317 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale CA 91203 (map); 818-507-1510; damonsglendale.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: This septuagenarian steakhouse serves up superior beef with just ordinary condiments
Want Fries with That? No way. Limp and flavorless
Prices: Damon's Cheeseburger, $8.50
Notes: Sun. to Thu., 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Fri. - Sat., 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Important note: Order the burger with just the toasted and buttered bun and enjoy the simple elegance of high quality meat that is properly cooked
My name is Damon. That's how I used to introduce myself. That is, until it was bludgeoned out of me by the relentless teasing by my friends. They thought it was mannered and odd that I just didn't say, "I'm Damon." Of course, the reasons behind my phrasing, like most things in this self-involved writer's life, constitute a story.
I always took great delight in my first name. I like how it's accessible and easy to pronounce, yet uncommon. I liked correcting people when they'd make jokes about The Omen. "Too many vowels," I'd reply. There's also an origin story about how my parents chose the name. In the Ancient Greek tale about Damon and Pythias and the power of friendship, Damon was the constant one—the one for whom I was named.
Saying "My name is..." was a way to foreground the power and story behind o my name. It was a way for a boy's insecurity to be wrapped in the blanket of a larger narrative. It was a signifier for me and something more; a way of making my name's story a part of my reality.
So how can I possibly be expected to give an unbiased review of a place called Damon's Steakhouse? About a burger dubbed Damon's Burger, no less. Fear not, all manner of self-esteem issues abound in this burger reviewer that balance out whatever self-regard he has about his name. Let's try the (Damon's) burger.
Damon's Steakhouse is located on the north end of Brand Boulevard in Glendale, California. Driving from my Los Feliz cottage, I pass a slew of wan car dealerships and then one of those instant-Main Street, mall communities called—with particular irony—The Americana. It's all glossy, polished faux-brick that reeks of bubble economy. Thankfully, my burger hunt leads me right past all of the financially unstable, American artifice to an authentic piece of Americana: Damon's Steakhouse.
The septuagenarian steakhouse was opened in 1937, but to be fair it doesn't look a day over forty. The Polynesian theme and aging carpet speak to a bygone era during which a steak meal wasn't an occasion, but just lunch, and the accompanying two martinis made you an executive, not a drunk.
Walking into the place during a bright, sunny Los Angeles afternoon is a bit of an assault on the eyes. The room is so dark that it takes minutes to adjust. I grab a booth in a secluded corner and tried to play the name game with my server.
"What do you get if your name is actually Damon?"
"A coincidence," she replied.
Apparently everyone is both a comedian and not as concerned with my name as I am.
I order my namesake with cheese and some fries and rings. I pass the time sipping my syrupy fountain coke through a cocktail straw.
The first food to arrive is the salad that comes with the burger. I got the house dressing, which is a cloying, neon-colored disaster. The whole mess was so overdressed that it rates unfavorably against even a cafeteria's iteration. A bit unnerving to be sure, but, then again, I don't go to steakhouses for their salads.
The burger arrives and I immediately think of my childhood love affair with the New York City Greek Diner Burger Deluxe. All that's missing is some soggy cole slaw to complete the tableau. While the presentation is a fun memory trace, my tastes have grown up and I'm a little worried.
Once constructed the burger looks great. My first bite is satisfying, but full of distraction. The lettuce, tomato, pickle and large helping of mayo combine to make for a watery, mealy mess. That said, I get great hit of seasoned, charred, beef. I go for one more bite and realize there's a star lurking beneath all these b-list toppings.
I strip the burger down to its rudiments: just bun, cheese and meat. It's delicious. The perfectly cooked patty is so nicely seasoned and flavorful that a few bites are pure, eye-closed delight. Rarely do I find myself so enthralled by just the meat of a burger. The reason in this case? Let's call it the steakhouse effect. The meat turns out to be ground top sirloin, and does it ever shine through. The seasoning is salty and generous and a wonderful complement. Then there's the char—the exterior is that deep, rich brown that I can never imitate at home due to my weak stove. Lovely.
In fact, the meat is so tasty that I'd even recommend skipping the addition of cheese. Order yours sans toppings and just enjoy a beautifully cooked, high quality burger with a nicely toasted and buttered commercial roll. That said, don't expect the supporting cast to offer much support to this movie star burger. The fries were limp and lacked flavor, and my order of onion rings was solid at best, certainly not worth the $6 price tag.
What's In a Name
Part of me hoped to tell a story of a perfect experience with the Damon's Burger. It would be yet another thing that made my name—and by extension me—special, but that could never be the case. I've long since learned that reality will always alloy my imaginings and that names, after all, are just devices. There is nothing about mine that makes a burger, or me more than what we are. The world, alas, is real and I, alas, am Damon.