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Bare Back Grill: Finding Fergburger

Desert island dinner: lamb or swordfish?

PB Monthly’s shot of owner Kyle Anderson’s personal favorite, the Kiwilango Burger
PB Monthly’s shot of owner Kyle Anderson’s personal favorite, the Kiwilango Burger

“Just don’t ask me to taste mutton or lamb,” says my neighbor Kevin. “That’s all I ask.” Uh-oh. I have this bee in my bonnet about lamb. And about burgers. I want to see the two get married. I’ve been searching for lamburgers, heh heh, all over the place, but it’s only when I have to head outta town for a couple of weeks that I get reminded of the one place in San Diego that should have them: Bare Back Grill, the Kiwi-themed eatery in PB. Problem? Need to know about them, now.

Place

Bare Back Grill

4640 Mission Boulevard, San Diego

“Hey Kev,” I say, when I call my long-suffering neighbor. “Feel like a free burger? On me, buddy. I’ll pay you when I get back.” This is when he reveals his anti-mutton, anti-lamb prejudice.

“Okay,” I say, “what if I paid for a burger of your choice as well as the lamb one?” I’m that desperate.

“On you?”

“On me, buddy.”

Lamb in your burger is the kiwi way. Gamey? A little. But tasty. A lot.

So here we have this ridiculous situation where Kevin takes himself to the Bare Back Grill in PB, and I’m across the Pacific on the end of a phone, FaceTiming.

“Call me back when you’ve ordered ’em up,” I say.

“You are crazy,” Kevin says, but he agrees to do it. I mean, man, I would love to be there at Bare Back, because they have all sorts of versions of this kiwi icon I’m trying to chase down, the Fergburger. They say it was born in 2001, in a hole-in-the-wall joint in Queenstown, home of New Zealand’s South Island backpacker/ski boarding/adventure crowd. And they say that crowd took to it, not because it had exotic flavors in its burgers — although it did (and does), with things like wild deer, “hogs and heffers,” and “Southern Swine” — but because people sensed a basic generosity and kiwi honesty about the burgers and the atmosphere. They liked mountain men and women slapping their burgers together. People reckon the line outside hasn’t been less than a block long ever since. Many come at peak hour just to be seen in the line. It’s a cult. They send selfies from the line. They gladly wait an hour, because it gives them an opportunity to talk with fellow Fergofanatics.

The guys who started up Bare Back Grill in San Diego are American, but they were inspired by a trip to New Zealand —so much so, they actually bought the rights to all the recipes from the Fergburger people. And set up here in 2005.

“Ready?”

Sydney

Kevin reads out the menu into the phone. It starts off with a lamburger called “Bare Lil Lamb,” with four crucial adds: blue cheese, beetroot, sweet tomato chutney, and — beautiful, subtle, essential — mint. Costs $18.

“Or, ‘Cluck and Squeal,’” he reads. “Grilled or fried chicken with bacon, basically, $18, too.”

He reads on through lists of combos. Hogs and Heffers, Me So Tasty (“Miso,” geddit?) teriyaki chicken, “Kiwilango,” with blue cheese and jalapeños. Of course this is making me so hongry, but what can you do from 6000 miles away? Kevin settles on the “Bare Lil Lamb” to supply the promised lamburger, and for his own indulgence, “Wake & Bake,” a swordfish burger with spicy coleslaw and avo ($18).

Fifteen minutes later, he calls back.

“Okay, dude, Sydney has just brought your lamburger and my swordfish,” Kevin says, “and Sydney’s a lady, not a place, okay? So I’m going to try the lamb. Never liked its gamey thing going on, just so you know. But okay, I’m taking a chomp…” But then the line drops out. We change from FaceTime to a What’s App audio line. So I have to depend on Kevin’s powers of description. “So I’m chewing on the lamburger,” reports Kevin, “Big pile of ground lamb. And, wow. That’s not so bad. I’m honestly surprised. Yeah, it’s a little gamey, but pretty damned good. It’s very juicy, very thick. I taste an aioli thing going on, so you get the picture…reluctant Thumbs Up. Okay, enough! Gotta save space for my swordfish.”

