A Million Burgers In The Naked City
All of us here at the Burger Blog have found that, since starting this and rocketing to worldwide fame, we get a few questions on a pretty regular basis from people.
The first one is almost always, “are you afraid you’re going to die?” Well, we all have the metabolisms of vikings, so we’re fine. Pass the bacon spread, this bacon sandwich is dry - and are we out of Krispy Kremes? This wheat bread won’t do.
One of the questions that usually follows is, “do you ever get tired of hamburgers?”
Simply put, no - we don’t. After all, each and every one of us is a true red-blooded American. A day isn’t complete without at least 18 ice-cold light beers, a pre-1984 Van Halen record and a healthy dose of red meat. You should hear us all when we’re together - all we talk about is our preference for extreme right-wing ideology, what a shame it is Michael Bay hasn’t won a Best Director Oscar and all the great places we can find cow flesh.
We all love it so much that occasionally, one of us wanders into a restaurant all by our lonesome and eats a solitary burger.
And that is exactly how our latest review site came to our attention. For that contingent of readers who don’t live in the Bay Area, the Union Square region of the city is magical. In one square block you can find high-end fashion, meaningless touristy nick-nacks and, on occasion, an insane homeless person who greets strangers with their genitals. Walking there the other day, within five minutes I had been called a racial slur whose race I have no attachment to, AND saw a man holding a sign that simply said, “Love Yourself!” Ahhh, San Francisco.
But when a young lady with a pep in her step and an urge for shopping looks for the place to peruse the latest in handbags, garish boots or gigantic sunglasses, she heads to Union Square. And that’s just what our own Leila did just a few weeks back. Actually, she does that somewhat regularly. But it was on that particular trip that she found herself standing outside a newly-opened burger restaurant.
Being the intrepid woman that she is, she didn’t back down from the challenge. She walked inside, proudly ordered and hunkered down to sample their basic burger all by her lonesome. Revitalized by burger she then marched around Union Square like Popeye on Spinach as she hunted for bargains on leggings and Mukluk boots, and it was decided that we all must sample this cuisine.
Burger House is connected to a little mini-conglomerate of food, including a cafe and a pizza spot. They do seem to take the burger-making seriously, as they’re using pretty solid ingredients. And plus, they have cutting-edge viewscreen menus, so you can pretend you’re ordering hamburgers on “Star Trek.”
Anytime you can hunker up to a counter and make your selection from a brightly-lit LCD screen instead of a boring-old printed menu, you’re earning points from me. I look forward to a future in which we all wander around silently with our touchscreen phones and iPads and whatever else encasing us in electronic convenience, like a sterile cocoon of light and happiness where nobody can touch you and episodes of “The Wire” are always 99 cents.
From ordering at the counter you’re given one of those little number signs to signify your identity through tags - just like the Lord intended! - and you can grab a seat in the shared dining area for the three restaurants.
And with that, let’s slide on down the rabbit hole into a mystical world of fantasty and meat. And yes, that does sound a little gay.
George got the same thing he always does - the FDR special, with a side of prohibition and a bowl of Women’s Lib. Well, actually it was just the normal, plain burger with an order of fries and a bowl of chili. But it’s fun to make fun of George’s age. Last week a 24-year-old made fun of me for mentioning “Mr. Belvedere” and having owned a Sega Genesis, so this is my way of taking it out on the world.
Burger House does a 1/2 lb. burger as their standard, and considering we were all walking in pretty hungry, we were pretty enthused at this. Because the only thing better than reviewing a burger is getting to review a half-pound of it.
James got the Philadelphia Burger, featuring provolone cheese, griddled onions and some hot peppers. As you can tell, he’s very excited about it. And if he did that in Philly, they’d probably punch him in the face.
After going for a normal cheeseburger on her first visit, Leila went with their Cable Car Burger - lettuce, tomato, bacon and typically swiss cheese, although Leila switched it to provolone because she’ll forever hate the Swiss for their claims to timemaker superiority and chipper songs during Nazi rule.
The Cable Car also includes fresh avocado, although just about every restaurant in San Francisco just uses some Cali-esque term as shorthand for “and here’s some avocado.” Ordering a Surf’s Up omelette? Get ready for a big dose of avocado. Settling in for a big West Coast Panini? Hope you like avocado! Getting a Bro-Ham Gnar latte? Open wide for a tall glass of avocado juice. You get the picture.
Joe got the Buffalo Style Burger. It gets slathered in a healthy dose of hot sauce, covered in grilled onions and then doused with bleu cheese dressing. For those times when you want to eat a big plate of hot wings, but you also need to ingest a half pound of seared hamburger. It’s a hell of a country, folks.
