Monday, April 30, 2007

Win’s in Oxnard grills their “Billie” burgers for the true bun and meat aficionado. It’s a burger for purists who know that grease, fat and other heart-stoppers are synonymous with great flavor. In an age of soy, canola oil and fake meat, Win’s burgers serve as a beacon of hope.
This Oxnard burger shack is a lunch hour hot spot for anyone working near downtown. Around noon, dozens crowd the picnic benches or line up at the window while the guy behind the counter shouts orders to the customers.
“All right, come on, who’s next, what you need,” he rapidly shouts.
If he could just fling the burger into your mouth to serve it faster, he probably would. The guy at the window keeps the cook running on a tight schedule as well by shouting the occasional
“Move it you lazy ass” with a half-grin on his face.
The cook laughs back furiously laying out rows of patties and buns on the hot stove. The guy at the window hands out the burgers in brown paper bag, or if it’s a big order, packs the brown sacks into cardboard box.The paper bags are soaked through with delicious grease. The grease (a.k.a: flavor) operates in every square inch of that burger, including the bun. The patty is topped with gooey American cheese.
In an attempt to try and salvage some health value, the burger also comes with a slice of tomato and shredded lettuce. But these puny side garnishes get caught up in a tidal wave of juicy burger grease and are swept out into a vast ocean of cholesterol. Nothing is going to get in the way this burger’s flavor. NOTHING!
The sandwich comes with a Thousand Island dressing with a secret ingredient that gives the Billie burger it’s name and edge over the corporate chains. According to the guy at the ordering window, Billie was somebody the old owner new in Brooklyn, but that was all he was allowed to say. Usually stories about secrets, Brooklyn and guys named Billie involve the mafia, so it’s probably better not to solve the riddle of mysterious Thousand Island dressing.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Burger Barn: All the livestock under one bun

It was a miserable cold day when drove out to the Burger Barn in Camarillo. Sheets of rain poured down as I pulled into the strip mall on Adolfo and Pleasant Valley Road where the restaurant stands.
But when I bit into my cheeseburger, the char-broiled flavor transported me to beautiful sunny park where people were playing volleyball and listening to “Louie, Louie”.
The Burger Barn’s makes burgers for those who enjoy a good barbecue; which is probably most people. A sesame seed bun and American cheese surround the patty. While most burger shacks fry up their patties on a stove, the Burger Barn patty has lines of black grill marks. The burger tastes like it was made outdoors in the sunshine.
Under the patty is a slice of tomato, pickles and lettuce shredded thinner than Silly String. There’s also another pleasant surprise waiting underneath the beef: red onions. Those sweet-tasting onions have the supernatural ability to enhance the flavor any burger. It’s probably what God puts on His burgers.
Burger Barn dresses up their bun and meat with Thousand Island. I don’t know if the restaurant puts a small amount of dressing on all their burgers or just mine; but on this burger less is more. Too much Thousand Island could have disguised that barbecue taste. That taste should not be disguised, it should be embraced. If this burger was person I would certainly give it a hug and let it know what a fine job it was doing.
The staff at the Burger Barn are also deserving of a hug. They’re extremely friendly and seem to cater to cast of regular customers like on Cheers where everybody knows everybody else’s name.
The Burger Barn even had arcade games, making it the perfect hang out place for high school kids who can’t get a date. If I were still in high school the Burger Barn would probably be the place to find me; eating cheeseburgers and listening to Led Zeppelin on my Walkman while entranced in a game of pinball. Who needs a date when your close to beating a high score.
So if the weather has given you the blues or a girl just turned you down, order a cheeseburger at Burger Barn. It may bring the sunshine back, even if it’s just in your head.

Buddy Burgers: A burger I'm proud to call a friend

Along the seedier end of Oxnard Boulevard sits one gem of a burger shack: Buddy Burgers. This take-out stand is bordered by shady one-night stand motels, coin Laundromats and pawn shops. When ordering a burger it’s not unusual to see a homeless person or two passed out near the restaurant. However, do “NOT” let fear stand in your way of venturing down Oxnard Boulevard for one damn fine burger.
Buddy burgers may look like a normal burger at first - shredded lettuce, tomato and American cheese melted on a patty squeezed in a bun. But it’s the bite that sets this burger apart.
Buddy Burgers seasons its patties, giving the customer more to taste than just the standard lettuce and cheese. The patty has just enough salt and pepper that it you could eat it by itself and not bitch that your burger was tasted plain.
While most burger shacks dress up their burgers with some kind of Thousand Island concoction, Buddy Burgers spreads mustard on the bottom bun. The seasoned patty combined with mustard gives this burger a little kick.
This burger also comes with right price, $1.49. If you’re tight on money you can probably scrounge up the cash to get a Buddy Burger by digging through the couch cushions.
The only problem is convincing people to come to Buddy Burgers’ corner of Oxnard. The city has always had an undeserved reputation for high crime. Because of that, most people avoid Oxnard like a vagrant wino.
But burger fans should not miss out on Buddy Burgers. If you’re worried about safety here’s what you can do. Get a driver and have them sit in the car with the engine running while you order. You will be out of there in minutes, unharmed and chomping down on nice hunk of meat.

