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What’s more American than the hamburger? This culinary icon is deeply embedded in our culture. It’s been immortalized in countless movies and television shows. (Who could forget Samuel L. Jackson’s Big Kahuna burger commentary in “Pulp Fiction”?) Since we’re a nation of individuals, it seems fitting that the variety of hamburgers available is as colorful and wide ranging as our imaginations will allow. Whether you’re hungry for a traditional burger or something out of the ordinary, there are many appetizing choices available in the Sacramento region.
I was thrilled to discover the spectacular Garlic Burger at Brick House Restaurant & Lounge. The restaurant wasn’t messing around when it named this meaty wonder: The kitchen takes two one-third-pound, hand-pressed ground chuck patties and crams whole roasted garlic cloves, sauteed mushrooms and basil pesto in between them, forming one formidably sized, thick patty. The cooked, stuffed meat, topped with melted Provolone, is then laid on a toasted French roll covered with—what else?—garlic dressing and mayonnaise. Take a bite, and as the middle starts oozing out, just push your sleeves back, grab a stack of napkins and succumb to its garlicky (and seriously messy) charms.
9027 Elk Grove Blvd., Elk Grove; (916) 714-0840;brickhouse-eg.com
I’ve always been a big fan of the endlessly creative menu at Tucos. Where else can you get Texan wild boar tamales and peach tres leches cake? The burger selection is no exception. I’m especially fond of the teeny restaurant’s Tucos Burger, a plump, impossibly juicy one-third-pound patty of grass-fed ground beef, smothered with a fried egg, creamy avocado slices and melted mozzarella and jack cheeses. As a prelude to your meaty repast, order Tucos’ irresistible bacon-wrapped, apple-stuffed dates.
130 G St., Davis; (530) 757-6600; tucos.org
If you’re under the impression that a vegetarian burger is somehow wimpy, you haven’t tried the California Burger at The Plum Cafe and Bakery. This sturdy burger has cojones: Its chewy patty, made from arborio rice and sunflower seeds, is topped with equally assertive slices of tempeh bacon, pickles, lots of avocado and enough Thousand Island dressing to help it all slide tastily down your gullet. Pair this brute with a “supergreen” smoothie. 2315 K St.; (916) 706-3302; plumcafebakery.com
JOHNNY CASH BURGER
In a health-conscious culture, it can take some moxie to indulge in tasty pleasures. But let’s face it: Some foods are just worth it. At Samuel Horne’s Tavern, the Johnny Cash Burger definitely falls into that category. Toss your calorie counter in the closest garbage can before sinking your teeth into this sandwich. The Angus beef patty, shellacked with a sweet, intense bourbon-espresso “red-eye” sauce, is piled with crispy bacon and grilled onions and finished off with a layer of melted cheddar cheese: It’s a five-napkin burger. 719 Sutter St., Folsom; (916) 293-8207; samhornes.com
WHERE’S THE BEEF?
Does a burger have to be beef to be a burger? Many traditionalists would say “yes,” but we like to maintain an open mind and an adventurous attitude. Every once in a while, it’s fun to walk on the wild side. Here are four out-of-the-box burgers that will help you do just that.
REUBEN BUFFALO BURGER
Flaming Grill Cafe is your one-stop shop for burgers made of exotic meats such as wild boar, antelope and elk. I’m crazy for buffalo, especially when it’s incorporated into the marvelous Reuben Burger... The buffalo patty (which, incidentally, has significantly less cholesterol and more protein than beef) is covered with melted Swiss cheese and piled with shaved pastrami and tangy, moist sauerkraut. Folded inside a bun that’s delightfully glopped with lots of Thousand Island dressing, this is a flavorful and distinctive feast. 2319 El Camino Ave.; (916) 359-0840; flaminggrillcafe.com
THE BEST BURGER I EVER ATE . . .
