The Black Cat
3909 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90026 (map); 323-661-6369; theblackcatla.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A posh, new American restaurant serves up a burger with promise
Want Fries with That? Yes! These are excellent spuds
Price: Cheeseburger w/fries, $14
Try as it might, Los Angeles can't hide its age. Certainly the city of lifts and tucks seems to be in perpetual makeover mode, but sometimes the lines of this metropolis are deep set and, thankfully, not going anywhere. One such crease in its history is that of a little night spot in the Silver Lake neighborhood that has a big (if lesser known) place in the history of the gay rights movement. The Black Cat is named after a historic gay bar that was once located in the same building. The pride of Black Cat is born from being the location of the first public demonstrations by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender protesters. That was way back in 1967, which is two years prior to the most famous LGBT uprising at New York City's Stonewall Inn. The building garnered landmark status in 2008.
Recently the historic space got a rather epic makeover, but the owners of the new Black Cat have kept some of the artifacts of its history front and center. The sign is original and the interior is decorated with some memorabilia that honors the original.
When I stopped by for lunch the other day I found a spanking new restaurant that elegantly pays homage to the past and makes a burger that might have a future.
The Black Cat burger ($14) isn't the most original high-end burger. In fact, it would be fair to say that it's of a type here in Los Angeles. All of the ingredients are high quality and sourced from one of a handful of acceptable purveyors, and—for what I can only assume are aesthetic reasons—they're built with a post-modern architect's aesthetic. That is to say, the aesthetic often comes at the expense of functionality.
Let's start with this last piece of the puzzle because it's one of the few problems with the Black Cat burger and I'd like to get it out of the way. As you can see, a burger this tall resists any reasonable bites despite all your best squeezing efforts. If Black Cat would rebuild its skyscraper of a burger as a low rise, they'd have a real winner on their hands and in mine. Let me explain.
The eight ounces of Creekstone beef isn't some overthought blend of blends, but rather a somewhat straightforward 100 percent chuck grind. The only tweak here is mixing some aged chuck in with the standard fresh ground 80/20. This gives the patty a clean beefiness with just a hint of funk to set it apart. They clearly cook this guy with proper heat, as my medium rare order came out with a fantastic char and a rich pink center. The grind could be a bit coarser, but that's not to suggest that it's anything but beautifully seasoned, properly handled beef.
The bun is the brioche from Rockenwagner, which we've seen again and again around the higher end burger spots in Los Angeles. Yes, it's a bit familiar, but it's also damn good. As I've noted in the past, the Rockenwagner brioche enjoys the advantage of being almost nothing like a genuine brioche. It's a hearty, spongy bun that is really well suited to a substantial patty like this one.
The toppings are all top notch. The veggies snapped with freshness and I enjoyed the addition of the pickle. The pickle is making a comeback on lots of the new burgers in town and I'm certainly ok with it. I enjoy its acidity and crunch, though I'd understand if you ask to keep it off yours. The cheese is a sort of fancy version of the classic American. It has a rich nuttiness for added flavor while not sacrificing a proper melt. The overall experience is that of a classic backyard burger with that added cheffed up appeal.
The fries were also really well put together. Mine came out with a fantastic crispness against a smooth, creamy center. I also tried the housemade potato chips which, while good, weren't the equal of the fries.
Black Cat is still getting its bearings as a restaurant. There was a decided note of concern in the dining room service despite the few tables at lunch and, as of last week, it still had that freshly painted odor. This isn't so much a criticism as an observation. The kinks feel like they'll get worked out, which means the Black Cat feels like a restaurant and burger with a future. I'm glad they've chosen to acknowledge the past as they get there.
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.