Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Habit Burger Grill -- Sherman Oaks, CA

14622 Ventura Blvd. 

Sherman Oaks, CA 91403 

(818) 386-0995


Fat Bruce Lee was in a poor mood when he first reviewed The Habit Burger Grill, and a few of our readers suggested that the review was unduly harsh. Fat Bruce Lee, Happy Meal, and I returned to one of the many locations, this one in Sherman Oaks, to review this cheeseburger again.

For $6.95 each, we got the Double Charburgers, fries/rings, and a drink.  That was a lot of food for the price.  Happy Meal got a vanilla shake to round out the meal. The staff was highly courteous, and they cooked our burgers, fries, and rings fresh to order.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef:  They advertised that they used lean beef, which was ground fresh on a daily basis. The beef was pretty lean--maybe 15% fat Chuck, and it tasted fresh. There was no trace of aging, and the flavor was moderately beefy with no taste of iron. It was pretty standard tasting fast-food beef.  It was certainly not juicy, but it managed to avoid being rubbery.

The Sear: The sear was nominal in spite of the amount of smoke that came off of the gas grill while they were cooking the burgers. The patties got a little brown around the edges, but that was it.  In spite of these being named Charburgers, not a trace of carbon was present to back up the namesake.

The Seasoning: I watched them shake on a generous amount of a seasoning blend. However, this blend was sorely lacking in salt, but it was adequate in the pepper department.

The Preparation: They cooked the burgers to Well-Done on a reasonably hot gas grill. During the cooking process, I watched the cook perforate the patties with a rounded turner. This created additional surface area, but because the grill was not quite hot enough, this did not result in additional browning. This process did release more of the beef fat, and this created an impressive amount of smoke during the cooking process.  None of the smoke managed to stick to the burger to add that element of flavor, however.

The Cheese: The American/Velveeta cheese managed to save the burger in terms of moisture, texture, and savoriness. The cheese was satisfyingly gooey, salty, and creamy. On a properly seasoned burger, this cheese would have been too much. In the case of The Habit Burger Grill cheeseburgers, it was just about right.

The Bun: This was a sparsely seeded, moist, standard hamburger bun. They only managed to toast the edges, which was unfortunate, because this burger really needed some crunch to make up for the lack of sear on the beef.

Meat to Bun Ratio: In the case of the Double Charburgers, the beef dominated the bun, and Fat Bruce Lee was unable to polish off all of the beef.

The Fries and Rings: These were fresh, hot, and crisp. They were far better than the Styrofoam sticks that one sees at In 'N' Out.
The Habit Burger Grill 50/50 Option

The Shake: It was made from real ice cream, and Happy Meal pronounced it better than In 'N' Out Burger's premixed concoction.  I had to agree, The Habit Burger Grill made a fine shake.

The Value: For about 7 bucks, we were stuffed and satisfied, and none of us could finish our food.  The value was good.

All in all, this was a slightly better than average cheeseburger. It was superior to In 'N' Out Burger and a step behind Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

Burger Review : Drive past that In 'N' Out Burger, and go to The Habit Burger Grill instead.

Rating...3 Bites

Friday, November 26, 2010

Stanley's Restaurant

13817 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

A sleepy, post-Thanksgiving Day Friday and Happy Meal and I had already polished off enough turkey to carry us over to Christmas.  That meant it was time for a burger.  Since traffic was light, we headed off to The Valley to sample what promised to be the best burger in The Valley. Stanley's was pretty packed for 6:30 PM on a Friday, so that promised good things to come

Happy Meal changed things up at the last second and went with the pizza, and that left me holding the bag. Happy Meal's burger radar is damn good--I should have had the pizza, too. I soldiered on  and ordered the $11 Stanley's Burger, which came with both cabbage salad (coleslaw) and fries. I ordered my "Certified Angus beef" cheeseburger Medium.  Apologies for the yellow-tinted photos. It was dark, and all I had was an LED light with a napkin to cut the glare. Frankly, it doesn't really matter--there is no need for anyone to have this burger.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef:  This was a pre-formed, medium ground, flat disk of Chuck.  It was Angus, and that was all the waiter knew about it.  The beef was firmly neutral. Since it was aggressively over-cooked, I expected some flavor to come out of the collagen, but in spite of the lack of care on the grill, the burger had ZERO beefiness. There was not even a hint of aging to provide a front note. It was just bland and uninteresting.

The Sear: Meh. They tossed the puck of Chuck onto a not-hot-enough grill, which got some spotty, half-hearted grill marks on the patty.

The Seasoning: There was no seasoning.  I repeat....there was NO seasoning.

The Preparation: My cheeseburger at Stanley's Restaurant was cooked to a bland Well-Done in spite of my request for Medium.  In spite of the poor quality of the pictures, it should be easy to see that the color of the interior of the burger matched the color of the whole wheat bun. Unless, one is fighting an E.coli epidemic, there is simply no reason to cook a burger this hard.

