San Francisco: Little Burgers in Many Flavors at The Sycamore

AHT: San Francisco

Burger reviews in the Bay area.

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[Photographs: David Kover]

The Sycamore

2140 Mission Street, San Francisco CA 94110 (map); 415-252-7704 thesycamoresf.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Tasty, dressed up mini burgers made with a variety of meats
Want Fries with That? Generic, over-crisp fries are still worth it for $1 alongside your burger. Fried Mac 'n' Cheese Balls may be a bit more interesting.
Price: "Slider," $3.50; w/fries, +$1; Mac 'n' Cheese Balls, $6

Folks seem intent on calling The Sycamore a gastropub, though when I look around at the frumpy decor, I'd much rather call it a bar that happens to serve food. Then again, the place ticks every box in Kenji's gastropub description, so I may have to concede the point.

The Sycamore adds to my semantic confusion by promising to serve sliders, and then proceeding to deliver mini burgers. (This time, the Serious Eats archives are firmly on my side.)

And, for those of you who define a hamburger as a beef-only creation, I'll add that besides the beef, The Sycamore's "slider" menu also features lamb, chicken, bacon—and catfish.

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Bewildering as all this might seem for those of us who get stuck on such things, there's something quite fun about receiving a sort of pu pu platter of burgerettes. Especially when those little burgers taste pretty darn good.

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For their beef version, The Sycamore slaps little hand-formed, two-ounce patties on the griddle. They told me they get their beef from a local purveyor called Facciola Meats. Small as they are, and cooked so that they sport just the barest blush of pink, these patties don't deliver a juicy rush.

But The Sycamore has dressed them up so that it doesn't matter. The combination of caramelized onions, griddle grease, and aioli leaves the patty coated in plenty of fat. They've topped it all with crumbles of blue cheese. When it comes together in a single bite, a flavorful sweet-funky combination surrounds the beef. It only takes 2.5 bites to finish one of these little things, so savor it.

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When The Sycamore replaces the beef with lamb, the squishy bun and the caramelized onions remain the same, but otherwise the flavor profile changes completely. The lamb gets spiced to resemble a gyro or souvlaki. The rest of the inspiration comes from Spain, with a creamy romesco sauce and a sliver of manchego cheese on top of the patty. I'd probably vote for the beef as my 1A, but the size of these burgers means I don't have to choose.

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I found the chicken slightly less exciting. Though the nugget of breast meat had been fried to an impressive crispness, the slaw and aioli seemed a little flat after the saucy, cheesy burgers that had come before. Maybe the advertised pickled red onions would have helped, but I couldn't find them on my order. My disappointment may have been inevitable—this version was the least likely to fit into my conception of burgerness in the first place. Meanwhile, it will work well for those who like to be able to find the fried in fried chicken.

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You can add fries to your order at The Sycamore for an extra dollar. They get fried crisp all the way through, and have a mass-produced air about them, but at that price they handily satisfy the desire for extra fried carbohydrates and salt. To go a bit more non-traditional, you might consider the Fried Mac 'n' Cheese Bites. The pasta and dairy seems to have come from a box, but with their smoky ranch dipping sauce, these make for a fun bar food.

To accompany the food, The Sycamore offers a long list of beers and a shelf of board games for your entertainment pleasure. If you run out of backgammon pieces, you could probably sub in one of the mini burgers. Though I'm guessing you're more likely to want to eat it.