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Fever Crotch’s drummer whacks his drum — the box he’s sitting on — with his bandaged hand and teases his cymbal with a drumstick held in the other. The guitarist howls some lovelorn lament. But actually, together, they’re pretty darned good. They must be, ’cause Mr. Mean here drops a Washington into the jar — and I’m not even drunk. Just helping hold up the bar here at the Waterfront, sipping a pint of Fat Tire.

I only came in because I couldn’t resist the Waterfront’s bright lights and noise on this black stretch of Kettner.

After nine now, so I head out. Except now I’m feeling little twinges of hunger. The Waterfront has burgers, but they’re $7, $9, and that’d mean more $5 Fat Tires. Hmm... Debating this just as I pass this couple at the sidewalk eatery next door, gouging into one giant split burger. I hadn’t even noticed the place, but I see it promises “grass-fed beef” that’s “lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol” and is “one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids.” I already know you need omega-3 to fight heart disease, depression, cancer, and, hey, even memory problems, if I remember rightly, heh-heh.

It rings a bell because I heard a lot of this “grass-fed” talk at Burger Lounge in Kensington the other week. And I guess I was pretty convinced, mainly because the cows they slaughter for us at least get to live a decent, free-roaming life out in real pasture, not packed, Nazi-style, into some stinkin’ concrete corral, being force-fed corn and plugged with hormone injections.

Haven’t actually eyeballed all these happy cows out there, but, so far, I’m ready to believe it’s for real.

So, yeah. Looks like the same is also served here. Plus, a good attitude. Mark, the guy chomping outside with his date, tells me one burger can feed two just fine. “And the great thing is they don’t mind if you share.”

The burger he and his gal Tracy are splitting is a “JB,” the house burger. “I live on a boat down in the bay,” Mark says, “so there are nearer places, but believe me, this is worth the extra walk.”

Tracy just points to the slogan on the menu: “Healthy has never tasted so-o-o good.”

Guess they got me. I thread my way around the black-iron railings, through the half-dozen outside tables with their maroon umbrellas still open and into an orange and white and purple room with a kitchen to the left, tables to the right, a cool flat-screen wall TV, a little counter in front, and Natalie, the wowee-glam Brazilian hostess, waiting to take my order.

As the name says, what we’re looking at is burgers, half-pounders, all costing $7–$9. You can ask for quarter-pounders, and they’re cheaper, for sure, but not on the menu. Of course, as at Burger Lounge, you get no sides like fries in that price. Welcome to Gourmet Burgerland. “Extra-long” french or zesty fries cost $2.50. Beer-battered onion rings are $3, and sweet-potato fries cost $3.50. They do have combos of burger, fries, and soda for $8.99, and the same, plus cheese and avocado or bacon or mushroom, for $9.99. Or — and, hey, this looks like the hidden bargain of the menu — a quarter-pounder, plus onion rings or french fries and soda for $5.99.

There is a garden salad for $5.99, or $7.49 with grilled chicken strips. And they have a kid’s burger/drink/fries combo for $4.99, or a hot dog for $1.99.

But I’m deciding between the seven burger choices. Hungry Boy has the most extras. It’s a half-pounder with jack cheese, grilled onions, sautéed mushrooms, avo, bacon — the works, for $8.99. There’s also a 1/2 lb. turkey burger ($7.49), a fish burger ($7.99), and something called a Backyard Burger, a half-pounder with BBQ sauce ($6.99). But Hungry Boy’s what I’ve got my eyes on, till Natalie comes by with a burger for another customer. Ooo-wee. Smells good.

“What’s that one?” I ask.

“That’s the Fourth of July Burger, red — cheddar — white — jack — and bleu cheese,” says Natalie. Hmm... JB sauce (the “Just Burgers” house sauce), grilled onions…I’m a bleu-cheese freak, and it’s $7.99, a buck cheaper than Hungry Boy. Still get a half-pound patty. I go for it. And, while I’m at it, dammit, I order a glass of red wine. Kendall Cab. Four more Georges (they were out of the $3 house red), but I think, hey, red meat, classy joint, I can handle this.

And, by George, what a combo. The burger has the bleu cheese and also the slightly sweet taste of the JB sauce. But mainly it’s that juicy, juicy meat that’s so full of flavor. And a sip of cab just finishes it off. And the whole lot has cost me what? About 12 bucks. Okay, not cheap, but think of it as two Fat Tires next door.

“I was going vegetarian until I discovered grass-fed beef,” says this gent at the next table. Turns out he’s the owner, Michael. But he says the organic thing doesn’t come cheap. “My beef costs three times the price of regular beef. Our organic buns cost four times more than standard buns.”

I finally stumble back out onto Kettner around 10:30. Full, but energized. Guess all those omega-3s are already circulating.

The Place: Just Burgers, 2034 Kettner Boulevard suite #12, Little Italy, next to the Waterfront, 619-234-7900
Type of Food: American
Prices: JB Burger (half-pound patty, with grilled onion, JB sauce), $6.99; Backyard Burger, same as JB Burger but with BBQ sauce, $6.99; Fourth of July Burger, with blue cheese, $7.99; Hungry Boy Burger, with cheese, onion, mushrooms, avocado, bacon, $8.99; turkey burger, $7.49; fish burger, $7.99; fries, other sides extra; half-pound burger-fries-soda combo, $8.99; quarter-pound burger with onion rings or fries and soda, $5.99; garden salad, $5.99 ($7.49 with grilled chicken strips)
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Monday–Friday; till 11:00 p.m., Saturday; 11:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. Sunday
Bus: 992
Nearest Bus Stop: Harbor and Grape
Trolley: Blue Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: County Center/Little Italy

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Ponzi Dec. 4, 2008 @ 5:27 p.m.

It takes a lot of guts to set up shop next door to The Waterfront! The Waterfront's Texas Burger ranks as one of the best burgers in San Diego, sharing company with Rocky's and Hodad's in local burger lore.


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