Posts Tagged ‘Local’


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.

Evie's

Evie’s Hamburgers

This entry is being posted a bit on the late side, trying to get the archives unloaded here!

The Northgate area of Walnut Creek isn’t usually a destination for people who live outside the area. The only reason I ended up at Evie’s was that my dad and I were early for a home inspection, and I’d noticed this place online before.

Evie’s screams rural roadside drive-in. Put this place in any small town in Texas or the midwest, and it’d be the go-to hangout. Not that Northgate is by any means the “old” Walnut Creek, but given the never-ending makeover of downtown, the east side of town has begun to feel…older. In a sense, Evie’s fits better here. (Note that Evie’s itself is a restaurant in a generic plaza, there’s no drive in or anything – it’s just the emotion that was evoked once I was inside).

So I’ll have to invite you to picture what the inside of Evie’s looks like, as I didn’t want to be too foodie crazy during a work lunch. But suffice to say it’s a fairly typical diner, with big old menus behind the order-at-the front cash register. The first thing you really notice is the price. On a budget? Hamburger and fries is $4.60. Feeling splurgy? A large order of fries and double cheeseburger will run you…$6.80. In this particular case, I opted for a double hamburger with a small side of fries, for $5.60.

When I visited Evie’s the burger meat was listed as “Kobe beef patties”. You can find my analysis of the “Kobe beef burger” scam here. I’m happy to see that since I ate here, the menu now lists the meat as “our special blend of select beef.” I don’t know what that means, but you’re not getting overcharged here, so I don’t really care (as long as the burger tastes good!)

Food came pretty quickly, about as I expected for a half-full burger place around 1 PM on a weekday.

My first impressions of my meal were what evoked the images of the roadside joint – simple food served in the red-striped boats. Thin broiled patties with sesame seed buns and thick golden fries. Brought back memories of a roadside place near my home in Connecticut in the 90s.

So with all this nostalgia, how good was the actual burger?

My double hamburger had its ups and downs. In hindsight I wish I’d ordered a double cheeseburger, due to the cooking of the patties.

Often, people will press the spatula down on the burger patty while it’s on the grill to cook it faster. The problem with this practice, especially with thin patties, is that all the good stuff is getting pushed out of the burger, and you’re left with a dry, overcooked flimsy thing. Unfortunately, that’s a NEGATIVE memory I associate with roadside drive-ins, so my nostalgia was augmented in this regard. The patties were definitely thin. They had that nice charbroiled taste on the outside, but the inside was pretty clearly overcooked, and quite dry. I can’t help but think a spatula was pushing them up against the grill for too long.

As a result, the burger was quite bland – the nice char on the outside just couldn’t compensate for the grey interior. Unfortunate, really. Some cheese would definitely have mitigated the dryness and blandness, but ultimately I’d just prefer a properly cooked burger. If the patties were cooked properly, with some cheddar cheese melted over them, I could see a huge improvement in my opinion, since I’m a sucker for a bargain, and the prices here are second to nothing but In-n-Out.

Sizewise, I have a big appetite, so the second patty is a must in my book, as a Big One isn’t really very big. A Double Big One, however, is a good size, and I recommend the double side of cheese added to it. You can see for yourself in the above picture that the portions aren’t very big; that said, they’re more than fair for the price.

Not too much to say about the fries. They’re pretty standard thick cut fries. If I had my guess, I’d say they’re frozen, but you can escape with that if they’re fried well. They were fried well, but were quite lacking in salt. Yeah, big deal, so I salted them on my own at the table, but shakin’ them up in a silver bowl with some salt really would’ve elevated all that soft potato inside the fried outside, since they pretty clearly understand how to fry potatoes to perfection!

There’s not much in the way of service, since you order at the counter, and the only real interaction after that is the serving of your food in those iconic red striped boats, but I get the feeling that Evie’s is a family affair, and the staff seemed to enjoy what they were doing.

It was a quick lunch, but I like what Evie’s represents, and I think there’s some potential here. It seems like they have a pretty loyal following, and for people who do live out in the back of Walnut Creek, this is one of a couple good restaurants nearby. I don’t think I’d come back again unless I’m in the area, but if you’re feeling nostalgic for simpler times, I’d definitely recommend Evie’s to you.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: C+

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

Keep on nomming!