“ It was a lamb burger with Moroccan spices that I made. I cooked it over a wood fire and served it on an English muffin bun from Model Bakery in Napa with harissa mayo and some delicious pickles that I also made. It was insanely good.”—Michael Tuohy, Block Butcher Bar
Sam’s Classic Burgers in Citrus Heights is one of those enduring drive-up burger joints that’s just as appealing for a casual first date as it is for a soccer team lunch or a fun dinner with the family. Fans love the shakes (whose flavors range from chocolate and strawberry to coconut and peppermint), and the burgers—wonderfully straightforward and classic—are sure to satisfy. I am partial to the Chili Burger, whose utter simplicity I find very comforting. All-meat chili is slathered over the beef patty, which is tucked into a bun so soft that you have to eat quickly before it gets sodden and droopy. There’s no cheese or beans to get in the way of the meaty flavors (though you can request chopped onions if you so desire)— and I like it that way. 7442 Auburn Blvd., Citrus Heights; (916) 723-7512
The quintessential roadside American burger, the Fatboy at Scott’s Burger Shack is prepared with care and shines with fabulous flavor. Stuffed with the thickest slices of ripe, red tomato and white onion I’ve seen in my burger journeys, this sandwich features a half-pound patty, melted cheddar cheese and bacon slices. Constructed on a cushy, easily clutchable French roll, this burger is one of the city’s finest. Note: Scott’s is located on busy Franklin Boulevard, and seating (all outdoors) is very limited. Many customers call to order their burgers and take them to go. One more thing: Scott’s takes only cash. 4127 Franklin Blvd.; (916) 451-4415; facebook.com/ ScottsBurgerShack
It’s easy to get order paralysis at Relish Burger Bar in El Dorado Hills— there are so many enticing choices. But I’ll make it easy on you. Get the Teriyaki Burger. The expertly cooked beef patty is embellished with sweet, smoky slices of warm grilled pineapple, crispy fried onions and melted Swiss cheese. A copious splash of teriyaki sauce rounds out the flavor of this delectable burger. 1000 White Rock Road, El Dorado Hills; (916) 933-3111;relishburgerbar.com
WILD MUSHROOM HAWKS BURGER
Leave it to Hawks in Granite Bay to elevate the humble burger to soaringly elegant heights. The award-winning restaurant keeps it surprisingly simple: A half-pound, custom-ground beef patty, rounded more like a softball than a traditionally shaped patty, is cooked on an almond wood-fired grill and topped with your choice of melted cheese. Placed on a delicate, buttery house-baked brioche bun, the meat is smothered in a marvelous tangle of sauteed wild maitake mushrooms. The swanky nosh is served with crunchy house-crafted pickles and a creamy, refined aioli that I would eat by the spoonful if no one were watching. If that isn’t enough to make you want to run directly to Hawks, consider the accompanying twice-fried, hand-cut Kennebec french fries—hands-down the best in the region. 5530 Douglas Blvd., Granite Bay; (916) 791-6200;hawksrestaurant.com
THE BEST BURGER I EVER ATE . . . “ Ryan Farr’s burger at 4505 Meats at the San Francisco Ferry Building farmers market. The guy’s an incredible butcher. He salts the grind before making the patty. It’s the epitome of what a burger should be.” —Michael Thiemann, Mother
Meaty in texture and rich in flavor, the portobello mushroom is an ideal substitute for a beef patty. Burgers & Brew takes the time to grill the portobello, giving it a smoky edge, then partners it with zesty roasted red pepper mayonnaise for added flavor. It’s piled with lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles, making it the closest you’ll get to a “real” burger—minus the meat and cholesterol. Feeling naughty? Add a side of the restaurant’s crispy garlic curly fries. 1409 R St.; (916) 442-0900; and 403 Third St., Davis; (530) 750-3600; burgers-brew.com
Pick your way through flocks of clucking chickens in the parking lot at Sunflower Drive In and order a Super Nutburger—it just may convince you to give up meat completely. A yummy “nutmeat” patty is placed into pita bread stuffed with alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, ripe tomato slices and chopped white onion. Moistened tangily with yogurt sauce, this burger radiates freshness and nourishment. You can’t help but feel virtuous after consuming it. 10344 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 967-4331;sunflowernaturalrestaurant.com
