By Hungry Hungry Harris
L.A. Weekly’s Burgers and Beer returned to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this past Saturday. The event was curated by L.A. Weekly’s food editor Garrett Snyder and their beer guru Sarah Bennett. Like last year’s perfectly crafted event, Snyder and Bennett gathered Los Angeles’ best burger makers and California’s best craft breweries.
Also, like last year, I was completely overwhelmed with perfect weather, the smell of grilled beef patties and of course the endless supply of beer and sliders. Like to most events at Expo Park, I enjoy riding the Metro Expo line to avoid parking but mostly because I know I’m going to drink heavily. As soon as I hopped off the train the smell of grilled meat hit me and I felt like I floated toward the entrance to the festival. As I floated toward the entrance I was teased with what was going on inside the festival. The smells and sound of laughter wafted through the air. Every opening of the fence revealed a tiny glimpse of the grill masters placing or flipping patties on the grill with delicate hands as if they were flipping eggs and they were trying to keep the yolk from breaking. I would have payed money just to watch these artists grill and plate their masterpieces.
Enough about the outside of the festival, believe it or not I did go inside. As I turned the first bend on the southeast side of the LA Memorial Coliseum I was immediately welcomed by about ten beer tents. One thing I noticed about most of the breweries is that they offered something other than an IPA. This may not sit well with “beer aficionados” or snobs but honesty I’m kind of over the IPA. Every brewery offers a million different versions of it and the market is completely saturated. I was happy to see more pilsners, lagers and sours. I’m sure many people will disagree with me but at this point in my “drinking career” I will gladly take a nice crisp and refreshing lager or with fall coming up, a nice red or amber ale. There I said it, IPAs have run their course. But I’ll still take one if that’s all you got; I’m not one to turn down a beer.
Like I stated earlier, there were a lot of diversity in the style of beers each vendor offered. My favorite beers from the festival totally caught me off guard which is why they had such a lasting impression on me.
BCT Brewing Project out of Riverside had one of the best stouts I have ever tasted. According to their website they brew special beers, “From fresh interpretations of classic styles to highly creative specialty beers. Always complex, balanced and drinkable.” Their “Captain Jack Turtle”, a Russian Imperial Stout, totally lived up to their credo. The Captain Jack is made with two kinds of cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon. They compare their Imperial Stout to a Champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate). Once I gulped my sample I was reminded of winter time even though it was about 80 degrees and the sun was blazing down onto my bearded face. I could totally see myself sipping this beer in early December as I watch college football bowl games and have footsie socks on. Coming in with an ABV of 10% don’t let the cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon notes fool you, this is a beer drinker’s beer.
Continuing with the diverse beer theme, King Harbor offered a Coconut IPA and a Mexican Amber Lager. I know what you’re thinking, and yes I did just go on a paragraph long rant about IPAs running their course. But this speaks to how good this coconut IPA is. The hoppiness is not overwhelming and the coconut is more than a just a note as you bring the cup to your mouth. A lot of fruit infused IPAs leave a lot to the imagination. For example there seem to be a lot of pineapple or citrus IPAs, but the only note of those bold fruits is in the smell. The coconut in King Harbor’s IPA is in the aroma, in the initial taste and it finishes with a subtle hoppy and toasted flavor. King Harbor’s second offering was a Mexican amber lager dubbed “Cerveza Hermosa.” This is completely the opposite of the IPA. This is definitely a summer beer. Their take on the amber Mexican lager is a “crisp, refreshing, with balanced hop and malt character.” With such a big well-known name like Dos XX brewing an amber Mexican lager it’s good to see a microbrewery go to bat against them and win.
There were plenty of beers of course, but the belle of the ball was definitely the burgers. Some of the biggest names in LA’s burger scene were onsite and it made for quite the predicament. For as big a dude as I am, there only so many burgers I can inhale. I honestly don’t remember the number of sliders I ate, and even if I did I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing that number. I was able to narrow my favorite burgers down to a top four, in no particular order.
- Grill ‘Em All (19 E. Main St, Alhambra 91801)
Grill ‘Em All was serving their “Molly Hatchet” burger which according to their website is only served on Mondays, so I already felt extra special. This burger features seared fennel sausage gravy, bacon and a maple drizzle. This is the ultimate breakfast hamburger, egg not necessary. This is one of the first burgers I tried on Saturday but it left a lasting impression on me throughout the day. I don’t know about you guys but I’ve never had sausage gravy on a burger but now I feel like it’s kind of necessary. This burger combines sweet and savory perfectly. The perfect bite combines the texture of quality ground beef and the crunch of thick cut bacon with the salty gravy and the subtle sweetness of the maple drizzle.
- So-Cal Burgers Chill & Grill (203 S. Mednik Ave, Los Angeles 90022)
So-Cal Burgers was a surprise hit for me. I went to the festival with an idea of the burgers I wanted to try and honestly they were not on my list. I just happen to be walking by and I noticed they were serving guacamole fries with their burger. What a way to set them apart from the rest, right? Their French fries were awesome. They served seasoned fries (think Rally’s) with their perfect crispy and peppery flavor and topped them with a healthy serving of fresh guacamole. As for their burger, they were serving up their “Hawaii Five-O Burger.” A beef patty topped with bacon, a grilled pineapple slice and doused with teriyaki sauce. Here’s another example of a sweet and savory burger that totally combines the flavors perfectly. I feel the common denominator in burgers that combine sweet and savory is a quality burger patty, juicy with a perfect amount of crumble and the right amount of salt. Your mouth should fiend for sweet and savory after biting into the patty.
- VaKA Burger Express (2765 E. Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles 90023)
I am going to be very honest, I went to Burgers and Beer hyped to try the VaKA Burger offering, which I know isn’t very fair to the rest of the restaurants. But that’s also me assuming people value my opinion. But nevertheless, the hype was not in vain, their burger was delicious. The good folks at VaKA Burgers blessed us with their “VaKA 2.0,” which is not even on their regular menu. These masters of the grill took a perfectly grilled patty and topped it beer braised onions, Muenster cheese, bacon jam and their signature smoked BBQ sauce. The combination of flavors complimented each so well. The freshly baked Brioche bun was the perfect touch on this perfect tight little burger. I highly recommend checking out their Instagram page but prepare to drool.
- Hopdoddy Burger Bar (830 S. Sepulveda Blvd, El Segundo 90245 & 12746 Jefferson Blvd, Playa Vista 90094)
This is another restaurant that I had already heard about and was very hyped to try. If you follow them on Instagram then you’ll know why. This burger based out of Austin, Texas uses all-natural ingredients, freshly baked bread and their beef is ground in house daily. Their offering to the Burger and Beer patrons was their “Goodnight/Good Cause,” not only an amazing burger but an awesome charity as well. For every burger sold in one of their restaurants, $1 is donated to Lone Star Paralysis. As for the burger, their fresh ground Angus beef patty is topped with Tillamook Cheddar, caramelized onions, sliced Jalapeno, hickory BBQ sauce, Sassy Sauce, red leaf lettuce and beefsteak tomato. This burger slider was a monster, definitely one of the biggest sliders offered at the festival.
LA Weekly’s Burgers and Beer festival has instantly become one of my favorite festivals of the year. I would like thank LA Weekly for organizing the event and for allowing me to come out. I can’t wait for next year!!!