Thursday, October 18, 2007
While I Get The Attraction -- Cassell's Burgers
(or, if you read the small sign in the window, "Hambugers")
3266 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA
Google Maps, Reviews, Info
In case you haven't been paying attention, Cassell's Burgers has consistently rated among the best burger joints in Los Angeles for many, many years; right up there with Apple Pan, Tommy's, the recently departed Mo' Bettah Meaty Meat Burger, and everybody's favorite In 'N' Out. L.A. Food Crazy loves him a good burger, yet I'd never made the pilgrimage to Cassell's, until yesterday.
I have probably made more hamburgers in my life than anyone you know. Not only did I work at Carl's Jr. as a teenager, but I still cook a couple hundred a year, most of them in one day -- I insist on personally grilling the burgers at our annual summer party. So I have opinions about 'em. And my opinions and prejudices very much color my take on Cassell's.
Cassell's has been making burgers since the thirties, and the room, tucked inconspicuously on an entirely nondescript corner in the Koreatown stretch of the Wilshire corridor, has a cool wartime vibe. The burgers are slung cafeteria-style. You grab a tray and order your burger, 1/3 or 2/3 pound, cheese or no. Your burger is cooked to order and the bun toasted in a single proprietary double broiler-device while you stand and read the articles on the wall extolling the virtues of the burger to come.
One lengthy L.A. Times feature posits three varieties of burger-stand burgers: "primo patties," which use high quality beef and usually fried and served with a plain bun to highlight the quality of the patty; mid-level "char-burgers," which are more likely to use flame grilled patties and sesame seed buns; and "grease bombs," where condiments are dominant, the patty merely a protein layer to act as a platter for the other ingredients. Who knew?
Once your burger is plated and delivered, you sidle down the condiment bar. This a truly impressive smorgasbord of burger bits: homemade mayonnaise, ketchupy relish, another spicier relish, hand-leafed lettuce, and most delightfully, beefsteak tomatoes and slices of onion that are uniformly huge and ,in fact, sized exactly to cover the entire beef patty. The resulting burger is an aesthetic delight, a stack that rivals the Capitol Records buildiing for rounded symmetry.
Then why did I find the Cassell's burger, while good, not great?
Part of it is personal taste. Cassell's claims to be a "primo patty" joint. You can even buy their grade A patties by the dozen to take home and cook yourself. But personally I prefer the flavor of a burger with grill marks and a hint of charcoaly char, and a sesame seed bun. And I frankly didn't find Cassell's patty to be that interesting... to my palate, ground beef patties rarely are.
That said, if you believe that a good burger is essentially about the condiments -- a greasebomb fan -- this is the place, because the condiments and your ability to adjust their quantities to taste is fantastic.
Oh, and those fries are terrific!