creamery. And it is definitely a positive selling point for the restaurant.* And the Yelp reviews agree that the ice cream is what brings them back, so I’m relieved I’m not the only foodie in this boat.

2) They’ve been serving safe American food since dinosaurs walked the Earth  (OK, I lied, only since the turn of the 20th century).

No offense intended to my dad, who grew up five minutes from Piedmont Avenue in the 50s and 60s, but with how evolved [American] cuisine was in the mid-1900s, it wouldn’t surprise me if generic diner food was “cool”. But although American cuisine has come leaps and bounds in recent years, the vast majority of the population still seems to have very tame, basic food desires, and would prefer to go to a place that serves up safe American sandwiches and salads. I guess I was that way until I was 15 or so.

3) Fenton’s gained an additional boost after showing up in the 2009 Pixar film Up!

Well, if kids and families are essential to the success of a business, this cameo would certainly help. And I think it has.

I actually watched Up! as part of an undergraduate paper examining the influence of Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli on Pixar films, but I don’t think I watched the end credits, where Fenton’s shows up! Anyway, I have to admit, it does look inviting.

Fenton's Pixar

OK, well I think I’ve surpassed my hipster quota of making fun of the average American palate for this week. Let’s get onto the meat of the matter, shall we?

We never even determined why I decided to revisit this American tradition. I actually ended up at Fenton’s for the first time since 2001 or so with some friends after an evening of drinking at Kona Club up the street. Wasn’t feeling classy enough for Adesso (nor did I need another drink), so Fenton’s seemed like a safe (there’s that word again) choice. The benefit of showing up at midnight is that the families are all gone, so there’s no wait for a table.

I should have just ordered ice cream, loved it in the moment, and regretted it the next morning, but the nerd in me was really curious about how the burger would be. Fortunately my bff (best foodie friend) Emily wanted to share a burger! Perfect. Surprisingly, nobody got ice cream at our table, so I neglected to take any pictures of desserts…sorry for the abundance of text, and lack of pictures!

We opted for the California burger – avocado and jack cheese – a surefire combination. Annoyingly, they won’t serve anything below medium, which sent off red flags about how “medium” they’d even serve burgers. I can see, and understand, the thought process suggesting that because the heart of their business is kids, perhaps it’d be a good idea to keep mid-rare meat off the table, but I still feel bad for the patty – especially when they’re advertising grass-fed beef (Durham Ranch). The burger was in the vicinity of $10.50 + $2.00 (!) for a side of fries with the burger – I didn’t really think to remember the exact price at the time, but I expected something good for that price.

One friend shared his jalapeno poppers with the table. I was not a big fan of the breading – too heavy.

When our main courses arrived, the burger looked exactly like what I’d remembered from a decade prior. My first thought was that the toasted sesame seed bun looked extremely inviting.

To be honest, I didn’t expect the burger to be cooked correctly, and sure enough, it was approaching well done. Why even bother offering pink at all if you won’t serve my burger how I ask for it? Overcooking the soul out of a burger should be a crime – the burger loses its identity (and especially when you’re advertising good-quality, grass fed beef!) And to be honest, I’m glad I only had half a serving – it was boring, bland, dry, overcooked, and extremely forgettable. But hey, what unsuspecting kid is gonna know the difference, right?

The bun was actually quite nice, and the smeared bits of fresh avocado on the toasty bun are what I most remember about the meal.

And then there were the fries. Oh the poor fries. They were lukewarm at best. The portioning of the fries was also laughable, too. Of the four dishes served, there were four extremely distinct portion sizes of fries – one girl had 50% more fries than we did! Off putting, but not nearly as much as the fact that they were bordering on cold. But Emily didn’t mind, and they did have some radiating residual heat, so I made no fuss.

I thought the service was quite good – our food was served quickly and my water glass was always kept filled. Our waitress never seemed like she was fading, despite being after midnight – props to her, and she was tipped accordingly.

Yeah, I should’ve just gotten ice cream, but curiosity got the best of me. The food here is extremely average, and I don’t see any signs that it will change, even if it does last another 114 years. It represents much of what I see wrong with the role food plays in the diet of American kids, and it annoys me that they can charge such high prices to people who just don’t know any better. But last I checked, that’s a part of capitalism, so I’ll take out my dentures now and go back to my rocking chair for nap time. Oh and get your darn basketball off my newly mowed lawn you spoiled brats!

