Popsons, 998 Market Street, San Francisco

A salt-tastic melty smashburger, but not the best SFO has to offer

Burger source

Chef Adam Rosenblum, a respected chef with an number of different restaurant ventures, decided to add to the morass of upper-mid-range burger joints in town, like Super Duper burgers, with a smash burger. Ground on site, the fresh, well-seasoned patties are cooked to order;  the patties are squashed down on a hot grill, crisp up in their own fat, topped with cheese which is then melted both into the burger and the bun before assembly.

The website tells more about the burgers (fresh hormone-free beef sourced from Five dot Ranch and ground on site) and the bread (baked exclusively for Popsons by San Francisco bakery Petit Pain).

They sound and look great.

The order

I went for a double cheese burger with bacon, and a naked fries $17 with service.

The meat of it

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This is not a tidy burger. The stack is wobbling and sliding around, but really the issues there are all cosmetic. Once you pick it up and right what was lost in the assembly, the burger doesn’t suffer for it.

First bite and you’re hit with a salt explosion; the bacon was totally unnecessary as the super-salty, super-melty, super-plentiful American cheese slams your palate like a speedboat filled with salt racing through the Dead Sea. My fault for adding it but… the bacon is thick, chewy and crisp -perfect, really – and the salad, whilst fresh, is completely overwhelmed. There’s a smear of burger sauce under the patties; it drips out slowly with the excess grease from the burger. Remarkably, the petit pain bun holds up; it has a sturdiness to it, and good supporting flavour – love a seeded bun. There’s something gloriously indulgent about this.

That said… the crust on the meat was disappointing on a smash burger – it was a little soft, suspect the grill plate just wasn’t hot enough to get the real char going – and I should probably have added some ketchup to cut the salt down a little. Or Popsons could have gone for a little pickle and/or relish and/or sweeter burger sauce to bring out the flavour contrast a bit.

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The fries are fairly unremarkable; better than bog-standard McD’s frozen fries, you can taste real potato in them – but naked, the seasoning is decent if unexceptional and there’s nothing to write home about regarding the flavour. Acceptable filling, but not even a guest-star in the show. The ketchup is (unnecessarily) fancy ‘Sir Kensington’ something or other. I’d rather have had Heinz.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 – nothing to see here
Value – 3.5/5 – $17 with a small tip and no drink – this place is more expensive than Super Duper, a (very) nearby Smashburger alternative.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – whilst there’s no question it’s a good burger, it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise and for the money, I’d probably rather have a Super Duper burger (and a drink).

The deets

Near the junction of Market and 6th Street. You can’t miss it.

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Super Duper Burgers, 721 Market Street, San Francisco

An excellent smashburger; crisp and greasy in all the right ways

Burger source

“Fresh, quality produce, meat, dairy and buns, sourced from partners located just miles from our restaurants, are the ingredients to making the perfect burger,” is the ethos of Super Duper Burgers. In practice, this means: “All our beef is Brandt Farms, humanely-raised, 100% vegetarian-fed, ground fresh daily, and sourced from a family-owned ranch.”

Fast food burgers with slow-food values, apparently. Founder Adrian Paganini feels passionately that ‘a burger shouldn’t cost $3’ and has structured the chain to offer the best combination of quality and value. This means a simple menu – few sides, few variants on the burgers – and prices in the mid-range for quality burgers. There was a queue when I popped in on a Sunday evening…

The order

I had a ‘super duper’ burger with cheese and bacon – two 4oz patties smashed and scraped off a hot griddle with a ‘sharp’ spatula. Cooked medium, you’re warned to expect grease, and the burger has the restaraunt’s proprietary ‘super sauce’ (think; lighter burger sauce) and a portion of fries. Together with a ‘fountain’ drink – unlimited refills from a soda machine – the meal came to about $16 as part of a combo order.

The meat of it

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This is a good burger; a fresh, soft bun (standard bun, non-brioche), fresh salad (red onion, lettuce, tomato), super-melty cheese and super crispy bacon, held together in paper that also holds back the grease and spillover super sauce. So far, so super.

On first bite… you get all the crisp, charred, salty wonder that you’d hope for in a smash burger – so called because patties are pressed down onto a hot griddle and crisp up as the fat melts out, and they’re then scraped off the griddle to capture all the crispy elements. The (American) cheese binds the whole thing together wonderfully and the faint hint of the super sauce in the background, alongside the tomato and lettuce, adds a slight sweetness to this glorious, greasy umami-fest.

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In cross section, you can see the glory of the smash; the melt on the cheese and the vivid freshness of the salad. The bacon is quality, thick, crispy streaky bacon. The bun has a good stability to it; it holds up to othe grease well but doesn’t interrupt the burger experience with unnecessary flavour. If anything’s wrong with this burger at all, for me, it’s on two minor counts. 1) I’d have liked more/thicker/richer/sweeter burger sauce to temper all the saltiness a tiny bit more and 2) I’d expected pinker meat in a 4oz patty smash. If they’d done the burger as a 2oz patty smash then there’s no room for pinkness in the middle; as it was I felt it was a smidge overdone. But just a smidge.

