"It's a full, rich mouthful that hits me with a rush of pleasure akin to hearing the curtain whisk close behind me as I walk into a plane's first class cabin."
7000 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90028 (map); 25degreesrestaurant.com; 323-785-7244
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A slick, Hollywood Boulevard "build-your-own" burger spot serves up some very tasty options
Want Fries with That? These fast food style spuds are foiled by a sprinkle of thyme, but the onion rings are truly special
Prices: Sirloin Cheeseburger, $10.50
Notes: Open 24 hours, 7 days a week
So I had the in-laws in town over the weekend. This is much less the lip-pursed, teeth grinding exercise of holding my tongue than it is a four day extravaganza of eating, drinking, and playing. They're a decidedly generous pair who somehow endure the facsimile of an adult man that is this boy. The fact that they endure me as a partner for their superstar of a daughter is an even greater measure of their generosity. I suspect it's the burgers.
You see, Mom is a burger lover and one of my regular interlocutors. Dad is a Texas-bred doctor who brings his studied demeanor to most things, but certainly not least of which is his grilling. Of course, a big burger lunch was on the agenda for the weekend's festivities (as were some fine steaks from Lobel's that arrived via FedEx—thanks Dr. C!). As you might imagine, while sitting down for our burger we discussed burgers.
I found out that my girlfriend's father went to medical school with a chap who insisted on burgers. Only burgers. Lunch and dinner. Every day. We laughed as we imagined a life of just burgers. Dad's button on the story was that this burger man was "hands down the smartest guy in the class." Now, I suspect this was presented as a counterpoint to his obsessive burger consumption, but there are days when I think the burger doctor might have been on to something.
Monday would be one of those days. It would be a burger-only day for me. Of late I've been running into some rough hamburgers for my reviews and, quite honestly, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of relating the sad, desiccated state of a drive-in's roadkill patty, or the overwrought affair I had at a barbecue joint. I don't sharpen my pen in hopes of slicing up a restaurant with a clever turn of phrase. I'm rooting for all of them. Or perhaps better put, I'm rooting for my mouth. I want a delicious and memorable meal, not food for my evil thoughts.
In light of this, my first stop would take me back to a place that I've been enjoyed in the past and—more importantly—I planned on enjoying in my near future. 25 Degrees is part of the movement of "premium" burger restaurants that has taken off around the country. It, like the rest of its ilk, promises high-end ingredients, restaurant service, and (hopefully) delicious updates of the classic. I can really enjoy these places. In fact, my dinner would be another adventure in premium burgering, but I'll tell that story in another post. Today, let's do (a burger) lunch.
25 Degrees sits alongside the Hollywood Boulevard entrance of the recently refurbished and truly beautiful Roosevelt Hotel (and actually has an entrance from the hotel lobby aside from the street). The rectangular room of counter and high-backed booths looks out at the boulevard's Walk of Fame and—with a slight neck crane—you spy the legendary Mann's Chinese Theater. The patterned red wallpaper and expensive finishes announce this place as more than an average burger joint, which comes as no surprise when you hear that the restaurateur team consists of Tim and Liza Goodell, known for their polished, of-the-moment establishments. They thought of 25 Degrees for the casual restaurant space that needed filling at the Roosevelt. The name refers to the temperature difference between a medium rare and well done burger—or, as my colleague Nick might put it, the difference between slightly overcooked and murdered. I'm okay with the first five degrees of those twenty-five.
The menu is "build your own" though you will find a couple of house constructions available to you. I've eaten and enjoyed the suggested combinations in the past so I decided to take on a simple cheeseburger. The meat is ground sirloin from Daniels Western Meatpackers, a half-century old butcher whose products run the gamut. In this case, it's their premium line. There are thirteen cheese options and almost all of them are sourced, fancy pants varietals. I choose the American and I order my burger medium rare. I also order up a half fries, half rings plate along with a Guinness shake, a shake made with Guinness beer. The "spiked shake" has become a signature of these high-end burger joints, but I'd yet to have one with Guinness.
The burger arrives looking every bit the Hollywood star. A gorgeous, cheesy patty smiles at me from its perfectly-round, brioche-style bun perch. The veggie toppings arrive on the side. Looking at this beauty I decide that they'll have to make do with a supporting role as plate garnish—I want the pure meat and cheese experience.
The first bite is juicy and satisfying in the way that reminds you money can buy certain kinds of happiness. It's a full, rich mouthful that hits me with a rush of pleasure akin to hearing the curtain whisk close behind me as I walk into a plane's first class cabin.
The bun, which initially struck me as too large for my eight-ounce patty, is actually beautifully light and spongy. The texture of brioche is usually its undoing, but this version has the airy give of a proper commercial bun. Turns out 25 Degrees uses its own recipe specifically designed for their burger. The quality of the pliable bun and juiciness of the meat is evidence in the last photo I snapped before I devoured the last bite of this beauty.
The meat is beautifully charred and juicy. The grill has left its mark on the exterior without damaging the cooking temperature on the interior. There isn't an abundance of seasoning, but the clean beef-forward taste of this high-quality grind cuts through. Normally I'd be craving a bit more salt, but alongside the char, the intense flavor of this quality beef is all I need. The cheese is perfectly melted (it's almost become one with my patty) and I enjoy the added fat it contributes, but there's just a bit too much of it. Although American cheese has a tang that is everything I love about my country and its impulse to do things its own way, when improperly portioned it threatens to becomes an imperialist.
The fries and rings are plated to look as though they are pouring out of a Chinese take-out box. It's the kind of cutesy gimmick that usually would be lost on me, but I'm pleased to discover it actually helps hold on to some heat. The fries are fast food-style and very nicely cooked. Unfortunately, there was a decision made to season them with thyme. I imagine they were going for earthy, but after a few fries I'm overwhelmed by the seasoning. The rings, however, are a beautiful example of the dish. The batter is peppery and crispy, and the onion itself is almost creamy. I inquire about the recipe and find out that—like so many good things—it's kept like a secret. I am able to elicit a "buttermilk" and "soaked for hours" before the manager's lips tighten.
The Guinness shake is lovely to look at with its pattern of chocolate sauce expertly painted on the inside of the glass. I ordered it because it sounded like nothing I'd ever want to drink, as though 25 Degrees knows something I don't know about how to enjoy a Guinness and a shake. I take a couple of swallows and get my answer: they don't. It tastes like someone poured beer in my shake. Please don't pour beer in my shake.
This premium experience was almost entirely what I was looking for. The shortcomings can be overlooked when the burger itself is as good as it is. That said, I'd be remiss not to mention that my server was terrible at his job (though one of his counterparts seemed great) and that premium burgers come with premium prices. My burger, fries/rings, and shake came to almost thirty bucks.
I finished up my lunch, delighted to have had such a delicious burger. A good burger is such pure and satisfying experience—it's an exercise in fulfilling our body's needs with a simplicity and pleasure that should be the model for all of our activities. Walking along Hollywood Boulevard in the mid-afternoon sunshine, I smiled to myself while thinking about the twisted genius of a doctor who'd only eat burgers. To be sure, I'd never insist on only eating burgers, but today the lingering pleasure of my burger lunch gave me some added insight into obsession. I was already dreaming of my burger dinner.