As far as future plans go, I’ll come try the ice cream sometime: it has to be really good, right?

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: C

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): C+

If you’re a kid, you can probably change the ratings to A-/A. Seriously, it’s a great place for kids.

Keep on nomming!

*Post Script: I actually came back to Fenton’s so that I could try the ice cream. That’s ultimately what they are known for, right? I left empty handed: $4.45 for a “petite scoop” of ice cream (I saw the size of a petite cup). You’ve got to be kidding me. I just walked out and bought a tub of low fat cookies ‘n cream ice cream at Safeway for $2.50.

I could get sorbet at Scream for $3, Ice Cream at Ici for $3.75, CREAM for whatever they sell for now ($2.50?), Tara’s for $3.25. I’m sure the ice cream is good (my friend of this review’s burger-sharing fame had a sundae there last week – she thought it was great until she found hair in it) – I just have no desire to be gouged just because the name is famous. So I’ll save my sampling of their ice cream for when I’m yet again buzzed on chichis at Kona up the street. Spending money is much easier when I’m extra happy, and I’d love to have a good opinion of their desserts. Also, the sundaes appear to be huge, so maybe I’ll opt for sharing one of those with a few people…

 

Brunchbox

Brunch Box

Every time I visit Portland, I have a laundry list of new and old restaurants + food trucks to visit. And trying a few new burger joints is always at the top of my list. I’d been seeing Brunch Box near the top of Yelp for awhile now, but I don’t spend much time in SW, so I’d never been. On this occasion we were en route to Beaverton via public transportation – all of a sudden Brunch Box was on the way – AND I was hungry! Good deal.

Brunch Box is located at Food Cart Alley – more than a whole block of food card stretching from SW Stark to SW Oak on 5th street. You could go to a different place for lunch every work day for at least a month. Brunch Box opens at 8 on weekdays because you’ll note they serve breakfast, too (but I don’t think they have a brunch menu *cue snare drum and crash cymbal*).

I was excited to try a grilled-cheese-cheeseburger, which from what I can tell started as a food cart thing. Basically you make two grilled cheese sandwiches, and then throw a cheeseburger in the middle. There is no possible way to make one of these burgers even remotely healthy, so kiss your diet good-bye, at least for one meal.

Don’t worry, not every burger is a grilled-cheese-cheeseburger, but Brunch Box is definitely about outrageous, crazy burgers. As a result, I’d normally have a tough time deciding what to get, but I figured for my first time, I’d try the YouCanHasCheeseburger ($6), and I think it’s a good option. And for all the food that is packed into these burgers, the prices are quite reasonable.

A bit confusing to order at first – you fill out a laminated menu with a dry erase marker, and then leave it sitting there. I came at 2:30 PM, very much off-peak hours, but I’m impressed if they can keep stuff in the right order, since there’s not necessarily someone standing at the front to see who is in line when. I foresee it being an issue, but people seem to love this place, so I guess they have it worked out.

The mystery of how to order solved, I got the burger, and then went to find my friend, who was going for food that was…a bit on the lighter side.

Being that it was 2:30 PM on a dreary Tuesday, there was not much of a line, so I got my burger quickly. Boy does it look delicious – creamy cheese enveloped in Texas toast. Then the glistening caramelized onions, and then the burger patty which has got to be so juicy to make this burger just right. I open my mouth to take a bite…

and…

and…

and…

OH GOD it delivers. Juice going everywhere…er wait is this description helping your appetite?

But yes, this is a well-seasoned, cooked-to-perfection beef patty (with more cheese melted atop the burger). It will make you forget all those times you were served a lifeless industrial frozen patty that was bland and dry. Every bite is packed with flavor, yet somehow the American cheese orgy in your mouth isn’t overpowering of the meat flavor. I imagine the grilled onions have something to do with that. Also, shockingly, four pieces of Texas toast isn’t a ratio-killer. I’d attribute this fact to the makings of Texas toast – soft and buttery bread soaks up all those wonderful juices, but is thick enough to keep the structure from collapsing into a soggy mess.

