This column came to be after coming to the realization that it is hard to find a simple, basic burger at many restaurants around town. Most seem to be loaded with gourmet toppings and of course the ever-present egg that can mask what a great burger is all about and that’s the meat, simple toppings, and a fresh bun designed to hold it together, not explode after the first bite. I’m not sure I need a burger that is ground with bacon either. My perfect patty starts with the fattest blend possible, at least 80/20 and never labeled lean. Fat equals flavor and moisture in a burger and that’s my objective. All that said there is a happy medium where simple burger meets toppings that do not dominate the experience.
I’d like to think I created that burger nirvana locally when I recently introduced my chef-consultant friend Michael Zonfrilli to Chris Van Alyea at Solterra as someone I would trust to help freshen up the menu there. All I asked for in return for the connection was that they include a simple burger on the menu as an option to their current, and very popular Navarra Lamb burger. The introduction was successful and my wish was granted. They really have the perfect burger scenario with a healthy 8-ounce portion of either the lamb or Niman Ranch beef with lettuce, tomato, onion, Manchego cheese, and truffle aioli on a fresh brioche bun from Sadie Rose. No overkill on the toppings and a nice gourmet touch with the Manchego and truffle aioli. You can also choose a mixed greens salad or patatas bravas on the side. Chris suggests his Merlot with the lamb and I love their Rose with the Niman Ranch burger. My suggestion if you are dining with a friend is to get one of each, split them, then you have the salad and potatoes to share as well. On a side, non-burger note, Chef Zonfrilli has introduced some other fabulous new dishes at Solterra as well.
Great burgers can pop up in unexpected places as well. Fish 101 has a fabulous, simple cheeseburger that is served with their hand cut fries. As much as they are a seafood centric restaurant, they are rocking their burger as well. I tend to create my own surf and turf adventure there by pairing the burger with one of their healthy fish plates and splitting them up.
The basic burger at Encinitas Ale House is a good one also. I’ve gone for their fancy gourmet selections but again, find that less is more in this category. For that classic diner burger Encinitas Café works every time. The Red Rooster in Oceanside, home of the Rooster Burger is a classic bar burger that is a flat-top fried patty topped with grilled onions and best eaten at the bar with a cold beer.
I’ve had a conundrum for a long time with the whole grass-fed beef movement, or at least the one in California. I’ve heard that any area raising grass-fed beef here has to be heavily irrigated to grow that grass. That does not make a lot of sense to me but maybe I’m missing something. If the cattle are grazing in an area where rain is plentiful and the grass grows naturally that would appear to be the best scenario for healthy, well marbled beef.
When I do a burger at home there are only two ways I will cook it, either over a wood and charcoal blend or on a red-hot cast iron skillet. If I have some time, the wood and charcoal mix is preferred but I’ve found that as with steak, I can control the temperature and the outer crisp of the burger best on cast iron. Again, I find at least an 80/20 lean to fat ratio and sometimes even mix in some ground pork. Salt and pepper both sides of the patty and let it sit out and get close to room temperature before placing it on the very hot skillet or grill. Cook it to your favorite temperature with a slice of cheese melted on top, a fresh bun that’s been buttered and grilled to a golden crunch brown on the pan or grill, then keep the condiments and toppings simple.
There is so much more to write about his simple pleasure, but that’s all I have room for this week. Check out Solterra’s new burger and menu offerings at 934 N. Coast Highway 101 or 760.230.2979 or www.solterrawinery.com