Moraga Country Club Restaurant

There’s a bit of a story behind what I consider to be, hands down, the best burger in Contra Costa County.

So my first job was a busboy position at Moraga Country Club, a place I spent much of my childhood playing tennis, and hanging out by the pool. I worked there from September 2004-December 2005. Without a doubt, the best part of every shift was looking forward to a delicious cheeseburger at the end of every shift.

Last year, MCC tore down the clubhouse, and built a big, new, fancier one. MCC is by far the most casual, and least snooty of the Contra Costa Country Clubs, even with the recent revamping. But while everything else was updated, would the burger stay the same? Or would another part of my childhood be lost in oblivion? 

In short, it has changed, but it still retains much of what makes it so good.

The MCC burger and fries rings in at 11 bucks. But you’re getting what you pay for in the relaxed environment. Obviously I have a soft spot for my former place of employment, but who doesn’t want to relax with a beer and a burger with some brand new plasmas in a bright brand new lounge?

Anyway the burger itself is a 1/2 pound extremely juicy patty, with your choice of cheese (cheddar, swiss, bleu, or brie), alongside pickled red onions, butter lettuce, served on some sort of egg bun . My inner fatty has embraced this new choice of brie, and so that’s the choice I’ll be writing about.

I thought I’d be sad that the burger no longer comes with bacon, but the patty is so juicy and flavorful to begin with, that coupled with the richness of the brie, you realize that you’re not much missing the bacon. Sometime I’ll try adding bacon, to see if it is in fact overkill.

The pickled onions serve to cut down on the richness a bit, and add a unique flavor to each bite. I also really enjoy butter lettuce because I think it actually has a bit of a taste that stands up to meat.

The flavor combination of this burger gives it a refined quality. That said, if I was describing the experience in one word, I’d have to use: rich.

MCC brought back the shoestring fries, as opposed to the delicious ones I used to fondly sneak during busy dinner services. These ones are average, in my opinion, but they give you plenty of them, so you can always grab about seven at a time and not make a major dent in your fry stash.

There’s also a full bar with some classic choices on tap (Blue Moon on tap is a must in my book). As I mentioned before, it’s a relaxed environment, so even when you’re done, there’s no pressure to get up and go. And I vouch for the bartenders, who were employees even when I was working there, for doing a solid job. But there is a bit of dress code – that shirt better have a collar! 🙂

The MCC burger is probably my second most eaten burger (after Nations), and I’m relieved that it has survived the reopening.

As a side note, the MCC Restaurant is open to members only. Fortunately, members can bring guests, so if you’re in major need to try the best burger in the county, you know who to call on!

The Last Bite: 

Burger Rating: A

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

Keep on nomming!

Rico’s Diner

My friend Pete invited me to check this place out back in October, but we couldn’t make it work until now. His claim was that Rico’s is better than my favorite burger place (which he quite enjoys, too) – Val’s. Why haven’t I written about Val’s yet? I couldn’t tell you. But this entry is about Rico’s Diner.

Rico’s is located in Downtown Oakland, fairly close to Lake Merritt. It’s a little diner amongst a bunch of tall buildings. Kinda cool actually.

I let the expert tell me what to do. In this case, it ended up being a cheeseburger, fries, and a peanut butter milkshake. Burger and fries is $8, milkshake is $4.25. $8 is a price I can deal with. But spoiler alert, the peanut butter milkshake is one of the absolute best tasting concoctions I’ve ever had.

Being the cheapo that I am, I was concerned when a milkshake was served to me with no refill tin for over four bucks. Internally I was thinking, this better be good. But I knew Pete wouldn’t let me down. And, I had a sip. It was a creamy fresh rich peanut buttery feeling in my mouth that I never wanted to end. Perfect texture, too – no spoon required, yet it felt nice and thick. Yeah, yeah, that’s what she said, I get it.

So naturally, you finish the shake pretty quickly. But it’s rich enough where you realize that the portion size is right. The key, as Pete says, is not to drink it too fast, and save some for when your burger comes. Which I kinda succeeded at.