In the fairness of disclosure, the amount of cheese could cause the overall package to border on salty, so you might opt for a more modest offering if you don’t like salt that much. I, however, finished the burger quite quickly, as umami overload kept me from putting it down. As tasty as it was,  I find myself feeling like my arteries are clogging just thinking about this experience. So keep that in mind, or completely ignore it (might I recommend the latter option?)

Well, that concludes my meal at Brunch Box. Thanks for reading…hm, what? You’re imploring me: Conrad! where are the fries?! You ALWAYS get fries with your burger! Why not now!

Yes, that was the biggest question mark I felt having finished my first grilled cheese burger, too. You’re not alone. But I hate to break it to you: no fries here. No shakes either. 

Before continuing, I’d like to remind you that it’s not that my arteries didn’t feel sufficiently clogged, but rather I was quite surprised by the options offered instead of fries.

See, when I think Portland food truck, I don’t think of Lays potato chips and Coca Cola. Really, I’m craving those fresh-cut organic potatoes and local corn-syrup-free natural sodas. For $2 you can add a bag of chips and a soda (or water). But seriously, it can’t be that hard to throw a deep fryer in there. I want my fries! :(

But this got me thinking…what aspect of Brunch Box actually is Portland-y? No fries? Heck, my burger came with American cheese! I can’t remember the last time I’ve had American cheese. I couldn’t shake the notion that someone picked up Brunch Box out of LA or Austin or any southern foodie haven and just dropped it in Portland to see if it would cause a hipster riot. Maybe hipsters think American cheese is offbeat and therefore cool? Dang now my head is spinning…

I’m not at all saying there’s anything wrong with not screaming OMGPORTLAND just because you’re located there, but I thought it was an interesting departure from the way things are done in a very proud city with such a vibrant food culture. Especially when so much of the food scene is so hipster, too.

And as I mentioned above, Brunch Box is in a cart pod of 20 or so trucks, so it’s not like you can’t walk five feet and challenge yourself to get a different side. Seriously, if you get a bag of chips and soda with your Brunch Box burger, with all the options on Food Cart Alley, you need to get yourself checked out. You can schedule it with your blood pressure test after you become addicted to the wonderful specimen that is the YouCanHasCheeseburger.

‘Nuff said. Writing this has made me quite hungry. I need to eat lunch, now.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: A-

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): B 

Keep on nomming!

Note: Apparently Brunchbox is opening a restaurant soon, according to the online menu. I’ll bet you a Redonkadonk burger that they serve fries.


LBB fries

Little Big Burger

There are two obvious interpretations of the name:

1) Little or Big burger – your choice.

2) Little burger, Big flavor.

When I saw one was opening near my best friend’s house on SE Division Street, I knew a trip there was in my future. My interpretation, without seeing the menu, was 1), but after said friend made a trek there, he confirmed that the intent is 2). There’s an LBB in all 5 quadrants of Portland proper, so you shouldn’t have to go to far, wherever you’re located.

Once I finally saw the sprawling menu (you can see it on the homepage), it seemed like LBB was channeling it’s inner In-n-Out – keep it simple and straightforward. Fine by me, so long as the burger is good! I actually didn’t mind at this particular moment that the burger wouldn’t be huge – it was already pushing 2:30 PM, and I had plans to cook dinner on this particular evening.

I ordered a cheeseburger ($3.75) with chevre, and an order of fries ($2.75). Note there are milkshakes here, but there is a root beer float, as well as a good [canned/bottled] beer selection that’s not mentioned on the online menu.

Unsurprisingly, this is an order-at-the-counter establishment, so we ordered, then sat ourselves at one of the few tables inside. You’ll notice LBB is a decent takeout option.

When I went up to the counter to get my burger, the first thought I had was, yes, it’s little. If I didn’t know what to expect, yeah, I might’ve felt a little let down. But really, it’s just my mind playing a trick on me. A 1/4 lb. burger isn’t all that uncommon – it’s just usually served as a thin patty to cover more surface area. But that often makes for a flimsy dry patty (think typical fast food – those are usually flimsy 1/4 lb. patties). So the way LBB serves the burger, you’re going to get less “bites” (but they’ll be much higher quality, if the patty is cooked correctly).

