the burger: “FTW” Burger. Bun. Cheese(American).
the bucks: $6
the coordinates: Alhambra, CA(10 miles east of Los Angeles)
We are in the age of pretentious foodie bullshit. If talk is cheap, foodie talk is going for Costco/WalMart wholesale prices. Blame it on Twitter. Blame it on Food Television. Hell, blame it on marketing, that’s where it all stems from really. But cry not, honest and humble lover of all things edible, there is an oasis in the sea of gluten free, farm to table, non GMO, double organic with a dash of free range, foodie discourse. One is most certainly the site you are reading. The other is the post you are about to sink into, or more accurately, this burger you are about to sink your teeth into:
Meet the FTW, brought to you by Burger Truck sensation turned Brick & Mortar, Grill Em All. To put it as plainly as their rendition of this ultimate bare bones cheeseburger, Grill ‘Em All is a gem of burger outfit. As unpretentious as Alhambra, the Los Angeles neighborhood where these head banging burger masters hang their hats. A neighborhood that is a food lover’s dream thanks to its denizens of Asian Americans who have studded streets like Valley boulevard with every type of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino and Japanese cuisine imaginable. A foodie Mecca made the old fashioned way: Alhambra has been a point of entry for Asian immigrants going on five decades, and lucky for us, have been bringing their delicious culinary traditions with them. In the age of foodie pretentious BS, there are thankfully some neighborhoods, even whole towns, whose soul remains impervious to those trendy food sound bites turned restaurant concepts. And about that whole metal thing. Yeah, when I first saw this –
. . . all that ran through my head was “wow, check out that piece of transparent marketing”. After all, many a successful burger business has taken on a shtick. McDonald’s has the Clown, Burger King has that whole Aristocracy thing, Wendy’s believes in the reincarnation of a burger loving red head. Grill ‘Em All has heavy metal. But the more I lingered and observed the people, both in front and behind the register, the more time I spent noting details like WWE matches broadcast on a flat screen, the more time I spent locking into a staring contest with these lively lads:
. . . I soon came upon two conclusions: A) I don’t like Heavy Metal and B) Grill ‘Em All could care less, because they genuinely do. Metal and Wrestling aren’t marketing tools at Grill ‘Em All, it’s just what they are into. This collision of Metal, Wrestling and Burgers is one this current pretentious foodie bullshit world of ours simply could never fathom and a fact that Grill ‘Em All could care less about. Maybe it’s because to love Metal is to quickly learn to not care what others think, or maybe it’s because they’re too busy slinging half pound burgers at a customary temperature of Medium Rare. One thing is certain: the FTW or ‘For the Win” at a mere $6 is exactly that – if only this site didn’t have a catchy name already . . . alright onto the burger stats.
Much like Corner Burger in Lawndale, any establishment that has the audacity to offer a bare bones 1/2 pound cheeseburger for $6, is nothing short of a gauntlet laid challenge that had to be met by yours truly. The rest of the menu goes in the opposite direction of the FTW; Pig Champion features hollandaise, Canadian Bacon, a fried egg and fried greens. Napalm Death is a hot head’s dream by way pepper jack cheese, pickled serrano, cream cheese, jalapeno poppers, habanero aioli, and sriracha. If you crave pastrami, a hot dog, or a mound of fried chicken on top, your request shall be met on equally clever named burgers. And just to seal that image, that’s fried chicken, drenched in Wing Sauce on top of a 1/2 pound burger. Creativity and gluttony has it’s price and a great deal of these burgers hit or surpass the $10 mark. For reasons of long term health and a slightly more short term mission to one day pay off the balance on my credit card, the bare bones FTW was really the only choice. And much like when I tried Corner Burger, it becomes an opportunity to test the foundations of a burger a temple, to see if the extra $4, a couple hundred more calories and a scolding from my cardiologist are really worth it.
What seems to be a “bare bones” cheeseburger is actually a bit of misnomer. From the exterior one sees a perfectly melted slice(or two) of American cheese glazed over the patty. One look at the interior shows an extraordinarily well buttered and griddled bun. Ok, forget extraordinary, I mean it looks like a freakin grilled cheese sandwich. While I enjoy the traditional full suite of complimentary burger toppings like lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and thousand island; the sheer decadence of meat, bun and cheese cannot be ignored – taste wise, this is the Working man’s foie gras. But the technique is what needs to be highlighted here.
It was impossible to separate cheese from bun from patty. I was convinced that they used cheese whiz or Velveeta but was told flatly that I was wrong – it’s straight up American cheese melted on with the power of a thousand Suns. Maybe it’s because I have been getting my kid into Superman as of late, but if the Man of Steel was in the back using his laser beam eyeballs to melt slices of cheese, I would not be surprised one bit.
For years I pined on how Los Angeles burger restaurants failed again and again to hit the medium rare mark, always airing on the side of medium to medium well. More than once I would request a burger cooked rare in the hopes of getting just a legit medium. Those days are thankfully long over now, and at Grill ‘Em All, a first has occurred: a burger place in Los Angeles where I can confidently order a burger at medium. Now when it comes to the FTW, I’ll take their standard medium rare every day and twice on Sunday. But make no mistake, underneath that dark brown sear, the center of that patty is a soft one. Speaking strictly from a texture standpoint, the beef would get lost in the bevy of topping combinations seen in the likes of the Cowboy from Hell(bbq pulled chicken, Jalapeno bacon, garlic aioli, red onion, lettuce and cheddar) or the Exciter(duck confit, frisé, truffled herb goat cheese, and cranberry gastrique). As far as the FTW is concerned, however much blood is left on your hands is your call. My wife, who would sooner eat steak tartare from a food court bistro over a beef brisket braised by Thomas Keller himself, cautioned on the average burger eater getting theirs medium rare; something to keep in mind. Something else to keep in mind is that eating the FTW medium rare was as satisfying as eating steak for breakfast. Beef flavors abound, and the jus spilling out, bite after bite didn’t all land on my lap, but on the brioche buns from Wheatland bakery, which did a fine job keeping that juicy 80/20 chuck experience right where it should be.
I find Music to be an important appreciation yet freely admit that it is one that has played second fiddle to food for my whole life. I’m content to not understand every nuance of Jazz, keep up with the latest band of the moment, hell I haven’t bought an album since I figured out how to work Pandora in my car. Regardless of my level of passion for music, I recognize it wholeheartedly in others. Those who love Metal music are a far cry from the pretentious and ironic hipsters who collects bracelets from every Coachella or name drop “Farm to Table” on their Yelp reviews. Metal heads, like Grill ‘Em All, are my ally when it comes to appreciating passions with brash honesty. Therefore I hereby declare my allegiance to their call for “Death to False Burgers” and join them with my index finger and pinky stretched out to the heavens a la Ronnie James Dio’s Sign of the Horns. If Bang for your Burger Buck you seek, then get yourselves to Grill ‘Em All and get down with an FTW.
And thrash hard.
Grill ‘Em All
19 E. Main Street
Alhambra, CA 91801