Magnolia Tap & Kitchen
624 E St., San Diego CA 92101 (map); 619-255-0925 ; magnoliasd.com
Cooking method: Grilled
Short Order: Delicious beef and bacon burgers spiked with a plethora of spices
Want Fries With That? Oh yeah, the crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside potato planks are well worth the extra $2
Price: Magnolia Bacon Burger, $12; Beer Brined Frites, $2
If the idea of anything besides salt and pepper touching your 100 percent beef patty is offensive to your burger sensibilities, I'll let you know right now: the bacon burger at Magnolia Tap & Kitchen isn't the one for you. BUT, if you're a bit more open-minded to not only bacon, but nearly the entire rack of spices being mixed into your beef patty...well, you're going to like it here.
Magnolia is one of a few spots that have opened recently (or are slated to by end of summer) with a bit of a Southern influence. It's not in-your-face, but look closely at the menu and you'll see several dishes with an obvious Southern accent, including the habanero cornbread with smoked peach butter ($5). Order one to share while you wait for your burger. The spicy, crumbly bread is great with a liberal smear of the sweet, subtly smoky butter, though the grey, mealy bits of peach aren't too pretty to look at.
Assembled with only shredded lettuce, a tomato slice, and a bit of aioli, Magnolia's bacon burger ($12) may seem simplistic, but from a flavor standpoint, it's a powerhouse. The patty is crafted from fatty 80/20 chuck, with extra fat coming from the addition of bacon (the blend is roughly 80 percent beef, 20 percent bacon). Seasoning plays a big role. The beef/bacon mix is doused with a generous shake of a housemade seasoning mix, which includes paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, ginger, chili powder, and a pinch of sugar. The overall profile is hot, smoky, and addictive. In a town of countless burgers, it definitely stands out.
Even though the grind was a little finer than I would have preferred, and the addition of bacon required it to be cooked to medium or above, the execution was spot-on. Nearly every inch of the patty was covered in a crisp, brown crust while the interior practically pulsed with fatty, flavorful juices. If Magnolia starts grinding their beef on-site (something that's reportedly in the works once they're out of their soft-opening phase), the patty has potential to be even better. Rounding out the burger was a sturdy, toasted bun that held up well to the burger juices and provided the right mix of crunch and cushion.
Spend the extra $2 and try the beer-brined frites. Hand-cut russets are steeped in a bath of salt and Stone Smoked Porter for 48 hours before being fried. The golden brown, slightly oily exterior of the spuds easily yields to an explosion of potato fluff. You'll want to make good use of the housemade ketchup and garlic aioli that, thanks to a squeeze of lemon, is more refreshing than most.
There are a lot of good burgers downtown but only a few great ones. I'd put the bacon burger at Magnolia firmly within the latter camp.