And boy am I happy to say, the burger was cooked to perfection. Juice oozed out with every bite, and any letdown I felt was immediately replaced with umami. And the x-factor of this burger must not be left out, either. The chevre was a neat twist – not only did it add a nice creaminess, it also mixed really well with the burger as a whole, and gave the burger a bit more depth than your standard cheddar or jack cheese.

The compactness of the burger also forced me to take smaller bites, which led to me eating slower (and savoring each bite more), which led to me feeling fuller – really not a bad thing at all. The “little” burger served here is actually a great idea; however, I think the business just needs to make their product a bit more known to passersby, so that there isn’t that confusion of “wait, that’s it?” Our brains are powerful entities!

That said, I don’t see why the option of a double cheeseburger isn’t on the menu – doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request. But honestly, if you’re OK with getting a double cheeseburger, what’s a few more carbs in that second bun? :)

And just so we’re clear:

LBB patty = 1/4 lb.

In-n-Out Double-double (2 patties) = 1/4 lb.

LBB fries

 

I’m not so sure about the fries ($2.75). It may have just been my experience, but something tasted a little bit off. The fries are served with one of the era’s most polarizing ingredients – truffle oil. I’m not a huge proponent of truffle oil (a bias which may have something to do with my enjoyment of Anthony Bourdain’s writings + No Reservations (see Croatia episode) – he hates it); to me it’s fine, but I don’t really see why it’s a necessary addition to food. My preferred encounter with truffle oil is as a component of a truffle mayo or aioli…

But yes, the fries, something was awry here. I’m not sure if the frying oil was burnt, or if the fries were just overcooked, but something was a bit off – a bit disconcerting. Unfortunately, that wasn’t it; rather, another battle was taking place. The truffle oil and the house ketchup (Camden’s Catsup), didn’t mix well on the palate. The strong, earthy truffle taste was fighting the bold spices in the ketchup, and the result just amplified that burnt sensation, and I eventually just finished the fries without ketchup, and then just ate some of the ketchup. There’s the start of something good here, but the flaws stood out to me, here. That said, the portion size is huge, so you’re probably pretty safe splitting an order of fries, especially if you’re not sure about going for a second burger (you can haz, and you should haz more cheezburger, in case you were wondering). Cost of two cheeseburgers (yes, that’s half a pound) and half an order of fries? Under $9.

As a side note, Camden’s Catsup is really good – spicy, and not overly sweet – definitely a far cry from your standard Heinz Ketchup. But the flavors are really bold, so you don’t need too much of it for the full effect. And as I just mentioned above, it perhaps doesn’t mix as straightforwardly with other flavor combinations as does generic ketchup.

Even as we were headed out the door, I strongly toyed with the idea of getting another burger for the road, but it was a late lunch (almost 3PM at this point), and I figured I’d enjoy my satisfied-but-not-overfull state of being.

My main advice would just be to know what the restaurant name means ahead of time, and you won’t feel “let down” by what you’re served. That’s all mental – if you get past that, you’re going to find a really juicy, flavorful burger. The name Little Big Burger is definitely true – it’s a little burger with big flavor. I just wish they’d make that connotation a bit more obvious to those not in the know.

Will definitely go back, even if for a afternoon snack!

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: B+

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): B

Keep on nomming!

 

 

Lardo

Lardo

To be quite honest, I’m not sure if I should expect a restaurant paying homage to the delicious pig to cook a delicious burger. On one hand, meat is meat, but on the other hand, there are so many things you can do at a pork-themed restaurant before you make a beef burger (not that I am complaining, mind you).

The short answer is that hands down, Lardo makes one of the best burgers this side of anywhere and everywhere. I came upon a recommendation of Lardo from a good buddy in the Bay Area, who was in town early for the same event as me. He just so happened to be walking on the same side of SE Hawthorne at the exact same time as us – complete coincidence. He’d just eaten at Lardo, said the burger was amazing, and that we should definitely try it. We were headed to Cartopia, but burger you say? OK, Lardo it is. I returned a second time that trip, and two more times on my next trip. Half the reason I love Portland is for the food, so if there’s a place I’m going to twice in one trip, you can rest assured there is something at said eatery with which I am simply in love.