Tower Cafe’s claim to fame may be its outstanding French toast, but the well-loved restaurant also plates up a delicious nonmeat Earth Burger. The loosely packed, wonderfully textural patty is crafted from rice, Gouda cheese, roasted nuts and caramelized onions—a treat to nibble on even by itself. And it’s generously garnished with the traditional fixin’s on a whole-wheat bun. 1518 Broadway; (916) 441-0222; towercafe.com
ULTIMATE BIG BURGER
There are many reasons to make the trek to Ikedas in Auburn. (Did someone say “Dutch apple pie”?) But the best one may be its eye-poppingly enormous Ultimate Big Burger, designed especially for Paul Bunyanesque appetites. This behemoth contains not one but two beef patties, stacked carefully on a toasted French roll with thick bacon slices, avocado, soft grilled onions and aromatic sauteed mushrooms. Melted cheddar cheese and Ikedas’ “special sauce” add further excitement, and the burger is finished off with lettuce and fresh tomato. Personally, I wouldn’t attempt to tackle this one alone; I’d rather share it with a fellow burger fanatic. 13500 Lincoln Way, Auburn; (530) 885-4243;
LOUISIANA LAMB SLIDERS
At Mama Kim Eats, many of chef Kim Scott’s Creole-influenced dishes have a feisty edge and an innovative twist. So as you might imagine, the sliders are out of the ordinary. The rounded patties are a mixture of lamb and a small amount of spicy sausage, which gives the meat a lustier, fuller flavor than traditional sliders. The miniature patties are topped with melted Gouda cheese and a liberal lashing of frisky Creole relish. Plopped on light, pliable, doll-sized Acme buns, the sliders get a peppery hit from the addition of fresh arugula and are served with addictive sweet-potato chips. 1616 Del Paso Blvd.; (916) 515- 9971; mamakimcooks.com
THE BEST BURGER I EVER ATE . . .
“ It was an ahi tuna burger with wasabi aioli at The Beach Club at Pebble Beach. They froze the patty in nitroglycerin, then cooked it, so it was seared on the outside, raw on the inside. It caught me off guard. I was expecting something a little more country clubby.”—Ed Roehr, Magpie Cafe
AHI TUNA BURGER
This captivating dish has been a favorite of Esquire Grill customers for years. A sturdy, sesame-speckled bun is lavished with spicy soy mayonnaise, then stuffed with a meaty ahi patty, a lively layer of pink pickled ginger, whisper-thin slices of red onion and a pile of zesty, dainty daikon sprouts. Staffers recommend that you order the burger medium-rare; and I recommend that you choose the unapologetically buttery mashed potatoes as an accompaniment to this unique burger. 1213 K St.; (916) 448-8900; paragarys.com
Burgers rule at Broderick Roadhouse, a cozy and appealingly scruffy dive bar/restaurant in West Sacramento. In addition to the kitchen’s juicy beef burgers, there’s also a selection of more avant-garde versions, including the intriguing Duck Burger. The black pepper-encrusted ground-duck patty is dressed in a temptingly crispy cheddar cheese “skirt” and topped with a handful of fresh arugula and crusty fried onions. Garnished with both a fruity, complex roasted pear and fig chutney and garlic aioli, this is a burger for the intrepid. 319 Sixth St., West Sacramento; (916) 372-2436;broderick1893.com
How many people know that Tapa the World doesn’t just serve Spanish tapas; it makes a rockin’ burger as well? The Tapa Burger is served on a tender roll, and its ground-chuck patty is blanketed in a lovely melted sheep’s milk Manchego cheese and a delightful pile of sweetly caramelized onions. A velvety smear of garlic aioli gives it a distinctive zing, and lettuce and tomato add a refreshing note. Pair this hefty gem with a glass of Tapa’s fruity sangria. 2115 J St.; (916) 442-4353; tapatheworld.com
If you’re a blue cheese fan, check out the Blue Burger at East Sac’s Clubhouse 56. This convivial sports bar cranks out some first-rate burgers, and the Blue is one of its best. A beautifully cooked patty is coated with a thick layer of mild, melted blue cheese and placed in a slightly chewy, smooth bun. Sweet, thinly sliced red onion is a nice foil for the saltiness of the cheese, and fresh tomatoes and lettuce give the burger a bright pop. I’m fond of the robust, wonderfully seasoned steak fries that accompany the burger, and the whole ensemble cries out for one of Clubhouse 56’s draft beers. 723 56th St.; (916) 454- 5656