The Summit: A burger for the wilderness

Highway 150 is a twisting two-lane road that runs from Santa Paula to Ojai. Tucked along side this mountainous route is The Summit, the only food stand for miles. But don’t worry, their burgers are big enough to sustain a trek through the wilderness.
This burger comes with a thick and juicy quarter-pound patty dripping with American cheese. The Summit also piles their burger high with shredded lettuce, tomato and pickles.
To add more flavor, the burger is dressed from top to bottom with Thousand Island dressing. Cheese and dressing just drip out of the sesame seed bun when you bite into it.
I recommend ordering a fresh berry shake when you eat this burger. It’s made with strawberries and has sweet berry ‘ vanilla taste to it.
Once you order the burger and shake you can sit down on a bench outside and enjoy the scenery. Tall green mountains and shady oak trees surround the burger shack.
This is not a burger shack where you can get a quick bite to eat, this is a journey. If you go with someone to this burger shack make sure they don’t get car sick because it’s a long winding road and they’ll never shut up to let you enjoy the scenery.
Driving to this burger shack should be a joy because there is a lot of great scenery. Highway 150 takes travelers through some of Ventura County’s more rugged back-country. There are numerous hiking trails that begin near the highway. If you have some time to kill you can take a walk to build up an appetite then make a final stop at the Summit before returning to civilization fat and happy.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Top Hat Burger Palace: A bite of Ventura History

Eating at Top Hat Burger Palace is like taking a bite into history. The joint has settled in the same location for more than 50 years and is listed in the historical registry.
Top Hat stands in the heart of downtown Ventura on Main Street. Even though they call the restaurant a “palace” its really no bigger than a tool shed; blink and you might miss it.
I asked the girl at the grill for a cheeseburger. She smiled cheerfully, immediately throwing the patty and the bun on the hot stove. The size of kitchen is so tiny, she could have been flipping burgers in galley of Alaskan crab fishing boat. Of course size doesn’t matter, it’s the motion of ocean or in this case the taste of the burger.
I unwrapped the burger to give it a good look before taking my initial bite. First of all the burger had jack cheese, not American or cheddar. I’m used to seeing yellow cheese smothering my burger, so seeing a white unfamiliar cheese melting down the sides of the patty made me feel frightened and insecure.
Besides putting jack cheese on burgers, Top Hat also brings of the question of mayonnaise on burgers. Some may think it’s un-American to put mayo on you’re burger. I like mayo in small doses, but this particular burger was a bit overdone. There was enough mayo in it to make potato salad for an entire Super Bowl party. In fact, with all that mayonnaise smothered on jack cheese, I couldn’t tell where the mayo ended and the cheese began.
Underneath the patty was a bedding of shredded lettuce an onions with, guess what? More mayonnaise. All that gooey white stuff just seemed to melt out of the burger like Jimmy Dorsey songs melted out of the clarinet of a nearby street musician.
I don’t want to come down hard on Top Hat because the burger has potential. It was juicy and seasoned with the taste of hundreds of thousands of burgers cooked on the same stove for over 50 years. It’s just the excessive globs of mayo exterminated the flavor of the burger with extreme prejudice. Tell the cook to hold the mayo and you have a burger worth biting into.
Besides, Top Hat holds a place in the history books. It is the scene of the first murder ever to be solved by sampling DNA.
In 1988 a man was stabbed at Top Hat. Police arrested a woman, who probably would have gotten away with it not for modern science. The murder propelled the burger restaurant from a nostalgic Ventura eatery to true-crime landmark. I don’t know what it is about a brutal restaurant slaying that attracts the masses but it works. My theory is a bloody tragedy in a restaurant makes for good dining.

Neptune's Net: Where the mountains meet the sea and the burger meets the bun

The Beach Boys sang about how all the kids surf Ventura county line in “Surfin USA”. But the Beach Boys failed to mention Neptune’s Net, a burger shack that is just as much a part of county line as the waves. The restaurant attracts tourists, surfers, and bikers driving the Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The burger comes with a slice of American cheese poking out from underneath a sesame seed bun. The beef patty itself did not have a lot of flavor but it didn’t really need it. The American cheese gave the burger that cheesy, melt-in-your mouth taste. Below the patty was a slice of tomato and lettuce. The lettuce is worth noting because Neptune’s Net uses a leaf of lettuce instead of shredded lettuce. I personally love the leaf lettuce versus shredded, not only because it’s greener and healthier looking, but it shows you care. Sure the guy making the burger can just rip open a bag of pre-shredded lettuce like some barbarian. But taking that extra effort to pick an edible leaf off a head of lettuce gives the burger a hands-on touch that says, “Hey burger fan, I love burgers and I love you too.”
Neptune’s uses Thousand Island dressing to give their burgers flavor. Overall I thought the burger was good, not outstanding. The burger comes with a hefty price, $4.95, which is a bit steep for a blue-collared sandwich. But you’re not just paying for a burger, you’re paying for location.
Neptune’s Net lies nestled at the base of Santa Monica Mountains, overlooking the ocean. The Net serves as a headquarters for Ventura and LA bikers and surfers. Rows of Hondas, Harleys and Indians sit parked in front of the restaurant.
The motorcycles’ glistening chrome are as much a part of the restaurant as the walls that hold it up. There is even a hired security guard standing watch over the bikes with a starched-white shirt and arms folded in an authoritarian pose.
Once I finished my burger, I walked across the Pacific Coast Highways to watch the surfers dotted along the surface of the water. I ran into a group of old locals gathered above the beach. These guys have seen Neptune’s Net grow up from it’s infancy in the early 60s when they would drink beers with owners pass closing times.
“It was bitchin man,” said Carl, one of county line’s local residents. A huge grin appeared on his face when he described his home.
“This is one of Southern California’s best kept secrets,” he said.
My thoughts exactly.
County line seems to have it all, sun, surfing, hiking, and a burger stand to tie it all together. Neptune’s Net seems as much a part of the landscape as the vast blue ocean or the towering mountains that surround the restaurant.