So let’s meet my object of affection: the Lardo Double Burger. Two patties stacked with Oregon cheddar, Lardo sauce and a thick slice of, that’s right, pork belly ($8). The burger is definitely not for the faint of heart, as it oozes two types of meat juice in every bite. It’s definitely an umami overload, so be prepared for some serious richness. The Lardo sauce is another rich element, but it has a bit of a kick which has a net cutting-down effect to the dish as a whole.

This delicacy is held together by a fantastic fresh bun which somehow manages to absorb all the juice without becoming soggy. The bun top is pretty big, but the bread is so light that the portioning is pretty much right on. Lest you think the burger is a work of perfect architecture, it is held together with a mini wooden steak garnished with a slice of pickle.

But the best part is when you take that first bite. It’s always a good sign when I bite into a big burger and all these wonderful juices flow into my mouth, onto my plate for fry-dipping, and quite possibly onto my clothes, as well. Maybe I’m getting that extra bit of melting sensation from a thick slice of cheese. But what’s this extra juicy, melty, salty thing sending my taste buds over the savory edge?  Why, that’s the humble pork belly – until not so long ago one of the most underrated ingredients…ever. Because the pork belly, when correctly cooked (as it is at Lardo), will melt in your mouth, it offers a more sublime burgering experience than its extremely close relative of bacon. Pork belly just sings umami, and add it to this burger, and you’ve got umami overload. And you just might get some crispy bits too, which add for a nice change of pace while you’re chowing down.

Another neat thing about this burger, is that despite all the different elements going on here, the size is not too big, and not too small, and everything really works in perfect harmony…if you’re down with very rich flavors. But I think you get the point about the richness by now. As a side note, I didn’t realize that “double burger” actually referred to two patties – I thought it was patty + belly. Which just goes to show you the soundness of architecture this burger boasts – both patties balance nicely!

And don’t you DARE forget the fries. Naturally, the Lardo fries ($4) are fried in, well, do I even need to make you salivate any more? Not only that, but they’re topped with parmesan and deep-fried rosemary. Deep frying fresh herbs is one of the best little cooking secrets around, in my opinion, as it makes stringy herbs crunchy and very edible without taking away their namesake qualities.

Deep fried rosemary on fries? Puts them over the top as some of the best fries out there. There’s also an amped up version, the Dirty Fries ($6), which also have pork scraps. I should try those one day…

One small gripe I have is that there’s no small portion of fries. If you’re coming here by yourself, you’re kinda stuck getting the one size, and it could be a little much with your main dish. My thinking is that it would be convenient to have an “add fries” option. Given the portion size, though, I have no complaints about the price, and also, just come with a friend: a burger + splitting an order of fries is only $10 + tip. Seriously, this sizing is my only slight complaint, if you can even call it that.

There’s also a good selection of beers and barleywines, and I’m pretty tempted by the mimosas by the pint. Yeah, I had to read that a couple times myself, too.

There isn’t much seating inside, unless you want to wait for a few minutes (Lardo is order-at-the-counter, so waiting for a table a few minutes works fine), but come in the warmer months and there are tons of tables set up outside for slow-paced gatherings, and in the winter, the same tables are covered from the elements with easy access to the restaurants interior.

As an aside, on my various trips here, my friends have eaten most of the menu, and while there hasn’t been a miss yet, the burger has yet to receive less than three thumbs up. So if you aren’t looking to clog your arteries, why are you coming here you’ll probably find something else a bit less intense to suite your pork fantasies. I’m not sure if I’ll ever try anything else beyond a taste of a friend’s because, well, read above. There’s also a milkshake food truck associated with Lardo, if you desire some sweet with/after your meal.

But yeah, who am I kidding, this is one of my favorite burgers out there. I literally have not a single complaint with it, and the accoutrements simply elevate it to an umami-nirvanic heaven.

It is one of the most flavorful burgers I have ever had. I can give it no other rating.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: A+

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): A

Keep on nomming!

