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Did I miss something at Pie n' Burger?

  • c

I know this place is a CH favorite, so I'm bracing myself for the angry retaliation. However, reading so many rave reviews of this place really motivated me to go and try it myself. I was warned that this place was a little pricy for a burger, but I had no idea how much. I ordered a cheeseburger and an ice cream soda, my husband had a cheeseburger as well, a soda, and we split an order of fries. We walked out of there spending almost $25 for that. That's without pie, too. We left thinking, the meal was okay, but totally not worth what we paid for. Ambiance wasn't all that either. So am I a cheapskate, or did I totally miss something about it?

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  1. I agree with you; I've been totally underwhelmed by both the pie and the burger. It's just a typical countertop joint like you'd find in any small town, that most people would be dying to escape from.

    I've also been disappointed with other so-called classics like Apple Pan and Phillipe's, for similar reasons. There is this bizarre mystique which is completely out of proportion to anything real.

    I think the best burger in Pasadena is actually at Jake's.

    Pie, on the other hand, seems to be a lost art.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Key Lime Guy

      I'm underwhelmed by Pie n' Burger as well. Pie n' Burger is a decent hamburger the same way In-n -Out is a decent hamburger. Simple, nothing fancy, cooked to order. The difference is Pie 'n Burger costs $5.15. $0.25 more if you want cheese on that. Yes, they hand mix their soda. That's nice and nostagic. But the glasses are tiny and filled 3/4th the way with crushed ice, and you get *1* refill. At In-n-Out, you can go back to the fountain as much as you want. Is Pie n' Burger's hambuger better than In-n-Out's? I can't honestly say yes.

      I'm going to expose myself to the flames also. But Pie N Burger is affected by something I call Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome. The reputation build and builds, and when you try it, you're not quite sure why it deserves the rep, but you're afraid of making an opposing thought. So you agree with the rest of the mob. And the cycle continues.

    2. I liked Pie n' Burger and would frequent it if I lived in Pasadena. However, I was somewhat underwhelmed given the expectations I had built up from friends and reviews of the place. I like both Apple Pan and Phillipe's more than Pie n' Burger.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Marco Polo

        Phillipe's makes hamburgers?

      2. Can,

        I'm a Pie 'n Burger partisan, although, since I don't live in L.A., I'm not on top of what is happening (I have to say, though, that the food has been remarkably consistent, in my experience, over the past 30 years). That said, I'm not sure you ordered the best items.


        I happen to agree with you that the burgers at Pie 'n Burger are "only" very good. I don't think anyone has ever argued that their fries are special. Here, in order, are my favorite things at Pie 'n Burger. Note that the first two are not available all year long, for obvious reasons:

        1. Fresh peach pie
        2. Ollaloberry pie (especially w/ice milk)
        3. Banana "cream" pie (served with meringue; if asked, they will scrape off the meringue and replace it with whipped cream, for a price)
        4. Fountain Coke
        5. Cinnamon rolls (breakfast only)
        6. Milk shakes (made with lowfat ice cream -- these are not rich, Haagen-Dazs style milk shakes)
        7. Patty melt
        8. Hash browns
        9. Other assorted pies, some of their pies are way too sweet for my taste.
        10. Cheeseburger

        1. I haven't tried Pie n' Burger but had intended to the next time I am in Pasadena based on what has been said on this board. Now am not so sure.

          I not surprised, however, at your check. I often find hamburgers priced at $8 or $9 in L.A., and sometimes that doesn't even include cheese, and you pay extra for sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onions, etc. With tax and tip you are already pretty close to $25 without a drink. HOWEVER, I don't mind the price if it means a substantially better dining experience than what you would encounter in a fast food joint. A larger, well prepared, better quality patty, REAL cheese, good to excellent fries, or even a choice of garlic mashed potatoes or salad instead of fries, a comfortable, clean, attractive environment and good service justify the price to me. For my money, I've found that level of hamburger experience at Library Ale House on Main Street in Santa Monica.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Coyote500

            Try 26 Beach Restaraunt at 3100 Lincoln in Venice. Great Burger, includes a salad or fries, and they start at 8 or 9 dollars> Really good though, they make their own patties and buns fresh everday. My favorite for a burger in a wondeful garden patio environment. Enjoy!

