Carnivores rejoice in burger boom
There’s a retail trend hitting Claremont and it comes on a bun with a side of fries. High-end burgers are taking over the Claremont food scene but as far as one can tell, no one’s taste buds are complaining. As other local food establishments fold, in Claremont the burger reigns supreme.
Bacon-infused jalapeno jam, caramelized onions and melted aged Gouda aren’t the makings of your typical fast food burger. But then, there isn’t anything standard about the Claremont burger boom. From north to south and brioche bun to butter roll, this city has the fixings and the foodies appreciate it.
“Claremont is just a very special place, whether burger or any cuisine,” said John Solana, owner of The Back Abbey restaurant. “We have people that are educated in food. They are well-traveled and appreciate good wine and good drink. I think businesses are seeing that and taking the chance.”
The Back Abbey, a small, unassuming gastropub, is on Claremonters’ radar for its delicious meat, cheese and bun creations, which start at $11.
“I love the laid-back atmosphere, the beer selection and the quality of the burgers,” said Tricia Frost, who has visited the joint more times than she can count. “All of the ingredients are so fresh and the meat is high-quality. It has everything I want on a burger—caramelized onion, the aioli....[The Back Abbey] is definitely my go-to restaurant in Claremont.”
Mr. Solana, who admittedly eats an In-N-Out burger with his daughters at least once a week, wanted to up the stakes in creating his own burgers for Claremont crowds. The Back Abbey’s burgers showcase fancier ingredients than are found on your typical burger, like aged Gouda and cranberry-apple chutney.
“We wanted high-quality cheese and unique profiles,” Mr. Solana said.
And they take the time to develop those profiles. Preparing the fresh ingredients begins at 6 or 6:30 a.m. Caramelizing the onions for the burgers alone takes 4 hours, he says.
“We just want to do the burger right,” Mr. Solana said. “And it just so happened that it is a huge craze in Claremont.”
While The Back Abbey is the pioneer of Claremont’s movement, continually boasting a packed crowd during meal times, Eureka Burger has taken the same specialized concept and run with it. Eureka Burger opened in spring 2011, and this eatery is further proof that the local gourmet burger scene is alive and well. On Fridays and Saturdays, groups of eager customers can be seen gathered outside the burger joint’s doorstep in the Claremont Packing House, waiting for a bite of the action to the tune of 2- to 2-and-a-half hour waiting times, according to Assistant Manager Randi Wuhl.
Regular Laura Whithorn, enjoying a late lunch with daughter Rebecca on Wednesday afternoon, remembers when the burger place first opened and had hardly any wait time for lunch. Though the lunch hour can now feature a packed crowd, she insists it’s worth the wait. The succulent selections are what keep the Whithorns coming back.
“We like the quality and the variety,” Ms. Whithorn said, mentioning her pleasure in the variety of sauces, which include fig and jalapeno-bacon, as well as the unique cheeses. “It’s not your typical cheeseburger.”
Burgers at Eureka—ranging in price from $9.50 to $14.95—switch up the status quo with fresh, handcrafted add-ons like pineapple-jalapeño relish, beer barbecue sauce and pickled zucchini. It’s also the only spot in town you can get a bison burger. Paying homage to the craft food and beer movement is a welcome duty of the local burger outlet.
“We don’t want the cookie-cutter,” Ms. Wuhl said, something she says the customers appreciate. “We take pride in serving great quality food in a fun atmosphere.”
Introducing Claremont residents to out-of-the-ordinary food items is also a point of honor for Mirian Ruiz, co-owner of Claremont’s Boca Burger, who serves up an Argentinian twist to the American favorite. Don’t be fooled by the name of the Foothill Boulevard burger place. Boca Burger is not named for the meatless substitute, but for the Argentinian soccer team Boca Juniors. Ms. Ruiz’s culinary creations include 100-percent Angus beef patties made fresh daily by Ms. Ruiz and crew beginning at 6 a.m. To give each burger the taste of Argentina they are known for, Ms. Ruiz mixes each patty with a special chimichurri blend, a mix of minced tomatoes, garlic, onion, roasted peppers and lime juice in a savory sauce.
