Sunday, March 30, 2008

Joe's Cable Car Restaurant - San Francisco, CA

Joe’s Cable Car Restaurant in San Francisco is where “Joe Grinds His Own Fresh Chuck Daily”. A large sign on the outside of the restaurant declares this in bold type. Joe’s has been around since 1965. It is a charming place on Mission Street just south of highway 280. You can’t miss it driving down Mission. Windows are loaded with neon signs of the Golden Gate Bridge, a cable car and other San Francisco landmarks. Joe obviously likes signs. There must be 30 signs in the parking lot warning you not to park without permission.

Entering the restaurant one is struck by its cleanliness and nostalgia. Christmas lights with little Santas are still strung neatly from the ceiling. Fake flowers adorn the room, but somehow they work because they haven’t become a dusty relic, but are clean and new looking. The floor shines bright. One of three energetic waitresses greets and escorts a diner to a seat.

The menu is impressive with photos of al the burgers on a laminated card. Burgers come standard with 4-ounce patties, but can be upgraded to 6 or 8 ounces. I decide to upgrade to 8 because after all “Joe Grids His Own Fresh Chuck Daily”. I order the No. 5 bacon burger, adding cheese and grilled onions. The price comes to a staggering $17.10. I also ordered the onion rings for $3.50 and fries for $2.25. I also decide to top of the feast with a chocolate milk shake for $5.10.

After ordering I look around the restaurant. A steady stream of regulars makes its way in to the restaurant. My favorite was a group of “ladies at lunch” in their 70s and dressed-to-the-nines. Joe, ever present, greets them all by name. In fact, I didn’t see a single customer that was not personally addressed by Joe himself. Everyone is made to feel welcome.

A cable car bell would ring every few minutes signaling that another order was ready. One of three waitresses in white smock and black stretchy pants would quickly whisk the meal off to its recipient. The bell rung and my feast arrived. First came the shake. It was served in its metal mix cup accompanied by a frosty glass mug, and a plastic spoon and straw. Each item was sitting on its own “Joe’s Cable Car Restaurant” napkin. The first sip of the shake was a pleasure. Cold, creamy and not too chocolaty, the shake was very good.

Next came the burger, fries and onion rings. Onion rings were, thick, crispy, battered beauties, but not especially hot. I loved them anyway. They would have rated a prefect score had they been hotter. The fries were nothing special. Medium cut, with skins on, although they were hot and had the right amount of salt.

The burger was fantastic - eight ounces of perfectly medium-cooked beef sitting on a pillowy white grilled bun. The crisp and salty bacon sat on top of the blue cheese melted perfectly around the patty. The grilled, red onions were sweet and firm. The first bite rang on my tongue like a cable car bell. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing, but I could not stop.

The tab of $30 was a little bracing, but other than that, I can say that Joe’s Cable Car Restaurant was a real treat. I can see why “Joe Grinds His Own Fresh Chuck Daily.”

Burger 5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 3 spatulas
Onions Rings 4.5 spatulas
Milk Shake 5 spatulas

Joe’s Cable Car
4320 Mission Street at Silver
San Francisco, CA 94112

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hamburgers - Sausalito, CA

Hamburgers in Sausalito is easy to miss. A tiny little storefront maybe 15 feet wide with a green awning, it is a small jewel among the t-shirt and tchotke shops. In the front window is a circular grill rotating over flames. On it are buns and burger patties. A ten-foot long counter stretches to the back resulting in a narrow aisle filled with people waiting in line to order their burgers. In the back are ten little square tables, made of an ancient wood grain laminate.

Fortunately, my Marin burger scouts, Amy, Jason and Scotty had arrived ahead, ordered and saved us seats. My daughter Sara and I joined them. The choices are cheeseburger or hamburger. I ordered the cheeseburger with everything for $6.60. Fries were $2.45.

While everything seems old and traditional, the burger philosophy is very modern. Burgers are made with Creekstone Farms natural angus beef, which contains no hormones or antibiotics. I would guess it was about a seven-ounce patty. Each burger was topped with Lappi cheese imported from Finland. Also on top is mayo, mustard, ketchup, onions, lettuce and relish - a nice touch.

