Claremont Insider: Dashed Hopes

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dashed Hopes

Last September Chef Jeff gave us the "heads-up" that a new burger place was opening next to Trader Joe's. Since then we've been watching, every time we went to TJ's to shop, as the former drab high-ceilinged industrial space that was to be the Burger Bar turned into the multi-colored high-ceilinged industrial space that is the Burger Bar. Finally, a month or more ago, the first week it opened, we stopped by for a hamburger, figuring that if you wanted it good, if you wanted it done right, if you wanted best effort, you ought to go while they are still trying to impress.

Until Tony Krickl brought back the nearly-suppressed memories of this dining experience with his blog entry last week, we had almost managed to forget the aforesaid dining experience. We hadn't written about it on the theory that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Like Krickl's meal, ours was just south of ten bucks for a gourmet soda in a gourmet paper cup, gourmet fries, and the eponymous burger.

Perhaps because it was their first week open, we were treated to a floorshow of sorts with various employees, bosses, lead-people, and--it seemed--owners, darting in and out of a closet that graces the main dining area and first removing, then returning a portion, then sorting, then stacking, and finally re-stacking a bunch of folded cloth items that might have been cook's aprons, all the while people coming and going and mumbling darkly and nearly inaudibly to each other except in the case of the lady owner or at any rate high-priestess who barked a couple of low-level employees into temporary silence.

This performance lasted most of the time we were there.

The burger was unmemorable. Now a month later, we can't recall exactly what was on it. We think it was the first item on the menu--some sort of specialty burger which, again, if they were featuring it, our thought was that they must be pretty proud of it. Seems it had the meat, lettuce, avocado, maybe bacon, possibly tomato, and a dollop of dressing, all on an undressed, barely- or un-warmed bun. None of the flavors melded; the meat was dry and fairly tasteless; the bacon had been cooked probably that morning; if it had mushrooms we don't remember them. The thing leaned precariously as it was handed over, and splayed apart like a blackjack deck being fanned as we set it on the table. We ate the burger but left half the fries.

We remember thinking that we could've gotten a much much better burger for half the price at In-N-Out. (as a parenthetical remark, you can get a much better burger for twice the price at the Back Abbey. Or could a couple of months ago. We had one hamburger there, a half-order of fries, and a soda--and left $25 lighter [that is not a typo: twenty-five].)

The reviewers that Tony Krickl cited on his blog pretty much have it right about the Burger Bar.

Still, we wish the place well if they can get their act together. Claremont is altogether too twee and precious in what it offers. A good burger joint would be welcome. This isn't it.