3218 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90039 (map); 818-961-6331; atwatervillagetavern.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A messy, overcooked burger that is best when avoided
Want Fries with That? Nope; while not as bad as the burger, these aren't worth your time or money
Price: Burger (w/fries) $12
This isn't going to be pretty. I know I can seem grumpy when it comes to my burger reviews, but it's worth restating: I'm always rooting for the burger to be great. I don't take any special pleasure in writing a negative review. In fact, I almost dread the activity. I'm not so interested in reliving the unpleasantness word by word. Further, I'm none too please to be disparaging someone's hard work. That said, when the burger and, in this case, the overall burger experience is as negative as my recent dinner at The Village Tavern, I am duty bound to share my honest opinion. Perhaps it'll be the beacon that keeps your Sunday night dinner ship from crashing into the rocky shore.
The Village Tavern is the newest member of the gentrifying strip of Glendale Boulevard in what has been deemed one of Los Angeles' hippest, emerging neighborhoods: Atwater Village. It's worth noting that I'm old enough to not really know what qualifies as hip or emergent, but I do know my way around a burger and live nearby, so this new watering hole seemed like a good place to set my sights for a Sunday meal. Apparently old doesn't always mean wise.
The kitchen at this by-the-numbers, order-at-the-bar establishment is run by the folks behind the food truck Stop, Guac n Roll! Owner Marcel Farrokhi describes the flavors as Mexican barbecue. You can check out the menu for his food truck here. The menu for Village Tavern is also available online, but seems to bear little resemblance to what you'll actually find on their paper menu on any given night.
The burger available the night that I went in was named with some sort of avocado pun, though it matters almost not at all because the whole affair is better forgotten. Alas, re-membering burgers is what we do here, so away we go.
The patty (according to my server) was approximately six ounces of Angus chuck. It's delivered daily, which is nice, but the butcher of record is a bit of a mystery (more on that in a bit). The nice crust on this patty gave me hope that my medium-rare order would make this a perfectly contrasted patty. Alas, when I split the thing open all I found was gray sadness. In fact, it was so overcooked that I sent it back. The server was lovely about it and completely contrite, so I thought this an honest mistake. Yeah, not so much.
When the recooked version of my burger arrived it was cooked to exactly the same temperature. This time I informed the server that the kitchen should be aware that they aren't timing things out properly and accepted this one as my meal. The meat had little juice or flavor, but really, that's only the start of what was wrong with this burger.
An overcooked patty can be saved by the addition of fat, seasoning, or even a great bun. None were able to do the trick on this one. The "avocado fries" (breaded and fried avocado slices) slapped on top were a slimy mess. The aioli couldn't stand up to the bready bun—a bun that looked look like it lost a fight with a bag of bird seed. Even the slaw (of which I'm usually a strong supporter) was a misfire. I was almost taken aback by just how bland this burger tasted considering all of the various toppings and flavors that were thrown at it.
The fries weren't any help. While it would be unfair to these overcooked spuds to say they were as uninspired as the burger, they certainly weren't stand outs.
This messy burger experience could have been written off to a new kitchen finding its way, but that explanation went out the window when the owner, Marcel, decided to come over and explain to me why his burger was overcooked. I didn't have my recorder on so I'm paraphrasing, but it went something like this: Sorry your burger was cooked well done. You see, I am experimenting with different butchers and I don't trust the meat to cook it medium-rare so that's why your burger was overcooked. Come back in a few weeks and try the burger again.
Holy guacamole! or some other ridiculous Lauraceae-related pun. There are so many things wrong with that explanation for my bad burger that I don't know where to begin. How about here: don't experiment on me. Don't say sorry for overcooking my burger, then do it again, say sorry again, then—after my meal—tell me you meant to do it all along.
Ok, I could go on with the negativity, but even I'm tired of my whining. I'll leave it at this: the burger at Village Tavern was a mess that, I imagine, could be cleaned up; I just won't be back to find out.