The Cheese: A wonderfully gooey yet completely insipid, mild Cheddar. It would have been great had it been salty and sharp--it was not great.

An Over-cooked Burger at Stanley's
The Bun: A barely toasted, moist, whole wheat, burger bun with a sprinkling of oats on top. The bun was fine.  The bun was the best thing about the dish--the bun was merely fine.

Meat to Bun Ratio:  I only had three bites of this uninteresting burger, but the meat to bun ratio was just right.

The Fires: Unseasoned, slack, and lukewarm.  I tried three of the limp, bland sticks of disappointment, and I gave up. Oh, the slaw was warm...warm coleslaw......yech.

The Value: The value would have been awful had I been required to pay 11 bucks for a burger that I sent back after 3 bites.  

In fairness, the burger was comped. I sent it back with my waiter after I explained that it was bland and over-cooked.  I tried a slice of Happy Meal's pizza.  The pepperoni slices were thick and satisfying.  The other dishes coming out of the kitchen looked fine. Perhaps Stanley's Restaurant would be a great spot for cuisine other than burgers.

Burger Review : Bland, over-cooked, and under-seasoned burgers can be found at Stanley's.

Burger Rating...2 Bites

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jollibee Has Invaded Carson, CA

Curse that evil, little bee. It has to be the Philippines' way of punishing us for gawd only knows what. That's the only reason that I can think that I found this sign only 200 feet from the front door of the Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

Jollibee produces some of the world's foulest little cheeseburgers, and there is no way that ANYONE should be eating them. For about the same price, one could have a decent/good burger.

Citizens of Carson--you have been warned--these are awful cheeseburgers, and you really don't need to be eating them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Twenty/20 Grill and Wine Bar -- Carlsbad, CA

The Eighty/20 Cheeseburger
5480 Grand Pacific Drive
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 827-2500
at the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort and Spa

Another weekend in Carlsbad, CA with Happy Meal and another opportunity to review a burger presented itself. This time, we got a great deal at the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort and Spa with Hotwire, and it turned out that the resort restaurant, Twenty/20 Grill and Wine Bar, had a fancy burger. The Eighty/20 Cheeseburger came with Irish White Cheddar, Limestone Lettuce, Steak Tomato, Caramelized Onion Jam, and fries for $12. Happy Meal lucked out and ordered himself a mini pizza--smart kid.
The Burger Breakdown...
The Beef: The Brandt Beef sourced Chuck was the real stand-out in this dish. It was medium grind, 80/20 meat to fat (according to the menu), but judging from the greasiness of the burger, I would guess this was a lot closer to 25% fat.  The beef was not juicy, which suggested that it may have been frozen at some point. The beef tasted faintly of aging, but not enough to matter. What the beef tasted of was BEEF. It was flavorful and very satisfying.  This was the same Brandt  Beef  that we enjoyed at BLVD 16 in LA and that they managed to utterly wreck at brgr in NYC.  This was about a 6 oz. patty, and I ate more of than I intended to because of the tremendous beef flavor.
The Sear: WEAK: They meekly grilled the burger, and whatever meager sear was imparted to the burger patty delivered no additional flavor or texture.
The Seasoning: The seasoning was nearly nonexistent. There was a vague dusting of something savory on the outside and none at all in the actual burger blend.

The Preparation: They grilled the Chuck burger to a reasonable Medium as I requested.
The Cheese: Damn right! The Irish White Cheddar was a delight. It was a complex and creamy bite of salt, sharp, and iron. The cheese made up for the lack of seasoning and served to perfectly balance the strong flavor of the beef.

The Bun: AWFUL.  The bun was a huge disappointment.  It was a big, pillowy, eggy, dry monster of burger desiccating badness. The beef flavor of the flat burger patty didn't stand a chance while enveloped in that monstrous, weakly toasted burger bun.  Even the strong Cheddar was invisible to the palate when up against both halves of the bun at Twenty/20 Grill and Wine Bar.

Meat to Bun Ratio: See above--the burger was a HUGE loser in this contest.

A monstrous bun
The Fries: Yeah--the fries were pretty good--they were crunchy, and even Happy Meal put down his pizza to eat some of my fries.

The Value: Nah--at 12 bucks, this was a poor value. For half the price, there was a burger at Ruby's Diner down the street, which was a better in nearly every way.  Oh, the tomato slices were pretty mealy, too.

Brandt Farms beef is a fine product, and it served, with the help of that fantastic Irish White Cheddar, to carry this cheeseburger over a couple of big hurdles. The bun that accompanied the Eighty/20 Cheeseburger was simply unforgivable. This cheeseburger was only reasonable good after I removed the massive top bun and ate it open-faced.