            1. re: Burger Boy

              I think it's on Washington Blvd. not Lincoln.

              1. re: Burger Boy

                I really appreciate the rec and will try and will report. Will be there with husband, any other dish we MUST try? Thanks!

                1. re: Burger Boy

                  You people!

                  26 Beach Cafi (that may be "Cafe," but this is how the online phone book has it)
                  26 Washington Boulevard
                  Marina del Rey, CA 90292 310-821-8129

              2. My wife is a Pasadena native and Pie 'n Burger was a local hangout/institution, I ate there once, and that was probably 10 years ago and I have no desire to go back. I think it is the nostalgia that people have for the place, just brings back memories of a bygone era, and those memories are selective.

                1. They catered an event that I attended last year and the food was awful, greasy-old.

                  I was always interested in this place but never made it and after having their catered food, vowed never to go.

                  -but-
                  the sportswear place next door used to have some really good deals.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: joea

                    And check out the wine store next door, too ... what remains of the Chronicle's wine list.

                    1. re: FED

                      what chronicle do you mean of the pinot chain restaurants?

                      1. re: kevin

                        The Chronicle was a high end restaurant in a victorian house in that neighborhood. One of the desired places to dine at in Pasadena say 10 or 15 years ago. Took the wife there once, and my only recollection is that the "waiter" did a really swell job "orating" the day's specials.

                        1. re: Chino Wayne

                          A guy named Lud Renick (?) ran the Chronicle for many years. He briefly opened one in Santa Monica at Main and Ocean Park in an old Victorian. It didn't take, but that didn't discourage him from opening La Courrone (?) a very high end nouvelle French place on Lake Avenue in the spot now occupied by Williams Sonoma. He was just slightly ahead of his time with that one. Too foodie and too expensive at the time. But pretty good.

                  2. As one of the veterans of the Los Angeles Board who has had good things to say about Pie 'n Burger, I guess I'd better weigh in on this almost unanimous bashing.

                    First, I have to say that I find most hamburger discussions totally uninformative. Lots of folks state whether they like or dislike this or that burger, but almost never provide any explanation. The main point of the post that prompted this string was that the meal at Pie 'n Burger was too expensive. Let's say $5.25 for the burger. Too expensive? Depends. If you don't think the burger is any better than In-N-Out, then, yeah, it's too expensive. If, like me, you think it's a significantly better burger, then the $5.25 price tag isn't a huge issue. But that doesn't answer the underlying question of WHY one thinks In-N-Out is better than Pie 'n Burger, or vice versa.

                    Consider the elements: a bun, a cooked ground beef patty, embellishments of one's choice (tomato, lettuce, onion, pickles, cheese, etc.), and dressings of one's choice (1000 island, mayonnaise, catsup, mustard, etc.). Given the basic simplicity of a burger, it shouldn't be terribly difficult to articulate the differences between a good burger and bad burger, right?

                    Alas, it's not so simple. A lot has to do with personal preferences for saltiness, the degree of doneness of the meat, the fat content of the meat, and other such factors. I have found little fault at most of the highly rated burger joints with the embellishments and dressings. In-N-Out, for example, has crisp lettuce, nice thick slices of tomato, and a nice fresh slice of onion. I'm not crazy about the cheese at In-N-Out, but nobody's forcing me to put it on my burger. My main problem is with the meat patties. I find them overseasoned and overcooked. I appreciate that most hamburger patties are overcooked these days because of health regulations passed in the wake of the Jack-in-the-Box E. coli episode. But I'm a complete fussbudget about how meat is cooked, and always ask for my meat to be cooked "not one degree more than is legally required." The beef for Pie 'n Burger is freshly ground every other day. The beef at Cassell's is prime and is freshly ground every day. At both places, I've been successful in not having my meat cooked more than required, and I can taste the difference. (As you've probably guessed by now, I like my steak charred on the outside and rare within. I also prefer fattier cuts of meat, hence prefer a rib steak to a New York cut, and prefer prime-grade beef to choice or select.) By the way, loosely hand-formed ground meat patties taste better than tightly packed machine-formed patties because the former have little airpockets in them that catch the fat and juices of the meat. The result is a juicier more flavorful meat patty.

