Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 4 p.m.
I have more experience with HBO's Game of Thrones
than I do with these four burgers. Which I suppose is a good thing for I had no biases. I may be a Wildling
when it comes to the burgers I've been called to judge, but my judgements were as fair as and balanced Tyrion Lannister
(though perhaps a bit longer).
"Don't fight for a king. Don't fight for his kingdoms. Don't fight for honor, don't fight for glory, don't fight for riches, because you won't get any."
While I lived just a minute away from Pee Wee's for about a year and a half, I never ventured into their tiny shop front burger and hot dog joint. My bad indeed--can't wait to try one of their "famous" hot dogs next.
The burger was delivered quickly. When I unwrapped the burger a smile grew on my face. It was a handsome looking burger if I ever saw one. There was a generous quantity of ingredients stuffed into a tightly-wrapped paper and arranged perfectly. After the first bite I was disappointed. I quickly took another bite, sure that it was a fluke. Nope. Pee Wee's was not even in the shadow of Memphis and it was apparent by the second bite. If this burger stood beside one less of a masterpiece then Memphis', it would have stood strong.
All of my attention was directed to the crunch of the onion at first bite. However, when sampling the onion solo, it tasted sour. In the burger it was just fine and added great texture. I waited for the meat to surface but waited in vein. The meat had a melt in your mouth quality when separated from the burger and a great charred crisp at the edges. Pickles were soggy and bland. The extra warmth of the burger invited you to keep eating however. Every burger should be so warm for so long. The structural integrity failed just past the halfway point but if you keep it in the wrapper you should be fine.
Long story short, there was no harmony in this burger. Here is your Rob Stark: an aspiring leader walking in the footsteps of his father, Ned Stark.
I'm sorry but matching Memphis up to Pee Wee's is just cruel. While I understand Memphis isn't a "Burger Baron" or "Gastropub Gentry" the Soul Burger is an artisanal slab of meat between a bun that will always hold its own against Umami, Slater's 50/50 or Haven. While Pee Wee's was not intentionally set up for failure, Memphis wins by a knockout.
A's Burger vs. Mick's Karma Bar
|Edwin Goei/OC Weekly|
A's Burger sadly had a few strikes against it before I set in the door. First I went to their San Juan Capistrano location because it was closer and it was "closed due to fire." Ok, fine, the other location is only 8-some minutes away in Dana Point. But since our office is in Costa Mesa, I go begrudgingly. When I pulled in to the lot I left my irritation at the door. This location is reminiscent of one of my favorite burger mini-chains: TK Burger. It's a surf-shanty-style, line up and order-then-sit-style burger joint. I had high hopes.
My burger came lightning-quick with pleasant service. It looks close to a TK burger as well, save for the shredded lettuce. You get a small burger (for a good price): thin patty, cheese, pickles, plain bun, mayo-style sauce and shredded lettuce. This was the Tyrion Lannister of the competition.
The bun is basic but has the delicious crunch of a perfect In-N-Out burger. It has structural integrity which I didn't realize how uncommon this is until I started judging in the Game of Burgers.
The meat is thin but has a good charred taste. To paraphrase Hank Hill you "taste the heat not the meat" but that isn't so bad to me in a burger from a surf-shanty. The tomato is tasteless as so many are. The shredded-style lettuce got messy after a while. A few pieces got stuck to my cheek after bites. There were light onions that only stood out in the first few bites.
It's a perfectly delicious burger (I'd call it fast food style more than a diner but that's just me) but it lacks the extra punch that Mick's Karma Bar's burger has. I wouldn't make the drive to Dana Point again for it but should I be in the area I wouldn't mind eating there again.
This was the second burger I tried in this tournament after Memphis' Soul Burger. The first bite made me think "Wow, I could get used to all these great burgers." Sadly, the trend stopped after Mick's Karma Burger.
Their hand-made patty had wonderful seasoning that stays in your mouth after you swallow. It's thin, it's not perfectly shaped, but hell, if it tastes good, it tastes good. They gave a plentiful portion of Karma Sauce on the burger which didn't make the buyer soggy but perfectly accentuated it.
The bun was a big turn off. It was thin, fell apart and tasted awful if I got more of a mouthful of bun than burger. Keep the toothpick in the burger. It tasted suspiciously healthy--a trait I want nowhere near my burger. As the meat cooled, it began to blend into the soggy bun creating a sort of mush. If you eat the burger quicker than my casual self, you should be able to avoid this problem.
Behold the King Robert Baratheon of the competition: strong yet sloppy.
In the end it's the wonderfully seasoned patty that saves it. After all, what's a burger without a strong foundation?
Winner: Mick's Karma Bar
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