203 Octavia Blvd, San Francisco CA 94102 (map); 415-431-3663; strawsf.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: On our visit, this doughnut burger got brutally overcooked
Want Fries with That? We didn't try them. But we liked the house-fried potato chips!
Price: The Ringmaster burger, $11.75; make it a double, +$1.25; add bacon, +$1.50
Now, normally I would have been out there in the crowds, dressed as a Double-Double, but my parents were in town, so I had to tone down my act. This left me looking for other ways to get freaky-deaky alongside the rest of the city, and may explain how I ended up at Straw, sitting in a tilt-a-whirl seat and staring down at a doughnut burger.
Why does Straw have tilt-a-whirl seating and a doughnut burger? Because it's a carnival-themed restaurant. (Duh! Your city doesn't have one of those?) If the idea strikes me as odd, I like the way they've pulled it off, with old-school signs and black-and-white photos on the wall. Other than the Troll dolls and fun-house mirrors in the bathroom, they've opted not to assault our senses with bright colors and blaring noise, instead creating a lovably ramshackle little space. Besides the burger, they serve takes on dishes like buffalo wings, mac and cheese, grits with linguisa, and an array of sandwiches, all with carnie-themed names.
Straw calls its burger The Ringmaster, sandwiching a cheese-topped patty of ground chuck between two glazed doughnuts. Like any good amusement park operator, they offer an enticing up-sell. On a burger that costs $11.75, you can add an extra patty (five ounces or so) for only $1.25. Personally, my thinking went something along the lines of, I'm already eating a freaking burger on a doughnut...bring on the extra beef!!!
But, one patty or two, donut or bun, it all comes down to how the beef gets cooked, and I felt a little like Straw had played a carnival trick on me. On the outside, the ragged-edged patties had developed an attractive crust, but that effect had been achieved through too much time on the griddle. The inside of the patties had cooked straight through. And then cooked some more. The end result turned out chewy and tough, rather than tender.
Unless you count Rachel's Thanksgiving trifle on Friends, beef hasn't gained the same traction as some other meats as something to be paired with sweet. Well, The Ringmaster didn't horrify me on that count, but I did find myself wishing Straw had added something saucy to tie the combination together. In its current incarnation, it's simply burger and doughnut, no sauce, no lettuce, no nothing to bridge the gap and spice up the landscape. Maybe some bacon ($1.50) would have achieved that end?
Straw serves its burger with house-fried potato chips, though you can upgrade to julienne fries for an extra dollar. I found myself quite happy with the vehemently crunchy, thick-cut chips, and so didn't wish for the fries, even if the ones at other tables looked good from afar.
Straw also offers Sweet Tots on their appetizer menu, little nuggets of fried sweet potato that come with a sweet-leaning blackberry bbq dipping sauce.
The restaurant did a brisk business on the night we visited, so maybe there are other prizes to be won on the menu. As for the burger, pay no attention to the man telling you to step right up and give it a whirl—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He does not actually like to wear costumes. Follow him on Twitter (@pizzakover).