Burger Review : The fine ingredients at Twenty/20 Grill and Wine Bar almost compensated for the weak preparation (seasoning and sear), but they failed to make up for the awful bun.

Rating...3 Bites

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Library Alehouse -- Santa Monica, CA

2911 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 314-4855
The Kobe Burger at Library Alehouse

Fat Bruce Lee and I really are champs.  We attempt to choke down a wide array of burgers so that you don't have to. Today, we popped into Library Alehouse in Santa Monica to sample what was one of the blandest and uninteresting things that we have tried to date.

Bison Burger at Library Alehouse
We ordered two of the Alehouse Gourmet Burgers--one Kobe and one Grass-fed Bison--both were $14.  We cut them in half and had them "best of both worlds-style."  However, in the case of Library Alehouse, we discovered that there was no "best of" anything. "Gourmet" does not mean what they thought it meant.

The Burger Breakdown...


The Beef: In the case of the Kobe, it was finely ground Kobe Chuck and Neck cuts. The Kobe beef was amazingly bland in terms of beef flavor while unfortunately strong on the iron notes. As a result, this burger tasted like a bloody nose with a hint of funk.  It was truly unpleasant.

In the case of the Grass-fed Bison, a similar issue was present. The bison meat tasted gamy, and that was it. There was no richness, no umami, no meatiness--just a gamy taste.  This was also most unpleasant.

It was a dead tie for which of these burger patties tasted the worst, because both brought an atrocious blandness and a unique off-putting element to the game. At 8 oz. these were hefty chunks of wasted potential.

The Sear: Meh.  They grilled these bland pucks of joylessness, and the grill marks added nothing in terms of flavor or texture.
Unmelted Cheese
The Seasoning: A half-assed attempt was made at applying proper seasoning to these twin monuments to blandness, but the meager seasoning failed to be detected in the bite.

The Preparation: They got the Bison to Medium, but that grilled the Kobe to Medium-Well.  In spite of the over-cooking of the Kobe Chuck, no strong, interesting, or beefy flavors were generated.

The Cheese: Meh. The Monterey Jack that we ordered showed up un-melted atop the burgers. In spite of the blandness of the burgers, the cheese failed to make an appearance on the palate.  Upon tasting the cheese by itself, we discovered that Library Alehouse is damned thorough in keeping to a culinary theme. They found the blandest, most insipid, timid, characterless Monterey Jack cheese that I have ever encountered.

The Bun: Wait for it.............bland.  Sadly, the bland, poppy seeded, bun was the least useless thing on this cheeseburger.  Still, it was bland and completely without character.

Medium for the Bison Burger
Med-Well for the Kobe Burger
Meat to Bun Ratio: The burgers were sizable, so this looked like a tie, but the burgers were also pretty dry, and the cheese didn't pitch in, so this was a dry dish, and the bun outpaced the meat.  Honestly, who cared? We couldn't finish these Weapons of Taste Destruction anyway.

The Fries: Yeah, the curly fries were good. If you wanted to drop $14 on a handful of decent fries, you could go to Library Alehouse and drop 14 bucks on 50 cents worth of produce. You certainly wouldn't want to go there for a good cheeseburger--they don't serve them.

The Value: La Grande Orange is located just 6 blocks away, and Umami Santa Monica is 1.4 miles away.  Neither of those places sucked.  The value was terrible--we couldn't finish these awful, bland cheeseburgers.The service was weak, as well. It was abundantly clear that we were not happy with our meals, and the photos illustrate what we could not eat. In spite of that, there was no inquiry as to our satisfaction or the quality of the meal or the reason that we did not attempt to finish. The Library Alehouse must have been in the "bilk tourists once" business rather than the "repeat customer/positive word-of-mouth" business.

Could not finish
Could not finish: Part Two
It was as if the "chef" at Library Alehouse got together with the members of Matchbox 20 and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and said, "Boys, let's do to cheeseburgers what you did to music."  Three bites in, I asked Fat Bruce Lee to punch me in the face--I so desperately wanted to feel something. Could not choke this disaster down: will never return.

Burger Review : NO!  This was worse than an airline meal.

Rating...1 Bland Bite

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Six -- Los Angeles, CA

10668 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
The Six Classic Burger

Fat Bruce Lee is lousy at magnetic, office darts (not a clutch player), and he owed me lunch.  The Six was pretty close to our world headquarters, so we had the corporate helicopter (OK—Harrier, but we don’t like to brag) pick us up on the roof for the short ride. The LAPD was kind enough to block traffic long enough for us to set down at the intersection of Pico and Overland.  The Six occupies the old Jack Sprat’s location near the SE corner of Pico and Overland.