Everything blends nicely, although I think the cheese has a tough time fighting its way to the taste buds. I broke of a piece and found it a flavorful, subtle cheese, but it may be a little wimpy for a burger with this many toppings. Beyond that though, I liked the burger. It had a smoky taste and was a little overcooked, but it worked. It reminded me of the burgers we used to make back in Indiana.

The fries did too. I used to get fries at a place called Penguin Point. They were krinkle-cut fries, served in a white bag. Each order of fries at Hamburgers came is a 2-pound bag filled almost to the top. The fries were hot salty and yummy. Amy pointed out that there were plenty of “crispies”, those little jewels of slightly overcooked shards that work there way to the bottom.

Everyone devoured their burgers and crispies and loved the hamburgers at Hamburgers.

Burger 4.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 4.5 spatulas

737 Bridgeway
Sausalito, CA 94965

Monday, March 24, 2008

BurgerMeister - San Francisco

BurgerMeister in San Francsisco was voted as the “Best Burger” in 7x7 Magazine's 2008 Eat+Drink Awards. I have been looking for a really good grass-fed burger. Although they aren’t grass-fed, BrugerMeister’s burgers are made from Niman Ranch beef, which is hormone-free and though not strictly grass-fed at least comes close.

I hit the church street location with burger veterans Juli and Bill. Juli had been there before and had good things to say. I liked the quirky interior, small, but comfortable ordered and picked one of the elevated tables in the back. I decided on the Meister Burger ($12.85), since I figured you don’t name a burger after the restaurant without it being your best foot forward. The Meister is a half-pound burger with avocado, bacon, grilled onions, mushrooms and swiss cheese. We also ordered Fries ($2.95), onion rings ($5.45) and a chocolate shake ($5.45).

The burger quickly came out with the other items and we dug in. It is 1/2 pound of fresh beef, flame broiled and sitting on a griddled bun. All the fixings mentioned above we artfully stacked. I bit in and tasted a perfect blending of all the ingredients without them overpowering the burger. The onions were red onions, which was a nice touch. Bacon was crisp and salty. I really liked it and can understand why it was voted best in S.F. Juli and Bill liked theirs as well.

The fries were piping hot medium cut fries with no skins. Juli thought they had a slightly buttery taste. Yum again. The onion rings were not quite as impressive.

The shake however was a pleasant topper to the proceedings. Juli best described it as having a not too chocolaty taste.

We lingered over our food as a steady stream of burger lovers filtered in. Styx and Billy Joel played on the house speakers and I thought back to the burgers I used to have back in Indiana in the 70s. It was a great memory and a great burger.

Burger 4.5 out of 5 spatulas
Fries 3.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 3 spatulas
Shake 4 spatulas

138 Church Street
San Francisco, CA

Friday, March 14, 2008

Canyon Inn - Redwood City

Canyon Inn in Redwood City is a cozy place to have a burger and watch the March Madness. A last minute call from my burger buddy Mark, resulted in a trip to this out-of-the-way neighborhood joint. In the same vein as the Oasis, Dutch Goose or Alpine Inn, it has wood tables, lot’s of local sports memoriabilia.

I ordered the British Burger ($7.05) with Swiss cheese and bacon. Mark ordered the Patty Melt ($6.80). We also ordered fries ($3.60) and onion rings ($3.85). We took our number and took a seat.

In minutes we had our lunch. Like the Oasis, the burger is better than the sum of its parts. It comes with tomato, lettuce and mayo. The sesame bun was firm but not grilled. I guessed the patty to be a 7 oz. typical patty. The whole thing was excellent as a combo. Mark loved his patty melt.

The best item might have been the onion rings. They were big, crunchy coated and hot. The fries did not fair as well. They were coated and and kind of tasted like you would get at a chain, but they were hot.

Burger 4 spatulas out of 5
Onion Rings 4.5 spatulas
Fries 3 spatulas

Canyon Inn
587 Canyon Road
Redwood City, CA 94062