Mike & Anne's
1040 Mission Street, Suite 102, South Pasadena, CA 91030 (map); 626-799-7199 mikeandannes.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: This neighborhood, upscale-casual restaurant serves up a very good burger
Want Fries with That? Yes; shoestring isn't my preferred cut, but these spuds deliver on flavor
Prices: Burger w/fries, $11.50
As much as I imagine myself a unique snowflake of life ambitions and motivations, it seems there is little that I can do to resist the utterly predictable Los Angeles impulse to fantasize about real estate. There is nary an open house sign built that doesn't light my hopes anew of an affordable fixer in a good school district.
Such was the motivation for a recent excursion to the painfully charming sub-tropolis (™) that sits, well, just south of the small city of Pasadena. It's got a lovely little main drag that runs for a few blocks along Mission Street. It was there that I spied Mike & Anne's. It's got the look of an upscale casual bistro that you'll find in any number of wealthy suburban enclaves with urban aspirations; that is to say, I didn't imagine it would offer much in the way of good food and held out even less hope for its burger.
This was more than just unseemly, city-kid snobbery; it was plain wrong. Mike & Anne's might have a familiar menu (short ribs, check; Caesar salad, check), but the owners, Steve and Ashley Ahn, have put together a restaurant built on solid execution rather than excessive originality. When it comes to my burgers, that's exactly how I'd choose it.
The Mike & Anne's burger ($11.50) is listed rather simply as "Angus beef, Bermuda onion compote, Swiss and bleu Cheese, with shoestring fries." Really, there's much more to it, but they've rightfully not over-complicated matters. The burger is about seven ounces of coarsely ground chuck that's topped with the combination of Swiss and Blue cheeses as listed, that onion business, and some wild arugula. All of this makes its way onto a toasted brioche bun.
It arrived looking a little upscale, which I always find vaguely worrying, but this was an undeniably attractive plate of food. And, more importantly, it tasted great. The beef itself had a beautiful Maillard crust and was fantastically juicy. I found myself sampling piece after piece of just the patty and devouring it happily. The salt seasoning was just shy of my preferred "very salty," but was in no way was this an under-seasoned patty. Add to that a fantastic coarse grind and loose packing and it might be one of the better patties I've tried in recent memory.
The toppings on this one (reminiscent of the Father's Office burger) also gave me pause, particularly the blue cheese. Usually I find blue cheese far too powerful a topping for my burgers, but the folks at Mike & Anne's have sourced one of the milder ones I've come across. It had an incredibly creamy texture that blended beautifully with the Swiss. The arugula always seems less of a culinary choice than an aesthetic one, but the subtle peppery crunch of the vegetable was actually quite nice. The onion compote was measured out in excellent balance so as not to turn this into an onion-burger like so many others who use this technique.
The final piece in this burger puzzle was the one that kept me from reviewing this burger as one of the best of the year: the bun. Unfortunately, Mike & Anne's not only succumbed to the brioche imperative that so many higher end joints do, but they sourced one that is actually brioche. It wasn't terrible and certainly didn't ruin the experience, but a better (read: spongier) bun would make this very good burger great.
The fries are cut into shoestrings. A quick note on this: Shoestrings are great out of the oil, but they cool far too fast to be enjoyed across the length of a meal. Ok, I got that off my chest. Despite this less-than-preferable cut on the spuds, everything else about them was just right. The crisp was spot on and the addition of a hint of garlic even worked.
My little Saturday excursion to South Pasadena did little to satisfy my real estate desires, but certainly the delicious Mike & Anne's burger was salve for the disappointment. Although now I find myself adding another layer to my search: affordable fixer, good school district, and great local burger spot.