                    I'm not trying to impose my particular tastes on anyone. But I am trying to explain why I like some burgers more than others. Of course, if I encounter a stale bun, limp lettuce, etc., it would weigh negatively against the burger. And I much prefer torn whole leaf lettuce to the more ubiquitous shredded lettuce. But most often, in my experience, the final verdict on a burger comes down to the meat.

                    A complicating factor is that a good burger is more than just the meat and, in fact, more than the sum of its parts. I fully understand and appreciate this synergy. But I don't find it helpful to focus only on hamburger gestalt, because it leads only to a conclusion ("I like burger #1 more than burger #2") without any sense of how one reached that conclusion.

                    P.S. I agree with Dave Feldman that the best thing at Pie 'n Burger is the fresh peach pie available only in the summertime fresh peach season. It reduces me to swoons and sighs.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Tom Armitage

                      I'll see your Pie n' Burger burger & raise you one. As Grandpa Grub used to say, "You get what you pay for." For $10 at Puck's Cafe, you can get a blue cheese burger that'll knock your socks off. Big fatty patty (how's that for a restaurant name?) perfectly cooked laced with decent bleu cheese just in case those arteries are not fully closed. Absolutely the freshest condiments. The terrific lamb sandwich may be off Puck's menu, but the blue burger lives on.

                      1. re: Mr Grub

                        i thought wolfgang puck cafe's were supposed to be chain restaurant crap. So the burger here is actually quite good? do they have it all locations? maybe i'll give it a try.

                        1. re: kevin

                          i thought wolfgang puck cafe's were supposed to be chain restaurant crap.>>
                          Wolfgang Puck Cafes vary in quality of items and service, but at their best do a sort of poor man's trendy gourmet thing, bearing in mind that the trends have usually passed. The salmon pizza is ok. The seared ahi is pretty good. The salmon is good. I'm not impressed with the Chinese chicken salad. On a good nite, when the kitchen's not backed up and the waiter's not thinking about his last audition, it can be pretty good. Also, when it's hot and timely, their bread plate is good.

                      2. re: Tom Armitage

                        Nice, reasoned discussion on your consideration of the relative merits of any given burger.

                        As to your comment about In-N-Out making their burgers too well done for your preference. I am more surprised any time a fast food restaurant actually gets my order right than I am disappointed when they screw it up. However, my experience with In-N-Out is that since they are not some chain owned by some corporate conglomerate, and are not franchised, and do apparently pay their staff better than other comparable establishments, that I do expect them to get my order right a greater percentage of the time, especially if I am in the car in that very long (in terms of time) line, waiting while my order is prepared. And I still am periodically disappointed, when I get a burnt burger when I requested a medium, or I get a medium rare burger when I requested a well done.

                        So that probably is the argument for anyone with discriminating taste, or the expectation of food prepared as requested, to avoid any and all fast food joints, and go the the (as Carl's Jr likes to say) "six dollar hambuger" restaurant.

                        And you are absolutely right about hand formed patties being better. The relative fat content of the meat is also important. Whether or not the meat is cooked over coals, or some other heated element below the level of the meat, where the juices can drip down and then vaporize, wafting back up in to and further flavoring the meat is also important.

                        In the end, doesn't it all boil down to each person's individual likes and dislikes? One man's Pie N Burge may the epitome of the burger experience, while it may be a train wreck of a dining experience for another man. And both men are probably correct.

                        So then it is up to those of us who are following along with all of this discussion, to go out there in the field and do our own original research. Then we each can provide the definitive answer.

                      3. Thier hamburger gave me a frigging headache. But the patty melts are good.

                        1. I live stone's throw from P n' B and I've only been there a few times. Way over-priced, goopy, greasy, and none of that in a good way. I happen to love the pie at Apple Pan, and the fries, although I think their burger is overpriced, too. In Pasadena, Wolfe Burger is really great.

                          1. I heard the praise and expected to like Pie n' Burger, but was unimpressed.My cheeseburger was dry and not very tasty and it was overpriced.Maybe I should have tried the pie.Last weekend I visited Twohey's in Pasadena and had the best patty melt I've ever tasted.Plus, the menu is huge (including a great fountain section) and the prices are reasonable.I'll definitely be back.