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Apr 22, 2009 11:50 AM

Burger Quest: Oinkster almost wins, too bad about the bun!

Old buddy from Palo Alto was visiting this week, and when we were thinking about lunch places yesterday he remembered our going by the Oinkster and being intrigued. So we did that. He got the regular un-fancy pastrami and some slaw, but I decided it was high time I tried the much-applauded burger. Didn't give them any cooking directions; just asked for cheddar and let it go at that. And of course the fries and aioli, gotta have that.

Wow. This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around. This is the burger that will make you remember what they tasted like when your tastebuds were fifty years younger. When the guy bought his meat fresh every day, scooped it up and patted it gently into a flattish but thick giant meatball, and cooked it on a well-seasoned flat iron grill, then you ate it with juice running down your chin. And no matter how well you washed your hands, the grease in your system seemed to keep pumping out your fingertips the rest of the day, so if you worked (as I did) with film you really, really needed those cotton gloves...

I honestly had not tasted a burger like that since Herr Harry's Franks & Steins in Nashville went out of business, and this thing took me right back. For about two-thirds of my lunch I was totally in love, but then the damn bun melted. Okay, Harry's buns did too, but back then ALL buns did, because they all came from the big balloon-bread bakeries. There's just no excuse anymore for that; both brioche and ciabatta rolls are widely available and widely used, the latter being my favored choice. If they can come up with special bread for their pastrami, you'd think they could do their brilliant burger more justice. Which is certainly not to say I won't order another; that thing was just too good to let a handful of soggy sandwich innards discourage me. Oh, man...!

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  1. *laughing* I think it's my favorite burger, Mr. Owen - they went through that period about a year ago with pre-formed patties and almost lost me, but the return to the hand-formed, lightly-packed is a grand thing.

    I usually ask them to add /substitute grilled onions and to griddle the bun a bit - still doesn't keep the darn thing from getting soggy, but does buy one a little bit more time before the bun disintegrates.

    I actually like it that the buns aren't a specialty thing - I want to concentrate on the flavor of the meat and not be distracted by a complex bun (such as a Tops with that Bistro Burger - which is marvelous, but I tend to find myself being caught-up in the texture and flavor of the ciabatta rather than the rest of the burger experience).

    Come to think of it, one of my friends say that part of the issue is with the order the toppings are layered onto the bun - he suggests flipping the whole mess upside down and eating it in that manner - I'll need to try it.

    7 Replies
    1. re: ElsieDee

      We will agree to disagree about the ciabatta; I've always (or at least since adolescence!) considered the bread to be an integral component of any sandwich, and if it's excessively chewy or too soggy or crunchy where it hadn't ought to be it just screws up the sandwich for me. The first time I used TJ's ciabatta rolls for home-grilled burgers the sound of rejoicing rang through Chez Owen, for we knew we'd found perfection.

      I think maybe putting the lettuce just under the top bun would help. I didn't mention that my onion was too tough, as that was only a minor annoyance, but it came out in a series of strings, like fat dental floss, which didn't help the ease of consumption either. It was still the best-tasting burger I've had in twenty-some years.

      1. re: Will Owen

        We LOVE TJ's chiabatta rolls for our home made burgers too... they hold up so nicely and such up ALL the flavors... YUM!!

        You guys need to try Unami burger... I think you will be very pleased. :)


        1. re: Dommy

          Unami or Umami? And where is it? You know me, kid - I'll go about anywhere. Kinda like a couple of other 'Hounds I know....

          1. re: Will Owen

            Sorry! Umami... it's on La Brea and not far from Wilshire... They have this great bun that holds everything together...


            Umami Burger
            850 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

            1. re: Dommy

              OH!! I'm around there a lot - thank you SO much for the tip!

              1. re: Will Owen

                OMG went to Umami today. Amazing, amazing, amazing. Had the Unami burger and the SoCal Burger, french fries and house pickles. Going back tomorrow.

        2. re: Will Owen

          *laughing* I'm pretty much a bread hound - love the stuff! But for some reason I find it distracting on a good burger (though it can be the saving grace on a mediocre one). Okay, that's not totally true - my step-mother's guacamole burgers on a toasted onion roll, well, now that's a case of the bun being integral and yet not overwhelming. (Darn her for going vegan!)

      2. I agree. A couple of bites in, I felt the bun start to lose it, so I ate faster than I wanted to. Next time I'm going to ask for aioli spread on both sides of the bun with just a slice of onion. With that meat, I can only imagine what that going to taste like.

        1. Hrm. I don't get it .

          The Oinkster cheeseburger I got last Friday (with gruyere) certainly wasn't bad, in that it tops Troyburger and In N Out. The plentiful veggies gave the burger a satisfying crunch and juiciness, and their condiments were excellent. But the patty was...enh. It tasted okay, but I had to pick out several chunks of gristle; it definitely gave me the impression of cheap, low-grade meat.

          I'll stick with the pastrami in the future.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Bjartmarr

            I went last week (wanted to eat outside) and had the chicken salad. NOT the same sandwich I had about a year ago. The chicken salad was very oily/greasy. Just uck. Milkshake was still good. Won't be going back anytime soon though.

            1. re: Bjartmarr

              I'm with you. It's no better than good, and a bit inconsistent.