6612 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90028 (map); 323-257-8705; townshipsaloon.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A simulacrum of a saloon makes a very good burger
Want Fries with That? Yes; very tasty and well-executed fries
Prices: Blue Collar Burger (w/fries), $12
Walking into Township Saloon is a bit like walking into Disneyland. The similarity is due not so much in how the theme park wows with its scale (although Township certainly is a sizeable restaurant), but rather that odd disquiet a self-conscious simulation initiates. You know what it's supposed to be, but clearly it isn't the real thing. In some respects the man behind Township, restaurateur George Abou-Daoud, has made this sort of enterprise his signature. Bowery and Delancey are both unabashed New York City simulacra and Mercantile (which is directly next door to Township) is an exercise in Francophilia. This isn't meant to disparage Abou-Daoud's restaurants as some sort of deception; he doesn't sound like he's trying to fool anyone when he describes the Township menu as "Americana comfort fare." It's just that Township's self-conscious reworking of the the American saloon seems to draw attention to itself.
Of course, a little attention seeking from a burger spot is all well and good by me if there is a reason to pay. Daoud's previous restaurant in the same space, District, came and went before I ever tried it, so I made a point to drop in for lunch at Township lest I miss out on this reworked restaurant. On a recent weekday afternoon I had the place nearly to myself, despite the busy Hollywood location. This usually sends my burger senses tingling that I've missed the mark with my lunch choice. It turned out it's everyone else who's missing out (at least when it comes to the burger).
Like the restaurant's interior, Township's burger endures a bit of heavy-handed stylization. Daoud calls it the Blue Collar Burger. Again, this isn't meant to be an authentic version of the classic working person's quick lunch burger, but rather a reference to it. A "blue collar burger" may start with a homemade bun, but it wouldn't be the brioche version Township works up. The 80/20 meat to fat ratio of the eight-ounce patty is right on as is the American cheese. The lettuce, tomato, and pickle are straightforward, though the crispy onions (that is, onion rings) are less so.
The grind was pleasantly coarse and the patty loosely packed, which, when given proper heat like they do at Township, is my favorite construction. The beef flavor was clean and the patty full of juice. Mine came out with the warm, pink center of a proper medium rare, just as I'd ordered. The lettuce, tomato, and pickle were welcome reminders of a classic burger flavor profile, but the crispy onions were one topping too many. If you're curious about them I suggest requesting them on the side. The American cheese was nicely melted and, again, struck the right note for the classic burger.
The bun, while certainly not as bad as brioche can get, is just as certainly the wrong choice for this burger. It's both too much and too brioche-y. The breadiness was tempered by all of the beef and toppings, but this burger could really shine with a large commercial bun. That said, I put mine away with little hesitation and a fair amount of delight.
The medium-cut fries are fresh. The browning you see in the photo didn't come from a dirty oil, but it did mean they got a little more time in the fryer than I'd prefer. Still, they were well salted and full of flavor, rounding out the meal nicely.
The truth is I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed the Township burger. What's equally true is how not surprised I was by how little I enjoyed the rest of Township. My server was an attractive and pleasant aspiring actor, but she was easily distracted considering how little there was going on. Further, trying to talk to anyone there about the burger turned into a bit of a sideshow. Sure, it shouldn't be a restaurant's obligation to talk to the customer about their food with as much detail as I request, but it shouldn't be met with suspicious ire either. In the final analysis, Township makes a tasty burger for a reasonable price, but perhaps they need a bit more than.