4577 Clairemont Drive, San Diego
Jeez, mate. I'd been honing my finest Australian for this place. Hazitgyne? Box of birds, mate, you bloody galah. I'm getting my taste buds prepared for roo-burgers, hot koala-pockets, platypus platters...
I mean, the name's right: Boomerangs. I spot it from the 105 bus. A giant blue boomerang mural on a building's two-story side wall, peeking over a Pearle Vision corner shop.
I walk up to the front. Looking for signs of Aussieness. But so far all I see is a sign that says "Gourmet Burger Joint. You'll Always Come Back For More." The place is kinda tucked in behind a Mexican restaurant, but it has nice outside tables and a fountain courtyard.
I walk inside. Couple of way-big rooms either side of a reception area but no one around. Okay, little late for lunch, as usual. Getting near two-ish.
The voice echoes down from upstairs. Guy leans over the balcony.
"Too late for lunch?" I ask.
"No way. You're good anytime. Come on up!"
Turns out this is Tyler the cook.
I bounce up the stairs to -- land's sakes alive! as Gramma used to say -- two more big dining rooms, with a mighty polished-plank bar snaking down the middle.
I grab a barstool and look around. Sahara-sandy walls, aqua-blue walls, lots of art (for sale), flat-screen TVs spouting sports everywhere, and white-slatted shutters at the windows. Gives a plantation look. "Happy Hour during all Chargers and Monday Night Football games," says a sign at the end of the bar.
A couple is ordering in a corner booth. "Boomerang Burger," she says. "Me too," says the guy. Guess I should check that out.
Huh. First thing, there's nothing Aussie on the menu. No roo-burgers. Not a platypus platter in sight. But second thing, they have a fresh take on burgerland. Yes, they do the standard appetizers like buffalo wings ($7.99) and potato skins ($7.99, $9.99 with steak), and soups ($4.99), and salads (not that cheap: they start at $9.99 for the Caesar with chicken). But when it comes to actual burgers, we're seeing original thinking here. A whole page with nuttin' but "create your own burger" options. You start with a one-third-pound ($8.99, also on the pricey side at first glance), a half-pound ($9.99), or a three-quarter-pound ($10.99) burger, but then you can add three items. I mean anything, from horseradish to artichoke hearts to carrots to cranberries to pineapple, in addition to standards like mushrooms and bleu-cheese crumbles.
"The different thing we do," says José, the guy behind this giant, heavily lacquered log countertop, "is we actually mix these items into your burger meat."
You get a side, too, such as "twice-baked mashed potatoes," grilled veggies, or corn with cotija cheese. So the $8.99 starts to look a lot better.
The problem is sorting it all out. The page starts to swim before you, with choice after choice. "Choose a cheese." "Choose a homemade side." "Add a specialty sauce." (For sure, some of these sauces look worth a shot, like Thai peanut, chipotle pepper, citrus.)
I see the couple's house burgers coming upstairs (the kitchen must be below), and they look pretty darned good, so I go into my When Harry Met Sally routine. "I'll have what she's having," I say. 'Specially when I see it's got roasted garlic, red onions, green peppers, carrots, and mushrooms coming along for the ride.
"Good beginner's choice," says José. "See, we actually make your add-ins part of the burger, except for things like bacon slices and fire-roasted red peppers. We're the only ones in town who do it, as far as I know. It was my mom's idea."
"In Chula Vista."
Uh, right. Still don't quite get the Australian connection. Whatever, I choose the roasted-garlic peppered fries for my side and go for the BBQ sauce (it was that or teriyaki) and the one-third pounder. And I get a coffee ($2.50), even though I was tempted by the little countertop ad for Moose Drool brown ale (from Missoula, Montana, not Melbourne, Australia).
The Boomerang Burger comes on a big white heavy china plate. Not those little blow-away red plastic baskets and paper, thank the good Lord. And -- not for the first time -- the fries are the first stars. It's the garlic, of course. Dang, they're good.
Da boiger's not too shabby either. It's the kind of fall-apart burger you end up turning upside down so the soggy underside's up and eating with the big fat knife and fork they give you. But it's tasty and interesting to the end, with all those bits and pieces falling out, waiting to be scooped up.
Bruce, José's partner, studied at Johnson and Wales University cooking school -- pretty famous place -- but José learned at home in Chula Vista, with his mom. "There were 11 of us kids. My dad died when I was young. We had some really, really tough times after that. So we never got to go out to McDonald's. Sometimes we were pretty hungry. That's when we started stuffing burgers. It was Mom's idea. But I loved packing carrots and garlic into them."
We're certainly not starving here. Even though I'm going way over budget, I manage to cram in a pineapple, strawberry, banana, and cream cheesecake. Argh, $5.25 more.
So I have two questions: Why are the burgers not, well, nearer to McDonald's prices? "Because we use only 100-percent Angus hormone-free beef," José says. "So, unlike other places, we can safely cook your burger rare. And it's always fresh, never frozen."
And the Australian connection?
"None," he says. "Except we wanted the phrase 'You'll always come back for more' to stick. So we thought: 'Boomerang!'"
And why not? But for me, José's mom's stuffed-burger idea is the thing. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. 'Specially mom's necessity. My wheels are turning. Are we at the dawn of the Next Big Thing? Take the franchise to Sydney?
The Place: Boomerangs Gourmet Burger Joint, 4577 Clairemont Drive (at Clairemont Mesa Boulevard), Clairemont, 858-483-9500
Type of Food: American
Prices: Buffalo wing appetizers, $7.99; potato skins, $7.99, $9.99 with steak; soup of the day, $4.99; Caesar salad with chicken, $9.99; Boomerang house burger, with roasted garlic, red onions, green peppers, carrots, and mushrooms, garlic fries on side, $8.99 (1/3 lb), $9.99 (1/2 lb), $10.99 (3/4 lb); "Create your own burger" options: 1/3 lb ($8.99), 1/2 lb ($9.99), or 3/4 lb ($10.99) with three items (e.g., horseradish, artichoke hearts, carrots, cranberries, mushrooms, bleu cheese, pineapple)
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. daily
Bus: 44, 50, 105
Nearest Bus Stop: Clairemont Mesa Boulevard at Clairemont Drive (44, 105); Clairemont Mesa Boulevard at Onondaga (50)