Early bird catches the leavin’s, so plan ahead to get out to Old Stone Alley for the third annual Dogbone Cook-Off. Top local cheffs will be rumblin’ for first in three categories: presentation, sucklin’ taste, and type of dog. Winner gets 20 free minutes at the Fleischmann’s Meat Counter to ogle…
‘Burger deals’ exist as a sort of cultural medium - they are ubiquitous to the thin-pattied griddle spots and standard chain burger troughs alike, yet beef and bun north of $14 is not uncommon in Los Angeles, and elsewhere. The great American burger deal is seemingly everywhere at once, and nowhere substantive. Enter The Park, relative culinary newcomers with a Wednesday night burger that just might cover the extra gas it takes to get there.
Tucked due west of Chavez Ravine, home to the all-you-can-eat bleacher seats and woeful LA Dodgers, sits The Park (or just Park? or 1400 Park? or idontknowwhatelse?). Squatted low, slimed a sickly green, and caged into a corner like a wild-eyed caveman freshly unfrozen, The Park seems hyper-aware of its surroundings, but still doesn’t know what’s expected of it. The walls are adorned with etsy-style cling on tree outlines, various knick-knacks, and a touch of oh-so-poorly done holiday charm. The floor is black and white tile, reminiscent of every East Coast diner from thirty years ago, with the slightly sticky dark wood tables to boot. But one look at the paperstock menu shows a touch of class and sophistication simmering just beneath the neo-cool surface. Seared shrimp, the necessary riff on mac & cheese, and a ‘vintage’ hanger steak with smashed fried potatoes all dot the menu with equal pluckiness, while most every night ‘The Park Burger’ sits descriptionless in the corner, leaving only a $10 price tag as a calling card. But this is not your run-of-the-mill day that ends in -y, it’s WednesdaY, and the burger gods are shining through bleak LA clouds on a little patch of Echo Park.
On Wednesdays, The Park undergoes a price reduction and a foot traffic explosion, as the burger deal emerges to see it’s shadow. For $5, the middleweight brisket and sirloin-blended patty teams up with a BreadBar bun and your choice of add-ons, from cheese to egg, and most other bits of the farm in between. Combined with fries and a few pullings from the garden (lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles) for no additional cost, The Park becomes possibly the best burger dealmaker in the county. Word may already be out, though; this place gets busy early and the lack of a corkage fee helps keep it that way all night.
It is surprising, then, that the burger itself isn’t quite up to the standards that it could be. With a legion of Wednesday regulars, The Park seems dangerously close to hitting the glorious trifecta of price, ingredients, and execution. Instead, it crushes the first, gets a piece of the second, and works the pitch count for a walk on the third. The patty, while a strong and beefy blend as a standalone, lacks a touch of salt during cooking, and could benefit from a more substantial mouthfeel. And while Beef and Bun always advocates medium-rare, let it be known that anything touching medium or above will result in a drier-than-desired patty, which does not bode well for the burger as a whole. The bun, while serviceable, comes off a touch too bready for personal tastes, but is certainly no worse than the omnipresent brioche of so many other misguided spots in this city. What remains, then, is a patty that needs a touch of sprucing up, which (while no large shame in itself) should come in the form of extras at a dollar apiece. A slice of cheddar, some grilled onions, and two long strips of bacon should have more than done the trick, but two of the three once again fell short. The onions found themselves stuck in culinary purgatory, having not been given enough time to really caramelize down, but no longer perked up on their own; not to mention the scarcity of their amount. Meanwhile, the bacon (full disclosure: the burger discussed here is NOT the one pictured above) arrived cold, hardened, and in the dreaded X pattern, forcing upon the burger an unbalanced appearance that could only be rectified by breaking brittle bacon bits and repositioning them accordingly. Perhaps this is only the failure of the waitstaff, who were admittedly overworked as the crowds poured in. At any rate, the warmth of both burger and consumer were missing.
There is still a lot to like about this burger, it’s just a shame that most of it has to do with price. Without the Wednesday night $5 burger deal, The Park might easily become just another mid-range dinner spot with a deflated burger resting woefully at the bottom of a menu. Perhaps another trip will assuage suspicions of mediocre execution, and elevate this burger to a level above ‘satisfactory’. At least, with the deal as it is, you can bet that going back again is the plan.
It’s an endless maze, really. An asphalt Mouse Trap designed to snare up dreams and drop the cage on a hundred different cultures. Once you’re past downtown Los Angeles, heading east, the uneasy realization that in a place so familiar you’re completely out of context starts to wash over you. As the exits tick by on the 60, the 210, the 71, you start to wonder to out loud: who lives out here?
The answer, at least on one streetcorner in Monrovia, is simple: burger lovers. Alex Ramirez, the tattooed grillmaster at The Market Grill on Shamrock Avenue, wants nothing more than to talk about burgers, what to do with ‘em, and how they’re perfected. And from where he’s standing, stained white apron behind a three-quarter counter with a smile on his face, the burgers couldn’t look much better.