An Epic Sear on The Classic Burger at The Six
We ordered the $10 Classic Burgers and endured the $1.00 up-charge for a slice of cheese. Seriously—they charged a buck for a slice of Cheddar, which the waitress could tell me nothing about.  They have about 6 things on the menu, and the source of the beef, bun, and cheese were all complete mysteries to our waitress.  We had to ask twice to discover the cut of the beef.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Chuck—80:20--coarsely ground—formed into big, loosely packed, irregular, thick patties (about 7 oz.). For Chuck, this was about as good as it got. It had a nice note of aging, which complemented the dish rather than smacking me in the face and forcing me to think about how up-to-date my shots were.  The beef developed a strong beefy flavor, and it even managed to provide some iron notes to round out the dish.  It was a little on the greasy side, but it was also perfectly juicy, so it was worth the trade-off.

The Sear: KABOOM!. The sear from the griddle was thick, savory, and crunchy.   The sear was the result of a properly hot griddle and being left alone.  The picture does not do the sear justice, since the burger was juicy enough to fade the deep browns visible on the top of the patty.

The Seasoning: Yep—they seasoned it properly and in a way that really complemented the wonderful sear.
The Preparation: I requested Medium, and I got something closed to Med-Well, but the beef was juicy and flavorful enough to tolerate the abuse. Besides, the reward was a better sear.  This was a fair trade-off.  It also fully melted the collagen, so the beefy flavors were able to compete with the funk.

The Cheese: It was a sharp Cheddar that cost a buck and was of an origin, which completely eluded our waitress.  That said, the Cheddar was flavorful enough.  In spite of being a fine cheese, it was lost in the flavor of the beef and was completely unnecessary.

The Bun: This was a very mild brioche bun from a local bakery (down the street). They toasted it properly.  It appeared a bit daunting in size, but it managed to contain the juices of the burger while compressing to the point of becoming nearly invisible to the palate.  This bun did its job proficiently.  This seemed very similar to the bun at the Blu LA Cafe.

Meat to Bun Ratio: Spot on.

The Fries: DANGER—the fries at The Six  cost 6 bucks—holy crap--$6.00 for fries!  We tried the “Air Baked” and the regular.  Both were good—not 6 dollars good—but good.  The air baked fries were especially crisp at the ends, while the regular, skin-on  fries were cooked to a nice golden finish and stayed crisp even as they cooled.  Did I mention that they charged $6.00 for fries?
Air-Baked and Regular Fries at The Six

The Value: 60 bucks for three burgers, two orders of fries, and three soft drinks.  A little pricey—had we avoided the fries, we would have been in the right range.

Burger Review : The Six made ground Chuck taste about as good as that cut can.  A funky, flavorful, and well-prepared cheeseburger was delivered by The Six.

I had fully intended to eat only half of the large cheeseburger, but I couldn't stop.  It really was a damn, fine burger.  Pass on the fries.

Rating...4 Bites

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Good Stuff -- Los Angeles, CA

11903 West Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 477-9011

Good Stuff Burger
Happy Meal and I combed through the Gayot website to find a burger that they recommended and that we had not tried before. Result: Good Stuff on Olympic.  Yes, they are a chain, but it's only a few locations.  The Los Angeles location is the original, and here's what their site says about them:

"...Good Stuff in West Los Angeles is where it all started in 1979. Owners Cris Bennett and Gary Bennett set off with determination and a deliciously fresh and healthy menu. With the idea of serving whole wheat buns, Zucchini Parmesan and fresh salads in a fast-food concept, Good Stuff was born..

We ordered a couple of the original Good Stuff  burgers with cheese.  $4.40 each and a $.40 up-charge for a slice of cheese.....sigh.  Oh well, at least we knew it was going to be good. There was just no way that a burger called "Good Stuff" at a restaurant called "Good Stuff" would make it in LA unless it was really good. 

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Chuck--semi-lean (15% fat)--finely ground--processed into uniform, thin, 1/4 pound patties. The menu decried the beef to be "100% fresh", and that was probably true...back when the beef was actually fresh.  I do not think that "fresh" meant what they thought it meant. This was typical, bland Chuck.  Additionally, the patties were a little rubbery, indicating that the beef had been given quite a workout while being turned from livestock into burger patties.  The dryness of the beef suggested that it had been held cool for many days, or that it had been previously frozen.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, the burger meat itself was relatively flavorful.

The Sear: It was half there. The sear lent little to the beef, and the beef was not juicy enough to develop a crunchy sear.
Good Stuff Fries

The Seasoning: This was weak--I had difficulty detecting any seasoning on the thin patty.

The Preparation: The burgers as Good Stuff were cooked to a rubbery, dryish Well Done on a moderately hot griddle

The Cheese: Boring, bland Cheddar.  Just like the cheeseburger at the Westside Tavern, this cheese brought NOTHING to the party--no savory, no umami, no creaminess. Standard, American cheese would have suited this under-seasoned dish far better.  Sadly, they did not carry American cheese at Good Stuff.

