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The Higher Standard of Review for Expensive Burgers

havenburger.JPG
Dave Lieberman

Two weeks or so ago, Jeff Overley at the Orange County Register wrote a poll for their Food Frenzy blog about whether gourmet burger joints are a rip-off. Overley knows his stuff, and he's got his feet on the ground when it comes to value received for money paid. When something is expensive but worth it, Overley and his partner in food investigation, Claudia Koerner, say so. 87 percent of the more than 1200 respondents either flat-out said yes, they're a rip-off, or that the burger might be worth it but the markup on the sides and drinks is ridiculous.

The question is well-timed; Orange County is exploding with high-end burger joints. Greg Daniels at Haven introduced fancy burgers to an Orange Circle that previously was dependent upon Watson Drugs' sandwich counter; Joseph Mahon from L.A.'s Bastide came home to OC and opened up a permanent pop-up in Fullerton. In the near future, Umami Burger will start trying to collate the hipsters in Anaheim, and Jason Quinn, who's already proven himself to OC with the Lime Truck, will open Playground Burger next to the Yost Theatre in Santa Ana.

dgburger01302011.jpg
Dave Lieberman
Then there's DG Burger at South Coast Plaza. Edwin ripped them for their service and the price; I lambasted them for their service and the cost of the sides. Yelpers have savaged them for their service and the price: they've gone from 3 1/2 stars in February to 3 stars in August. The burger was pretty good, but not worth the wallet rape we were all subjected to ($5 for a mixed green salad with two tomatoes on it? $3.75 for a 12-ounce soda? Really--a 1,200% markup over retail?). We got a lot of nice words from a spokesperson for Charlie Palmer... but DanGarion of Eat in OC just posted his review, and it's apparent that nothing's changed except the portion size of the fries.

So, would-be burger designers, take some free advice: every man, woman and child in the United States knows what a good burger tastes like. Even people who would voluntarily choose to eat at Subway or the Texas Cheesecake Depository can distinguish between a mediocre burger and a great burger, and the burger culture is so deeply ingrained into our American sense of self that a burger that's too expensive will generate precious little positive press.

In other words, and more briefly: just because you can slap some carefully sourced meat on a grill and flounce it up with some fancy, unusual toppings does not mean your burger is worth $10. A $10 burger needs to stun us into respectful silence. Some of those burgers listed above did that; some didn't, and it sucks to pay that much for a burger that doesn't match the price point.

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13 comments
Bara
Bara

I think the best burgers are the ones I make (using whatever high end meat I want ground that day), In N Outs, and The Habit.  When I make my own, I don't worry about high markups, and whether or not the restaurant is really serving what they say they are serving.  It tastes better, no markup, and I can have unlimited sweet potato fries w/ sea salt and unlimited Brita filtered water.

Jesse Bluma
Jesse Bluma

I am not a big customer of fast food restaurants, although once a year I do get a Carl's Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger or the Eat This Not That Turkey Burger.  I would encourage home cooks and restaurants to create better burgers without so much salt, fat, and sugar.  Citrus juice, herbs, garlic, and ginger are excellent ways to build flavor.  If you wish to politely encourage restaurants to improve their nutrition send them an email (Carl's Jr.).  Below is a review of the free items I received from Carl's, including their Six Dollar Buger. http://pointeviven.blogspot.co...

Hank Mardoukus
Hank Mardoukus

Best burgers are fur burgers. Served hot and wet!

Mo_abdulla
Mo_abdulla

OC Weekly doesn't pay that much, it's obvious, but Charlie Palmers is an expensive restaurant.  I only drink or eat there during happy hour.  It's their brand, it's in South Coast Plaza, etc. The burger price isn't that bad, but yes, the sides are very expensive.  And I recently had the Macy's burger, it was a joke that it was the same price as the DG Burger, that said, I understand everyone has their own tastes, so need to go off on me. 

NathanPralle
NathanPralle

Clearly the West Coast is not the only location with such problems; the Midwest surely knows a good burger -- hell, we make them ourselves half the time on our own grills -- and being overcharged for one is insane.

Fancy Burger Folks -- take note:- If it's going to cost me $10, I'd better get the meat done how I want.  No choice in doneness = inferior.- If it's going to be expensive, then you'd better have flavor combinations that I can't create on my own.   Sauteed mushrooms and onions with some steak sauce isn't cutting it.- Store-bought buns = store-bought quality.   Please.- The sides had better not suck.   Nothing worse than a great burger and crappy fries/salad.

MayhemInTheHood
MayhemInTheHood

"Greg Daniels at Haven introduced fancy burgers to an Orange Circle that previously was dependent upon Watson Drugs' sandwich counter"How dare you diss Omega Burger like that.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Omega Burger's on the bad side of the tracks, my dear Mayhem, but point taken.

DanGarion
DanGarion

It's not that bad, if you grew up in Stanton... ;)

thatguy542
thatguy542

While I don't mind paying a higher price if it's worth it, Mick's Karma Burger in Irvine has been my go-to place for the last couple of months. It's surprisingly high end without a high markup ($5.50) and the fact that it's an intimate, family-run place makes it that much better.

JB
JB

I have been to Marc Burger [Marcus Samuelsson's place] at the Macy's Signature Kitchen space in Costa Mesa, and while it was better than nearby DG Burger, I consider his signature sandwich to be more of a niche preference.  It was cooked medium, not medium rare [Marcus' choice, not mine] and had steak sauce on it.  For the niche audience that likes their burgers cooked medium and topped with steak sauce, that's great.  For the rest of us...$12.95 will buy two excellent Big Bargain combos at TK Burger, complete with juicy medium-rare patties, secret sauce, and ketchup (on the tables).  And you'll have change to tip the gals too. 

I will say that Marc Burger's Kobe Sliders were excellent.  And they were dressed with a tasty aioli...homemade, I'm sure.  I don't believe DG Burger does Kobe on its bare-bones menu.  Tip: if you're dining with a companion, order one burger of your choice (maybe not the Marc Burger) apiece, and then share the Kobe Sliders. 

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