North Shore Burgers
1929 Verdugo Blvd. #B, La Cañada Flintridge CA 91011 (map); 818-790-1672; northshoreburgers.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A pair of community leaders copy the Islands model with partial success
Want Fries with That? Yes; very solid, skin-on spuds
Prices: Five-O with cheese and onions, $7.45; Kailua, $5.95
When longtime buddies Craig Bittner and Mike Davitt decided they wanted to partner up on a restaurant, they were determined to "open a place that had great food at fair prices in a unique environment." The first two goals are up for debate, but I'd imagine the folks at burger chain Islands would have issue with the third. Bittner and Davitt's restaurant North Shore Burgers is meant to be a burger paean to the ethos of Hawaii, which can only beg comparison to Islands. North Shore Burger's website even specifically references Oahu, which is where Islands' founder Tony DeGrazier found his inspiration while stationed there in the Navy. Add to this similar decor and a noticeably similar menu construction and Bittner and Davitt's flattery seems to come in the form of imitation. (Being a fan of Islands, I'd say you could do a lot worse if you're starting a fast casual restaurant.)
Recently I headed up to this new (only four months in operation!) restaurant in the small, posh city of La Cañada Flintridge that sits on the northern edge of Los Angeles County to see how these local heroes (a banker and member of the Archdiocese) did with their burger dreams.
The first burger I tried from the limited, though customizable burger offerings was the Five-O. It's a basic construction of patty, bun, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo. I customized mine with some grilled onions and American cheese.
The construction looked in good order, but I'd wager many of you can spot the major flaw just from the photos: meat to bun ratio. In this case the very attractive bun is way too large for the 1/3-pound patty. Worse yet, it wasn't a standard, air-filled commercial bun, but some bakery's bready approximation. It looked lovely, but didn't suit my burger.
The meat itself was nicely seasoned and showed excellent crust. They claim to use an exclusive blend of USDA Prime beef. It's better than average, but I'd suspect the patties are preformed well in advance, and they'd definitely benefit from a coarser grind. The rest of the toppings could do little to save the ratio. I found myself giving up on this burger halfway through; it wasn't so much bad as it just wasn't particularly good.
Surprisingly my second burger, The Kailua, shined. I ordered it with a "gourmet" whole wheat bun just to try it out and was rewarded for my choice. This whole wheat bun is clearly superior to the white. You can see in the below photo that it's got a nice sponginess and forms to the hand. Being less bready than the white bun, the the nicely crusted patty was able to step forward.
They add a NSB sauce to this one which, as you'd guess, bears a striking resemblance to Thousand Island dressing. I thought it really worked on this burger and I devoured the whole thing before I could say "whole wheat bun." Which reminds me, the lettuce and tomato on this burger complemented the patty nicely. Good ingredients make a difference.
The fries arrived in a conical contraption that also has room for the ranch dipping sauce, but that's beside the point. The fries themselves are what deserve your attention here. Yes, they start out as frozen, skin-on spuds, but they got a proper frying that gave them a fantastic texture and very satisfying flavor.
North Shore Burgers won't win any points for originality, but perhaps that shouldn't be so much the goal with a burger restaurant. What we want is a properly executed familiar thing. In this case, they succeeded with one of the burgers I sampled. Perhaps they should head over to Islands again; I do love their buns.
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.