Silence. “Trying the swordfish. Tender, juicy, not dry, but honestly, fairly tasteless compared with the lamb. I mean, you get a lot. It feels like half an inch thick. Sourdough bun, pickles on the side, avo, mayo…”

“Yeah, yeah. But which would you take to a desert island?! The lamb or the swordfish?” Silence again. “Hello?”

“I’m here, dude. Thinking. Swordfish, I guess, but you know me. I like what I know. I might be tempted by the lamb, because of that taste. But actually, if you wanted the nearest thing to the Fergburger…Hey, Fernando! What’s your nearest thing to the Fergburger today?” I can tell he’s holding the phone with one hand, eating with the other.

Turns out Fernando’s the barkeep. Seems he’s become interested in what’s going on. “You could do worse than the Maui Waui,” I hear him say. “Pineapple, tons of meat. But they’re all good. That’s what Ferg was all about.”

“He’s telling me,” says Kevin, “the main thing that’s good about all these, dude, is that they’re all guaranteed organic, down to the last lettuce leaf. It’s the New Zealand way. They’re disgustingly healthy down there. That’s why we’re paying more.”

“Hey, Fernando!” I shout down the line. “Who was this legendary Ferg of Queenstown?”

“Ferg?” says Fernando. “Sir, if I told you...”

“I know, I know,” I say. “OK Kev. Enjoy. I’m off to get an airport burger. From a machine. See yaz!”

“Don’t forget, you owe me,” says Kevin. “And say hi to all those sheep in Ewe Zealand! Haha!”

  • The Place: Bare Back Grill, 4640 Mission Boulevard, Mission Beach, 858-274-7117
  • Hours: 10am-9pm daily (till 10pm, Fridays and Saturdays)
  • Prices: Kiwi onion dip, $12; Kal Māori (tempura fried calamari), $17; two meat pies and chips, $21; Bare Lil Lamb burger (blue cheese), $18; Average Joe burger, $17; Queenstown Fave, with Edam cheese, $17; Kiwilango, (blue cheese, jalapeños); Cluck and Squeal, (grilled or fried chicken with bacon), $18; Hogs and Heffers, $18; ‘Me So Tasty,’ (teriyaki chicken), $18
  • Buses: 8, 27, 30
  • Nearest bus stops: Mission and Felspar
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PB Monthly’s shot of owner Kyle Anderson’s personal favorite, the Kiwilango Burger
PB Monthly’s shot of owner Kyle Anderson’s personal favorite, the Kiwilango Burger

“Just don’t ask me to taste mutton or lamb,” says my neighbor Kevin. “That’s all I ask.” Uh-oh. I have this bee in my bonnet about lamb. And about burgers. I want to see the two get married. I’ve been searching for lamburgers, heh heh, all over the place, but it’s only when I have to head outta town for a couple of weeks that I get reminded of the one place in San Diego that should have them: Bare Back Grill, the Kiwi-themed eatery in PB. Problem? Need to know about them, now.

Place

Bare Back Grill

4640 Mission Boulevard, San Diego

“Hey Kev,” I say, when I call my long-suffering neighbor. “Feel like a free burger? On me, buddy. I’ll pay you when I get back.” This is when he reveals his anti-mutton, anti-lamb prejudice.

“Okay,” I say, “what if I paid for a burger of your choice as well as the lamb one?” I’m that desperate.

“On you?”

“On me, buddy.”

Lamb in your burger is the kiwi way. Gamey? A little. But tasty. A lot.

So here we have this ridiculous situation where Kevin takes himself to the Bare Back Grill in PB, and I’m across the Pacific on the end of a phone, FaceTiming.

“Call me back when you’ve ordered ’em up,” I say.

“You are crazy,” Kevin says, but he agrees to do it. I mean, man, I would love to be there at Bare Back, because they have all sorts of versions of this kiwi icon I’m trying to chase down, the Fergburger. They say it was born in 2001, in a hole-in-the-wall joint in Queenstown, home of New Zealand’s South Island backpacker/ski boarding/adventure crowd. And they say that crowd took to it, not because it had exotic flavors in its burgers — although it did (and does), with things like wild deer, “hogs and heffers,” and “Southern Swine” — but because people sensed a basic generosity and kiwi honesty about the burgers and the atmosphere. They liked mountain men and women slapping their burgers together. People reckon the line outside hasn’t been less than a block long ever since. Many come at peak hour just to be seen in the line. It’s a cult. They send selfies from the line. They gladly wait an hour, because it gives them an opportunity to talk with fellow Fergofanatics.