The griddle has been sizzling all day by the time you walk in, but the tile floor, big windows and high ceilings keep Market Grill smelling fresh, without that sticky grease residue you’re likely to find in the next food bracket down. Here, everything is detail. The buns are made in house and left out for the world to see (“see how easy that is?”, they say), while the secret beef blend is ground on site daily and left coarse, giving off an easy, juicy bite.
The crust from the griddle mixes textures well with the Thousand Island dressing - a SoCal burger staple. But then again, what do you expect from a Monrovia man with good burgers on his mind? Meanwhile, the meaty center is still all warm and pink, letting you taste the richness of the blend. Quickly the juices and dressing mix together on the plate, along with little discarded bits of lettuce, tomato, cheese, and beefiness. Don’t worry though, just tug off a bit of bun and save the mop up duty for later. In fact, that bun could be had on its own, if one were so inclined. It’s warm, soft, a little thick in the middle, and a great template for any other burger idiots out there who don’t understand ratios.
Ultimately, The Market Grill is much too far for me to make it a regular stop, but that’s not their fault. Perched on the corner of Shamrock, they’ve got a neighborhood all their own, and one that really seems to embrace them. As I begin to wipe the remaining nibbles from my lips to a napkin, Alex informs me that he’s stepping out to check in on his daughter, who’s at home just down the oak-lined street. Even if I don’t have a goddamn clue how to get back to Hollywood, The Market Grill feels right at home.
The Market Grill
525 S. Shamrock Ave
*Photos via Damon Gambuto at A Hamburger Today. Click here for his beautiful review.
Let’s talk for a minute about the Mc10:35. I mean, really talk about.
Firstly, what type of person would even order a Mc10:35, that most unholy of brunch alliances wherein an Double Cheeseburger softly envelops the contents of an Egg McMuffin? Or, more broadly, who is this unwashed human loaf that possesses the rare knowledge of the Mc10:35, but is not so unambitious as to leave the dream unrealized? These men are few, but they are large.*
Now, ordering a Mc10:35 is not as easy as one might think. There is no frozen moment of Zack Morris time at your local McDonalds that will allow you the opportunity to look your counterperson dead in the eyes, flannel shirt unbuttoned to the full, and use double-pointed rock fingertips to indicate the McMuffin and Double Cheeseburger simultaneously. Instead, a portly woman with a degree in nursing at best will give a few wheeze-breathed hand cranks to the illuminated board, and all of a sudden its lunch time. Now, the time has come.
More than likely (especially outside of the Bay area, where the Mc10:35 has gained a small cult following), your middle-aged latino counterperson at the Mickey D’s on Western and Fountain will not possess the golden brain wrinkle capable of comprehending the Mc10:35. No use explaining it to the masses. Just order up one of each sandwich, with full confidence that while the menu now says lunch, breakfast is still back there somewhere, lurking. A quick nod to the apathetic assistant manager, and you’re off with one of the first Double Chee’s and one of the last McMuffins.
Assuming your waitstaff isn’t familiar with the ins and outs of this dirty double cheesy bird burger, you’ll have to assemble the damn thing yourself. But don’t fear, it’s nary a fraction of the science that went into the McGriddle. Just remove the shitty, barely-toasted english muffin exterior from your McMuffin**, and slide the remaining contents inside your dissected cheeseburger. A little bun refinishing, perhaps some straightening up, and away you go.
It’s important to pause here, and note the full contents of the Mc10:35: bun(s), weird notfriedbutnothardboiled egg, hamthatpeoplesayiscanadianbaconbutisjustbadham, two 1.5 oz beef(?) patties, and a couple slices of petroleum cheese. The idea is ingenious; a downmarket version of gourmet bacon burgers with fried egg, available wherever fine heart attacks are sold. But the reality, as always, is much bleaker. In a sum-of-its-parts comparison, the Mc10:35 actually loses something. Rather than providing a thin, smooth, yolky egg experience, the yellowish baby bird flap on your new concoction will instead only serve to sponge up the whole affair, leaving its eater with a mushy mass to gobble through. The ‘Canadian bacon’ is all but imperceptible, mashed between an egg that gives you the mouthfeel of wet oats and two thin patties that tear off into your mouth about as easy as perforated notebook paper. Instead, the only real taste that remains is oily cheese and ketchup, the two stable blocks of a hobo food pyramid.
There are many of us still out there; warriors with an instinct for insanity. We put tabasco where it doesn’t belong, scan menus for items with a lot of asterisks behind them, and DVR Man vs. Food. Such folly. And while this review will do little to nothing to dissuade those giants, let it be known: the Mc10:35 is simply not good food. Of course we should have listened when dieticians and the twelve year old in line behind us warned of its consequences. That’s the nature of foolishness. But you can’t spite a man for trying something new, even if that new thing is a breakfast/lunch mashup from a resoundingly shitty fast food chain.
*See what I did there?
**Those of us looking for the full ride to combotown should swap the bottom bun of the Double Cheeseburger with a side of your choice from the McMuffin.