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Where To Eat Now: A Ground Meat Groundswell

Burgers aren't going anywhere.

 

Read more of our ultimate Where To Eat Now guide here.

The highfalutin-burger competition is fierce, and few restaurateurs were sooner to the fray than Anna Weinberg, James Nicholas, and Jennifer Puccio, who have built a mini-empire on a bun. Its foundation was laid five years ago, mid-recession, when the trio opened Marlowe and bulked up their bistro menu with what you might call a breakout burger, a casual comfort suited to the shaky times.

The dish was a hit, the demand for it so frenzied that, in the early days, it appeared to give the partners existential pause: Was burger-flipping really what their business was about? Suffice it to say, they got over their reservations and have since broadened their empire’s borders to include the insta-hits Park Tavern and Cavalier. This past April, after moving Marlowe into the vacant Coco500 space, they transformed their old location near AT&T Park into Marlowe Burger (330 Townsend St.), a restaurant inspired by the patty that started it all.

It’s a laid-back, counterservice joint with a compact menu scrawled on a long roll of butcher paper. Yeah, sure, you can order other items, like a deviled egg sandwich ($9) or, better yet, a fried chicken sandwich with smoky slabs of bacon. But there’s no doubting the big draw: Fatty but classy, the $10.50 behemoth comes laden with caramelized onions, cheddar, and bacon, with a gentle swipe of horseradish aioli.

At Clove and Hoof (4001 Broadway, Oakland), a butchery–cum–sandwich shop in Piedmont, the bearded patrons look fresh from the Ponderosa (but likely lack the skills to shoe a horse). As you might have gathered, this is a dyed-in-the-flannel whole-animal outpost. Its hearty embrace of snout-to-tail eating gives rise to meaty specials like the Pig Face Cuban ($13): a mountain of tasso ham, Swiss cheese, and porchetta di testa on a hero roll that will send you scrambling for napkins and maybe an extra Lipitor.

Measure the full radius of the burger boom and you’ll find that it reaches even farther east, to Fruitvale, where San Diego transplant Jay Porter has launched the Half Orange (3340 E. 12th St., Oakland), among the most relaxed of thoughtful neighborhood joints. Craft beer flows freely in the snug space, and the burgers arrive in an array of iterations: blanketed with bacon, studded with sausage, spiked with shiitakes and fiery salsas.

Skeptics who suggest that when it comes down to it, a burger is a burger is a burger—ho-hum ground beef slathered with the same-old ketchup and mustard—run into a counterargument in El Take It Easy ($13.65), a Baja-inspired burger topped with avocado, cilantro chutney, chicken chicharrones, and a ginger and miso–seasoned aioli. A border-crossing beauty, El Take It Easy shares top honors in this year’s bestburger race with its stylistic opposite, a red-blooded entry from KronnerBurger (4063 Piedmont Ave., Oakland).

The chef, Chris Kronner, has been at it for some time, having launched KronnerBurger as a San Francisco pop-up before finding a short-lived home in Bruno’s nightclub. But this is his first fixed location, a small, triangular space done up in gleaming steel and Carrara marble, with a standup counter in the center that tries—without succeeding fully—to accommodate the steady fl ow of walk-ins. Name aside, the restaurant ranges well beyond burgers, offering a kind of modernchophouse menu represented by such retro-chic starters as chicken wings with fermented chili and a chilled wedge salad with bacon, blue cheese, and fresh herbs.

Then there’s the $12 signature Kronnerburger itself, which cuts a classic profile at first glance, shaped to fit the tastes of J. Wellington Wimpy. But look closer—that’s aged-cheddar mayo spread amid the lettuce, pickles, and onion. Bone marrow is available as an add-on, along with bacon and herb cheese. Still, minimalism is the way to go here. The house-ground meat needs no masking, a point that the kitchen punctuates by announcing its preference for serving the patty almost tartare-rare. If you ask, you can have yours cooked longer. But we’ve come so far—do you really want to go back to what burgers used to be?

 

Read More:

Tiny, Pretty Things: Food that's ready for Instagram

A Ground Meat Groundswell: Burgers aren't going anywhere.

Prix Fixe Holdouts and Casual Refinements: Fancy still has its place.

Keeping it in the Family: Platters are the new plates.

Destination Neighborhood Joints: Local spots with wide-ranging appeal.

France, Now and Forever: The bistro still abides.

Eating, Drinking, and the Other Way Around: Bar or restaurant? You be the judge.

Next Wave Asian: Redrawing culinary borders.

 

 

Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco

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