And I also got the Philadelphia Burger, the same as James. That normally doesn’t happen, because while we’re nowhere near as organized as people seem to think we are, we do usually at least confer before ordering. On this trip, though, we were briefly split up for a while. Picture the middle chapter of “The Lord of the Rings,” except Leila and I were Merry and Pippin and George was our Gandalf - wise, bearded and prone to wearing lots of white. Also, kissing dudes.
But we showed up in waves, mostly because Joe wanted to stay at the office late to watch a space shuttle launch. I may be able to pull a Tolkien reference from memory, but Joe is a Grade-A space nerd of the highest order. He plans to give any children he ever has, boy or girl, the middle name “Buzz” and he calls his car the U.S.S. Asskicker. But that could also be because he only listens to REO Speedwagon when he drives.
We got our usual assortment of fries and onion rings, because we’re go-getters who achieve things, goshdarnit. The fries are actually chopped and peeled fresh every day, and the same goes for the onion rings. I know people think the Bay Area is filled with nothing but health nuts and organic food, but as somebody who has managed to gain weight since moving here from the Midwest - America’s Home Of The Frito Pizza - you’d be amazed at all the places that take the time to make junk food well. If you’re going to harden your arteries, it may as well be from fresh potatoes soaked in duck fat and dipped in a creamy sauce made from organic goat cheese, and not congealed Little Debbie hate-goo pumped into your heart via a plastic syringe you bought in a vending machine.
The batter on the rings was good, but if I had any complaints I’d have to say because they’re sliced so thin, they get cold relatively quickly. The thinner approach is one we hadn’t encountered yet for the blog, and one we were excited to try - but after about five minutes they were starting to get chilly. They serve the rings with a creamy dipping sauce, but as the rings got cold the batter flaked off and soon the cup of white sauce was filled up with scabby chunks of the batter.
The fries, however, were pretty great. A nice thick cut, but still crispy throughout the entire fry. They were hot and tasty without being greasy.
Qualibeef: Burger House uses Niman Ranch meat for their burgers, and again - they do a 1/2 lb. as their standard burger. The beef itself is good and the quantity is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering the price - none of the burgers costs more than $10, unless you count the “King Salmon” burger, but unless it could “moo” and know the kinky thrill of being branded, it’s not a burger - it’s a fish sandwich. Sorry, Salmon.
All of us were in agreement that the joint could use a few more specialty options, and the woman who took our order said that was something they were looking into. They do offer a Napa Burger, which comes with fresh goat cheese, watercress and meyer lemon honey mustard - but c’mon; nobody in our group was going to order that. We all knew if we sat down and said, “I got the Napa Burger with fresh goat cheese and watercress!” it would be the equivalent of throwing the Dandy Fop to the Lions. I’m sure eating that is as delightful as pulling on a pair of clean pantaloons, tying up the chest upon your ruffliest shirt and frolicking on down to a field of daisies to write sonnets with a quill on only the finest parchment, but even the female contingent of our group avoided it.
Burger House has a stadium-quality condiment bar, except you won’t have to deal with a shirtless guy with a logo painted on his chest stumbling in front of you to get ketchup as he drunkenly mumbles to himself about RBI’s or something. Some of Burger House’s specialty burgers come with their own specific sauce on it and don’t really require much additional topping - but the option is nice. They also use an egg bun that they get shipped in fresh daily from a local bakery - and we all liked the bun.
In our final assessment, the quality of the beef was good, but couldn’t maintain over the toppings on the burgers themselves. James and I both agreed that the best bites of our Philly-style burger was at the end, when the cheese and peppers were mostly gone and just the beef was left. George enjoyed his plain burger, but we all agreed that these were better than good - but still not great.
Beefitude Score: 77 out of 93.2.
Starch-Nemesis: The fries at Burger House are really tasty. Once again, we’re reminded of the importance of chopping your own fries.
None of us could come up with a negative thing to say about the fries - they were crispy without being burnt, flavorful without being too salty and big without being overwhelming. If you enjoy a big french fry, you’ll love Burger House.
But again, the rings - they cut ‘em fresh, and the batter was good. The rings aren’t greasy, either - but the thin-cut and light-on-the-batter preparation means they get cold very quickly. What tasted great when they were first brought to the table get kind of mushy within a matter of minutes, and it’s a shame because they’re obviously looking to put their best foot forward. Because the place is new, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a retooling on the rings soon, but in the meantime - get the fries. You’ll be happy.
And for the sake of completism, there’s a picture of George’s chili. It also got good marks - not too spicy, but still very flavorful and savory.