 

Burger Joint

Burger Joint

I should’ve posted some of these reviews months ago, but I’ve been lazy. So in my attempt to blog more about food in 2013, I will throw in some older unposted entries from 2012. More burger love (or hate) for all.

Admittedly, I hadn’t done my research ahead of time. My friend and I were looking for a place to watch Game 3 of the 2012 World Series (which took place in Detroit). Headed to a party later in the evening, we didn’t particularly need to eat at a pub either. I’d heard of this place before, so when I saw open seats at a burger joint (literally, a Burger Joint), with the game just getting underway, I made the suggestion, and in we went.

Burger Joint is an order-at-the-counter establishment, so I was excited to see there was no line to grab a burger (unlike every other TV-sporting restaurant on King St).

The menu seemed pretty generic at first glance, though I appreciated the fact they serve some microbrews (I did not think to catch what was offered at the time – again, I was preparing my liver for some seriously Halloween partying later that evening).

I opted for a cheeseburger with pepper jack and fries. $9.45 before tax…OK, seems fair…especially because they’re quick on advertising Niman Ranch beef on family-owned, sustainable farms. This should be good, right?

Now it’s rare that I don’t Yelp a place before going to it, but this night called for a TV and a place to sit quickly. After we were seated I Yelped the place and my heart skipped a beat. But so as not to bias myself any further, I read no reviews…

As we were waiting for our food, I noticed that nobody was getting kicked out after they’d finished their meal to make way for other hungry baseball fans. I thought it was cool they didn’t rush people, but then I realized…hey, there’s nobody waiting for tables. Why does every other restaurant on King Street [with a TV] have a line out the door? At this point my expectations were not what they’d been when I had the idea to eat here.

Our food was served reasonably quickly. Sadly, I’ve eaten enough burgers that I knew approximately what this one was going to taste like without even taking a bite. I know an underseasoned thin diner patty when I see one. It was much smaller than I expected, and brought the word “flaccid” to mind. It was quite bland – I had to use a lot of hot sauce to make up for the lack of beef flavor. That’s a little trick I do with bland burgers (blandness is not a prereq, but use caution with a tasty-as-is burger): load them up with hot sauce, and you get this combination of spicy and fatty that’s overloads your taste buds. Goes GREAT with a hoppy beer.

In short, the meal was oddly identical to extremely average roadside diner food you’d find off an Interstate in anywhere, USA. A very clean diner, with friendly service, and Giants games on the TV.

But hey hold on, brain, I wasn’t done ranting about my dinner yet. This isn’t a one paragraph Yelp review – I was just about to give a little lecture on burger-making 101.

Let’s go B^4ck to Basics:

If you’re going to make a burger patty, add some salt. Salt is your friend. I promise. A little bit of salt won’t make your dish too…salty (what’s a good synonym for salty? NaCL-y?). Rather, a bit of salt will enhance the flavors of a dish – in this case, it will accentuate the meatiness and richness of your burger patty. And don’t forget salt’s bff pepper is a nice compliment, too…

So at this point you’ve probably figured out this isn’t a terribly positive review. Well, you’re right. But what exactly was holding this burger back from greatness?

The prognosis: FPS (Frozen Patty Syndrome) -

- Underseasoned patty

- Perfectly flat and unusually symmetrical patty

- Lack of char and loose edges – the lack of these welcomed imperfections set off the flat/symmetrical observations, and then the alarm bells go off.

- Lack of texture – there’s no interplay between fatty, melt-in-your-mouth divinity and lean meat heartiness. Instead, it’s reminiscent of an untextured flattened blob.

But even a prefrozen patty tastes better with some salt added on top. Seriously, it’s that basic.

And if these actually are fresh patties, which one would think they are, then I’m at a loss for words – I’ve had Niman Ranch beef hundreds of times, and it has NEVER been this tasteless and textureless. I don’t think Niman Ranch was having an off day. Frozen or not, something’s gotta change…

At this point I think you get the idea about the burger. So onto the fries.

