This year's burger issue prompted the usual round of complaints that Rocky's Crown Pub wasn't mentioned. Or Hodad's. I'm sure there are people who'd go to bat for Slater's 50/50.
4130 Park Boulevard, Hillcrest
(No longer in business.)
I get it. But in a town of a thousand burgers, it would be pretty boring if we chose the same favorites every year. We intrepid feasters are on the lookout for the next great burger. That's why I tagged along when a friend told me he'd heard great things about recent University Heights addition, Hundred Proof.
Okay, heard is the wrong word. He saw it on social media.
Which makes sense. Hundred Proof is a spinoff of nearby Hillcrest eatery, Trust. And Trust has proven the king of social media idolatry, thanks to a Karl Lagerfeld-like devotion to dramatic presentation. Chef Brad Wise seems to be a big believer in the adage you eat with your eyes; his kitchens turn out architectural desserts, and dishes artfully dabbed with colorful condiments, while servers solemnly pour drinks or sauces with near theatrical staging.
Its instagrammable fare has made Trust a darling among foodie photographers, and from a distance, it looks like red hot upscale restaurant bringing culinary appeal back to Hillcrest — as portrayed by Food & Wine magazine when it made a passing, through-the-binoculars glance at San Diego's dining scene last month. But for every glowing praise, there are detractors, snarky retorts about too high prices, too small portions, or dishes that don’t quite look quite so perfect when you shut your eyes and put them in your mouth.
Hundred Proof took over the space where Slater's 50/50 spinoff Sausage & Meat briefly stood — most famous in my mind for inexplicably coming up with eight different ways to add flavor to bacon. Hundred Proof simplified the property, forsaking the industrial vibe for something more comfortably midcentury, and turning its focus to a killer cocktail program.
Nevertheless, it's a restaurant, serving meals beginning noon daily, and 10 am Sundays. And, little surprise, its burger is something to behold. Two patties, draped with melting cheddar and savory aioli-like spread; topped by shredded lettuce, pickle slices, and diced red onions; served on a globular brioche bun that's been branded with the restaurant's monogram, HP, and speared by a wood-handled steak knife.
It would never even occur to most burger spots to brand their buns, let alone make that effort. It's unnecessary, of course, but who is anyone to criticize such attention to detail?
I'll be the guy who criticizes the knife, though. Not because it didn't look cool, or speak to some primal, carnivorous lust. But when they stabbed my burger, the knife cut all the way through to the bottom bun. Consequently, it became the burger version of a dribble glass: my first bite squirted out a hot dollop of melted cheese, spread, and burger grease onto my chin and down my neck.
It's a terrific burger: flavorful, juicy, savory, satisfying. Without the practical joke punchline, I'd even put it up there with Rocky's (come at me, comments section!). But fussing over presentation, forsaking the integrity of that bun for superficial appeal?
Slow your roll, Hundred Proof. It's just a cheeseburger.