Kona, HI: A Cheeseburger in Paradise at the Four Season's Beach Tree


[Photographs: Damon Gambuto]

Beach Tree

72-100 Ka'upulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona HI 96740 (map); 323-667-1839; fourseasons.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The cheeseburger lives up to the high expectations you have of the Four Seasons
Want Fries with That? Yes; the fries are expertly handled and match the fine burger
Price: B.I. Burger w/fries, $19

Special occasions, like birthdays or holidays, demand special treatment. But since my life as a traveling TV professional means I can't reliably predict where I'll be on those predetermined special days, my special occasions organize around circumstance.

Such was the case during a windswept weekend that found me in Hawaii. After traveling for an uninterrupted month through the South Pacific producing the TV series No Kitchen Required, I had some down days Hawaii. That meant a break from the demands of hunting, foraging, and fishing for dinner and a chance to meet my love for a quick reunion. Sure, a trip to America's version of paradise made the six-hour flight go down easier, but my promise of the special treatment is what sealed the deal. We would spend the night at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.

The Four Seasons Hualalei is one of those magical places that can make you forget everything that feels unsettled in your life and focus on the things that you get right. The perfect, windswept Kona coast and luxe native Hawaiian feel of the place set the foundation for my day of forgetting. The amazingly good burger at the resort's Beach Tree restaurant was the lodestar of what I get right in this life.


The Beach Tree is named after the beautiful tree you get to gaze at as your afternoon lunch stretches into the early evening. Their food is described as Italian and Mediterranean cuisine with California and tropical influences. Unsurprisingly, the chef at the helm of this cross-cultural menu hails from New York. Nick Mastrascusa has the pedigree you'd expect for a five star hotel chef: culinary school followed by stints in top notch kitchens all over the world. But it was a little quote of his that got my burger juices flowing: "I have the freshest of almost everything here at my doorstep and love to recreate dishes I loved as a kid." I spied his B.I. Burger (B.I. for Big Island) on the menu and reminded myself that special occasions call for my special treatment: a cheeseburger.


The B.I. Burger starts with a very straightforward eight ounces of grass-fed chuck. This isn't a purely grass-fed blend since the cattle, like most cattle, is finished with corn. This is, for my taste, the right call as that corn feed adds fat and depth of flavor to the burger. The toppings are, like the patty, straightforward. The lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle, and cheddar are classic and satisfying. Mastrascusa puts it all on a brioche bun, a choice I was initially disappointed with when I read it on the menu. First, there's the issue that a classic brioche is just unsuited to a burger. Second, the whole conceit of this burger is that it summons the spirit of a backyard barbecue burger and brioche seemed like a bad choice. Luckily, the bun was brioche in name only.

The patty was juicy and cooked to near medium-rare perfection. The wider and thinner shape is, in my view, how every-eight ounce burger should be served. Add to that a coarse and loosely packed grind that gets a proper seasoning before it goes on the grill and you've got the makings of greatness.

The toppings felt like they'd been selected as the freshest and tastiest example any restaurant has access to. The cheddar was an unassuming choice and, considering the notion of creating a backyard burger feel, the right one. Wonderfully melted with a slight sharpness, it complemented this luxe, yet uncomplicated burger. Finally,the bun—which I must admit had the shine of a traditional brioche—avoided all of the missteps I associate with that bread. There wasn't a note of dryness or crumble in its substance. Even better, it had the sponginess that I crave from my burger bun.


The accompanying fries were, for me, a memory trace of their own. They weren't so much a reminder of the french fries that Mom made, but rather the medium-cut french fries I associate with room service meals. The perfectly crisp exteriors gave way to the creamy interior, revealing a full helping of potato flavor without any earthiness.

Just as I'd hoped, the whole experience was rather paradisiacal. The sun shone a little brighter, the water seemed a little bluer, and my backyard burger was better than the ones of my dreams. That afternoon lunch at Beach Tree was the promise kept of special treatment to honor the special circumstances of my reunion. I'd forgotten the hardships of my lonely travels and remembered that there are some aspects of my life that are just right: love and burgers.

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