Despite what Everclear says, Summerland is not just a name on the map, though it still seems like heaven to me. Nestled in a shady nook between Montecito and Carpinteria, for years Summerland slumbered away as a small artists' beach community of quaint houses and inspired decorations. Now, as the rich get richer, Summerland has experienced a boom as everyone else becomes too poor to live in Santa Barbara or anywhere within a 20-mile radius. Today, Summerland is a patchwork of yuppie antiques stores and slowly invading cafés, but many of the village's treasures remain to this day, including the Sandpiper Liquor Store, the Wild West burgers of the Nugget, the Big Yellow House, and the town's two tiny burger veterans, Tinker's and Stacky's Seaside.
Taking my place in line before a gang of pre-pubescent surf rats, the first things to catch my eye were the cute high school girls working the counter (left). Smiling with teeth full of glimmering braces, they were sweet and funny, even allowing me to snap a candid photo or two. I placed my order for a cheeseburger and ordered a plate of mini-burgers for myself and my friend Cody, visiting from Vero Beach, Florida. After a ten-minute wait outside baking in the sun and watching the weekend traffic saunter by, our burgers arrived in nostalgia-inducing red plastic baskets piled high with fries (below).
Unfortunately, the warm fuzzy feeling did not extend toward the burger. Despite a great-looking presentation of glimmering traditional-style burgers, mine was not only less-than-remarkable, and I was sad to discover more than a couple gristly bites that I'd rather not have taken. The grilled bun was a nice touch, but the patty did not hold up, it was noticeably inferior in quality. It also had grilled edges that tasted nicely charred, but the thinness of the meat was also somewhat shady. The sauce (Thousand Island?) and fixingsonion, tomato, lettucecame correct (above right), but the burger rated about 5 out of 10. The mini burgers (above left) were a tad better, their diminutive size obscuring any inconsistencies in the patty. At more than $6 for a meal, however, it doesn't seem worth it. Upon realizing my follies, I figured that it must be Stacky's that had the legendary Summerland burgers.
Coming back to Summerland is a treat. With the Nugget (where presidents Clinton and Reagan went for burgers), the place announcing Burger Madness Tuesday, and the expectation set by Stacky's and a lackluster flavor at Tinker's, it will be a pleasure to return soon and settle who is slinging the best burger. Until then, I'm recommending Stacky's. Maybe they can hire these two cute cooks and have the best of both worlds!
Location: 2275 Ortega Hill Road; Summerland CA 93067
Price: $5 burgers
Short Order: Beachside 1950s grill could have better patties, but still high on ambiance and charm. Better burgers in neighborhood worth exploring.
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