The guys who started up Bare Back Grill in San Diego are American, but they were inspired by a trip to New Zealand —so much so, they actually bought the rights to all the recipes from the Fergburger people. And set up here in 2005.

“Ready?”

Sydney

Kevin reads out the menu into the phone. It starts off with a lamburger called “Bare Lil Lamb,” with four crucial adds: blue cheese, beetroot, sweet tomato chutney, and — beautiful, subtle, essential — mint. Costs $18.

“Or, ‘Cluck and Squeal,’” he reads. “Grilled or fried chicken with bacon, basically, $18, too.”

He reads on through lists of combos. Hogs and Heffers, Me So Tasty (“Miso,” geddit?) teriyaki chicken, “Kiwilango,” with blue cheese and jalapeños. Of course this is making me so hongry, but what can you do from 6000 miles away? Kevin settles on the “Bare Lil Lamb” to supply the promised lamburger, and for his own indulgence, “Wake & Bake,” a swordfish burger with spicy coleslaw and avo ($18).

Fifteen minutes later, he calls back.

“Okay, dude, Sydney has just brought your lamburger and my swordfish,” Kevin says, “and Sydney’s a lady, not a place, okay? So I’m going to try the lamb. Never liked its gamey thing going on, just so you know. But okay, I’m taking a chomp…” But then the line drops out. We change from FaceTime to a What’s App audio line. So I have to depend on Kevin’s powers of description. “So I’m chewing on the lamburger,” reports Kevin, “Big pile of ground lamb. And, wow. That’s not so bad. I’m honestly surprised. Yeah, it’s a little gamey, but pretty damned good. It’s very juicy, very thick. I taste an aioli thing going on, so you get the picture…reluctant Thumbs Up. Okay, enough! Gotta save space for my swordfish.”

Silence. “Trying the swordfish. Tender, juicy, not dry, but honestly, fairly tasteless compared with the lamb. I mean, you get a lot. It feels like half an inch thick. Sourdough bun, pickles on the side, avo, mayo…”

“Yeah, yeah. But which would you take to a desert island?! The lamb or the swordfish?” Silence again. “Hello?”

“I’m here, dude. Thinking. Swordfish, I guess, but you know me. I like what I know. I might be tempted by the lamb, because of that taste. But actually, if you wanted the nearest thing to the Fergburger…Hey, Fernando! What’s your nearest thing to the Fergburger today?” I can tell he’s holding the phone with one hand, eating with the other.

Turns out Fernando’s the barkeep. Seems he’s become interested in what’s going on. “You could do worse than the Maui Waui,” I hear him say. “Pineapple, tons of meat. But they’re all good. That’s what Ferg was all about.”

“He’s telling me,” says Kevin, “the main thing that’s good about all these, dude, is that they’re all guaranteed organic, down to the last lettuce leaf. It’s the New Zealand way. They’re disgustingly healthy down there. That’s why we’re paying more.”

“Hey, Fernando!” I shout down the line. “Who was this legendary Ferg of Queenstown?”

“Ferg?” says Fernando. “Sir, if I told you...”

“I know, I know,” I say. “OK Kev. Enjoy. I’m off to get an airport burger. From a machine. See yaz!”

“Don’t forget, you owe me,” says Kevin. “And say hi to all those sheep in Ewe Zealand! Haha!”

  • The Place: Bare Back Grill, 4640 Mission Boulevard, Mission Beach, 858-274-7117
  • Hours: 10am-9pm daily (till 10pm, Fridays and Saturdays)
  • Prices: Kiwi onion dip, $12; Kal Māori (tempura fried calamari), $17; two meat pies and chips, $21; Bare Lil Lamb burger (blue cheese), $18; Average Joe burger, $17; Queenstown Fave, with Edam cheese, $17; Kiwilango, (blue cheese, jalapeños); Cluck and Squeal, (grilled or fried chicken with bacon), $18; Hogs and Heffers, $18; ‘Me So Tasty,’ (teriyaki chicken), $18
  • Buses: 8, 27, 30
  • Nearest bus stops: Mission and Felspar
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