The Bun: They mercifully offered the option of a potato bun in lieu of a whole wheat bun--we got our cheeseburgers on potato buns.  They toasted these on both sides, which really served to showcase the twin attributes of dryness and breadiness, which plagued these buns.  Bland, spongy, and dry...WEAK

Good Stuff Zucchini Fries
Meat to Bun Ratio: The bun ran away with this and overwhelmed the dish with dryness.

The Fries: At Good Stuff, the fries were cooked in safflower oil or something else with a low smoke point, which resulted in some pretty unexceptional fries. The fried zucchini--gross.  It was cut WAY too thickly, so that it developed a snot-like texture.  It was also painfully bland--as were the fries.

The Value: Twenty bucks for a couple of 1/4 pound burgers on stale buns.'s easy to find a better burger for less.

Good Stuff was merely Mediocre Stuff.

Burger Review : A below average burger for a an average price.

Rating...2 Bites

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Westside Tavern -- Los Angeles, CA

10850 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90064-2132
(310) 470-1539

Another day, another well-reviewed burger. Fat Bruce Lee owed me big time, so he took me to Westside Tavern as my "reward."

Q: What do all of the things listed below have in common?
  • How is everything with your meal, gentlemen? 
  • Can I refill your drink, sir?  
  • Are you interested in dessert today?  
  • May I bring your check?
A: They are all questions. They are all things that one typically hears while in the role of customer at a dining establishment. They all things that were not uttered to us during our visit at Westside Tavern.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: Chuck--USDA Prime Chuck.  It had just a faint hint of aging and that showed up as a muted back note rather than a front note.  The beef, because we had it cooked to Medium, was rich with beefy flavors. Sadly, the Chuck was poor in bloody, iron flavors.

The Sear: Hell yeah--Fat Bruce Lee did a back flip over this!  The sear on The Cheeseburger ($13) was mighty. It was a crunchy, thick, thorough  sear from a very hot grill. The sear was strong enough to have a hint of carbon, which gave the large patty a backyard cookout flavor.
A darm fine sear at Westside Tavern

The Seasoning: This was weak. There was a hint of seasoning on the exterior of the (7 oz.) patty, but it was meager and not nearly enough to make up for the carbon in the sear, the lack of seasoning in the blend, or the inherent blandness of the Chuck in this $13 burger.

The Preparation: The beef was coarsely ground and loosely packed into MASSIVE patties. They nailed the Medium request, and the beef remained very juicy.  The juices saturated the bottom bun, so that was nice.

The Cheese: It was that ho-hum Tillamook Cheddar. Greasy, rubbery, bland Tillamook Cheddar. Why? The cheese brought NOTHING to the party--no savory, no umami, no creaminess. Standard, American cheese would have suited this under-seasoned dish far better.

The Bun: Where did it come from?  Who cares?  It was a big, spongy, DRY, and flaky. The bun was a poor pairing to that burger.

The Fries: They were fine.

The Value: Look, Umami Burger and Wolfgang's Steakhouse have set the bar REALLY high in terms of value. We could have gotten great cheeseburgers at either place for the same amount of dough, so the cheeseburger value was not great at Westside Tavern.

The burger at Westside Tavern was competently cooked, but it was cobbled together with ingredients, which did nothing to play to the beef's strengths. It seemed quite clear that The Cheeseburger was the result of the Chef being forced to check the "burger box" on the menu and nothing more.

Burger Review : Average burger for a premium price.

Rating...3 Bites

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ruby's Diner -- Carlsbad, CA

5630 Paseo Del Norte #130D
Carlsbad, CA 92008


This weekend Happy Meal and I found Legoland, and Happy Meal was intrigued by the local Ruby's Diner. The Ruby's Diner chain marketed itself as "...the premier 1940's family restaurant. Our menu includes award winning burgers, salads, fountain treats and dinner specials..."  They had me at award winning burgers.

The Double Deluxe Cheeseburger
Happy Meal ordered the double burger--$6.99. I ordered a plain cheeseburger with aged Cheddar--$9.99--from the Ruby's Ultimate Kobe Burgers section of the menu. Here is what the menu had to say about the Kobe Burgers:

"The star of our Ultimate Kobe Burgers is the world-famous All-American Kobe beef.  Beyond traditional classification, American Kobe is an ultra high-end prime grade of beef famed for its wonderfully tender bite and rich flavor.  Our American Kobe is grilled to perfection and served on a lightly grilled artisan roasted onion bun and paired with the ultimate in fresh gourmet toppings."

The Burger Breakdown...

The Double Deluxe Cheeseburger Beef: Plain old USDA Prime Chuck. It was ground to a medium grind, packed pretty densely, and pre-formed into patties. This was standard and bland as one would expect in a thin, diner-style, Chuck burger patty.