You’ll note that there is a huge white space on the plate. I’ll take some responsibility in admitting that I had some fries before I remembered to take a picture; that said, you’re looking at a good 3/4 of the fries right there, so form your own opinion while I tell you mine: at least the fries had been salted. My suspicion is that they are prefrozen too, but I don’t feel quite as strongly about this fact (and you can usually get away with passable prefrozen fries, anyway).

I read some Yelp reviews after dinner, too. Yeah…whoops. But hey, we got edible food and a good seat to watch the entire Giants game on TV, and never felt pressured to leave. So there’s that.

And in the end, the Giants shut out the Tigers in game 3 (WS champs again!!!!). There was then an amazing Halloween party full of debauchery which isn’t really relevant to this blog, so the verdict: on this Saturday night, everything except dinner rocked.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: C

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): C+

Keep on nomming!

Side note: The initials bj in lower case letters really never ever work. Everybody has a 12 year old inside of them; everyone, except the owners of Burger Joint, apparently.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

I’ll begin with the moral of the story: always look for those secret gems!

So everybody knows Ruth’s Chris Steak House. It’s a chain Steak House, not known for it’s presentation, but known for its tasty, though quite expensive, steak. My friend Patrick and I had actually been for steak just weeks before, having bought some coupon online to get $75 for just $50. The steak was delicious, duh, but we’re here to talk about the burger.

Well, let’s do a little tangent, first, and amuse bouche of sorts. A lot of people have asked, why is the name “Ruth‘s Chris”? From my understanding, there was a place called Chris Steak House, and a lady named Ruth bought it. She decided to keep the Chris name there, due to the previous popularity of the restaurant, and hence the somewhat ridiculous name. Ah but yes, the burger.

So Ruth’s Chris has an extensive bar, like many high-end restaurants. And like the steak, the drinks aren’t cheap. But on the back page of the extensive drinks list, there is a small bar food menu, not advertised, and quite easily overlooked. There’s a steak sandwich, onion rings, and, wouldn’t you know it, a burger!

I actually found out about this menu from my cousin, who frequents the establishment for this secret burger. When she told me that it costs just $10, I relayed this information quickly to my friend Patrick, and we now had a great use for the remaining balance on our gift card! Score!

We were seated in the bar in view of the SF Giants game (always a plus), and were even served the warm bread we’d normally be served ordering steak! Sure enough, for $10, there was a burger, with fries, on the bar menu. I had extremely high hopes, since I figure RC uses pretty good quality meat, right?

We also ordered sparkling lemonade. I was shocked to learn that this clearly house-made beverage comes with unlimited refills. This is almost too good to be true. But would the burger hold up?

Let me tell you, the burger was delightful. A gigantic patty, cooked with the same precision, to the same precise doneness as one would expect a $40+ steak. And to be honest, at Ruth’s Chris, I’d expect no less. And the burger just keeps going. It’s every bit of 8 oz. of melt-in-your-mouth burger. I made it through half, and already felt full, but then I came to my gustatory sense[s], and promptly wolfed down the rest of it. I’m going to guess it’s closer to 25/75 fat/lean than the standard 20/80, so expect to go all out if you’re eating this dinner. But bite after bite, the patty just keeps melting in your mouth, and you just remain in burger nirvana. And if/when you finally finish it (I won’t judge you if there’s some left!), you’re ready to sit back in your comfy booth, and bask in the post-burger glow.

The fries were plentiful, and nicely seasoned (yeah I had a few before this picture was taken). A nice bonus, considering the price.

This is one of those times where I almost want to keep this seemingly well-kept secret for myself, but ultimately I must do my sworn duty as a food blogger, and spill the beans…er…beef. So I hope you’ll take my advice and try this super deal out for yourself. With the sparkling lemonade, tax, and tip, we each spent about $18. But for $10 pretax, this burger is a steal.

And I shouldn’t neglect to mention the service. Since Ruth’s Chris is branded as a fine-dining restaurant, the service has to match up. Sometimes this rule isn’t as apparent in the bar area, but in this case, we were treated to top-notch service. Never had to ask for anything refilled, food was served promptly, and we weren’t rushed out when we opted to have another lemonade and watch a bit of the baseball game, having some time to kill before a movie across the street.

