Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Norm's Place - Danville, CA

Norm's Place, in charming downtown Danville, CA, is an equally charming pub style place. I met my burger buddy, Mark and his brother Buzz for burger's and conversation. We were seated at a dark, wood-topped table by our friendly waitress Liz. The red walls were adorned with an interesting assortment of auto parts hung as art. Flat screens were strategically scattered throughout Norm's to keep one up with all the scores and highlights, even at noon on a Wednesday.

The menu is scattered with 10 ounce burger combinations like the Hart'z Burger and the Englishman. I asked Liz what she recommended. She pushed me off menu to a combination of her own making called the Dirty Burger, with bacon, avocado and swiss cheese. ($11.50 with fries.) She asked me if I wanted the bacon crispy. I can't imagine having it any other way, but I appreciated the choice. We also ordered onion rings. I asked Liz if they had milk shakes and I think I offended her. "We have upscale burgers. This is no burger, shakes and fries place." You have to love an employee with such passion.

As the onion rings arrived I noticed Weezer playing on the speakers. Next came Cocaine Blues, the Johnny Cash version from Folsom prison. I liked the place even better. The rings were thick with crispy batter. Hot and tasty, we rated them 4 spatulas.

The burgers and fries came next. I like to taste the fries before I taste my burger. These were medium thick with skins on. Slightly overcooked, salty and a little soggy, they rate a 2.5.

The burger however is a different story. It was cooked a perfect medium, juicy and seasoned nicely with a pepper mixture and topped with the afore mentioned crispy bacon and avocado. Another nice touch was the nicely toasted brioche-style bun. I really liked this burger and rate it 4.5 spatulas.

We sat and chatted, very comfortable in this charming spot. Liz kept our drinks full and didn't rush us out. I will be back.

Burger 4.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 2.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 4 spatulas
Milk Shake - Don't even ask for one.

Norm's Place
356 Hartz Ave.
Danville, CA 94526

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Da Kitchen - Kahului, Maui, HI

Da Kitchen in Kahului, Maui is a local spot recommended to me by a friend before out recent trip. I was assured it is a great place to get the local flavor, both cultural and of a cuisine nature. She was right.

My wife, daughter and I arrived at the Maui airport just a little after noon, the day before Thanksgiving. By the time we waited for our luggage and got a rental car, we were quite hungry. I had been told that Da Kitchen was behind the Krispy Kreme, near the airport, but I asked the clerk at Avis how to get there. She told me it was across the street from the K Mart in the Triangle Square. It was pretty obvious we were close when we drove between the Krispy Kreme and the K Mart. We found the Triangle Square and there tucked in a strip mall unassumingly was Da Kitchen.

We were greeted warmly by our server and given a booth made of wood and vinyl. Up on the high wall was a big 3-D wave sculpted from fiberglass. If you aren't lucky enough to get a booth, there are outdoor style tables with green plastic chairs in the middle. Very casual.

I wasn't counting on having a burger until I saw the Loco Moco ($8.75). The menu described it as "A Homemade Burger topped with two eggs, gravy, sauteed onions and mushrooms. Please consult your physician prior to consumption." I asked the waitress if this was something only the stupid tourists got, or do the locals eat it. She laughed and said, "Lot's of locals eat it, That's the best thing I've ever heard." How could I resist? Given a choice of "mac" or salad on the side I took the mac.

Before long a towering plate of food arrived. Its centerpiece was sitting on a bed of rice. A burger covered in brown gravy, two fried eggs, over easy, sauteed onions and mushrooms. There were also two huge scoops of rice and a dollop of macaroni/potato salad. I cut into Mount Loco and the egg yolk oozed over the whole luscious mess. It reminded me a lot of Salisbury Steak I used to have as a kid. This is a very unusual taste that I liked better with each bite. The gravy was a little too salty for me, or I would have rated it even higher than the 4 spatulas I ended up at at. For sheer audacity and originality it deserves at least a 4.

The Mac was very good too. Creamy and a nice counter balance.

A real coincidence occurred the next day. My wife is reading a book called "The Tenth Muse" by Judith Jones. The author was the book editor for Julia Child. She tells a story of being in Hawaii and trying the Loco Moco. So my server wasn't steering me wrong. It is a local tradition.

