Tag Archives: sandwiches

Burgatory Bar


One day we look back at the Burger Bar Wars of 2010-2011 and think, “Really, why did we get so excited?” Granted, I have only been to two of the combatants in this fight, but they’re arguably the champions thus far: Brgr and, now, Burgatory Bar. In regards to a comparison between the two restaurants and the burger trend in general, I have two things to admit:

1) Honestly, I’d love to come down on one side or the other, but Brgr and Burgatory are about even when it comes to overall experience. Both have definite advantages on their competition, but when you tally up the highs and lows… it’s a draw.

2) How to put this… I don’t get the burger trend. I get having burgers. I get having places that specialize in burgers. I understand the appeal of having a focus that takes a very specific, beloved food item and experiments with it or classes it up. But why are people going so apeshit about these places? A good burger is not hard to find in any place whose culinary landscape is at least defined enough to have two or three quality diners (and that category basically includes every inhabited area of the USA). An inventive, classy burger isn’t even that difficult to find. But because these places are putting the burger out front, in the spotlight, and making a grand display of how creative they can be with this institution, suddenly we’re all about burgers.

Eateries specializing in a very specific food item are often right ahead or right in line with trends. Think cupcake bakeries, or donuts, or crepes. Maybe the burger thing confuses me because there have always been places that specialize in burgers – namely, most establishments that have mainstream American/diner food – and this trend is just attempting to create a classy culture around something that at its best is classless.


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The Black Bean

Appearances aren’t everything. Take The Black Bean, for example. Housed in a former Chinese restaurant on Atwood Street in Oakland, it’s the epitome of barely renovated. The long bar that is the major visual focus for the main room lacks any stock or lighting. The cooler of 20 oz. sodas on the left of the bar seems completely out of place, as does the water cooler and plastic cups for self-serve. There’s a little side room of tables. The bathrooms are in the basement. Even some vibrant paintings on the wall don’t quite make up for the restaurant’s lack of atmosphere. It feels like a take-out spot.

And it is, certainly. The price range for appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and entrees are on par with other takeout options, and in a neighborhood like Oakland, a restaurant could make a considerable sum on pick up orders alone. Still, for a place still putting the operation together – for example, as of my visit, their liquor license hadn’t come through yet, thus the empty bar – there’s a kind of low-key charm in the unfinished details.

When I came in, The Black Bean was empty. The friendly girl at the bar gave me two menus, told me to sit anywhere, and that I needed to order at the bar when I was ready. Pretty straightforward, no fuss, no frills.

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Brgr


I don’t really eat red meat anymore. Not as a rule, necessarily, but I just began to realize how little I a) desired it, b) needed it, and c) missed it when I didn’t have it. While I sometimes find myself craving crunchy, slightly spicy fried chicken or a big greasy strip of bacon (especially if that strip of bacon is on a BLT), I never crave beef. I never think of all-beef hot dogs longingly. I never see a big juicy steak and think, “Mmm, I could go for that right now.” I don’t even crave burgers.

It wasn’t always that way, at least not with burgers. I used to love burgers. For a long time, my favorite thing to eat was a burger. A cheeseburger with pickles, lettuce, mustard, and ketchup. Maybe barbecue sauce if I was feeling adventurous. Later I embraced the tomato and onion, and my burger world blew wide open. I wanted the most lavish of burgers and the most minimalist. I made my own and experimented with what I could put on top and within the patty. When someone suggested fried egg, I said why not with hot sauce?

But oh, times change. Tastes develop, evolve, and alter. I enjoyed meat less and less and took to more veggies. I found myself desiring veggie burgers over the regular beef burgers, and then I started to stop craving burgers altogether. Grilled cheese sandwiches, every which way and variation, began to supplant the mighty burger.

What really finished off my burger cravings was a rare break in my red meat abstinence, brought on by the necessity of a long road trip. Stopping at a roadside rest stop, the options for food were meat, salt, meat, salt, salty meats, salted stuff cooked in animal-originated source, etc. Fast food. What’s a girl to do when road-weary, hungry, and faced with limited options?

NOT order a Mushroom Swiss Burger from a fast food stand, that’s for sure. I ordered somewhat foolishly, but only realized my mistake upon sinking my teeth into a soggy, horrible bun. I tasted…. gravy. Canned gravy. Everything was damp. Everything was flavorless, yet greasy. I ate half then tossed the rest in the closest garbage can I could find. To this day, I can’t believe I made it that far in. I must have been really, really tired.

Anyway, that was kind of the gross nail in the burger coffin. But I haven’t turned my back on burgers completely. I just… moved on. But when my friend, Kait, suggested Brgr in East Liberty, my curiosity at the hype surrounding the place was too great to resist. Reassured by a positive review from the veggie-friendly Foodburgh, I was ready to eat.

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