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.

Wesburger N’ More, Mission Street, San Francisco

 

An outstanding burger; hefty and delicious.

Burger source

Wesburger was tipped as one of the better burgers in SFO, and whilst they make little fuss about the origins of its burger meat, it’s all clearly of the highest order and promoted under the marketing tagline “because burgers are fun.” I literally couldn’t agree more.

The destination following a drinks evening with my company’s US team; this place was a treat.

The order

We encountered Ramon as we walked in and he recommended the ‘Hot Wes’ to us, a 6oz patty topped with jalapenos, onion rings and queso. I naturally added bacon. Was medium rare ok? Hells yeah!

Because I was feeling greedy post a stop off at Branch and Bourbon, I threw in an order for a couple of rounds of tater tots and some fried chicken. A colleague wanted the Mac & Cheese so that was added to the pile too.

We also popped in to the Den next door (‘the smallest bar in SFO’) and got some ‘punch’ (Vodka, coconut, and stuff on this occasion).

The meat of it

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The burger was delicious. Whilst it looks like a hot mess, it held really well; the bun slipped on top and the queso helped it together. The meat was course ground, loosely packed and perfectly pink. The queso bound the onion rings and bacon into the burger and the bun held up against the juices admirably. The salty hit was contrasted with sweet and crunchy onion rings and a slightly sweet bun, all complimented by the tart crispness and light spice of the pickled jalapeno. I’d say this is possibly one of the best burgers I’ve ever had – up there with Dip & Flip and Bleecker Street (though less refined, more raw than either – and that’s not a bad thing). Such a shame it’s such a long way from home!

The sides: the tater tots were crisp and savory on the outside, squidgy in the middle. Delicious with a little sriracha, and the portion served with cheese was outstanding. The fried chicken was billed as ‘extra crispy’ and it didn’t disappoint, but was a little dry (the order got confused and it arrived plain in a bun instead of with sides – I forgot to fuss). I tried a little of the Mac & Cheese and whilst I’m generally not a fan, this is clearly a whole order of magnitude better than the varieties I’ve sampled across the Atlantic.

The punch was fine; an sweet side to complement a salt-tastic feast.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 5/5
Value – 4.5/5 – $40 per head including drinks and slightly too many sides, in San Francisco, is actually pretty amazing.

Burger rating – 5/5 – This really is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had; the service was excellent, and there was little to fault. I’d head back in a heartbeat, if only it didn’t require a transatlantic flight.

The deets

2240 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415-745-9371. Find them at http://www.wesburgernmore.com/, or, y’know, just get an Uber.

 

Marlowe, 500 Brannan Street, San Francisco

 

Outstanding burger in lovely restaurant in SoMA.

Burger source

My first night in SFO (ever) for a business trip, and US colleague Rene booked us into Marlowe – also on the top three favourite restaurant list of my AirBNB host. Awesome start.

Other than billing the burger as one of the most popular in the city (well marketed by my French bartender), there’s little detail on the meat’s origins, burger style, etc. on the menu. An enigma! Exciting.

The order

Whilst there was a Sunday special that swapped bacon for porcini mushrooms and added gem lettuce and pickles for crunch and tang… I opted for the standard Marlowe burger for the experience. It comes with caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, horseradish aioli and what looked like fresh cut herb fries. The burger itself – my charming French waiter repeatedly advised – was cooked medium rare… and was I OK with that? Heck, yeah.

The meat of it

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The burger is a ~6oz affair, with a soft-ish white roll well coated with horseradish aioli, and with the patty topped with the onions, crisp fresh lettuce, mega-crispy streaky bacon and super melty cheddar. The “medium rare” looked somewhat medium to me, but no complaints there. The lean/fat ratio was 80/20 according to my French gourmand, so it wasn’t overly juicy but moist enough. The aioli made it somewhat slippery in the stack, and it was somewhat hard to handle. That said; the meat was coarse ground and loosely packed, making for a tender bite and an amazing amount of umami. The crisp bacon and lettuce adds a nice textural contrast and the aioli adds to the meat’s juiciness to take the edge off a slightly too-firm-for-my-taste burger bun. The onions added a little sweetness to the whole thing. The overall impact was excellent, although I must admit, I ate the second half with my cutlery rather than by hand…

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The fries are exceptional; herby, salty, crispy with a soft centre. The side of horseradish aioli was more than I needed; a little ketchup to take the edge off was a better fit for my palate.

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Drinks-wise; an excellent selection of Bourbon had me sample an Elijah Craig small batch, followed by a Templeton Rye Old Fashioned – utterly delicious and unexpectedly sweet for a Rye. I liked it!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 3.5/5 – slippery, off centre
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 5/5
Value – 3/5 – $34 for the burger and sides – which I think is reasonable for San Francisco – and about $1m for the drinks. This city is EXPENSIVE. Subject to review once I’ve eaten anywhere else and know how this stacks up against anywhere else.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – you have to be pretty nitpicky to fault the flavour combinations here, and the overall experience is amazing and more than makes up for the minor shortcomings. Hugely recommend it.

The deets

Marlowe is in SoMA in San Francisco, 500 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA 94107. You can make a booking via 415-777-1413 or online at OpenTable. It was busy on a Sunday night – most other places were shut – so do book!