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LA’s Apple Pan vs. Pie ‘N Burger: Who Rules the City of Angels?


Let me start off this post by re-iterating the fact that I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles.  I will not bother saying which one, because 99.9% of the country has not heard of the town and confuse it with a neighbor to the north (the oft-mistaken-for city is San Bernardino– special prize to anyone who can figure out my actual hometown).  But that is neither here nor there.

I wanted merely to set the stage for what has become a battle royale in the LA-area for lunchtime burger domination: Pie ‘n burger vs. The Apple Pan.

Both serve burgers and other sandwiches at a counter.  Both are lunch hot-spots.  Both have pie.  Both are old (for California, anyway).

And I had not been to either of them, despite the location of my upbringing.  In fact, I grew up less than 5 minutes away from P ‘n B.  I took French classes three times a week at the Berlitz school across the street for nine months and not once did I venture through the gates to beefy bliss.  Tragic, I know.  However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for me, caused by my own childhood ignorance.  I do not have any bias when it comes to my critiques, and, ultimately, my selection as the lunch counter victor.

Continue reading ‘LA’s Apple Pan vs. Pie ‘N Burger: Who Rules the City of Angels?’

NOLA Part II: How things have changed.

It’s day 53 of the Gulf Coast oil spill, and the end doesn’t seem to be in sight.  I can’t help but think of Bayou Billy, our (fictional) tour guide in the bayou, who nonchalantly said, “we’re too far in for the spill to affect us.”

I guess things change about 40 days later.

But on to more upbeat topics.  The food scene in New Orleans proved to be quite an adventure, despite my brief foray into it.  After putting back beignets at Café du Monde and po’ boys at Domilise, we started to experience some of the finer dining experiences that NOLA has to offer.

Continue reading ‘NOLA Part II: How things have changed.’

Beacon Restaurant Bar Happy Hour

Burgergal recently enlightened me to a happy hour special at the Beacon Restaurant and Bar.  For a mere $19.95, any time from noon to 9pm, you get two drinks (well, beer, or house wine) and a burger or pizza.

Of course we had to be there.  And my recent oral surgery (today, in fact) requires me to take a break from solid foods for a bit.  In fact, one of the two things that I could do to “really mess it up”: take a bite into a sandwich.  Now, before we get into a philosophical debate about whether a hamburger is a sandwich or not, safe to say that I will be heeding my periodontist’s advice.

All of that said, I needed one of my last meals to be a good one.  And I’ve gotta say, the burger at the Beacon did not disappoint.  I unfortunately did not take any pictures, since I was too ravenously devouring the burger, but there is a great set of pictures taken by our friends over at Midtown Lunch.

The burger comes out pre-cut, immediately revealing how cooked it is.  Ours were a perfect medium, with a rosy color all the way through and a nice char on the outside.  When I first saw the inside of the patty, however, I thought that it looked a little pre-salted, like Kenji on Serious Eats had warned not to do.  It didn’t look like it would be as crumbly as a JG special, or even a Shake Shack smashed burger.  This gave me my doubts, but at the price, who was I to complain?

But then I took my first bite.  The meat was well seasoned, and it was juicy as could be.  The flavor was great, enhanced by the onion bun, which absorbed all of the umami-rich fat that was dripping from the patty.  The burger had a smokiness to it that was earthy, reminiscent of the black label (although much less aged tasting), which was further enhanced by the smoky ketchup that was served with it.  With a slice of American cheese (as Laurent Tourondel says, “for a cheeseburger, the only cheese you can use”), it was great.  Even now, the memory of the burger is with me, as I am relegated to Jell-O pudding and yogurt, and even that hurts to eat 🙁

The fries were ok, but nothing to write home about.  They were a little inconsistent, with some being a little soggy.

But I still devoured all of them.

And that was that.  And today I went to aperiTIVO with uberchef for a my true last solid/tomato-based/spicy/hot meal for a week or so.  And it was great.

The spice man cometh.

Today I was at the 77th St. flea market with Burgergal and saw this spice guy, reminiscent of markets in North Africa.  Anyway, I thought it was cool so I snapped a photo.  He also had that neat stick with a scoop on the end of it.  He was like a craps dealer, but with freshly ground spice blends.

It’s been a while, and I’ve been up to some random stuff.