So, now for the actual meal.

While it’s clear the the shake stole the show, I still enjoyed a very good lunch. My first note, unfortunately, was that the burger was well past the medium I had requested. It still had a lot of good taste, but was lacking a the juiciness factor that makes the best burgers the best. If it was at medium, I don’t think it would have had this issue.

Now, the burger was served on a good bun, and Pete confirmed afterwards that it was in fact an Acme bun. Auto bonus points for nice buns, am I right?

I have to make this review based on the burger I was served, but I bet next time if it’s cooked correctly, I’ll be singing a more positive tune.

To finish off the meal, the fries were good, but probably the least memorable part f the meal (pardon me while I daydream about the milkshake some more). May get garlic fries next time.

I think Rico’s has an additional vegan menu or something, but in case you missed the memo, this blog does not cater to herbivores. Though I’m sure my good friend Jesse would be thrilled to learn that there is a vegan pulled pork sandwich made with seitan. And when I say thrilled, I mean he’d be frightened.

I definitely want to come here again, and suspect I’ll meet Pete for lunch again not too far in the future. Will ask for the burger to be rarer next time, and I bet I’ll walk away even more satisfied.

All in all it’s a cool joint, and I recommend it to anybody who is searching for that perfect unpretentious milkshake. Seriously. It was so good.

The Last Bite: 

Burger Rating: B (will be moved up if cooked right next time – stay tuned)

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

Keep on nomming!


Bongo Burger

For fear of this blog looking dead, since I make the post date based on the (approximate) date I ate there, I’m gonna start from the present and work backwards as best I can.

After Berkeley Scrabble Club meeting on Wednesday, Noah, Kenji and I were all hungry. We walked around for awhile and finally settled on Bongo Burger, a place Noah had eaten once before. We ended up at the Dwight store, one of three Bongo Burger locations (all in Berkeley).

The restaurant has the typical Berkeley vibe, so I was expecting some good food. I was a bit confused by the prevelance of Mediterranean food, though. We were here for beef, though, and each ordered a burger and split a side of fries and onion rings. A burger, fries, and small drink combo runs about $8.

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the burger was that the patty was incredibly thin. As such, it was quite overdone. My first bite yielded a nice flavor, but I soon realized that said flavor was actually coming from the bun. Really, it was a nice sesame seed bun, a cut above your typical burger bun. But the bun was large, and the patty was so incredibly thin, so all I really got was bun and ketchup.

It seems like an obvious suggestion to make the patties thicker so that they are juicier and not overcooked. Then, use a smaller bun to compensate for the decreased circumference. I feel like this isn’t rocket science.

By the end of the meal, I had a eureka moment in which I realized the burger was a lot like a Burger King burger, except on a much nicer bun.

While Kenji was trying to determine whether or not the meat was prefrozen, he found a large piece of cartilage in his burger. I can’t remember the last time that’s happened, and its a sure sign that the patties weren’t fresh.

The fries tasted a bit like burnt oil, but they were still pretty good and definitely had potential.

The highlight of the meal was definitely the onion rings. They were straight up delicious, and this evaluation was unanimous.

All in all it was pretty disappointing, but with a few simple changes, this place could improve drastically.

Afterwards, we had the real food highlight of the evening, CREAM.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: C-

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): C+ (1/3 letter grade for bun and rings)

Keep on nomming!

Hungry Burger

I didn’t do too much research before my trip to Asia. I really just wanted to play as much of it by ear as I could. But ultimately, I couldn’t help but add one stop to my list when I learned that there was a burger food cart in downtown Vientiane. I mean seriously, how could I NOT try it?

The excitement level was high as trip went on, but I began to discover that the beef quality in Southeast Asia is very poor. As the stop in Vientiane was in the last week of my five week journey across the world, I knew what to expect quality-wise.

So after wat-hopping around the scorching hot city for a few hours, we found Hungry Burger on a random street corner. I think my friends Jesse and Gabe thought I was a little bit nuts (they’re right), but I ran right up and looked at the menu.

