I CAN HAS HAWT WAITRSEZZ?
In which our critic finds that 25 Degrees delivers on the ‘cheezburger’ part of its mission but overpromises on the ‘bordello’ part
For a place that describes itself as “bordello meets burger and wine bar,” I was expecting Tim and Liza Goodell’s 25 Degrees to have a few more female servers. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not suggesting a restaurant should skew its hiring practices toward one gender over another. That would be wrong.
But this particular restaurant seems ready to embrace its overtly sexualized, even slutty theme. The wallpaper, for instance, looks as if it were picked out from the lacy-unmentionables section of a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog. The small room, repurposed from Takashi Abe’s defunct Izakaya Zero, is lit like a strip club—dark, even when there’s still light outside.
And I’m not just imagining these overtones. These are also selling points at the Goodells’ other 25 Degrees locations in LA, Phoenix and Beijing. On the drink menu, you’ll find a picture of a girl with her stiletto heel snagged on her itsy-bitsy panties, revealing a good part of her shapely rump.
So you’d have to agree with me when I say it’s a bit incongruous to have a dude as your server—a very nice, accommodating and doting one, to be sure, but still a dude. He was, I might add, built like Mr. Universe, with the square jaw of a DC comics superhero and arms that could break me in half like a stale French fry.
This restaurant, I thought, should either be attracting guys like him as customers or employing them as bouncers. After work, 25 Degrees would be there to ply these manliest of men with a cold beer and hefty portions of that most manly of meals: burgers with patties as thick as our server’s biceps, cooked bloody.
The place takes its name from the temperature difference between a medium-rare burger and a well-done one. The menu does not waste any time introducing its raison d’être. The four signature cow-wiches are listed first, simply called Number One, Number Two and so forth. The hungry man need only mutter his preference, while the finicky man can customize his own from a choice of four meats (sirloin, turkey, yellowfin tuna or veggie).
Custom toppings range from bacon to jalapeño to something called jalapeño bacon. Sauces exist in a painter’s palette of choices, including a Sriracha mayo. Each topping or sauce selection will cost you an extra dollar. Cheese adds $1.50, and there is a total of 13 to choose from, all described with their gourmet brands, flavor profiles and places of origin—as though you were pondering bottles of fine wine.
You’ve seen this “build your own burger” concept at the Counter and Fuddruckers, and just as at those places, I’d advise against getting creative. Put your trust in the kitchen, and you will be rewarded with an already-perfect, preformulated burger.
The Number One tastes richest, with gorgonzola and crescenza cheeses, caramelized onions, bacon, arugula, and Thousand Island dressing. The Number Two favors Italian flavors with burrata, roasted tomatoes, crispy prosciutto and a slathering of pesto. The Number Three apes a Mexican torta, with jack cheese, green chiles, chipotle sauce and mashed avocado. But skip the Number Four, unless you think the wet-sawdust consistency of their yellowfin tuna patty deserves to be called a burger.
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Each sandwich towers in a teetering stack, messy before you even take a bite, and is hugged by buns that are gorgeously shiny but lamentably wimpy in their constitution. The bread’s spongy, too-soft crumb never stands a chance against the meats’ oppressive weights and toppings’ soaking powers. And as we found out, cutting them up to share with tablemates only further undermines their integrity. So don’t do that either.
On the side of each burger, we found wilted pieces of iceberg, tomato, pickle and onion, all of which remained untouched as garnish. Other accompaniments are of the deep-fried kind. Take a pass on their thin, hollow, limp regular fries in favor of the heartier, crispier sweet-potato version. Remember the Sriracha mayo? Dip them into it. Their crumbly onion rings also taste better after a dunk. Lick the grease off your fingers. Everyone else does.
This, after all, is a place where appetizers aren’t called appetizers, but rather “snacks.” And for dessert, they offer a Guinness milkshake, an alcoholic elixir in which a man can outwardly embrace his masculinity while nurturing his inner child with ice cream. All he needs now is a either a hot chick (or his mom) to serve it to him.
25 Degrees, 412 Walnut Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-2525; www.25degreesrestaurant.com. Open Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Burgers start at $9. Full bar.