Nougatine Burger

Since the blog started as a blog about burgers, I’ll kick off this post with a review of the most recent burger I’ve had.  After a slew of press about the burger at jean-Georges’ Nougatine (just another La Frieda black label rumour– no need to pay it any heed, the only place that has it is Minetta) and a glowing review from my buddy Ben, I had to check it out.  I’ve been to Nougatine and had great, although not memorable, meals, so I figured it had to be pretty good.

Continue reading ‘The spice man cometh.’

Bill's Bar and Burger. Meh.

When B.R. Guest recently opened another restaurant, I was skeptical.  I used to be a fan of the upscale-casual company’s concepts, and I actually was talking with them about joining their team a few years back.  However, as of late, I have been less than impressed with the quality of food at some of their locations.  The charm has worn off a bit.  That’s why when Bill’s Bar and Burger opened up in the old Hog Pit space, it wasn’t first on my list.

But they do have a smashed burger, so that was intriguing.

On a chilly night at the Standard Beer Garden a few months back, we tried to snag a quick burger at Bill’s, only to find that it was packed with the MPD-gensia.  This type of experience turns me off for a good few months (like when I refused to go to Di Fara again after confronting a two-hour wait).

About a week ago, the opportunity arose again, only this time I knew it was going to happen.  A Conde Nast Traveler party was happening, again at the Standard, and I knew that a mid-week pop-in to Bill’s would out a bit more positively.

We walked in around 8 o’clock and were quasi-immediately shown to a table.  The décor is fine, nothing really to write home about.  They didn’t mess around with too much of the raw elements that the Hog Pit had left behind.  The bar was where it was and the walls were where they were.  The front room is filled with high tables, and combined with the low-ish ceilings, it actually makes you feel like you are stepping into a cave (or, a pit, as the former establishment’s name might indicate).  It actually reminded me a little bit of the front area at the Corner Bistro, only this was filled with artsy and trendy types (and a lot of tourists).

The smells coming out of the tiny kitchen were pretty solid.  I could catch a corner of the griddle top from the bar, and I could see some smashed burgers doing their thing.  Just like at Shake Shack, the griddle top yields very little smoke but a ton of odoriferousness (yep, that is a word).  The beer selection is pretty good, and they’ve even got Abita root beer on tap (and when you order it, the waitress will confirm that you know it’s non-alcoholic, as she did to Uberchef).

Just like the Shack, Bill’s has a selection of burgers available.  We were four, and fortunately for me, we all went with something different.  Burgergal stuck with a plain old boring hamburger, Uberchefette went with the Bobcat (burger with green chili and jack cheese), Uberchef went with the Sunset and Vine (a take on the INO burger, with special sauce), and I went with a Bacon Cheeseburger (I was feeling adventurous).

Starting from the most basic, the smashed burger was pretty good.  Although La Frieda supplies the resto with its beef, the meat blend wasn’t quite as flavorful as the Shack, but was still decent.  Maybe the patties were a tad under-seasoned or something.  In any case, the patty hit the spot for me.  My bacon cheeseburger was great, and unlike some larger bacon cheeseburgers, I didn’t feel like a huge fatty afterwards.  Uberchef’s Sunset and Vine was ok, although the special sauce was way too sweet for a burger.  It was almost cloyingly sweet, which was not all that pleasant to eat.  Uber-C wasn’t a fan at all, and tasted curry in it, while I just tasted some sort of sweet spice, like a sweet relish.  It was definitely no In-n-Out special sauce (aka, thousand island dressing).

I’ve gotta say, the surprise winner for me was the Bobcat.  I found the green chilis to be spicy yet addictive, and the acidity of the toping really cut into the blandness of the patty.  I found the combination to be flavorful, and it made me wish that I had ordered it for myself.

On the side, we had some disco fries, which were pretty good, but I think that any diner in New Jersey would rock out a better version.  The regular fries were unremarkable.

Overall, I was satisfied with Bill’s, and I would probably go back if I were down in that area on a weeknight (meaning, a return visit is pretty unlikely).  The prices were decent, and the ambiance was pleasant enough.  I felt like they rush you a tiny bit, like the Bistro does, but I guess that they have to do that, since it’s not exactly a “relax with a bottle of wine concept.”  The burgers were more than palatable, but there are definitely better places here in NYC (to completely disagree with Josh Ozersky).  3 out of 7 cows.

BG and I are hitting up Nougatine at Jean Georges tomorrow night.  Supposedly they have a great burger.  Only time (and I) will tell.

Bobby Van's Revisited and a Weekend out in the Hampts.

