Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Taylor's Automatic Refresher - San Francisco, CA

Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in San Francisco at the Ferry building tries its level best to recreate the experience at the original site in Napa Valley (Click here for review of Napa Location). The two sites couldn’t be more different. The Ferry Building location is crowded and busy as foodies stream through the Ferry Building buying mushrooms, gourmet chocolate, olive oil, cheese and other gourmet items. Glass windows provide a nice view of the busy Embarcadero as one sits at the counter height wood tables waiting for the pager to go off.

Moments earlier we had waited in the line to order our food. There always seems to be a line at Taylor’s. That is something that it does have in common with the Napa location. Another is the menu. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger for $8.99. Pat ordered the plain cheeseburger for $7.99. We also got sweet potato fries ($3.99) and onion rings ($3.99).

The buzzer rattled on the table after a mere 10 minutes or so, quite speedy given the volume of customers on a busy Saturday. Everything is served in paper baskets perched on a metal baking sheet. The burger looks pretty much the same as the Napa one. The yellow egg bun, not quite as fluffy or moist as a standard white bun, envelopes a hot patty of tasty ground beef and toppings, including nicely melted American cheese, crisp bacon, lettuce, crunchy pickle chips and the special sauce, much like Thousand Island.

My burger was very enjoyable with the juiciness of the sauce and veggies counteracting the slightly dry bun. When I had a bite of Pat’s plain cheeseburger, the dryness of the bun stood out much more.

The sweet potato fries were bladelike, very thin in one dimension and thick in the other. They are dusted with Chili powder and are quite delightful. The onion rings are beer-battered and crisp on the outside with a sweet and soft onion on the inside.

Taylor’s is a great accompaniment to the Ferry Building with its big red-letter sign above the counter screaming the motto of the place. “EAT”.

Burger 4 spatulas out of 5
Sweet Potato Fries 4.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 4 spatulas

Taylor’s Automatic Refresher
Ferry Building Marketplace
1 Ferry Building, Space #6
San Francisco, CA 94111

Loui Loui Steakhouse - Palo Alto, CA

Loui Loui Steakhouse in Palo Alto, CA is recently opened on University where Niebaum Coppola used to be. Since Coppola housed my favorite spaghetti carbonara this side of Rome, they had a tough act to follow.

I had not planned on getting a burger, but my friend Jeff, who has been with me on many a burger mission, twisted my arm. Okay, all he did was point out they had a burger and I ordered it. The Kobe Beef Cheeseburger went for $13.50. I ordered mine with Gruyere. Jeff went for the wimpier mozzarella.

The burgers were impressive in their size and looks. A massive white bun was fresh and spongy. The burger patty was thick and smothered with cheese. The flavor of the burger had a heavily spiced taste that I could not identify. I did not like it as much as the straightforward pepper and salt with good beef. It would seem to me if one were going to use expensive Kobe beef, you wouldn’t want to hide the flavor.

We also had fries ($4) and onion rings ($4). Both were hot and crisp, flavorful and plentiful. We also had a pleasant experience eating at a table outside on the sidewalk on a sunny May day.

Burger 3.5 out of 5 spatulas
Fries 4 spatulas
Onion Rings 4 spatulas

Loui Loui Steakhouse
473 University Ave.
Palo Alto, CA 94301

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Brown's Diner - Nashville, TN

Brown’s Diner in Nashville, Tennessee is another recommendation from Hamburger America. When we showed up at Brown’s, we were glad to see it was open. An unassuming double-wide tacked onto an old bar, Brown’s definitely does not bring the folks in for its beauty.

We entered the dark dining room and took a seat at one of the booths made up of a parquet wood table top and a slatted, pew-style seat. Mom was not that up for a burger and asked about the chicken sandwich. “It’s okay if you like Tyson frozen chicken.” Our server said this purely objectively and without judgment. “But you really should get the cheeseburger.” So we did. I ordered the cheeseburger with fries ($4.75) Mom got the hushpuppies as her side.

