Two weeks or so ago, Jeff Overley at the Orange County Register wrote a poll for their Food Frenzy blog about whether gourmet burger joints are a rip-off. Overley knows his stuff, and he's got his feet on the ground when it comes to value received for money paid. When something is expensive but worth it, Overley and his partner in food investigation, Claudia Koerner, say so. 87 percent of the more than 1200 respondents either flat-out said yes, they're a rip-off, or that the burger might be worth it but the markup on the sides and drinks is ridiculous.
The question is well-timed; Orange County is exploding with high-end burger joints. Greg Daniels at Haven introduced fancy burgers to an Orange Circle that previously was dependent upon Watson Drugs' sandwich counter; Joseph Mahon from L.A.'s Bastide came home to OC and opened up a permanent pop-up in Fullerton. In the near future, Umami Burger will start trying to collate the hipsters in Anaheim, and Jason Quinn, who's already proven himself to OC with the Lime Truck, will open Playground Burger next to the Yost Theatre in Santa Ana.
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Then there's DG Burger at South Coast Plaza. Edwin ripped them for their service and the price; I lambasted them for their service and the cost of the sides. Yelpers have savaged them for their service and the price: they've gone from 3 1/2 stars in February to 3 stars in August. The burger was pretty good, but not worth the wallet rape we were all subjected to ($5 for a mixed green salad with two tomatoes on it? $3.75 for a 12-ounce soda? Really--a 1,200% markup over retail?). We got a lot of nice words from a spokesperson for Charlie Palmer... but DanGarion of Eat in OC just posted his review, and it's apparent that nothing's changed except the portion size of the fries.
So, would-be burger designers, take some free advice: every man, woman and child in the United States knows what a good burger tastes like. Even people who would voluntarily choose to eat at Subway or the Texas Cheesecake Depository can distinguish between a mediocre burger and a great burger, and the burger culture is so deeply ingrained into our American sense of self that a burger that's too expensive will generate precious little positive press.
In other words, and more briefly: just because you can slap some carefully sourced meat on a grill and flounce it up with some fancy, unusual toppings does not mean your burger is worth $10. A $10 burger needs to stun us into respectful silence. Some of those burgers listed above did that; some didn't, and it sucks to pay that much for a burger that doesn't match the price point.