Editor's Note: Please welcome David Kover to the AHT team! David is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. Though he's an equal opportunity eater, there's a special place in his heart for crispy slices of pizza and juicy hamburgers. You can check out his pizza reviews over at Slice.
2495 Third Street, San Francisco CA 94107 (map); 415-252-2000; SerpentineSF.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A fancy-pants burger that's dressed with restraint allowing the patty to shine. In the top-tier of what San Francisco has to offer.
Want Fries with That? Yes, please. Think upscale-McDonald's. Very tasty.
Price: Burger, $12.50; cheese, + $1.50
Sitting out on the Eastern edge of San Francisco, Serpentine can be hard to get to if you're coming across town. Drive down the wrong block and you find yourself trapped against San Francisco General Hospital and Potrero Hill on a series of streets that, though the map shows a grid, never seem to outlet quite where you'd guess. It can feel a little Bermuda Triangle. No matter; Serpentine serves a burger that's worth a few wrong turns.
If you can find your way to Serpentine, you'll discover an industrial-chic restaurant with upscale leanings. The room has high concrete ceilings, dark wooden floors, and is dimly lit by candlelight. Waiters wear t-shirts. This past Wednesday night, the crowd appeared to be mostly professionals, thirty-something or older. The California comfort food menu featured an almost perfect enumeration of the ingredients that are so-hot-right-now in San Francisco: There was a kabocha squash salad, pan-seared chicken livers, and a roast chicken that came with bacon-roasted brussels sprouts. Most entrées checked in above $20. In keeping with these surroundings, the Serpentine burger is definitely fancy-pants—pickles are housemade, cheeses are upscale, and purveyors are proudly name-dropped.
The most important of those fancy-pants ingredients is, of course, the beef. Serpentine's meat comes from Prather Ranch, an organic cattle ranch in Northern California. It is ground relatively fine, with a 15 percent fat content. Serpentine doesn't do much to the beef besides apply a healthy dash of salt and toss it on the grill. Honestly, that's all it needs. The patties arrived at our table properly cooked to medium rare, with a gentle taste of char from the grill and lots of beefiness. The patties were also remarkably juicy, to the point that I had a momentary vision of a sous-chef standing by with a syringe to pump in some extra drippings before sending the burgers out to our table.
I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't also mention that one of my dining companions had one bite with a little chip of bone in it. It's a testament to the tastiness of the meat that he simply pushed the offending object to the corner of his plate and went on eating without a pause.
As for the fixings, Serpentine wins points for restraint. Too often, chefs feel the need to show off when accessorizing their burgers and they end up drowning out the main event. Serpentine's housemade bread-and-butter pickles were delicious, both tangy and sweet, but not overpowering. The same was true of the pickled red onions and the arugula, which added a subtle spiciness to the sandwich. If I'm allowed to wax vaguely poetic, Serpentine's fixings were an exercise in understatement, and the result was harmony. They also offered up little bowls of ketchup, grainy brown mustard, and aioli as condiments, but I didn't add any of these to my burger. The final product was plenty tasty without my messing around with it.
Serpentine's burger is served on a roll made by local bakery superstar Acme. The bun was sweet, but not cloying. Again, the chef at Serpentine knew enough to honor his meat, and the bun was big enough to hold the patty, but small enough that it didn't take over the sandwich. Brushed with clarified butter and then toasted lightly on the grill, it was more than up to the task of absorbing the burger juices without falling apart.
Finally, Serpentine's burger came with fries that were thin, crispy, and nicely salted. I'd label them upscale-McDonald's, by which I mean, delicious. My dinner companions, who had foolishly ordered salads with their burgers, were more than happy to finish any fries I didn't get to.
At the risk of becoming over-zealous in my first post for AHT, I'd like to suggest that Serpentine's burger belongs in the top-tier of what San Francisco has to offer (though I'd recommend they leave out the bone chips). There are plenty of fancy-pants burgers in the Bay Area, and at $12.50, the Serpentine burger is on the cheaper end of these. I'd say it's worth every penny. Find your way there—just maybe use the GPS.
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