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Photo by Jeanne RiceWay back when my father used to bounce me on his knee, he'd take the family to Knowlwood for burgers. All I can remember from those trips were the scrumptious one-third-pound burgers—as big as your head—the patio's bug screens that trapped more flies in than out, and the large number of biker and trucker types who scared me even more than the times my father would "accidentally" drop me on my head.
In the 20 years since, some things haven't changed. Knowlwood still serves arguably the best burger in the county, and I still hear my father's maniacal laughter as I lay me down to sleep. But some things have changed quite a lot, one thing being that Knowlwood's best burger is now its veggie burger.
That's right, a burger what got no meat!
How exactly a restaurant that considers removing three of the six slices of bacon as eating light came to offer a vegetarian burger is beyond me—as is, frustratingly, how Knowlwood manages to make this veggie burger so good.
From sources on the inside, I've learned that Knowlwood starts with a veggie patty put together by the fine folks at MorningStar Farms, the same patty that you can buy in your neighborhood supermarket. Much like Spongebob Square Pants, the chefs there must prepare each of these patties with a little bit of love because flavors locked in come alive in ways I've never been able to duplicate at home via microwave.
Understand, I am a meat eater. I have eaten some of the most unholy food on this earth. I've had the chicken-fried steak, rump roast, liver and hot dogs. I've eaten at Del Taco so often they know me by name.
But there is something about crunching through the crispy lettuce and then into the supple patty, something about opposing textures working together, that comforts my palate. As for flavor, I can't be too sure since I normally go through their veggie burgers like snakes through eggs. But I do recall something of wheat and peppers mixed together with olives—and I usually hate olives.
That they are delicious comes as no news to the many regulars from nearby Fullerton College and Cal State Fullerton, many of whom are no doubt ditching class to enjoy them, as I did. I did manage to graduate from Cal State Fullerton—though I spent a cumulative semester downing these babies—and on that great day, while all the other kids went off to high-class digs like Red Lobster, I dragged my family to Knowlwood so I could delve into one of these little blobs of bliss one more time.
But I go on. Of course, Knowlwood offers more than just veggie burgers. The bill of fare has become billboardian, gradually growing enough to necessitate a four-foot-by-eight-foot menu from which patrons decide between burgers, Philly cheese steaks and Irish nachos. (Detect a pattern?)
There's the exquisite bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions, a hunka-hunka burning meat with smoky slices of swine and a three-napkin minimum. There's the fried zucchini and mushrooms, hand-battered and dunked daily so that the freshness explodes in every bite.
The restaurant's image has changed a lot since it opened in 1957. One, it serves veggie burgers. Two, it has that fly problem solved. Three, the vibe is family; though you'll occasionally see a few bikers amble through the doors, they're as likely to be talking escrows as tailpipes.
Yeah, a lot has changed, but thankfully, a lot hasn't . . . Not the knee, Daddy . . . not the kneeeeee . . . !Knowlwood, located at 150 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, is open Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (714) 879-7552; also in Anaheim Hills, Irvine, Mission Viejo and Santa Ana. Beer and wine. Dinner for two, $15-$25, food only. AmEx, Visa and MasterCard accepted.