Goose and Gander
1245 Spring Street, Saint Helena CA 94574 (map); 707-967-8779, goosegander.com
Cooking Method: Chargrilled
Short Order: A good burger that would have been great if the marrow hadn't masked all the other flavors
Want Fries with That? Duck fat fries, 'nuff said. Jalapeño poppers are definitely worth getting, too.
Price: The G&G Burger w/duck fat fries, $15; marrow, +$3
Summers are the best time to get out of San Francisco. The city is often cold, foggy, and full of tourists whispering to each other, "I thought California was warm." Escape! On a recent trip, I visited St. Helena and went back to Goose and Gander to try the burger that grabbed my attention last time I visited with the phrase, "let us melt some marrow atop."
I loved the space on my last visit, too—the dark, leathery interior decorated with wooden ducks evokes an old hunting lodge, and the outdoor patio feels like eating in someone's garden.
Then there's the G&G Burger ($15) featuring a grilled 10-ounce patty formed from a pre-ground blend of grass-fed chuck-eye and sirloin from Preferred Meats in Oakland, topped with Gruyère and house-smoked bacon, with a side of duck fat fries. I added on bone marrow for $3.
When the massive burger came out, there were already little puddles of juice forming on the plate—puddles that quickly turned into a full pool as I cut the burger in half to reveal a truly beautiful medium rare center. It sat atop a Model Bakery ciabatta-like bun that was developed especially for this burger. Slightly smaller than the patty, the bun was crusty and chewy on the outside with a spongy, soft middle and did an excellent job of soaking up to the fatty juices without falling apart.
Had there only been one bite with marrow on it I would have been fine. But after the first bite, my mouth was coated with a thin film of greasy marrow that made it difficult to fully taste the beefy flavor. The result was a marrow-flavored mass of protein—a delicious mass worth eating, but not exactly what I wanted. There were certain bites where I was able to pick out smoky flavors from the grill, but if you want to taste beef, leave off the marrow.
Eventually the strong, but not overpowering, flavors of the pickles and aioli shone through. I love pickles, but I often find that they dominate a burger's flavor rather than complement the other ingredients. Thankfully, these pickles were an exception. The locally sourced crispy Manhattan-style pickles added the crunch and saltiness that was missing from the patty.
The Gruyère and bacon, though delicious on their own, were lost somewhere between the pickles and marrow and went unnoticed. Same with the aioli—it was more difficult to distinguish on the burger, but on its own the creamy combination of garlic, lemon, and onion tasted great. It would've been an ideal french fry dipping sauce.
I'm not sure if it was due to the greasiness of the burger (or the late hour I was eating it), but it went down fast. The juice may have dripped down my arms as I double-fisted the decadent behemoth. I was in burger bliss.
Goose and Gander dedicates one of their deep fryers solely to duck fat, and it's responsible for their duck fat fries. The crisp, small pieces of potato (reminiscent of In-N-Out's fry size) were cooked to a beautiful golden brown and remained crisp through the meal, though they could have used a bit more salt.
The jalapeño poppers ($7) may now be my new standard against which I measure all poppers. The whole, seeded jalapeños were stuffed with a creamy blend of cojita and piquillos and battered with Rice Krispies. The accompanying Mexican crema, puréed guacamole, and cilantro oil tempered the heat of the fresh jalapeños well. I'm now convinced that all fried appetizers should be coated with Rice Krispies—they provided a light, crunchy outer coating and adhered to the jalapeños perfectly.
With several other delicious offerings from the kitchen and bar I will surely make a trip back to Goose and Gander. Next time, though, I'll keep my burger more simple, omit the marrow, and let the beef take the front seat.