3 Square Café + Bakery
1121 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90293 (map); 310-399-6504; rockenwagner.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A nicely balanced burger that makes great use of the pretzel bun.
Want Fries with That? Yes please. These are very tasty fast food style fries.
Prices: Pretzel Burger with fries, $12.50
Notes: Grab some of the superlative baked goods to go at the store next door.
Despite his long and (mostly) successful career, Hans Röckenwagner is rarely mentioned as one of the iconic Los Angeles chefs. When I was a younger (but still serious) eater, his now shuttered, upscale eatery Röckenwagner was a meal I looked forward to biannually.
Back in my days of answering someone's phone for a living, I rarely had the opportunity to sample a high-end meal. Even less frequent was my actually picking up the tab. Those few times I had the money (or, more likely, the lack of fiscal restraint) to lay down my own credit card for a fancy meal, it was automatically an occasion. You'd imagine that I'd have spent my meager funds trying out a new place each time, but what wound up happening were repeat visits to Röckenwagner.
Now the classically-trained chef has left fine dining behind in favor of simpler, more straight-forward meals that embrace a quotidian aesthetic. 3 Square Café + Bakery on the once genuinely bohemian—now bohemian chic—strip of Abbot Kinney on Venice tells you what it's up to just from its name. Simple and straight-forward nourishment is the plan, but it's the trained chef's execution that sets it, and more importantly its burger, apart.
Röckenwagner maintains a bakery along with his cafes so it's no surprise that his burger is served on a homemade and very good bun. The Pretzel Burger comes on a robust and yeasty pretzel bun that is, quite simply, one of my favorite breads in Los Angeles. The ropey chew of the crust is beautifully balanced against a doughy interior. It's modeled on the traditional German laugenbrezel (lye pretzel), but Röckenwagner manages make it something more; it's truly a pretzel bun.
The beef patty is a heavyweight, at least eight ounces, but is measured to stand up to the heft of the bun. The grind is nicely coarse and the flavor uncomplicated. The fat is generous though I noticed a lack of seasoning. I imagine this is by design as there is all tat extra salt on the bun, though I wouldn't have minded a bit more directly on the patty. The Swiss cheese adds a pleasant nuttiness that, for me, is the perfect match to a pretzel. The caramelized onions make for delightful hint of sweetness against the pumped up and savory flavor profile of the rest of the ingredients. This a simple yet fully thought out construction of components that is wholly satisfying.
The generous portion of slim-cut french fries is only troubling in that they are hard to eat in responsible portion. I could barely lay off these nicely blistered and full-flavored spuds, but my true cardiovascular misbehavior came in the form of the truffle macaroni and cheese croquettes. These breaded rectangles of gluttony were a near-perfect balance of salty, cheesy pasta against the earthiness of the truffle.
I can't tell you that Röckenwagner's food isn't without its nostalgia for me. His fine dining meals marked the beginning of my adulthood's journey into the curatorial exercise that has been my culinary exploration of Los Angeles. But the cure for yearnings of our past is the simple re-acquaintance with the reality of its present. 3 Square isn't the rarefied experience that I'd had as a young man at Röckenwagner; rather, its food is meant to be delicious and accessible. That is to say, just how I like my burgers.