4862 Eagle Rock Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90041 (map); 323-257-2229; Foursquare
Cooking Method: Grilled and griddled
Short Order: This new spot in Eagle Rock is serving up a fantastic traditional diner burger at a killer price
Want Fries with That? Yes; the straightforward fries are worth the extra couple of bucks
Prices: Cheeseburger, $3.45; fries, $1.95
Consider the diner. There is an argument to be made that no restaurant category quite captures the American culinary identity like the diner. Born in the late 19th century in Providence, Rhode Island, the diner proliferated and developed into a cultural icon during the middle of the 20th. They were safe harbor from the industrial age's demands on the burgeoning working and middle classes that found themselves with less time to cook and more money to eat out. They have come to take on the varied cuisines of the immigrant owners, but all are torch bearers of the most American of expatriates: the hamburger.
In Los Angeles we have dozens of diners that were born in that mid-century flourish, but it's one of our newest diners that caught my eye this week. Dressed in the traditional garb of the old school diner—tile, aluminum, and a counter—you could be forgiven for thinking Abby's Diner is a piece of history in its Eagle Rock neighborhood, but the truth is it's one of the neighborhood's newest restaurants. Owner Charlie named it after his granddaughter and kept the menu similarly kid-friendly. You could probably guess most of the items on their limited menu before even reading it. But diners aren't where you come to try new dishes; they're where you come revel in the familiar. For me that gastronomic intimacy comes in the shape of a cheeseburger.
The Abby's Diner cheeseburger isn't interested in re-imagining the cheeseburger. Rather, theirs is an exercise in burger traditionalism. The quarter-pound of fresh, commercial beef is set against a seedless, commercial bun. They add a full leaf of watery, iceberg lettuce, some tomato and red onion slices, and a crunchy poker chip of a pickle. The cheese is American and they'll slap on some ketchup and mayo unless you ask them not to.
Now, there are a few additional tidbits that are worth knowing when ordering your burger at Abby's. The first is when you ask the personable server, Louise, to cook your burger medium rare she'll make sure it is. The second is that you shouldn't order it that way. The beef at Abby's solid and turns out to be pretty tasty, but for a commercial patty you're better off at no cooler than a medium midsection. That said, you aren't paying high-end beef prices—not by a longshot. The single cheeseburger (which is all you'll need) is on $3.45. You read that right; welcome to old school price points for your old school burger.
Of course, all that I've mentioned thus far is a bit of a burial of the lede: the Abby's Diner cheeseburger tastes great. The patty gives off a fantastic hit of seasoning. The first time asked about it I got the standard, "I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you" reply. The second time I got the goods. The patty gets a double hit of seasoning salt and Worcestershire sauce. It's a great one-two punch combination. The saltiness of the seasoning and the vinegary fermented quality of the Worcestershire turned the patty into the flavorful foundation of this cheeseburger. The patty starts on the grill and is finished on the griddle, which I think helps preserve the readily apparent juiciness of this burger.
The toppings were ridiculously crunchy and gave a nice textural contrast against the patty and spongy bun. Speaking of which, oh, what a bun. Abby's uses Old Country bread products and their seedless varietal is now on my shortlist of best commercial buns. With a slight toasting from the oiled griddle this bun is just about exactly what I want for my burgers. The only criticism I have of the Abby's preparation is that cheese is added a bit late. My first burger came out with a half-melted slice.
I ordered a second burger that was meat and cheese only to really get a feel for the burger. It's certainly plenty good enough to be eaten this way, but I preferred the version with toppings.
The side of fries were—for a few moments of closed-eye burger bliss—almost an afterthought. That was, until I tried one. They were beautifully crisp on the exterior and just thick enough to maintain a creamy interior. As part of my feeble attempts to maintain a waistline, I tried to only eat a few of them. I failed miserably.
Then again, this kind of a failure is born from one of life's best characteristics: temptation. The cheeseburger at Abby's may not be the best one you'll ever eat, but it's damn solid. And for the price, how can I resist?