Burger 4 spatulas (out of 5)
Mac 4 spatulas

Da Kitchen
425 Koloa St.
Kahului, Maui, Hawaii

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mr. Bartley's Gourmet Burgers - Cambridge. MA

With a slogan as bold as "You Can't Beat Our Meat", the burgers here had better be good. Bartley's is about a block away from Harvard Square. I went there with my wife and two children for lunch. The place was completely full with people of all ages, from college students to the elderly.

We were greeted by Mr. Bartley himself and seated by his wife. We quickly took our seats right in the middle of the action and looked around at the walls that were filled with memorabilia, much of it political. Menus were soon dropped in front of us and we were looking at a list of more than 50 burgers. Our daughter chose the macaroni and cheese. Our son the hamburger. My wife decided on a greek salad. I chose the Mitt Romney, medium rare as Mr. Bartley recommended.

While we waited for our food, we looked around at the walls and pointed out the various artifacts. There were posters of Bill and Hillary, Reagan, Bush. A blow up deer head. Elvis. The Beatles. A Dice-K jersey. A barber pole and magazine covers. Then the food arrived. 

The Mitt Romney is a 7-ounce patty of choice beef covered with caramalized onions and Swiss cheese.  The side order of onion rings towered on the plate. The burger was cooked to a perfect medium rare. The onions were just right with the cheese melted perfectly. This burger was one of the best I have ever had. It gets a 5 spatula recommendation from me. 

The onion rings are billed as the best in the world, but I have had better. They were simply too bland for my taste. Jeffrey's in Menlo Park, CA trumps Bartley's onion rings by a long way. If you can get to Jeffrey's, that's the place for onion rings. 

My daughter thought macaroni and cheese was the best she had ever had. A kid can't go wrong with the mac and cheese at Bartley's.

Our visit to Bartley's was a really good experience. I look forward to my next visit and to trying the Bill Clinton burger. By the way, the menu says the Hillary Clinton burger will tax your taste buds.

Curt D. Van Emon

Burger 5 spatulas (out of 5)
Onion Rings 2.5 spatulas

Mr. Bartley's Gourmet Burgers
1246 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Village Pub - Woodside, CA

The Village Pub is a very popular upscale restaurant in Woodside. Like Buck’s, it is an institution in Woodside. But it is very high end and expensive. Fortunately, the food usually justifies the expense. It is also a fabulous room to dine in.

There are white table clothes on the tables in the main dining area. Dark burgundy velvet chairs and booths add a touch of elegance. The service is very attentive and better than most higher-end restaurants on the peninsula. They also have a great bar - well stocked with good scotches and other fine spirits.

On a recent trip to the Woodside Pub for dinner, I observed a couple both happily noshing burgers and fries, while the rest of us stuffed shirts were eating Crispy Sweetbreads and Potato Crusted Striped Bass. I inquired as to the burger’s quality. They replied that they dined here often and only ate the burger. It was fantastic.

Never to let a good burger go untested, I decided to drop by at lunch soon after. I sat at one of the round marble-topped side tables in the bar. The service, as usual, was spot on. I ordered the Pub Burger with French Fries ($12). I asked it to be prepared medium and added white cheddar per the waiter’s suggestion.

The burger appeared before I had finished even one article in my New York Times. Even before I tried the burger, I had to snag a fry. They came stacked in a metal cup. Hot, salty, light and crisp, they were nearly perfect. They were cut medium thick and skinless. Yum.

Next I turned my attention to the burger. It came accompanied with many wonderful accoutrements. There were slices of baby tomatoes, romaine lettuce, pickle slivers and pesto mayo. I especially liked the pickled onion strings. They were purple like they had been soaked in beat juice, but tasted sweet like candy. I added the mayo and the onions to my burger.

The cheese was artfully melted and the burger prepared to a perfect medium. The bun, a curious heavy kind of bread, was not my favorite. It almost reminded me of a gourmet English muffin, but it detracted somewhat from the experience. The beef was flavorful, with out too much seasoning. I liked the burger, but it didn’t rock my world.

I guess I was a little disappointed after the ravings of my dinnertime acquaintances, but I could say I had fantastic fries accompanied by a good burger. Combining that all with the great ambiance, I recommend a trip to the Village Pub.

Burger 3.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 5 spatulas

Village Pub
2967 Woodside Road
Woodside, CA