Mr. and Ms. Ruiz have long been a part of the Claremont food revolution, though Boca Burger didn’t open until last summer. The Ruizes have shared their talent in the kitchen with Claremont students for years, which began with a catering business that travels to schools throughout the Claremont Unified School District. With the opportunity to set up a home base for their business in the Old School House complex, a cafe featuring burgers was at the top of Ms. Ruiz’s list.
“There’s a universal language that comes with burgers,” Ms. Ruiz said. “It’s the American comfort food.”
While specializing in the American classic, Boca burgers also serves breakfast and a variety of other lunch and dinner items including sausage sandwiches, empanadas, pasta and chili cheese fries. The Ruizes continue to cater to the schools, and to the general public, while also running an eatery they, and the students they serve, can call their own. Claremont High School freshmen Ernest Smith, Ayinde Cole and Mato Pacheco make the trek to Boca Burger every day after school, enjoying a bite before heading back for junior varsity soccer practice.
“The people here are really nice,” Ayinde said.
“And the food is good,” added Mato. His favorite is the classic Boca Hamburger with only lettuce and a bun, at just $3.39.
On the other side of town, George Ghaby and brother Charbel Ghaby have become the latest to join in on Claremont’s burger boom with the launch of Rounds Premium Burgers last month. When the brothers heard of the open corner space in south Claremont’s Auto Center Drive shopping complex, they snatched up the spot.
“It was a great location, right off the freeway. It suited us well,” Mr. Ghaby said.
He adds that he and his brother were also eager to contribute a different facet to the Claremont burger craze.
“We want to provide premium food at reasonable prices,” he said of his burgers, priced starting at $4.95 with toppings ranging from $0.75 to $1. “In this economy, that’s what people are looking for. Quality food and taste at more affordable prices.”
The south Claremont store marks the second Rounds site opened up by the Ghabys, the first located in West Hollywood. A self-proclaimed hamburger lover and picky eater, Mr. Ghaby got into the burger business because he was tired of the limited options when it came to his favorite ground round.
“I hated that all you could get were the standard mustard and ketchup,” he explained.
At Rounds, guests are able to build their own burger, opting for the standard ketchup and mustard or expanding to create a beef, veggie or chicken or turkey burger laden with thousand island, garlic or chipotle aioli, pesto mayo or Tabasco ketchup, among others. Premium toppings include crispy onion strings, green chile peppers, sautéed mushrooms and grilled pineapple. Guests simply check boxes on a piece of paper.
“We offer a ton of choices without getting complicated,” Mr. Ghaby said.
For first-time customers, Mr. Ghaby recommends going with the classic cheeseburger, allowing the taste of the buttery brioche bun, baked fresh daily, to take over. When asked to describe the bun, one word comes to mind: “Butter,” he said.
Burger aficionados Rafael Minero and his mother Trina Minero stopped by Rounds for the first time last week, intrigued with the build-your-own concept. Ms. Minero opted for a basic grilled cheeseburger with a splash of thousand island while Rafael prepared to feast on a creation topped with sliced avocado and rings of sautéed onion.
“We like the choice and the convenience,” Mr. Minero said. “It was something different.”
The variety and uniqueness of each burger creation—bison burger or vegetarian patty, served plain or piled high with toppings—is precisely what keeps the burger revolution alive in Claremont, Mr. Solana said.
“No matter if you bring another place that serves burgers into town, any more options in food choices for any town, including Claremont, is just going to make us better,” Mr. Solana said. “There is a market for everybody.”
Take a bite out of Claremont’s latest craze
-The Back Abbey is at 128 N. Oberlin Ave., behind the Laemmle in Village West. Information: www.thebackabbey.com.
-Eureka! Burger can be found down the street from The Back Abbey in the Packing House at 580 W. First St. Check out their offerings by visiting www.eurekaburger.com.
-Boca Burger, nestled in the Old School House complex next to Trader Joe’s, is at 425 W. Foothill Blvd. Call 625-8992 for information.
Rounds Premium Burgers is at 885 S. Indian Hill Blvd. Stop by or take a look at the ingredients to build your own burger ahead of time at www.roundsburgers.com.