Here's the thing about gastropubs– the simple definition is that they are bars with really good food. So to strip them down to bun and meat wouldn't even be a playing field, in my opinion. These worthy gentlemen are all trying to prove a point with their fried eggs, pickled vegetables and aiolis: they're fancy without the white linen tablecloths.
In the two duels we conducted based on Shuji's round one results, it was Haven versus St. Roy Chef's Pub and The Crosby versus Red Table. The better match ups would have been St. Roy versus Red Table and The Crosby versus Haven. The latter pair offers only one burger option on their menus, making the match up straightforward. Also, Red Table and St. Roy share a common denominator in that their dominant (or in St. Roy's case, original) focus is more dining than pub scene. Their Santa Ana and Orange counterparts, while noteworthy for grub, we consider them bar before restaurant. Yet we were handed the mismatched, and so we duel.
Haven vs. St. Roy Chef's Pub
Notoriously peppery arugula mellowed out under the St. Augr, roasted red bells and crunch of pickled onions. Our patty was cooked just so, retaining the integrity of its bottom bun despite its juices. Paired with crispy, golden potatoes, we craved a nap afterwards.
We can count on one hand the reasons we drive to San Clemente, and St. Roy Chef's Pub at VINE is at the top of the list. It is one of our go-to restaurants in the county, so I've experienced Jared Cook's Wine Country burger previously. The staff insisted I order the newest Red Neck version instead, and I was intrigued by what would be a most ghetto fabulous entrant in our division.
With American cheese (the kind I would eat individually wrapped when I was small) and childhood fridge staples of iceberg and white bread, I found my inner misfit. Its best ingredients were easily the thick sliced Vermont smoked bacon and chef's secret saucy barbecue condiment. He kept the gastro in his pub, and it was cooked to my liking
I knew that the make or break component would be the makeshift bun. Unlike Shuji's, our top slice was toasted fine. However, the bottom suffered due to, well, being a slice of white bread. A solid foundation is a must for us, and so Haven advances to the next round.
Red Table vs. The Crosby
There's your Table burger, the Winemaker, the Belly, and one off-menu version chef tried to steer us into called the Trust Me burger– essentially whatever Louie felt like putting together at that moment. As much as I trust our former On the Line subject, we knew it was our duty to select an entree that remained consistently available at Red Table. Perfectly medium-rare, mushrooms and cheddar made a hearty combination as we dug in.
We took photos of our Crosby burger, but you wouldn't want to see them. Muenster and fried egg enveloped our meal like The Blob, easily making it the fugliest thing we've been forced to eat all week. So we recycled Shuji's pic to avoid insult to injury. Did they really think serving it in a dimly lit room would be a saving grace? The only way I could even find the beef was by cutting into it, making the hottest mess. Our meat fell apart, flavors started to muddle, and we almost threw our hands up in disgust.
But here's the thing– we aren't judging on looks alone. We may do that for other facets of our life, but taste rules in this competition. And when these two burgers fought, there was a clear winner. As annoyed as I was by The Crosby, Red Table's meal suffered from the unexpected: it was overly sweet. A brioche of King's Hawaiian descent, the reduction of wine, and caramelized onions broke a rule in our book. We don't like our entrees sweet, unless it's intended or brekkie. Therefore, The Crosby forges on.
Third Round: Haven versus The Crosby. Guess we got our preferred duel after all. . . .
- Round One: Fast Food Fiefdoms
- Round One: Dominion of Diners
- Round One: Gastropub Gentry
- Round One: Burger Barons