A few weekends ago, BG and I headed out to Bridgehampton for a little getaway outside of the city.  With the business school applications behind me, it was time to start living again on the weekends.  I was looking forward mostly to getting in some solid wine drinking and eating.  The weather forecast called for some snow flurries, but inclement weather wasn’t going to put a damper on my planned consumption.

We were taking off on Friday night straight from work, meaning that we wouldn’t get into town until about 9pm or so.  For me, this meant only one thing– bar food at Bobby Van’s.  Although my last trip to BV’s hadn’t been exactly inspiring, I had high hopes for the sliders, and I knew that after a 3-hour train ride, I would need some nourishment.

As expected, we got to Bridgehampton at about 9.  After picking up the car, we headed over to Bobby Van’s.  Even though it was the off-season, the place was bumpin’ with locals looking to cut the lack of excitement with a few drinks and some grub.  After a short wait, we nestled up to the bar and ordered a couple of Brooklyn Winters.  (Side note, I’ve really be hooked on the Brooklyn Brewery Winter Ale this season.  It’s got a great depth and body to it without being overly heavy.  A great seasonal brew from the local boys.)  I didn’t need to see the menu– an order of mini Kobe burgers and a order of the lamb sliders with mint chimichurri.  It was burger time.

After a brief wait, the six little gems arrived.  They all arrived on nicely buttered brioche buns.  You always know how unhealthy a bun is based on its reflective surface.  I could practically see myself in these things.

Without going into too much detail, I’ve gotta say that the bar burgers are much better than their full-sized sibling.  They were great.  I found the Kobe ones better than the lamb, but this was probably because the mint chimichurri was fairly lacking in substance, and the lamb patties were a bit too mild for my taste– they lacked that gaminess that I look for in a good lamb burger.  Either way, the meal was truly satisfying, and was a great way to kickoff the weekend.

Later that evening, the remaining guests arrived, and we proceeded to put back a few bottles of wine with ease.  A good night’s sleep ensued.

The next day, we headed out to the bowling alley, where my rusty skills impressed no one.  Then the ladies did a little shopping while the men put back a few brews at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton.  But enough of this “outdoor” activity, let’s get back to some eating.  The culmination was supposed to be a big Saturday night dinner.  Although we were only six people, I envisioned a giant roast pig filled with sausages and other meat products, as featured in Fellini’s Satyricon.  The copious amounts of food that we prepared were actually not too far off.

Owen made a toasted walnut and sun-dried tomato pesto, which was great– a combination of earthy walnuts combined with a little salty tang from the tomatoes and a touch of balsamic vinegar.  He also made some cheesy onion bread, baked in the oven until melted and delicious– as he described, it was like “onion soup on toast.”  BG thought it was a bit too salty from the cheese, but I could have eaten that stuff all night without any complaints.  Perhaps I would have been bloated for a week, but well worth the pain.

The bread is on the left of the bowl of green, which in this photo looks like a giant bowl of guacamole, but was in fact a shredded brussels sprout salad, keeping in line with the whole bloating theme.

The main event was a big bowl of pasta that Owen also rocked, with a simple red tomato sauce, very similar to the Scarpetta sauce that is taking over the Upper West Side like a red-tomato plague.

So what did I do in this whole mess?  I know, it’s not like me to just sit back and enjoy without getting my hands in on the action.  I had only one contribution, but one that I took very seriously.


I am by no means a meatball master.  I have dabbled in the spherical balls of goodness, but I am hardly an expert of the subject.  I usually like to cook them in red sauce, but because we had a vegetarian in the house, these guys had to be made separately from any sauce.  No sauce?  No worries.  Let’s just crank up the fat content.

I went with an 85% lean ground beef (I wanted 80%, but BG persuaded me to be “healthy”), and matched that with an equal amount of ground pork.  The secret ingredient was a good glob of bacon fat leftover from the morning’s bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches.  Aside from that, the mixture was pretty standard: a good amount of parmesan cheese, parsley, some fresh baguette soaked in milk, and a good amount of salt and pepper.

Not wanting to take the chance of eating anything dry, I opted for a pan-frying and finishing the lot in the oven.  About 45 minutes later, we had delicious, golden-brown balls of meat.  None of us would have an iron deficiency after this meal, that was for sure.  They were tender from the milk-soaked bread, with a great earthiness from the parmesan cheese and a little freshness from the parsley.  Not too bad, I must say.  A little close-up of the onion bread, salad, and meatballs is featured below.

All in all, a great weekend, with a return to NYC just in time to see the Saints win the Super Bowl.  Even better.