Burgers. Second only to frozen yogurt as our nation's current source of food-related obsession. There are some new burger businesses coming to town, like Best-O-Burger, and Hubert Keller's Burger Bar, but in the meantime, Joie de Vivre Hospitality is first to launch their concept, ~CUSTOM BURGER/LOUNGE~, in SOMA. The neighborhood is gritty (I tend to ride my bike very quickly through this stretch), but the space stands out with its cheerful, clean look. It's almost a modern spin on a Mickey D's, with white vinyl banquettes, striped flooring, cherry red chairs, and silver stools. And instead of Ronald or Grimace, there's a picture of Mustard Man--he's a little creepy, in a John Wayne Gacy-as-clown kind of way, but not scary enough to keep me away.
Talk about "Have It Your Way." Man, I think even a chef would be overwhelmed with the options. There's are pads of paper with a checklist that you go through, ticking off each little addition in the various sections with a golf-style mini pencil. It's almost like making a Mister Potato Head. You start with your meat, like 1/3 lb. of Angus ($6.99), American Kobe ($10.99), lamb ($8.99), turkey ($6.99), chicken ($7.99), salmon ($7.99), or veggie ($5.99). The beef is naturally-raised from Golden Gate Meat Company (here's more on what that means), so that's a good start.
If you're doing beef, be sure to order the meat how you want it done since they don't ask--I got a perfect juicy medium-rare on my Angus once, but the other time my friend didn't specify his, and it was served beyond well-done. I tried the lamb and turkey as well, but both were pretty dry--I hope they sort that out.
Next, you take your pick of extra toppings, like applewood-smoked bacon ($1.29), feta, American, Tillamook sharp cheddar, pepper jack, or Swiss (all .99, but the Point Reyes Blue Cheese is $1.99), avocado ($1.29) or even a fried egg (.99). Be careful, because a BLTA burger can really rack up quick. Ka-ching.
Here's where it gets hectic (so don't come here too stoned): you can choose up to three toppings, at no additional charge. Hmmm, maybe arugula and sweet piquillo peppers and red onion with the lamb? Can't go wrong with sautéed mushrooms and sweet yellow onions--throw some blue cheese and bacon in the mix (ooops, ka-ching ka-ching!) and you're one step closer to burger love, and an angioplasty. Then there are items like pea sprouts, icebox slaw, and grilled pineapple that leave you wondering "what if?" You'll feel like a culinary Socrates. What happens to a turkey burger paired with roasted green chiles? And what should I try the black olive tapenade with? Anything? Anything? Bueller?
You aren't out of the woods yet, friend. It's time to get saucy. There are eleven sauces to choose from, like the tasty chipotle cilantro mayo or cucumber raita (good with the lamb), or the neologistic sauces: ketchipotle, or ketchapeno. At this point my brain was on tilt. Fortunately the sauce comes on the side, so you can't really irreversibly mess up your burger until it's show time, when you decide that dumping blue cheese all over your salmon burger is really where it's at.
For the finale, there are five buns to choose from: my favorite was the potato pepper, but there's also onion poppy, sesame seed, multigrain, and brioche--all are fresh and from Panorama. By the time you hand your personalized checklist over, you should feel a great sense of accomplishment. Like, whew. Let's hope you created a winner. Pretend it's a Top Chef challenge--did you win immunity!?
There are some spins on the usual: 50/50 fries are a mix of sweet potato and regular potato served in a cute mini fryer basket (although rats, both times they weren't hot enough), and the crispy onion rings are cleverly stacked vertically on a free-standing paper towel holder. There is also dress-your-own chili (with onion) available in two sizes, some salads, milkshakes, and beer and wine, too. I liked the house-made touches like the tangy pickles, and I was told the wife of someone involved with the company makes the seasonal pies. Everything did taste and look quite fresh.
But would I make a special trip cross-town for the burger experience here? Hmmm, not really--unless there was some new combo I came up with in my head and was dying to try it out. It's tough because there are good burgers all over town. But if I was catching a show at the Warfield or Golden Gate, or working and/or drinking in SOMA and was hankering for a burger, then yes, I'd scoot right over.
There is a blue-hued lounge adjoining the restaurant where you can order your own custom drinks, like mojitos and martinis. There is also a bar menu so you can drink while dining, or dine while drinking, whatever you're up for. Custom continues to serve food in the bar an hour after the restaurant closes, FYI. I was thinking it would be a good spot for folks looking to buy out a bar for a small-ish birthday party. Just don't forget to invite me.
121 7th St.
Cross: Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94102