8539 West Sunset Blvd.,West Hollywood CA 90069 and five other locations(map); 310-289-9250; burgerlounge.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A San Diego area fast casual burger chain comes to LA with little fanfare and lots of great burgers
Want Fries with That? Yes; these twice-fried spuds are kept at the highest quality by mixing up potato varieties based on season
Prices: The Lounge Burger, $7.95; french fries, $2.95/$3.99; onion rings, $3.95/$4.99
Burger Lounge isn't new to the pages of A Hamburger Today. Their grass fed beef burger first got a look by Colin Parent in San Diego. My lovely and talented colleague currently covering all things sweet and burger-y in the San Diego area, Erin Jackson, went beyond the beef when she stopped in for a turkey and veggie burger. What is new about Burger Lounge is their recent arrival in Los Angeles with the opening of their West Hollywood outpost smack dab in the middle of our yawning spectacle, the Sunset Strip.
I am not usually one to partake of the nightlife (or any of the life, such as it is) on the Strip, but tell of this professionally run outfit's burger proficiency got me out of my comfort zone and into my car to see what all the fuss was about. The folks behind burger lounge are full-fledged restaurant pros and it shows. J. Dean Loring (President/CEO) and Michael (Mike) Gilligan (CFO) founded Burger Lounge back in 2007, but this duo are serious industry veterans with an eye for detail. The interior of this restaurant (now pretty standardized across locations) is polished and highly designed. The servers greet you with a trained politeness that is undeniably more pleasant than Los Angeles's usual studied indifference of the aspiring actor who happens to be passing time as a server. Of course, for me the proof is in the burger, and I'm happy to report that Burger Lounge stands and delivers.
The Lounge Burger is this outfit's signature offering (they've trademarked the name) and after few bites it's clear why. The bun is a recipe-tested affair that Culinary Director Jim Little (who has been with Burger Lounge since opening) came up with. They refer to it as the Lounge Bun. I'm not sure if they went through the trouble of trademarking this one, but Little certainly poured some inspiration into it. It's a blend of organic whole wheat and organic white flours and gets its distinctive sweetness from a touch of blackstrap molasses. It's also Kosher and dairy-free for those of you keeping score at home. The five-ounce patty is made of 100 percent grass-fed beef (a blend of chuck and brisket) from Rain Crow Ranch in Jackson, Missouri, and is held to a hearty 75/25 meat-to-fat ratio. They top it off with lettuce, tomato, housemade Thousand Island, and a choice of organic white cheddar or organic American cheeses, as well as a choice of raw or grilled onions. I got mine with American cheese and grilled onions; I recommend you do the same.
The patty itself was exercise in grass-fed simplicity. The griddle is one of those technological marvels that delivers consistent heat and perfect crust even when it's loaded with patties. The beef had that clean beefiness with a little bit of richness that's indicative of the chuck and brisket blend. The restaurant is committed to using grass fed beef—it's actually finished with grass feed unlike the usual "grass-fed" beef that is really finished with a corn feed—which I know can be a turn off when compared to the rich fattiness of corn fed beef. In this case, the 25 percent fat more than makes up for that.
The toppings were all beyond reproach. The lettuce and tomato were fresh and crisp. The American cheese and grilled onions were a one-two punch of fatty flavor and sweet caramelization. The housemade Thousand Island is in the running as one of the best versions I've come across.
The one hesitation you might have from looking at the cross-section is the beef-to-bun ratio. The bun looks rather overpowering, but the truth is it plays nicely with the beef. Unlike most house recipes, this one still has a fantastic airy and spongy quality that makes for the best burger buns. I'd consider tweaking the recipe to reduce the molasses slightly since the sweetness is readily apparent and seems almost unnecessary. That said, this is still a very good bun.
Burger Lounge trades in secrets—at least when it comes to their menu—so I'm happy to report that my investigation unearthed a little inside information.This recently workshopped burger is inspired by the traditional McDonald's cheeseburger and it is, indeed, an inspired piece of work. The thing is, you won't find it on their menu. Ask for it by name: The Classic. Not only will you get the thrill of being in the know, but you'll also get what may be my favorite Burger Lounge burger. The grass fed beef is served with ketchup, mustard, American cheese, pickles, and raw onion on the Lounge Bun. The flavor profile is certainly reminiscent of a McDonald's burger, but this is probably better described as the cheeseburger you dreamed McDonald's would actually make. It's tangy and full of beefy flavor—definitely worth a try.
The fries are truly excellent. They are done in the Belgian style: a long blanch (4 minutes) at 325°F and finished at 375°F until done. They use 100 percent peanut oil and, more impressively, change up their potato order based on the starch content the varieties are displaying. Mine were Yukon Gold, but yours could be Kennebecs depending on what's coming in just right.
Housemade onion rings were less interesting for me, but still a creditable execution. They're made with fresh yellow onions dipped in buttermilk, dredged in flour, then coated in panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs). These are fried only once, then served with housemade barbecue sauce and housemade buttermilk ranch dressing.
There's no surefire recipe for success in the fast casual burger business, but the way Burger Lounge puts their operation together is damn close. I walked in expecting a standard fast casual meal and they managed to serve me something much better than that. Los Angeles is no easy market when it comes to flipping burgers for a living, but I'd expect Burger Lounge is going to go the distance.
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.