Carbrifficness: The fries go high, and the rings get low. They’re the Salieri to Burger House fries’ Mozart. They want to do well. They mean to do well. But they just fall short. If the fries at Burger House die from exhaustion while writing their final opera and end up in a big pit covered in de-lousing powder, you know who did it. The sides get three altos out of five, and my pretentious “Amadeus” references get one.
Atmospherics: since the restaurant is in the middle of Union Square, it goes without saying that space is limited. There are definitely three different decorating schemes at play at the front - cafe, burger joint and pizza slice stand. All three then siphon off into a decently-sized dining area that is decorated in a relatively trendy motif. It’s comfortable and you get to be around a weird mix of people - while we were there we sat next to a table of Germans who didn’t know how to ask for ketchup, then also poured sugar on their spaghetti. If you forget about the aggressive streak, Germany could be the world’s wacky neighbor.
The eateries around Union Square tend to fall into one of two categories - somewhat ghetto, and chic and expensive. Burger House is a clean, pleasant restaurant attached to two other similar restaurants that won’t assault your senses with trash or a bum painted silver listening to “Mama Said Knock You Out” on a boombox with blown speakers. Yes, that happens.
Final Appearance: not too shabby. For the price it’s a nice, clean restaurant that keeps tidy. If you have to use the restroom, you will have to ask for the key - but that’s part of eating around Union Square. Everybody with a bathroom has to deal with an assault of wandering tourists, shoppers drunk on brunch mimosas and hobos who live on a diet of 22-proof malt liquor and garbage noodles, and they have to battle at their gates to keep the hordes from invading. If you’ve ever had to use a Carl’s Jr. bathroom, you’ll be grateful for having to find an employee to get the magical spoon that grants you restroom access.
The aftermath: With a half-pound of beef, you’re running the risk of several problems. Firstly, it could whisk you away to nappy land, where you gestate and allow the fat and protein to gel into the lovely extra inches you get to carry around until you get obsessed with yoga or die.
Second, you could give yourself a lovely case of what my Filipino mother-in-law calls “sour stomach,” but the rest of us would probably call the Screaming Meemies, Montezuma’s Revenge or the Green Apple Splatters.
Burger House goes for the quality beef, which kept most of us happy. We were all full, yes, but only one of us - Joe - didn’t feel too great. That’s mostly because Joe starved himself all morning long, barely touching anything and then upon getting his burger, crammed it into his mouth like he was competing in an eating contest. Seriously - George, Leila and I had all gotten our burgers prior to James and Joe even arriving, and Joe finished his before any of us were even close to the last morsels.
So while we were all sympathetic to Joe’s inevitable moans of not feeling so great, I think that one is all on him. The rest of us felt fine, and I even had hot peppers on my burger. Although none of us ate much the rest of the day, these burgers won’t destroy any chances you have of walking around afterwards, avoiding awkward social interactions or just plain leaving your digestive system in ruins. Unless you starve yourself for twelve hours and then swallow it whole like a donkey, in which case plan on heading home to rock some PJ’s and question your life decisions.
And don’t get me wrong - the burgers have some greasiness to them. Above is a shot of the napkin party I had to throw to keep my hands clean, and after having to throw out a shirt following our last review and the gallon of milkshake I spilled all over myself, George and I both went with putting a napkin in our collar like we were Looney Tunes characters having dinner. But the burgers manage to maintain that fine line of being greasy - but not too greasy. Think Donald Trump in season one of “The Apprentice,” as opposed to current Trump who keeps Bret Michaels around. Eat these burgers with the knowledge that you’ll be fine - but be aware that they are a 1/2 lb. If you’re not a huge eater, you should probably leave some on the plate.
So: looking for a hearty burger near Union Square and you don’t want to do a lot of walking or pay a lot? Burger House will satisfy. There are other burgers not far away that we enjoyed more - Pearl’s Deluxe, Mo’s Grill - but for a convenient burger spot a step above the fast food not far away, Burger House will fit the bill.
Burger House also has the advantage of being located nearby a San Francisco booze haven, the Gold Dust.
The Gold Dust was opened in, let’s say, 1844. For some reason, they put carpet on the floor. Then after ninety years of people smoking, fighting and vomiting in there, they banned smoking indoors in California and then kept fighting and vomiting but decided cleaning the carpet was for pansies and that the smell of millions of Pall Malls wafting through the air from below was the scent they’re looking for. They also have a resident band consisting of players who were probably learning to play guitar when Eisenhower came up with the “I Like Ike!” slogan and who still call Creedence Clearwater Revival “young whippersnapper” music. The place sucks you in like a vortex, and before you know it sobriety is a long-lost memory of times gone by. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend stopping by for a beer. It’s one of those little San Francisco spots that still endure, but don’t require somebody to wear a costume…
…and we can all get behind that.
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