9739 Culver Boulevard, Culver City CA 90232 (map); 310-838-9739; citytavernculvercity.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The team behind Rush Street opens a second location a few blocks away and scores with their burger sequel
Want Fries with That? Yes; the solid spuds won't let you down, but don't be afraid to try one of the nontraditional sides like the Brussel sprouts
Prices: CT Burger, $10; Brew Burger, $11; Brussels sprouts, $5
Here in Hollywood the sequel is a business model. Movies aren't simply made to be good, they're meant to be good business. That means the urge to make something great is too often merely a means to making a lot more of it. We know how the story usually goes: Our favorite movies have their memories tainted by the sad reproductions that follow.
So when I heard that Ken Kaufman and Brian McKeaney (the former movie guys behind the very good burger at Rush Street), had opened a place just a few blocks away, I wondered if they had fallen victim to that impulse. I imagine in some manner they have, but their new venture is way more Godfather 2 than Blues Brothers 2000.
This time they've brought over their sous-chef from Rush Street, Jessica Christensen, to serve as chef de cuisine and my burger-loving self is deeply pleased. Her menu at City Tavern is a departure from her fine dining training, but she hasn't abandoned the fine dining commitment to quality and process. Almost everything you'll have at City Tavern is made in house and with the same care she was trained to apply during at her years at some of Southern California's more demanding kitchens.
The first burger I tried was, Christensen sheepishly admitted, born of a very ordinary impulse. Long days in the kitchen had led to more than one late-night car ride home. She'd find herself craving the Big Mac of her childhood memory and succumb to temptation with a stop at a drive-thru. Invariably, the burger was a letdown. It never tasted nearly as good as she wanted it to.
With her CT Burger she's given life to that unfulfilled desire. The inspiration is clear. The CT Burger is made with one (not two) all beef patty (Creekstone Farms, in this case), special sauce (homemade Thousand Island), lettuce, (cheddar) cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed (brioche) bun. Ok, that's a lot of updating, but it's all for the better.
The meat is a custom chuck blend from Rocker Bros. Christensen requested an extra course grind and hand-packs the patties to ensure a looseness. This makes for a great texture even on the one I got that was cooked a bit past my medium rare preference. The rest of ingredients came together much as Christensen had conjured in her mind's palate. The basic promise of the Big Mac formula—the mix of salty and sweet, the piled-high decadence—is on full display. But while it's a really good burger, it's not the best one I tried at City Tavern.
The Brew Burger is one of the best spins on the pretzel burger I've come across. The patty is a blend of chuck and chorizo and thus has a rich, spiced flavor. The patty is grilled over high heat to make sure it gets Christensen's preferred hefty crust. Then she slathers it in some homemade pub cheese made with whatever the darkest beer she has on tap is (recently it was Cismontainte's Black Dawn). A Rockenwagner pretzel bun gets a coating of mustard aioli to finish off it off.
It's a fantastic combination of flavors. Her loosely packed patty crumbles into the perfect texture and mixes with the tang from the pub cheese to become a lovely match to the salty, yeasty pretzel bun. Its deep, musky flavor, while still very much a burger, is something entirely its own as well.
Since the fries and onion rings both get solid treatment at City Tavern, I thought I'd give a little screen time to one of the nontraditional burger sides. The brussel sprouts are served up with the simple addition of some bacon and lemon. It's a great combination because just as the bacon threatens to overwhelm with its fattiness, the acid from the lemon steps in to balance the dish out.
I had my reservations about City Tavern before trying it out. These were, as you can tell, unwarranted. Yes, Hollywood sequels are, as a rule, not as good as the original, but if I'm honest, I've enjoyed a lot of sequels better than the original. City Tavern is certainly one of them.