1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94111 (map); 415-391-0420; prmeatco.com/american-eatery
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: We have faith in Prather Ranch Meat, but the burgers we tried here had been seriously overcooked.
Want Fries with That? Yes! Frying them in beef tallow = lots of flavor.
Price: standard burger, $8; Stonebreaker, $12; fries, $3.50
I imagine that most new restaurants start with a concept, a space, or maybe a chef, and then go out looking for a meat purveyor after the fact. At American Eatery, the meat came first. This new lunch counter in the San Francisco Ferry Building is basically a venue for the Prather Ranch Meat Company to cook its own product. Given that several of the best hamburgers in San Francisco use Prather Ranch meat, I found myself pretty excited at this prospect.
Prather Ranch dry ages their beef, which they say results in a more flavorful, tender piece of meat. Their cows are grass-fed, finished on organic barley and rice, then butchered in their own Northern California slaughterhouse. The hamburger patties at American Eatery get hand-formed on the premises. They clearly take care of their meat.
Now, it did make me nervous to see their menu announce that burgers get cooked to medium—I'm a red-in-the-center guy—but I figured that if anyone would maintain that all-important bit of pink at the center of a medium burger, it would be the guys who had so carefully stewarded the meat to this point. Right?
Well, no. American Eatery grilled the hell out of my burger. And even if the meat itself did offer some flavor, the cooked-through center of my fairly compact patty had nothing in the way of moisture. My visions of the perfect Prather Ranch burger had died at the hands of an overzealous grill cook.
On the standard burger we tried, the dried out patty had very little to rescue it. At least on the Stonebreaker, the patty came with distractions. By topping this latter burger with poutine (cheese curd, french fries, and gravy), American Eatery provided a serious boost of salt and fatty richness to the poor abused patty. The toothsome texture of the melted curds helped as well. Still, either the chef had used a very light hand with the gravy, or the dry patty had eagerly sopped it up, because this burger didn't have the sloppy, overflowing quality for which I had hoped. It certainly didn't look like this.
Despite my burger woes, I can eagerly support American Eatery's french fries. As part of their commitment to using every bit of the animals they butcher, American Eatery fries its hand-cut potatoes in beef tallow. They offer enough crispness, plenty of salt, and little bits of potato skin to add flavor. But, most importantly, they come sporting that deeply-satisfying french fry taste that most of us associate with the golden years when the golden arches still used beef fat to cook their own fries.
Prather Ranch built this restaurant to celebrate their tasty meat, and I really wanted to celebrate with them. I still hold out hope that a different grill cook could have produced a more likable burger with identical ingredients, so I would consider returning for another try. In the meantime, I know of several places where I can get a truly tasty hamburger made of Prather Ranch beef.