We had arrived around 11:30 am, so the place was only about one-third full, by the time our burgers arrived 10 minutes later, Brown’s was almost full. All walks of people rolled in; contractors, business people, a grandfather and teenage granddaughter and every other demographic one could think of.

Our burgers were very minimalist and classic. The patty was thick and griddle-fried, just like my Mom used to make on the farm. A toothpick pierced the basic white bun, holding in place three pickle slices on top. I had gotten my onions grilled. They sat on top of nicely melted American cheese. Lettuce, tomato and mayo nestled under the patty.

The first bite transported me back in time to all those handmade fresh burgers of my youth. The burger was cooked medium-well as we had been told, but the thicker patty kept it juicy. Everything balanced nicely together and Mom and I both really enjoyed the burger.

I guess I love Brown’s the most because like all my favorite burger joints it is just about the burger. No gleaming 50s retro theme, because it really existed like it is now in the 50s. My guess is that Brown’s will outlast all the chains, mega burger places and national gimmicks and be serving their burgers on the same parquet tables for years to come.

Burger 5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 3 spatulas

Brown’s Diner
2102 Blair Blvd.
Nashville, TN 37212

Drive Across the Smokeys

After a great breakfast burger in Greenville at the Northgate Soda Shop, we headed north toward Asheville. Pulling into town after a beautiful trip up through the hills, we found our next destination. I usually don’t do two burgers in a day, but I really wanted to try the burger at Burgermeister's in Asheville. Most of the reviews on line had been good and it sounded like a cool place. Sure enough when we pulled up it looked like a lot of fun with a big burger sign and blue and white façade.

My excitement faded as I noticed only a carpet-cleaning truck parked in front. Sure enough they were closed. I went inside and asked the manager what the scoop was. “Always closed on Tuesday’s.” He said. My burger bad luck continued.

Mom and I enjoyed Asheville and had a very nice lunch in the river district at the Clingman Cafe, but I couldn’t help thinking of my lost opportunity.

We set off for Knoxville, making our way through Smokey Mountain National Park. I had never been here before ad the country really is beautiful all verdant and spring lively.

As we drove over the river into Knoxville, we saw a restaurant right on the river. Calhoun’s. We made our way to the parking lot after a few wrong turns. Calhoun’s is a barbeque place, but claimed to have a great burger. I wanted to try their barbeque, so we ordered up a burger as an appetizer before the brisket. Our server was a lovely young lady who had moved out from California, and told us how at 25 she already owned three houses and was working in the restaurant to keep busy in the evenings.

She brought out the burger first. It looked impressive, but a little overcooked. I figured it was just the fact that it was cooked on a charcoal grill. I cut it in half and verified that it was overcooked. Biting in, it was dry and tasted like charcoal and not much else. The brisket was similarly overcooked and Mom had to send back her ribs because they too were overcooked. Our server cheerily replaced the ribs and we finished dinner. Really the service and the great views of the river were the only thing to recommend Calhoun’s.

Thank goodness I had opted for my breakfast burger at Northgate that morning.

Burger 1.5 spatulas out of 5

400 Neyland Drive
Knoxville, TN

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Northgate Soda Shop - Greenville, SC

The Northgate Soda Shop in Greenville, South Carolina proved an elusive target for a burger. But one can never keep a good burger seeker down.

Our trip across South Carolina continued as we headed east. In Columbia, we decided to call ahead to Greenville to make sure the Northgate Soda Shop would be open. “We are open until 8 o’clock”, said the voice on the other end. So we diverted our trip from Charlotte to Greenville specifically to hit Northgate. I had read this was one of the classic burger joints of all time in Hamburger America.

We arrived at seven o’clock only to find a closed Northgate. Walking next door to The Other Side Bar, owned by the same people, we were told the cook had gone home sick. Miffed, we left and headed to downtown Greenville for pizza.

The next morning we tried again for breakfast. Walking into Northgate one can travel back to 1947 when the place opened. Jim DeYoung had bought the place in the 60’s. Over the years he filled it with memorabilia he had been collecting. Old soda bottles, model boats, photos and traffic lights were arranged neatly on the shelves. Jim himself was there having coffee with his buddies. We were introduced to Jim by Tom Carr, the cook and host in the morning at Northgate. Tom’s sister Catherine Christophillis bought the shop a few years ago.