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The fries were good; well-seasoned, crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle, and clearly made from a high grade of potato. But they need sauce, and I didn’t plump to spend the additional $1.50-2 for a variety of sauces and/or toppings. Next time I will make the investment!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4/5 -might have scored better with sauce
Value – 4/5 – $16 for a combo meal of a high grade burger in a fast food environment. Very good value for SFO but SFO is an expensive city!
Burger rating – 4.5/5 – a very, very good burger I’d be happy to have again.

The deets

Super Duper Burgers sells $30m of burgers a year around San Francisco and its environs. Find your nearest branch here.

Steam Engine, Waterloo, London

Vigorously indulgent burger; great, edging on brilliant

Burger source

I was looking for somewhere near Waterloo to meet an old family friend; the Steam Engine showed as having a permanent residency from Burger Craft; apparently a partnership with the Publove pubs. It’s not entirely clear from how the relationship with Publove works, but Burger Craft’s mission is clear:

Our craft is burgers: The finest ingredients, wonderful flavours, slow cooked meats, hand cut chips and homemade sauces brought together to create unforgettable burgers. Smashed, grilled and steamed to perfection by our team of chefs to create the tastiest, juiciest burgers around. That’s Burger Craft! Come see us in PubLove  all over London.

Simple enough. The website, whilst somewhat circumspect about who these people are, does go on in beautiful detail about what they’re trying to achieve, how and with who:

Our wonderful dry aged beef (and the rest of our delicious meats) comes from the multiple awards winning Walter Rose & Son’s fantastic farm in Wiltshire. Used by non-other than Tom Kerridge we’ve since discovered.

Our “Springy” & sensational demi-brioche buns come from the master craftsmen & women at The Bread Factory. London’s leading artisan bakery.

We source every ingredient from equally outstanding and dedicated suppliers and continuously work with them to maintain our quality. “Taste, taste and taste again”

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Welcome to the Steam Engine.

The order

Let’s put it to the test, then. A ‘Bacon Dude’ duly ordered – American cheese, streaky bacon – atop the six-ish oz smashburger patty, served in a fresh, soft demi-brioche with hand-cut fries. All for about a tenner; even with my half of Meantime and Andreas’ coke the bill was only £12.25 a head. Reasonable for this part of town.

The meat of it

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I’m not going to lie, the plating isn’t great; the burger itself looks fantastic, but that sad sprawl of fries doesn’t inspire confidence. However, the second you touch the bun you can feel that this burger is something beyond the ordinary; it’s unbelievably soft, the stack is perfect with the burger sat atop a thin spread of what seems to be BBQ sauce, a slim slice of tomato and then coated with a lush, bright yellow melt of proper American processed cheese and a healthy wodge of nicely browned, lightly smoked bacon. Touch is the right word; this burger is an unashamed multi-sensory experience. You taste, touch, sell, feel all in one go.

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The cross section doesn’t look as pink as many other high-end burgers in London but it is a patty smash-and-steam job – the meat is pressed down on the grill to get extra crispness on the patty and steamed under cover to get a good cheese melt, so this finish is expected. The meat is coarsely ground and even with the smash retains a loose-packed finish. It looks good.

A first bite shows the impact this cooking method delivers; the super-soft bun is wrapped around completely melty cheese, a thick smokey bite of bacon, soft – and if I’m brutally honest, slightly over-soft and slightly undersasoned – melty meat, and somewhat indistinct salad. That said, the cheese and bacon compensated for the slight underseasoning of the burger, and the meat itself is clearly top-notch, with that a light touch of that gamey flavour you get when meat has been dry-aged; fat oozes out of it and drips out of the soft, slightly sweet bun. The bacon was slightly flaccid, like it had been under a heat lamp and lost some of its crispness; and so the only real problem with the burger as a whole is textural. The limitations compound, but are minor. The overall experience is gluttunous, voluminous, glossy and pliant. The burger is tender, juicy and plump.

The fries – were underwhelming IMHO. Some of them were fine; crisp and well-seasoned, happily married with a dollop of ketchup. Others – were limp, sorry excuses for a french fry – not quite underdone but somehow structurally incapable of holding the crisp finish their most impressive peers did. They are well seasoned, though, and tasty enough – it was just a bit of a mixed, visually underwhelming bag; an unfair pairing for an otherwise superlative burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5 – really high quality
Build – 4.5/5 – the veg was slightly over-done and there could have been a smidge more sauce
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 2.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £11 for burger and side, ish. Pretty good for something in view of Waterloo station.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really rather good., in spite of the fries

The deets

There are a few Publoves scattered around London; this one is pretty much down the road from Waterloo, right by Lambeth North tube. Check the website for other locations.

Guest pic: Andreas, my Norwegian brother from another mother.

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