Friday, August 14, 2009

Enjoying the Big O

Who doesn't love a good burger? I don't eat them as often as I would like, but it's a pleasure when I find one I really enjoy. My friend Alex Hart invited me to join her at O'Brothers at Horton Plaza, so we met there this afternoon for lunch.

Cheers to brothers Derek and Craig Cowling for turning Craig's penchant for great burger grilling into a sleek, hip burger joint. Their hook? Everything, but everything is organic. The meat is local, from Matt Rimel's Homegrown Meats. The buns, the ketchup, the fries, the salad greens, and even the beverages, both sodas and beers and wine, are organic. If you need to drink a Coke with your burger, you'll have to bring it in because they just don't serve it.

The restaurant, on the second level of Horton Plaza, facing Broadway, has been open since February. It's a big shift from the previous family business, Dixieline Lumber. The restaurant business may be new to them, but the food is very good and the ambience, thanks to designer David Robinson (whose previous clients include Stone Brewery, Mille Fleurs, Roppongi, Pacifica Del Mar, and Paradise Grille), is another of a growing number of modernist yet warm environments, complete with an open kitchen. Pull together tables for a group lunch or pull up a stool and sit at the counter to watch your meal being prepared.

The menu is simple and tightly limited. There are six burgers. Well, five if you take into account that the veggie burger is really just a veggie sandwich. There are a couple of salads, including a new grilled vegetable salad, fries, and onion rings. And usually a couple of desserts, made on the premises.

I was told that "The Big O" was their most popular burger, so I tried that. It's a quarter of a pound of meat, cooked a nice pink medium rare, and topped with crisp bacon, cheddar cheese, a slice of tomato, red onion, and thinly fanned avocado. A dollop of ketchup on top was the finishing touch. The burger is, well, good. Really good. Not too big, full of flavor, and mouth friendly.

With the burger comes, not fries, but a nice sized green salad with either ranch or balsamic dressing. I tried the ranch dressing and found the salad to be a solidly tasty addition to the burger. But, of course, we had to order the onion rings.

They looked great, but actually turned out to be disappointing. The crispness was fleeting, and the flavors were just off. Apparently, they've got various Italian spices in the flour and then another set of spices in the breadcrumbs that form the outer crust. They don't mix well, and even Derek acknowledged that the recipe needs revisiting.

On the other hand, the fries were delicious. A beautiful golden brown and crisp on the outside, but with a soft interior. They were just salty enough. And, they were wonderful with the homemade barbecue sauce they were served with.

What would I really like, along with improved onion rings? Well, a milkshake, of course. And, a root beer float. I hope they'll add these to the menu at some point. It sounds, though, that their focus is now on expanding the restaurants -- adding five or six in San Diego, looking at south Florida for up to 20 locations, and then Northern California. So, San Diego, we're the test location. And, really, I couldn't be happier.

O'Brothers is located at 188 Horton Place, above the Levi's store.

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  1. I guess I'll finally have to give this place a try. I wasn't that impressed with their 100% organic claims after looking at the 'organic sources' listed on their web site. Organic is great, but nothing seemed to be even remotely local. Buns coming from New Jersey?? But if they really are getting their meat from Homegrown Meats rather than Dakota Beef which is still listed as a partner on their site, then it looks like they're taking a step in the right direction.

  2. You mean a burger place where a salad is the default instead of a substitution for the fries? Oh please say they'll open a restaurant in coastal north county!

    I'm so tired of casual restaurants where the best easy low carb and gluten-free option is a boring chicken caesar salad without croutons (so boring). Delicious, big, well-made burgers wrapped in lettuce or with a salad have become my default real food casual choice, especially if the meat is grass-fed, local, and organic (in that order).

    I'm not sure I'd go all the way to Horton Plaza just for one of these burgers, but if I was in the neighborhood, I'd definitely seek this place out.

    I wonder if they make a larger or a double burger? A quarter pound patty is pretty small when you accompany it with greens and (no bun, fries, o-rings, or a shake).

  3. A really good burger or the grilled vegetable salad sound great. That's disappointing about the onion rings... they're my favorite! You're spot on about the addition of root beer floats. Imagine how wonderful that would be w/ some gourmet root beer? Delicious post.

  4. This sounds great. I'm really trying to cut my meat intake to local/non agri-factory sources, so I'm always on the lookout for good new joints. Thanks for the review!