Tom gave us the nine-item breakfast menu consisting of various biscuits and eggs, but no burgers. I asked Tom if he would mind making me a burger for breakfast since I had driven all this way. Of course he would. Tom fried me up a Chris Evans Burger with bacon, American cheese and a fried egg ($4.15). Mom had an egg biscuit ($1.25).

While Tom was cooking up the grubb, Mom and I took in the museum that doubles as a soda shop. There is a long old counter with black Naugahyde stools. Various faux wood tables and chairs sit among shelf after shelf of memorabilia. Brass nameplates grace tables. Each plate holds the name of a patron who has passed to the burger joint in the sky. Jim pointed to the end of the counter and said only one nameplate has a name of a patron still alive. “He has been in a few times.” Jim said.

Tom brought over the breakfast and it was just as good as advertised. The burger meat was thick and juicy, old-fashioned burger style. The white sesame bun was grilled inside and out. American cheese melted down the sides. I bit in and the yolk from the egg ran out the side, a great breakfast sandwich. Why hasn’t McDonald’s tried this? Mom’s biscuit was buttery and tasty, like you would expect in the south.

We paid our bill and said our good-byes. As I was walking out I remembered to take a peak at the nameplate at the end of the bar. Elvis Pressley [sic] was the name.

Burger 5 spatulas out of 5

Northgate Soda Shop
918 North Main Street
Greenville, SC 29609

Sunday, May 10, 2009

B&D Burgers - Savannah, GA

B&D Burgers in Savannah, GA, is a great place to take Mom for Mother’s Day. I know because I did so today. Mom and I are on a drive from Florida to Indiana. We are taking the scenic route through the Carolinas, so that means a swing through the lovely and historic town of Savannah, Georgia on our way.

B&D resides in the middle of the busier more touristy part of Savannah. It sports clean wood booths and alligators on the walls (photo above). Our lovely and charming server was a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), which dominates much of Savannah, in a good way. She suggested I have the Colonial ($8.29 for 1/2-pound), from the expansive menu of burgers. Mom had a 1/3-pound Broughton, a cheeseburger named after the street in front. All burgers are available in 1/3, 1/2 or 1 pound versions of fresh ground Angus. Burgers include fries. I had potato. Mom ordered sweet potato.

We started it all off with onion rings. I really liked these beer-battered lovelies, which are crunchy and almost hushpuppy-like in their cakey consistency.

The burgers came next. They are served open faced with lettuce, tomato and onion. Mustard, mayo and other condiments sit at the table. My Colonial sported American cheese, bacon and a fried egg, ordered over-easy by this reviewer. I assembled the burger, capping it with a very white and fluffy bun. The first bite squirted yolk out the side onto my hand and face. All the flavors ran together for a satisfying, breakfast-like burger. This worked well for me being on California time and eating at 9 A.M. as my stomach saw it. (Noon in Savannah.)

The sweet potato fries were cooked with a firm outside and a sweet inside. They were not heavily salted or spiced, but served natural style. Same with the potato fries. Skins on and thin-sliced, the fries were presented in a similar bare-bones fashion. They tasted fresh as if cut on site.

As we ate another charming student/busgirl stopped at the table and chatted us up about the alligators sculptures all over the walls. All were just castings it turned out. Except for one skinned fellow hanging on the wall in front of the restaurant. It had been killed in the restaurant owner’s yard. Our trip was of to a fun start.

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

B&D Burgers
13 East Broughton Street
Savannah, GA

Stations Burger Challenge

Stations is my labor company in the office furniture business. When their people go ninety days without an injury at work, they throw a BBQ. The theme of the most recent BBQ was a burger challenge. Andrew and Brian, the owners, decided to see who could cook the best burger and they asked me to be the judge.