The Ultimate Kobe Burger Beef: It was hard to tell what happened there. The general treatment of the beef appeared to be identical to the standard burgers. Happily, this burger actually had a nice, satisfying, beefy flavor. No aged flavors came through, and it certainly lacked the juiciness that one would expect from Kobe beef. I suspect the Kobe component made up for a tiny percentage of my cheeseburger--approaching zero.
Ultimate Kobe Burger (discontinued)

Seasoning: What seasoning? In spite of the wait staff's assurance that the burgers at Ruby's Diner were seasoned on the griddle, I can firmly attest that they were not. As a result they were relatively bland.

The Sear: There was no sear on the razor-thin patties of Happy Meal's Double Deluxe Cheese Burger--these came out wet and grayish. The sear on the thicker, single patty of the Ultimate Kobe Burger was nice.  It was crunchy, dark, and competent.  The burgers were clearly cooked on a griddle rather than grilled as suggested by the menu.

The Preparation: While they promised that the Ultimate Kobe Burger would only be mauled (cooked to Med-Well), it was murdered (cooked to a vulcanized Well-Done). Oddly, the Well-Done patties of the Double Deluxe Cheeseburger were juicier.

Cheese: They doubled up on the American cheese on the Double Deluxe Cheeseburger, and that made the dish quite satisfying--it was savory, gooey, and creamy.  It was a challenge to get Happy Meal to hand over his burger so that I could try it, and he watched me pretty closely to make certain that I didn't take too big of a bite.

In the case of the Cheddar used on the Ultimate Kobe was pretty good.  It was thick and savory with a mild bite that almost worked with the moderately flavorful patty. It did not provide enough moisture to make up for the dryness of the beef or the bun, however.

The Bun: A standard, toasted, seeded, hamburger bun was used on the Double Deluxe Cheeseburger. The bun was sweet, chewy, and had a nice crunch from the toasting process. That bun worked with the American cheese to compensate for the bland beef..

The "lightly grilled artisan roasted onion bun" used on the Ultimate Kobe Burger was really a barely toasted, dry, high-domed, oniony bundle of inappropriate. The onion flavors dominated the burger. The dryness of the bun had me reaching for my beverage to avoid renal shutdown. As a result, I removed at least half of the bun and ate the burger topless.

Waaaaay too much bun
The Meat to Bun Ratio: This was completely perfect in the case of the Double Deluxe Cheeseburger. Meanwhile, the onion bun on the Ultimate Kobe Burger--that was a disaster. That bun was massive bread overkill.

The Fries: The fries at Ruby's Diner were spectacular. They were perfectly browned, very crisp, and cooked in fresh peanut oil.  They were also perfectly seasoned.

The Value: The value of the Double Deluxe Cheeseburger ($6.99) was fine. The value of the Ultimate Kobe Burger ($9.99) was strongly diminished by the over-cooking, the lack of seasoning, and that awful, dry, onion-heavy bun.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have ordered the Ultimate Kobe Burger patty with the American cheese and the standard burger bun.  I would have also asked that they made certain to hit the burger with seasoning on the grill and that the burger not be aggressively over-cooked.  Had all of that been in place, this could have been a really decent burger. As it was, the burgers were pretty average, and each had certain elements that we look for in a good burger.

Burger Review : Average burgers for an average price.   

Rating...3 Bites 

Follow up-- Happy Meal and I returned the following evening so that I could test my burger hypothesis.  I ordered the Ultimate Kobe Burger patty with the American cheese and the standard burger bun.  I insisted that they griddle it to Medium and season it as it cooked. The result was a wonderful 4 Bites cheeseburger. The beef came out pink, juicy, and flavorful with a wonderful crunchy sear. The American cheese lent the creaminess and savory flavor for which it was destined. The standard hamburger bun was supple and just a little sweet.  The sum of this was a darn fine burger. The 3 Bites rating stands for the burgers at Ruby's Diner, since this burger was not available on the menu.  Note: the Kobe Burger has been discontinued.
Ruby's Cheeseburger on a return visit (19APR11)

Update...19APR11...We returned to sample the standard Ruby's Diner Cheeseburger for $8.79. This one came with fries, and it was a better than average burger. 
  • The 6 ounce patty was relatively thick. The beef was flavorful and juicy. 
  • The seasoning was good. 
  • The sear was perfect and crunchy. 
  • The interior was Medium to Medium-Well.
  • The bun was slightly sweet and wonderfully toasted. 
  • The toppings were mediocre. 
  • The fries were marvelous and crispy. 
  • The meat to bun ratio was perfect. 
  • The value was just fine.
  • That was a 4 Bites burger.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Burger and Barrel -- New York, NY

25 W Houston St
(between Mercer St & Crosby St)
Manhattan, NY 10012

Fat Bruce Lee and I chose Burger and Barrel as the place to acquire some additional arterial plaque while in NYC.  Burger and Barrel opened recently and was the sister restaurant of Lure Fish Bar, where I had been the previous evening with Strawberry Shortcake. The burger at Lure was pretty unimpressive, but the burger cooking A-Team, Chef Josh Capon, had moved over to Burger and Barrel to create awesomeness with ground beef, so we had high hopes. As luck would have it, Chef Capon was in the kitchen that day when we were there for lunch.

