San Francisco: Not Just the Same Old Burger at Park Tavern
1652 Stockton Street, San Francisco CA 94133 (map); 415-989-7300; parktavernsf.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A heck-a-juicy, cheffy burger topped with bacon and horseradish aioli
Want Fries with That? They come with it, and they're good
Price: Marlowe burger, $14
Though chef Jennifer Puccio has earned rave reviews for all of her food at Marlowe, it often seems that the restaurant's success has been defined by its burger. So it was no surprise that when Puccio and restaurateur Anna Weinberg opened Park Tavern across town, the Marlowe burger made the jump to that menu as well. Normally, I'd have been keen to see Puccio try her hand at a different take on the hamburger, but this is a burger San Franciscans should be more than happy to find at two different locations.
Though the shredded lettuce in the picture might have thrown you off, Puccio's burger is a decidedly cheffy creation, and Park Tavern comes with a matching decor. The spacious restaurant has an updated clubby feel, with dark colors, leather booths, and a beamed wooden ceiling. A hefty set of antlers sits above the bar. The menu, which made the list of James Beard semi-finalists for best new restaurant, prices most entrées in the mid-twenties.
As for the burger that has launched many thousands of diners to Marlowe and now to Park Tavern, it's a positively juicy concoction. Our waiter surprised me when I asked about the beef that achieves this effect. They use Niman Ranch meat, but it's not just beef; 20 percent of this tender 5.5-ounce patty is lamb. Only after going back for another taste did I notice a barely gamey note to go with the flavors of the beef and the char from the grill. Either way, the juice flows so liberally that the bottom of the Acme bun threatens to turn to paste if you let it sit too long. (Don't worry, you won't be inclined to let your tasty burger languish any longer than is required to insert it in your mouth.)
They top the Marlowe burger with caramelized onions, thin slices of crisp bacon, and horseradish aioli. When I last had the burger at Marlowe, I remember thinking that the smoke from the bacon and the pungency of the horseradish drowned out the flavors of the beef. I didn't have this problem at Park Tavern, which left me wondering if the new restaurant uses a lighter hand with the condiments, or if there have been some minor changes since my last visit. These flavors work so well that I don't mind making a return trip to Marlowe for an "extra" burger to settle this question one day soon.
Fresh cut fries come as part of Park Tavern's $14 fee for the burger, and they certainly add value. Fried in rice oil, they have been prepared so that they develop that delicate extra layer of crispness that puffs out from the edge of the potato in spots. The insides stay soft and fluffy.
If you were to ask, I'm sure Puccio would say she's plenty busy running two restaurants. But the Marlowe burger traveled across town so well that I'm wondering why they don't spin it into more concepts. Sure, SoMa and North Beach are covered, but there are several other neighborhoods around the city that would love to get easier access to this burger.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He occasionally gets his tweet on at @pizzakover.