Henry Cram and Justin Cram work for KCET and love burgers. This is their story.
Yesterday marked the final day of Burger Week at The Oinkster in Eagle Rock. While The Oinkster may be known for their draught beer selection and house-made pastrami, it is also easy to say that they are one of the best burger joints in the Los Angeles area. Chef/Owner Andre Guerrero came up with the idea of Burger Week last year after an employee informed him that they had missed out on National Burger Month (May). He immediately launched Burger Week to remind people that, indeed, The Oinkster knows how to flip a patty ... seven, in fact.
This year, Guerrero spent weeks studying great American burgers like the Double Double (In-N-Out) and the Sourdough Jack (Jack in the Box) in order to accurately represent their essence in the burger celebration. He even had one of his employees bring a box of White Castle burgers home from a trip to Chicago so that they could properly deconstruct the East Coast favorite.
Altogether there were five burger knock-offs and two brand new creations for the event. On Saturday we enjoyed a personal touch from the chef himself: Guerrero went back to his Filipino roots to give us the Pork Adobo Burger, a soul-satisfying tribute to both his homeland and Filipino-American community. (At this point we must mention the ube milkshake -- ube is purple yam. It is always on the menu and is an instant favorite.)
So it comes to this: The end of Burger Week was marked with a tribute to the McDonald's Big Mac, called The Big Max. We stood in line amongst a very excited crowd, slowly inching towards the fifth and final burger imitation.
The cashier recognized us. "Would you guys like one burger?"
"Two Big Maxes. And two beers."
"Well, alrighhhht," he chuckled, nodding his head in approval.
The burger was not medium-rare as all of the beef patties had been to this point. It was well done. This was not a mistake. We knew that every detail was intentional. The bread was amazing; toasted to a healthy crunchiness with toasted sesame seeds on top. The cheese had congealed nicely to the sides of the patties and chopped lettuce dangled dangerously close to falling out. The smell of "special" sauce completed the illusion and I was five years old again, holding my first Big Mac.
We dug in. It was incredible. After moments of eyes-closed eating, Justin finally spoke:
"I think I could cry."
I couldn't utter a word.
We cruised down the 5 freeway, completely satisfied, on our way to the oldest still-operational McDonald's, located in Downey, about a twenty minute drive from Eagle Rock. The trademark golden arches appeared frequently on the landscape and billboards touted McDonald's' fresh menu options, but these were of no concern to us. We were on a mission.
We exited the freeway and approached an intersection with a McDonald's on the corner.
"Is that it?" I asked.
"No." Justin replied, eyes scanning miles ahead. Five more minutes down the road, a single, towering, golden arch spoke to us from the edge of a strip mall: "HAMBURGERS."
We pulled into the lot. This was not the McDonald's of our childhood. The mid-century burger-shack was handsome and recalled the humble beginnings of the now-giant burger franchise.
We ordered through a window: "One Big Mac."
The cashier looked up. "Would you like to make that a meal?"
I hesitated. "...sure."
We waited only a few minutes before our order was ready. It came in a cardboard box. Lettuce and cheese spilled from beneath the sesame seed bun. We could smell the tartar-like sauce. I split the burger and we each took a half.
I'll have to admit that I was looking forward to this. We each took a bite. And then another bite. Beyond the tangy sauce this was a very disappointing burger. The slightly toasted bun was neither crunchy nor warm and the beef patties were limp and bland. Somewhere along the way I think McDonald's stopped "loving it."
Thankfully, Chef Guerrero remembers a time when they did love it, and shared that with everyone that got to experience the Big Max.
The Verdict: The Oinkster wins. They handled each burger tribute over the course of the week with respect and acute sensitivity, mimicking the essential experience of each and improving them were they have fallen short. The Oinkster has amazing pulled pork and they house-cure their own pastrami, but don't forget, they do burgers too!
"Red" Castle Sliders, in the fashion of White Castle sliders, from White Castle.
The 2 x 4, Piggy Style, after the Double Double, Animal Style, from In n' Out.
The Northeast Bacon Cheeseburger, after the Western Bacon Cheeseburger, from Carl's Jr.
The Sourdough Josh, after the Sourdough Jack, from Jack in the Box
The Oinkster's full schedule for Burger Week.
Words by Henry, photos by Justin.
2005 Colorado Blvd., 323-255-6465