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: According to the wait staff, it was the same 75:25 meat to fat, chuck heavy blend of chuck, brisket, and boneless short rib. This was same beef that they served at Lure Fish Bar. It too was packed medium firm with a nice, coarse, hearty grind. It had a nice front note of funk, and while it was as lip-dabbingly oily as its counterpart, it was far juicier. Additionally, this beef did taste a little better--it was funky but  more flavorful with some iron notes from the blood--those iron notes were entirely lacking at Lure Fish Bar the previous evening. 

The Seasoning: This burger's exterior was well and properly seasoned on the outside and left alone on the inside. It could have used a little seasoning on the interior, but the blood and powerful funk partially made up for that.

The Sear: It was actually far weaker than we got at the sister restaurant. This was especially off-putting upon noting that they had a broiler available. You will note from the photos that they got a better sear on the cheese than the meat. Seared cheese--I didn't need that--yech.  I guess Chef Capon had better things to do than oversee and adjust the quality that the kitchen was sending out.  Moments after our food came out, he parked himself at a table of familiars. Perhaps he put his time and attention into their food.
A Weak Sear at Burger and Barrel

The Preparation: Probably griddled, since there wasn't a trace of a grill mark. They got our burgers to Medium, which is how we ordered them.

Cheese: American, and it was lost on this burger--the funk and the fat rendered the cheese irrelevant. Additionally, the cheese was scorched, so it lost its creaminess and flavor.

The Bun: The bun was a weakly toasted, neutral brioche. This bun was far superior to the sweet, oily bun served at the sister restaurant.  This bun, based on its relative lack of elasticity, appeared to be light on the egg that was present in the Lure Fishbar bun, which was a plus.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: It was fine--this bun compressed properly and yielded when requested.

The Fries: These were crisp and cooked in peanut oil. They tasted fresh and were seasoned properly--they were pretty great. Oh, the onion rings were good, too--crispy and sweet.
Scorched Cheese at Burger and Barrel

The Value: It was a better-than-average burger. $13 in NYC for a decent burger is almost downright reasonable. Considering the hype on the majority of the food review sites, I had hoped for more.

In spite of a weak sear, scorched cheese, and a half-assedly toasted bun, the quality of the beef and seasonings made the cheeseburger at Burger and Barrel 25% better than the identical fare at Lure Fish Bar.

Burger Review : Burger and Barrel did not live up to the hype, but it deliver a pretty good burger. If you are in the market for "pretty good," then Burger and Barrel is an option. If the chef had been on the ball in the kitchen, this could have been a much better cheeseburger....sigh.

Rating...4 Bites

Lure Fishbar -- New York, NY

The Grilled Cheeseburger at Lure Fishbar

142 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012-3806
(212) 431-7676

Strawberry Shortcake and I settled on Lure Fishbar as the burger to try based upon a pile of glowing reviews from various reviews and blogs--the Internet has never let us down before.  Lure Fishbar was packed, and it was bar seating only, but they had the full menu at the bar.  Lure Fish Bar, as the name would suggest is best known for its seafood, so we had the chili glazed calamari appetizer, and it was pretty freaking great.  I would return for the calamari. As for the burger...

The Burger Breakdown...

The Beef: 75:25 meat to fat and a chuck heavy blend of chuck, brisket, and boneless short rib. Packed medium firm with a nice, coarse, hearty grind. It had a nice front note of funk, but it was certainly oilier than I was comfortable with.

The Seasoning: Seasoned on the outside and left alone on the inside. Sad...if a high-end burger is full of chuck, then it needs to be seasoned enough to generate some flavor.

The Sear: It was pretty weak in its application to the irregular and medium thick patty on a reasonably hot grill. The sear was not especially crunchy, but it was vaguely present.  

The Preparation: Grilled, but I couldn't find the grill marks, a little beyond the Medium that was requested. I always order Medium for Chuck, or all that I get is bland. That was OK, since the beef was pretty bloodless. The higher cooking temp brought our more flavor from the Chuck.
A little overcooked

Cheese: was fine.

The Bun: A well-toasted, but overly greased and sweet brioche bun. The bun was a little spongier than I would have liked, and as a result it was on the chewy side.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: The cheeseburger at Lure Fishbar is pretty hefty--around 7 oz., so the staunch brioche held up well to the mass of beef.

