There I was, at radio legend Tom Leykis' fundraising dinner at Antonello's, and damn it, the co-owner of Grinderz in Huntington Beach was also there. "You guys make honest burgers!" I declared, half-drunk on a great Manhattan up. "I'm sick of fancy-ass shit with quail eggs and remoulade. I just want an honest burger!"
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That might've been the best realization for me this summer. I don't want a burger bigger than my head, and I never really cared for them; I want something I can hold with my hand, with a minimum number of ingredients and a bun that won't melt as I grip it. So I went around OC to reacquaint myself with this overlooked art form, mostly hitting up the mom-and-pops (Choice Burgers in Brea, the Yellow Basket in SanTana, and my beloved TK Burgers) for some old-school steamed hams. And Grinderz has gotten mucho press for its mix of burger and skate culture, but that almost makes it sound as if it's a gimmick when it ain't.
The fanciest thing here is a fine chipotle mayo dressing you should get on the side, with Thousand Island on your patty. Oh, and there's a turkey burger for people who want to watch their calories (and if you're one of those, just stick to rice cakes, as delicious as the turkey patty may be). Everything else is unadulterated Americana. The potato bun is sturdy and chewy; the beef, sweet and juicy. Lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions add tart and crunch. Eat one, or make it a double, and you'll wonder why anyone ever wanted to put a fucking egg inside a burger.
And why was Grinderz's Kurtis Smith at the Leykis dinner? Because Leykis inspired him to follow his dreams. Because Leykis' Money Mondays taught frugality and smart investment. Because Leykis' example as a multimillionaire who grew up as a working-class kid in the Bronx shows there's no excuses for anyone who wants to be successful—it's yours if you're willing to sacrifice and work your ass off. So congrats, Mr. Smith, for realizing your dream and paying your respects to the professor. And Tom: Take us out, Kobe-style!
Grinderz, 7561 Center Ave., Ste. 53, Huntington Beach, (714) 895-2800; www.grinderzhb.com.