While I highly recommend you come here for steak, I even more highly recommend you head for the bar, and try the Ruth’s Chris burger. In my top 5 best burgers, as of mid-2012, for sure.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: A

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): A

Update as of October 2012:

We returned to Ruth’s Chris for another burger, and learned that additions of cheese, bacon, grilled onions and grilled mushrooms are completely free. Highway robbery, I tell you.

Image

Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers

I was bumbling around SF and the Peninsula one day after watching an exciting Giant’s game at Phone Company Park. After picking up some people in Millbrae, a motion was set in favor of eating dinner. Oddly enough I wasn’t that hungry, so I was not vocal about where we’d go. But as fate would have it, everyone else decided on burgers! They in fact chose Pearl’s, which happened to be near the top of the list of Bay Area burger joints to try. So color me hungry – sure I’ll have a burger!

I was feeling a bit adventurous, so when I saw the Spicy Sly burger with a pumpkin habanero sauce? Yes, please! Opted to mooch a few fries and sip of milkshake off a friend.

There’s not much room to eat at this Pearl’s – it’s a small restaurant, and you should be prepared to wait. We actually lucked out and found room for the 6 of us – perhaps we were on the early side for dinner in urban San Francisco (about 6:30 PM). The place is clean enough, and it’s on a nice enough street, so I’d be fine coming here after dark.

I knew I was in for a serious burger when it was served. Literally, sauteed onions and peppers falling all around a juicy burger, and nice firm bun (Acme, I believe). It reminded me a lot of a Philly Cheese Steak, especially with the consistency of the melted cheese smothered all over the burger.

But what I got, in fact, as I bit into this serious meal, was a big kick in the mouth. The habanero sauce was very vinegary, reminiscent of a Texas-style BBQ sauce, except with the addition of a substantial amount of habanero. Mind you, I am certainly not a spice wimp; rather, I am more than willing to endure a post-pepper temporary numbness in my mouth for the sake of deliciousness. And by the time this big boy was done, my mouth was pretty much numb. And the sauce, let me tell you, was really, really good.

But how was the burger as a whole, you ask? What, you mean cheeseburgers aren’t made out of peppers?

So my honest opinion is that there was too much sauce on the burger. As time went on, everything got a bit soggy, as it became soaked in this spicy sauce. Couple that with the abundance peppers and onions which already contain liquid of their own, and you start to run into a problem. My burger definitely got soggy. Also, because the sauce IS so potent, a smaller amount of sauce would create a much nicer harmony of flavors. All the ingredients are made for each other – chili sauce, peppers, onions, jack cheese, burger patty, sesame seed bun. But balance is key when you’re combining salty, spicy, and sweet.

The problem is that because the sauce was so overwhelming, it’s hard to talk about the nuances of the rest of the burger. I can say that the meat was definitely juicy, but the seasoning of the beef was lost, so I don’t really know if the proper seasoning was used (Yelp reviews would suggest it is). Also, there were so many peppers and onions, that their texture took over the melt-in-your-mouth feeling of a great burger patty. The once-crispy bun quickly became a bit soggy as well, so more texture was lost.

So overall, plenty of flavor, but a bit lacking in execution. Judging by the intensity of the sauce, I’m guessing this is the hardest balance to get right of all the burgers on the menu. I can look past the flaws in execution if the flavor is there, but next time, I’d really prefer a tidier burger – a reasonable portion of sauteed veggies, and less spicy sauce, and you’d have a home run, here.

As I noted above, I only tried a few fries, and an onion ring, and I was satisfied with them. The fries were thick and soaked up lots of habanero sauce, and the onion rings passed the homemade test. Success!

I tried a sip of milkshake (Oreo Cookies n’ Cream), and it was very good. I probably wouldn’t get a milkshake if I was having a burger with sweet toppings, but with the right burger goes the right milk shake! My friends recommended the Nutella milkshake, for what it’s worth.

I feel like I’ve been fairly harsh on Pearl’s. Everything was really good – the ingredients are there, the talent is there, and the price is right – everything was very tasty – but in this case the subtlety and balance was off.

I would come back to Pearl’s again, but maybe opt for something a little more…shall we say…standard.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: B+

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): B+

Keep on nomming!