Los Angeles: Lovin' Spoonful and Wishing They'd Bring the Burger Back
3413 Cahuenga Blvd W, Los Angeles, CA 90068 (map); 323-512-4800; spoonfulrestaurant.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: This was a creative and spicy take on a cheeseburger that deserves a re-introduction
Want Fries with That? Yes! These are excellent fries that, thankfully, are still on the menu
Price: Burger (w/fries), $13; Buffalo Shrimp, $12; Soft Boiled Egg and Pork Belly, $10; Shrimp Po' Boy, $13
I'm not sure if I've ever been in the predicament that Spoonful has put me in. You see, I stopped by this relatively new restaurant that sits beside the 101 Freeway in the Cahuenga pass recently and treated myself to a burger (among many other things) and found it to be seriously good. Now, it's not that I don't know what to do with a really good burger (hence my expansive waistline), rather the predicament is telling the world about said burger now that owner, Frank Foley, has decided to take it off the menu.
I had a chat with him somewhere between my second expertly prepared Old Fashioned and a diabolical pecan pie and found out that he was taking the burger off the menu. I implored him to reconsider, but he presented an unassailable rationale: no one was ordering it. This is understandable considering Spoonful makes no bones about its Southern cooking inspiration and how well they deliver on those flavors. That is to say, there is a lot of deliciousness to be found on the menu beyond the burger. I'll tell you about a few dishes that stood out and then detail what made the burger so good. Don't think of it as a rubbing in the good fortune of my timing. Rather, think of it as a call to action. If you decide to stop by (you should) maybe you can tell Foley to get that burger back on the menu.
Spoonful is Foley's baby, but it's been weened by chef Victor Calderon's inspired cooking. Foley found Calderon through a rather TV-ready system. He invited all prospective chef candidates to cook him a meal with only $25 to spend on ingredients. Ready, set, cook. Calderon was, well, the victor. The spoils, however, go to the customers. He has managed to tease out a number of distinct takes on Southern classics as well as some fun bar food.
I tried a little sampler of dishes to start. (I should note that you'll have to order the full dishes separately.) Calderon managed to finally make me a Buffalo sauce dish I actually liked. I've never been one for wings, but his fried Gulf shrimp tossed in buffalo sauce with celery root purée and housemade Ranch dressing is very nice. It was a balance of heat and creaminess that hit all the right notes. But the truly inspired taste came from the crusted soft-boiled egg and pork belly. Calderon preps the egg with a dusting of panko and a deep fry for crunch. Then he lacquers the pork belly into sweet and fatty perfection.The addition of his vanilla gastrique, which he makes by reducing some apple cider vinegar and vanilla bean, sets in all off. Add a nice whiskey drink and you have a hangover brunch fit for a king.
You'l also find a wonderfully authentic shrimp po' boy ($12). The bread is spot-on and the shrimp aren't cooked into rubbery sadness. Rather, this is the kind of taste you're hoping to find when you visit Louisiana. At least that's what my Southeast Texas native dinner guest was quick to point out.
Then there is the burger ($13). Wait, I should say then there was the burger. Calderon's burger is a wonderfully distinct creation that still manages to hew to burger tradition. He starts with eight ounces of house-ground beef and hand forms it into a relatively slim patty considering the amount of beef. He adds a couple of slices of bacon, Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce, a slice from a standard 5 by 6 tomato, and spicy remoulade. All of this is layered on a commercial style bun.
There isn't much here that's far afield from your standard cheeseburger, but all of the component parts are handled beautifully. The beef was cooked to a perfect medium rare and delivered some serious juice. I'm usually not a fan of bacon on a burger, but the saltiness played nicely with the nuttiness of the Swiss. Then there was Calderon's remoulade. Here is where his burger took a stand. The heat creeps up at just the right measure and lends a diabolical spiciness. At first I was thrown off, but each bite made me more and more of a believer in this chef's choices. By the time I'd finished it I was already fashioning the good things I would write about it. Of course, now that it's off the menu my review is a bit of a historical document.
So the moral of all of this is despite its apparent ubiquity, our beloved burger still needs our support. Spoonful is a restaurant worth your attention even without a burger on the menu, but I sure wouldn't be sorry if Calderon's creation made a reappearance.
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.