San Francisco: The Beauty of a Classic Burger at 4505 Meats
Tuesday and Saturdays at the Ferry Building Farmers Market, 1 Ferry Building
San Francisco CA 94111 (map); 415-255-3094; 4505meats.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A really tasty fast food-style burger made by a fellow who's serious about his meat
Want Fries with That? They do sell fries and they're pretty good
Price: Classic cheeseburger with all the fixings, $8; make it a double, $11; fries, $5
Ryan Farr's 4505 Meats offers up a high-minded take on meat butchery, stressing control over the whole process, starting from sourcing the meat to using every bit of the animal. But, if we had to guess, despite his rather idealistic views on food, Farr is not one to take life too seriously. This is a man that started his company by peddling chicharrones to local bars. Well, okay, fried pork skin for drunk folks is serious business, but this is also a guy whose bio on the company website claims the jackalope as his "spirit animal."
I'm engaging in total armchair psychology here—besides a brief phone conversation as I was writing this article, I've never met the man—but I like the idea that it's the combination of Farr's idealism and sense of humor that come together to produce the really excellent 4505 Meats cheeseburger. Farr and his crew sell this burger at their stand at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, and people line up for it. Farr told us that they average approximately 450 burgers in two days of sales each week at the market.
In constructing his fast food-style burger, Farr takes a straightforward approach to preparing the meat. Farr and his crew break down whole grass-fed animals from Magruder Ranch. The cuts that they use in their burgers vary from day to day, but it's always ground within 12 hours of cooking, and it gets seasoned with nothing more than salt just before going on the griddle. "No spices, just good meat," Farr told us. (You can watch the whole process from side of beef to patty in the video above.) Farr estimates that the grind ends up between 25 and 30 percent fat, but he's not completely certain. He jokes that their percentage of fat is pink—they know the ratio is right when the grind takes on the right hue.
The 4505 Meats burger can arrive as a slightly sloppy package, likely because they pump out so many of them so quickly on a typical Saturday at the farmer's market. Despite my best efforts as a food stylist, the patty and lettuce insisted on jutting off at odd angles until I'd evened things out with a few hulking bites.
Any frustration with the disarray of the presentation fades when you get a bite of the powerfully flavorful, meaty patty. It's thin, and so doesn't stay all that red at the center, but it nonetheless coats your fingers in a stream of fatty burger juice as you eat.
4505 Meats puts their burger on a housemade scallion-pecorino bun. Between the burger juice and a healthy dose of butter, the bread gets rich as hell. Weighted down with all that liquid fat, you expect it to fall apart, but crisped up after a little time on the griddle, it actually stays in one piece. Farr and his crew add a slice of Gruyère cheese, some crisp lettuce, and a slather of "secret" sauce (like most secret sauces, a Thousand Island-ish dressing). I applaud his choice to leave off the tomato until tomato season arrives. All told, these are slightly dressed-up, classic burger fixings done well.
Visit the 4505 Meats stand at the farmer's market, and you can get meat they've butchered, housemade sausages, or those chicharrones that formed the foundation of the business back when it first got off the ground. Personally, I'd be hard-pressed to choose anything other than the burger. Though, if Farr ever decided to butcher up his spirit animal, I would be tempted to see what he could do with jackalope.