Editor's note: Burgermeisters! I'm totally psyched about this. This is the first in a series of excerpts from George Motz's book Hamburger America. George and his publisher were kind enough to allow us to run them here, along with George's beautiful photos. We'll be running one every other week. Eat up! --The Mgmt.
The meat grinder is in the window. What more can I say? "It's there mostly for dramatic reasons, but it's there so the customer can see what they are getting," says Joe Obegi, owner for over forty years and the man responsible for some of the freshest burgers on the west coast. The grinder is only five feet from the huge flattop griddle.
Joe takes his burgers very seriously. Don't look for 1/2 pounders and other fractional designations here. Joe prefers to use what he calls "actual sizes," 4, 6, and 8 ounce "fresh ground beef steaks." The burgers are cooked medium-rare unless specified. The menu explains, "Order your beef steak the way you would like your steak cooked."
About halfway through my "beef steak," Joe made a strange but characteristically brazen move. He grabbed a fork and delicately pried loose a small portion of meat from the center of my burger. "Eat that, just like that with no bun or other stuff." My burger experience had been altered and I had seen the light -- Joe's burgers really were ground steaks.
A butcher dressed in all white with a white paper cap starts the burger making process by trimming a large chuck steak, behind glass, for all the patrons to witness. The meat is coarsely ground, measured and portioned into balls with ice cream scoops, then gently pressed into patties 6 at a time with a special press of Joe's design. When the patties hit the griddle they contain 6-8% fat.
Driving down Mission in the Excelsior neighborhood it's hard to miss Joe's. A huge sign, larger than the one with the actual name of the restaurant, announces with incredible candor, "JOE GRINDS HIS OWN FRESH CHUCK DAILY." He really does and it makes all the difference.