Almost a year ago, I tested my gastronomic threshold for sandwiches. What started as an innocent tour of Burbank's sandwich shops became an adventure of Homeric proportions — a fight to the death wherein one of us ham-stuffed Spartans would be left shattered and/or digested.
I tackled the Italian offerings at Tony's, then again at another Tony's. A third Tony offered the zenith of the pastrami arts, while Giamela's steak-stuffed heart-buster made my taste buds dance and my arteries beg for mercy. Otto's, Moore's, and even the Handy Market created signature dishes that would satisfy the fussiest bon vivant.
My companion on this culinary saga was Jack Swiker, founder of the Danger Sandwich blog (thedangersandwich.
blogspot.com), who tours the world in search of the perfect presentation of meat, cheese and bread. Though our tour of nearly a dozen joints might best lesser men, we are either braver or dumber than most.
Next month, we're going at it again. This time, we could use your help.
Though our sandwich journey was as sprawling and epic as a Tolkien tale, Burbank's really a burger town. It's got everything for the burger connoisseur — your share of chain restaurants, local greasy spoons providing the greasiest, spooniest sandwiches this side of Hamburg — even a peanut-butter-and-jelly burger if you're feeling brave.
Jay Sadofsky almost took it off the menu once at Mo's on Riverside, but there were just too many customers who still wanted to try the PB&J creation — even though it's called the Foggy Bottom Burger.
“And it really tasted pretty good,” he said.
If there is a ground-chuck food pyramid within Burbank's borders, Mo's sits pretty close to the top. Its roots as a Hampton's restaurant are carried through today — burgers are still hand-shaped by chefs who have manned the same double-broilers for 25 years.
There's a difference between hand-shaped patties and the frozen pucks that try to pass for burgers elsewhere. In our journey, we're going to try them all — or at least as many as we can in the course of several sittings. Taking larger restaurant chains out of the mix, and leaving off diners where the specialty is more concentrated on the breakfast menu, we've counted at least two dozen spots to satisfy our quest for the best.
So where should we go? I'll take suggestions for locations through March 3, when Jack and I embark on our journey. Email me at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and tell me your favorite spot; we'll make sure it's on the road map.
I hope to learn about new places, and I'll hit those out-of-the-way gems. The Apollo Char-Burger at Magnolia and Glenoaks is one — it's the embodiment of a bygone era that perseveres in its mid-century architecture and menu offerings. The Apollo has to be seen to be believed; when I called there to ask about his burgers, the owner had to hang up on me and serve more customers. Umami will open in the old Papoo's Hot Dog Show on Riverside later this year, but as they have not announced an opening date, it is out of the running for this year's burger journey.
Food fads come and go (I can't wait until we're over bacon). The hamburger trudges on. It is a simple staple of Americana that's trusty like an old friend you see once in a while. When you do cross paths, you can pick up the conversation right where you left it.
Sadofsky has no trouble spilling the recipe for a Mo's burger: a half-pound of ground Angus beef, some salt, some pepper. It's a straightforward preparation for a straightforward dish, one that is deceivingly complex in its simplicity.
Perhaps that is why we love to debate whose burger bests the bunch. I may not settle the debate, but as Homer said, “The journey is the thing.”
--BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he isn't attending conventions, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.