When I arrived at Stations, two grills were hot and smoking in the back. One grill, a smoker, puffed smoke out its back chimney. Andrew cooked up his burgers on this one. He decided to let me try two different burgers.

Burger #1, sat on a beautiful sesame bun, that looked vaguely familiar. Andrew placed a large patty, estimated at about a half pound, on top of the toasted bun slathered with “secret sauce”. Grilled onion, tomato and crisp, honey-tasting bacon sat on top of a patty whose juices flowed despite the burger being cooked medium well. With no cheese on the burger, I noticed the unique taste of the patty resulted from bleu cheese in the burger.

Burger #2, also Andrew’s, had the same bun, sauce, vegetables, but added jack cheese to an even juicier patty. The flavor of this burger was exquisite. I could taste a little garlic an Andrew confirmed he added garlic salt, pepper and a little Worcestershire sauce to the meat. He had cooked it a perfect medium to my enjoyment. I preferred the cheese outside the patty.

Next came Brian on the gas grill. As Brian unwrapped his patties, I was astounded at the size. Some pushed close to a full pound. He cooked them up along with slices of thick bacon on the grill right beside them. He finished grilling and had me grab a whole-wheat bun, laying the massive patty of Burger #3 on the bun and topping it off with the bacon. Left to choose from the many condiments Brian had provided, I picked them all, putting a little mayo, mustard and Brian’s special BBQ sauce on top. I also added some lettuce.

The burger was very smoky and flavorful. Like nothing I have tasted before. I wished I had not put the BBQ sauce on. It masked the burger flavor a bit. I took some of the meat by itself and could not figure out what I tasted. Brian confided that he had purchased really low-fat ground beef and then added bacon fat to the mix to bring the fat up to 20 percent. The bacon was a little undercooked for my taste and that may be what pushed me to giving Andrew’s number two burger a slight edge in the contest.

As the guys pounded down their burgers, a little secret came out. I had been played. Andrew sandbagged me by reading my blog and cooking his burger to my taste. He purchased the déjà vu buns from the Palo Alto Creamery, my current favorite. The crisp bacon was cooked just like I describe in several of my blogs. He kept the meat seasoning to a minimum and relied on the meat to provide the flavor. The "Secret Sauce" was Thousand Island.

Then again, after thinking it over, maybe I hadn’t been played. Maybe I had unwittingly schooled Andrew on how to cook a fine hamburger through the blog and my search to Master the Hamburger.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sliders Burger - San Jose, CA

Sliders Burger in San Jose, CA hides in a strip mall. I drove right by the first time. But was glad I turned around and headed back. Started about 4 years ago, the place takes its burgers seriously, grinding their own chuck in the store and grilling them up on a very cool rotary grill over coals.

Given a choice between a six-ounce and an eight-ounce burger, I chose the half-pound. The Bacon Cheeseburger combo with fries and a drink costs $7.50. Add onion rings into the mix for an extra buck.

Sliders features a clean dining room with wood tables and a tiled floor. CNN blared from a flat screen mounted on the wall in the back of the restaurant. Everyone in the crowded place watched the updates on swine flu. Stainless steel and black-and-white tiles on the walls give the place a slight retro feel.

The burger comes with only the patty, American cheese and bacon sitting on a nicely toasted sesame bun. Someone else got the grilled onions and mushrooms. I will try that next time. The well-equipped condiment bar features lettuce, tomato, onion, and several sauces. I added some lettuce and thousand-island dressing to my burger.

The burger sported a juicy and flavorful patty, very nice with a charcoal-tinged flavor. The bun sprang fresh and tasty, the bacon crunching along.

The thickly cut fries radiated their heat but disappointed when compared to the burger. Though hot and crunchy, the unremarkable onion rings sat blandly on the tongue.

Putting as much energy into the side dishes as the burger would make Sliders a standout burger joint in San Jose. But the burger alone makes the trip worthwhile.

Burger 4.5 spatulas out of 5
Fries 2.5 spatulas
Onion Rings 2.5 spatulas

Sliders Burger
1645 W. San Carlos St.
San Jose, CA 95128