Laguna Niguel, CA: Deemer's American Grill Is the Best New Burger Chain (That Isn't One Yet)
Deemer's American Grill
27221 La Paz Rd., Ste E, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 (map); 949-425-8770; deemersgrill.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A new restaurant makes a great burger and a case for its becoming a chain
Want Fries with That? Yes; crispy and salty spuds are handled with aplomb
Prices:Classic Burger, $6.75
You could be forgiven for walking into the new(ish) restaurant Deemer's American Grill and thinking you have found yourself in yet another mid-scale chain restaurant. While more often than not, I'd consider that first impression a bit of a sleight, in this case it serves as a compliment to this new venture. The owner, Kevin Deemer, has given his restaurant the high-concept gloss of a Chipotle, but didn't sacrifice low-down burger goodness.
The dining room won't win any design awards, but it's sparklingly clean and certainly comfortable enough for a burger lunch. Actually, Deemer's also has a patio and a beer and wine license, so you could find a good time with a burger dinner here without much effort. Of course, good burger dinners demand good burgers, and that's where Deemer's shines.
Kevin Deemer is a longtime restaurant pro who clearly has a deep commitment to this, his first solo venture. I showed up on a random Wednesday and saw him in uniform and fully ensconced in the management of his burger spot. He was coy when I asked if he had made Deemer's so self-consciously "ready-for-replication," but it seems his decision to make it ready-for-primetime right from the get go wasn't an accident.
The classic burger with cheese starts with a certified Angus patty that is portioned in roughly six-ounce rounds. The beef is fresh ground in house each day and gets a very gentle hand-forming. The toppings on the classic are tomato, onion, and iceberg lettuce, with Deemer's Thousand Island. It's worth noting that Deemer's will serve you your burger medium well if you don't specify a cooler temperature, but ask for a medium rare burger (like I did) and you'll actually get one.
The bun is a beautiful round of homemade bread that is near perfection. Just the right amount of sponginess against a heft that stands up to the juiciness makes this a bun that should be copied. It also provides a fantastic aesthetic. In cross-section the Deemer's burger looks like a food stylist's efforts.
The toppings were all fantastically fresh and the beef itself a exercise in precision. The juiciness was comparable to thick steakhouse patties and yet didn't feel like an overwhelming element. The seasoning was powerful without being overpowering, and the crust from the griddle played against the loose, coarse grind that I look for in a great burger.
I also had a chance to sample the Hickory Smoked Burger—topped with cheddar, smoked bacon, crisp onions, tomato, iceberg lettuce, and barbecue sauce—as well as the burger of the month, the Mediterranean burger, topped with feta cheese, Kalamata olive aioli, baby spinach, tomato, red onion, and cucumber slaw. Both were tasty, but the classic is such a fantastic version of a simple burger construction that it might take a few more visits to find me ordering anything other than that one.
Fries and rings were expertly handled. The skin-on spuds were salty and fantastically crispy. The rings had the sweet and salt balance that's the key to a good onion ring and, sadly, what most versions lack.
Deemer's isn't a chain yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if Kevin finds himself at the helm of a growing restaurant group in the near future. The operation runs as smooth as any I've seen and the quality is evident. While I don't usually get excited for a chain-style meal, I'd be just fine with Deemer's opening up in my neighborhood.
About the author: Damon is one of our roving burger reporters and food writers. When he's not eating more than is warranted or healthful (and then writing about it) he can be found writing and producing for television and film. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.