San Francisco: Slow Club Demonstrates Why the Right Bun Matters
2501 Mariposa Street, San Francisco CA 94110 (map); 415-241-9390; slowclub.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A consistently tasty, juicy hamburger—as long as they don't run out of hamburger buns
Want Fries with That? A good version of frozen fries come with the burger
Price: Cheeseburger, $12.50
I've eaten the burger at Slow Club a number of times, and I like it quite a bit. So I entered the restaurant on autopilot, aiming only to get a few pretty pictures to go with the review that I'd already written in my head. Cue the "What the...???" moment, when the food that arrived at the table didn't match the image in my memory—they'd switched the bun on me.
Thankfully, I hadn't walked in on a misguided revision of Slow Club's burger. They'd simply run out of their preferred breadstuff and replaced it with an English muffin*. So, I don't have to about-face and steer you away from Slow Club's very nice burger. In the meantime, let this be an object lesson that hamburger buns really do make a big difference.
I give my full vote of confidence to the beef at the center of a Slow Club hamburger. The restaurant is owned by the folks behind Serpentine (which may just make my favorite hamburger in San Francisco), and they use the same dry-aged Prather Ranch beef. The six-ish ounce patty arrives with some color and flavor from the grill, but they still keep it moist and red at the center. Mine arrived just a touch cooler than medium rare and flowing with juice.
Slow Club amplifies the richness of their hamburger with the addition of a pile of balsamic onions underneath. The onion and meat juices seem to meld, producing an almost-greasy liquid that drips off the burger and entices plenty of finger licking. To absolutely ensure adequate fat content, they also throw in some aioli, and then provide a contrasting flavor with a bit of Dijon mustard. Hard to know where they get decent tomato in February, but I did not remove the thick slice of red fruit as I tend to do at this time of year.
Now, about that bun. Typically, Slow Club uses an Acme bun that has the tender-sturdy combination a juicy hamburger requires. By contrast, the English muffin they served me during this last visit failed to perform a bun's most basic duty: It couldn't keep hold of the meat. In fact, the two slabs of too-firm bread on either side of the patty served mostly as a slingshot, sending my patty skittering out onto my plate when I tried to bite the burger. Meanwhile, I found the flavor of this dense bread distracting enough that I actually opted to eat some of my ejected patty directly from the plate rather than continually reassembling my hamburger.
The fries at Slow Club enter the restaurant frozen, but they're pretty good frozen fries. Crisp and salty, they come included with your burger, and you'll probably finish them.
If you find yourself eating exemplary burgers, or maybe constructing your own with the bread of your choice, it can be easy to overlook the integral role played by the humble hamburger bun. It only takes one ill-suited disc of bread, however, to remind you to give proper respect where it's due. The bun matters! Happily, my most recent star-crossed visit notwithstanding, Slow Club seems to understand this. As long as the chef orders the right number of buns, you'll get a tasty burger at Slow Club.
* When I clarified this point, though I hadn't complained, they seemed to realize that they'd disappointed a customer and genially knocked a few bucks off the bill.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He occasionally gets his tweet on as @pizzakover. He also makes bagels, though he wouldn't serve a burger on one.