A Hamburger Today
Apple Pan: 'Quality Forever' in Los Angeles
If it's Tuesday, it must be time for another review from Nick Solares. Nick is also the publisher of Beef Aficionado, his blog that explores beef beyond burgerdom.
10801 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90064 (map); 310-475-3585
The Short Order: Plump, succulent, and tender quarter pound burgers made with toasted, squishy buns are generously topped with lettuce, cheese, pickles, and mayonnaise. They're arguably the finest example of the California-style burger
Want Fries with That? Crispy and delicious, they're worth getting
Notes: Closed on Mondays. Tue.-Thu. and Sun., 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Back in 2005 Hamburger Hadley reported on the the venerable Apple Pan in West Los Angeles. It has since been featured in George Motz's Hamburger America—rumor has it that the idea for Motz's film and subsequent book originated at Apple Pan's counter over a burger. As the newest member of the AHT staff, I considered it a rite of passage to make Apple Pan a destination when I recently visited Los Angeles.
An Eatery That Takes You Back in Time
Nothing has changed since Hadley's visit—the Apple Pan remains exactly as he described. In fact, I doubt that much has changed at the Apple Pan since it opened back in 1947. At that time the Apple Pan was surrounded by the citrus groves and family farms that blanketed the undulating terrain of what was then rural West Los Angeles. A riding stable used to be located just across the street—a lady that I struck up conversation with at the counter remembers taking lessons there as a child and then heading over to the Apple Pan for burgers. She confirmed that absolutely nothing has changed at the simple ranch-style building in the ensuing years. On the other hand, almost everything else in the vicinity has transformed from rural to urban—the massive Westwood Pavilion Mall located across the street towers above the Apple Pan and rows of houses have replaced the rows of orchards.
Yet stepping through the Apple Pan's double screen doors is literally like taking a step back in time. The cadre of countermen, most of whom have worked here for decades, still don the white hats and aprons that one usually only sees today at tiresome retro theme restaurants. Drinks are still served in paper cones inserted into metal cup holders, and if you order fries the countermen will serve the ketchup for you on a separate plate. The cash registers on the corners of the counters are old mechanical units, and the 26 stools that surround the counter are decked out in red leather that matches the plaid wallpaper behind the centrally located griddle.
There is a larger kitchen in the back where the Apple Pan's famous pies are baked from scratch using the original family recipes, but the real action takes place in the cramped confines of the front room. This is where the griddlemen crank out a reported 1,000 burgers a day (except on Mondays when they are closed) as well as heaps of fries, and, of course, those freshly baked pies. It is a marvel to behold the sheer speed at which the burgers are assembled, tightly wrapped in wax paper, and plunked down in front of diners.
The Burger's Composition
If you score a seat in the middle of the counter you can witness the phenomena firsthand. Neat rows of iceberg lettuce (just the crunchy middle leaf, not the core or the outer layers) and large stacks of Tillamook Cheddar cheese await their turn in the assembly line. The plump, griddle-cooked, quarter-pound burgers are deposited on toasted, squishy buns whose outer circumference is emblazoned with a burnished ring, providing a wonderful textural component to the sandwich. An extremely generous portion of lettuce, cheese, pickles, and mayonnaise are then added and, depending on which of the menu's two burgers you order, either a tangy hickory sauce or a sweet pickle relish are ladled on top to make a Hickory Burger or Steakburger.
Both burgers are quite unique in my experience, providing unmatched textural experiences and fascinating flavor profiles. The squishiness of the bun with its charred ring, the snap of the pickle, and the effervescent crunch of the lettuce all provide a splendid juxtaposition to the succulent, tender beef and the oozing cheddar. The hickory burger has an audacious tang from the sauce while the Steakburger replaces the tang with the mild sweetness imbued by the relish. George Motz calls it "a near perfect burger experience," and I cannot object to that statement. Apple Pan's burgers are arguably the finest example of the California-style burger—it has obviously served as inspiration to the countless burger stands that dot the Southern California landscape.
Hadley's sole criticism of the burger was that there was perhaps a little too much lettuce, a point that I am inclined to agree with—it has an awful lot of leaf. But to each their own—I am sure that there are many who feel it is in perfect proportion.
The crispy and delicious fries are also worth mentioning, and be sure to save room for their amazing pies. You can get your slice à la mode, but I recommend adding a slice of Tillamook for a supremely tangy, sweet experience, similar to the Steakburger.
For the Love of Burgers and Americana
As is often the case with such enduring institutions, the Apple Pan is still owned by the family that started it all—Martha Gamble and Sunny Sherman, the daughter and granddaughter of founders Ellan and Allen Barker, now run the place. Hadley had it right when he stated that visiting "The Apple Pan is a requirement for any burger or food lover." I would only add that any lover of Americana should also add this to their list. It is a timeless and classic piece of America. The neon sign out front sums up the Apple Pan perfectly: Quality Forever. Indeed.