I’ll let you decide for yourself, but Hungry Burger is like straight out of Portland. The menu is all in English, so it clearly caters to a certain crowd. But for a brief moment, I was swept back across the world to Oregon. I bet these guys are doing a pretty good business because the whole experience is totally a taste of home.

And given that street food standards in Southeast Asia aren’t all that high, I was relieved to see that Hungry Burger was kept in immaculate condition.

Seriously, there wasn’t anything Laotian about this place except the workers, who ironically didn’t speak a lick of English.

But B^4, enough about your epiphanies, how was the freakin’ burger? Well, let’s check it out.

I ordered the Jumbo Burger, which is akin to a Big Mac (not that I’ve ever had one – seriously I haven’t). At 22,000 kip, you’re dropping about $2.75 USD for this burger – which is expensive likely because you’re having a lot of luxury foods in Southeast Asia when your order a double cheeseburger!

Through no fault of Hungry Burger, the beef quality wasn’t very high. The beef in general just isn’t very good. My suggestion would be to use water buffalo, as I’d enjoyed some of that the night before at dinner, and it was delicious. The cheese was cheesy, and the bacon was sadly nonexistent, as they were out of bacon! Sad face!

But fortunately, Laos has kept her French colonial tradition of making great bread, so the bun actually made the burger. It was soft enough to soak up all the juices, yet thick enough to not get soggy.

Ultimately, it seems like everything in Southeast Asia [that isn’t congee] has flavor. Even though you have this low-quality beef, it was still a flavorful burger, and knowing that the quality wouldn’t be that high, I had my expectations set just right. It actually kinda hit the spot. If I’m ever in Vientiane again, well, c’mon how could I not go back? A little taste of Portland…in Laos.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: C (Remember, this isn’t really their fault…they’ve done a good job given what they realistically have – hence the higher rating below)

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): B (I wish there were fries! And aargghh – out of bacon!)

Keep on nomming!

Violetta

So maybe it’s not the most flattering picture ever, but these things happen when you have a nice burger in front of you that is just asking to be chomped on!

Noah and I decided for an additional burger stop, we would head to Director’s Park to go to Violetta (same owners as the food cart Etta). Violetta is another order at the counter restaurant. You then have your choice of sitting inside, or moving outside to the cement park (with a glass cover overhead incase of rain). Being July, we opted for eating outside. Fortunately, they bring the food right to you, despite being mixed in with people from other surrounding restaurants which share the use of the outside tables.

The outside setting in the summer is very pleasant. There is something nice about eating downtown in an area that isn’t too overcrowded, but certainly “happening” enough! I didn’t mind the wind that kept blowing our napkins because it was really a beautiful day out. Did I mention that I just love Portland?

Again splitting two burgers, we went for the Oregon Blue Burger (pictured above), as well as the classic Violetta Burger (pictured below). We also got an order of fries, with herbed aioli.

The Oregon Blue Burger is up first. It had a great burger sauce that really complemented the blue cheese, and is what stood out the most to me. I wish I had gotten a side of that sauce for the fries! Because there was a sauce present, there was less cheese, which made for a burger that was much lighter than the previous night at Killer Burger. I will get this burger again when I return.

The second burger was the basic burger. It was pretty good! I personally enjoy butter lettuce on burgers, so I had no arguments there. Although you can’t really see them in the picture, the highlight was the “10-hour tomatoes”. There was a good 20 hours of deliciousness in them, though. Regrettably, there were only about three of them on the burger (cherry tomato sized). Otherwise, though, the burger wasn’t that memorable, though it sure tasted fresh!

But the stars of today’s show, fair readers, were the fries. I know they’re expensive, but they are everything a french fry should be. Don’t skip out on them. You get a choice of one sauce. We went for the herbed aioli, which was good. Next time I will go for the harissa ketchup.

In the end, a 1/3 lb. burger with fries comes out to about $10. But if you go for the half pound option, or get some dessert, or a local specialty drink, you’re looking at around the $15 mark (which is a bit expensive). If you’re looking for a bargain burger, I’d go elsewhere, but this is a nice lunch spot, especially on a warm summer day. 

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: A-

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

Keep on nomming!