Salt & Cleaver
3805 5th Avenue, San Diego CA 92101 (map); 619-756-6677; enjoysausage.com
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: A ribeye sausage striped of its casing and formed into a burger patty. Delicious.
Want Fries With That? The skin-on spuds are tasty, but if you're open to mac and cheese, that's where the real money is
Price: Sausage burger, $8; fries, $4; sweet potato nuggets, $5; mac and cheese, $7
Up until a few months ago, Salt & Cleaver was all about sausages and craft beer, but recently, the menu expanded to include a more diverse selection of items, including grilled kale caesar salad, lamb meatballs, and a ribeye sausage burger ($8).
Executive chef Carlos Sanmartano says it's made with the same filling that goes into the ribeye sausages, minus the casing: ground ribeye, puréed roasted onion and fennel, black pepper, chipotle, Worcestershire sauce, and pork fat for extra flavor. It's served on a toasted bun with S&C sauce (a smoky, all-purpose condiment made with bell peppers, molasses, and chipotle), plus white cheddar, tomato, and way too much arugula (which is easily remedied).
It probably goes without saying that a patty made with puréed vegetables, pork fat, and seasoning that goes beyond the classic salt and pepper is going to taste different than a your standard beef patty, and this one does...but in a way that absolutely works. The patty has some nice char on the exterior and a semi-loose, crumbly interior. Ground ribeye gives the patty a robust flavor and a fatty richness that's amped up even more by the pork fat. With the patty, toppings, and sauce taken together, it's an intense and atypical burger that's spicy, smoky, and very rich.
Biting into it, that giant mound of arugula immediately makes more sense. A patty this thoroughly seasoned needs toppings that can stand up and be noticed. With its peppery notes, the arugula accomplishes this, but the cheddar cheese is cut a bit too thin to register. The snappy dill pickle on the side and the expertly toasted bun (with a crunchy ring of char around the edge) also deserve props.
Burgers come à la carte. If you want something starchy on the side, there's sweet potato nuggets ($5) or fresh-cut fries ($4). I love all things sweet potato, but the nuggets were the only low note of the meal. Crisp on the outside but undercooked and slimy on the inside, they were a letdown. This is likely due to an unintentional kitchen error, so your results may vary.
The skin-on spuds were much better. They were fresh, hot, and crisp, but a little heavy on the salt. Dipped in S&C sauce or one of the mustards, they were even better. If you need a traditional side, I'd choose them over the sweet potato nuggets any day.
However, if your burger-eating sensibilities allow a divergence from the standard sides, go with the mac and cheese ($7), which features shell pasta bathed in a creamy cheddar cheese sauce, topped with gremolata, and served with butter-soaked, grilled bread.
And while beer is technically optional, this is the type of food that really invites a pint. My pick? Belching Beaver Milk Stout. Don't be dissuaded by the name; it's awesome.