A mediocre, gluten-free bun doesn't help this burger's case.
  • A mediocre, gluten-free bun doesn't help this burger's case.
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The Reader’s annual burger issue will soon be here, and we food writers have been hard at work, taking on the grueling task of eating many of the county’s best. Somebody’s gotta do it, right?

Nectarine Grove

948 North Highway 101, Encinitas

I know some readers hope to pick up the edition every year and see Rocky’s or Hodad’s at the top of the list, but how boring would that be? Half the fun, for us, is getting a chance to dig deeper, to shine a light on unsung burgers, those we take for granted, or worthy new entries to the pantheon of America’s finest ground beef sandwiches.

We go looking for these things, but that's not to say we let just anybody in.

I thought I had a lead on a good burger. Just about everything about Nectarine Grove had impressed me. Even a modest crowd can make it tough to walk through the Leucadia eatery’s too-narrow dining room, but that’s just testament to how popular it’s been with coastal residents, particularly those who appreciate its penchant for catering to dietary restrictions.

Vegan is no problem here, nor is gluten-free. You may eat paleo trusting the meats came from humanely raised livestock. Much of the produce is organic and locally sourced. There’s no corn, no soy, no GMO anything, and neither the restaurant nor its in-house bakery use refined sugars. If that weren’t enough, it charitably provides nutritionally balanced lunches to children in need. In a word, Nectarine Grove is fantastic. There’s a lot to recommend it, and I hope the concept expands to other locations, if only so other communities may have access to such a place.

But I hope it improves its burger first. The Boss Burger costs $14.50, for which you get grass-fed beef, melted cheese, and caramelized onions. All the usual fixin's are organic, and so are the fries (or leafy salad) that come with it. It’s gluten-free, and I would say it’s right about that point my enjoyment starts to fall apart.

The restaurant’s cassava flour bun comes standard, not by request. I was intrigued enough not to substitute something wheatier, since I have enjoyed starchy dishes made with cassava, and imagined it could lead to something resembling a potato bread bun. It did not. I found the texture closer to that of a flimsy biscuit or scone than the usual kaiser roll or brioche.

The ground beef itself was juicy enough, and thick, but it came out under-seasoned. To my surprise, the heaping pile of caramelized onions didn’t contribute much flavor, either. With so many crucial components underperforming, even the cheese seemed to give up and resign itself to being part of a bland enterprise.

It wasn’t awful, it just didn’t meet the challenge of creating a healthier-than-thou burger with enough swagger to make the cut. No Boss Burger in this year's issue. Maybe next year.

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