The Fries: These were crisp and cooked in peanut oil. They were a little under-seasoned, but after a massive burger, who needed them anyway?

The Value: Meh. It was good burger--it was also a $15 burger, so I had hoped for a little more that merely good.

To wrap this up, Lure Fishbar is a seafood establishment.  They quality of the seafood certainly rose above the beef. They opened a sister restaurant, which specialized in burgers, and that is the subject of the next review, which was conducted on the following day.

Burger Review : Lure Fishbar delivered a competent and satisfactory cheeseburger.

A weak sear at Lure Fishbar
Rating...3 Bites

Friday, November 5, 2010

Minetta Tavern -- New York, NY

113 MacDougal St
New York, NY 10012
Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
(212) 475-3850

The Minetta Tavern was WAY too dark for photos, but this burger deserves a review, nonetheless.

The volume at the Minetta Tavern was generally oppressive, and Strawberry Shortcake and I had the misfortune of being wedged in beside a trio of half-stoned, three quarters drunk, and 100% loud women that appeared to be having a shouting contest--fully obnoxious. 

Strawberry Shortcake and I ordered both the standard Minetta Tavern Burger at $16 and the Black Label Burger at $26. Why the Minetta Tavern Burger is even on the menu was well beyond me after we sampled them side by side.

The Burger Breakdown...

Black Label Burger without cheese
The Minetta Burger Beef: A blend of short rib, brisket, and shoulder clod, which was loosely packed into a thick patty. An OK 3 Bites (3.5 Bites) burger--it was pretty good, but certainly nothing to crow about.  It was clearly heavy on the shoulder cut, so the flavors were not outstanding. $16 is a high price to pay for a pretty good burger.

The Black Label Burger Beef: A blend of dry aged rib eye, which was loosely packed into a thick patty.  This was outstanding. It was not particularly complex, because it was a simple blend, but it was a simple blend of really delicious Pat La Frieda beef.  This produced a 5 Bites burger. 

The Seasoning: Yep...both burgers were nicely and thoroughly seasoned to enhance the beef flavors.

The Sear: Hell yeah!  The sear was fantastically thick and dark. It was created on a hot griddle using grape seed oil, which has a very high smoke point.  The sear and the cooked layer penetrated about 1/4 inch into the burger patty, which provided chewiness and lushness in the same bite.  

The Preparation: While the Black Label Burger came out a precise Med-Rare, the Minetta Tavern Burger showed up at the same time but was a over-cooked to Medium. It was late 11:30 PM, and we were not willing to wait an additional 20 minutes to re-fire half of our meal, so we went with it. Honestly, this was fine, due to the shoulder meat content of the Minetta Tavern Burger.  The interior of the Black Label Burger, beyond the cooked layer, was a juicy, rare, medium coarse ground playground of dry aged, rib eye steak. Each bite of this burger was lingered over and savored.

Cheese: Cheddar, and we shouldn't have bothered with the sharp and funky Cheddar on the Black Label Burger--it was completely superfluous--it was overwhelmed by the funk of the Pat La Frieda beef. It was useful in rounding out the flavors of the Minetta Tavern Burger, however.

The Bun: In both cases this was a very mild, toasted, seeded brioche from Balthazar. The bun was airy but not spongy. It served as a muted and neutral delivery vehicle.

The Meat to Bun Ratio: This was completely perfect in the case of the Black Label Burger, but due to the dryness of the Minetta Tavern Burger, a smaller, moister, standard bun would have been more appropriate.

The Fries: These were perfectly seasoned, and nicely crisped.  The fries held to the quality of the burger.

The Value: Meh. It was a great burger--it was also a $26 burger, and the quarters were cramped and loud.

A deep cooked layer on the Black Label Burger
Side Note: The pickles at the Minetta Tavern were brutally acidic and heartburn inducing. They served gherkins with the Minetta Tavern Burger and a dill spear with the Black Label Burger. In both cases, it was as if the cucumbers were marinated in a blend of half cider vinegar and half battery acid. These could be safely avoided as they would be certain to overwhelm even the powerful flavors of the Black Label Burger.

Until I tried the cheeseburger, two night later, at The Brindle Room, I would have sworn that the Black Label Burger at the Minetta Tavern was the best burger in Manhattan.  The Black Label Burger is now my second choice for burgers in New York. It was an amazing burger with a remarkable sear, and it was prepared with great care and skill.  It needed no cheese or condiments--it was perfect standing alone.  On the plus side, the Minetta Tavern serves burgers every day and night, while The Brindle Room serves them on a very limited schedule.

Burger Review : Have the Black Label Burger--it was truly excellent!  You can safely pass on the Minetta Tavern Burger...the Black Label Burger renders it meaningless.

Rating...5 Bites

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