The dark-as-night Table 8 redesign didn’t work out according to plan, so Chef Govind Armstrong and business partners Chris Heyman and Josh Woodward decided to relocate their market-driven California restaurant down Melrose. In its place, they recently opened their ambitious 8 oz. Burger Bar. For the most part, Armstrong and his partners deliver on their ambition.
8 oz. is situated on the western fringe of the trendier-than-ever Melrose shopping district. The sprawling two-room interior is fairly sleek, with a pressed tin ceiling, concrete floors, mirrors on the wall, drop-down lanterns and wood tables, but better to grab a seat on the covered patio, which affords views of the passers-by with multi-colored hair, painted on jeans, tats and various forms of body modification.
Mini Kobe Corndogs (3 for $7) were a compellingly perverse use of premium beef. It might not be necessary to coat Kobe in cornmeal, but skewering meat on a stick always seems to magnify the flavor. The dogs came with a ramekin of purple mustard. Unfortunately, the unique color didn’t add much to the proceedings.
Fried green Olives ($6) contained spicy sausage, and their thin batter coats were scattered with fried thyme, mint and basil.
8 oz.’s Deviled Eggs (4 for $5) would have been easy to make at home, in minutes. If anything, these boring paprika-dusted deviled eggs should be called purgatory eggs.
Suds & Slider Sampler ($16) is clearly the way to go, since it offers the most variety. Three 5 oz. draft beers were paired with 3 sliders. The sliders change regularly, but tonight’s selections were wild boar, Triple Prime beef and lamb. According to the menu, “All burgers are served medium rare to medium,” which retains moisture, but still allows for a char. The beef burger was fine, but made the least interesting slider. Lamb meat was fairly mild, and the wild pig meat tasted best. Each burger came on a different bun. The potato roll that went with the pork was great, but the sesame and poppy seed rolls were less dynamic. Each burger came with a token amount of iceberg lettuce, tomato, pickle and white onion.
8 oz.’s beers are listed on the menu from light to dark. My three “suds” were served in a similar spectrum, from right to left: Telegraph Porter (Santa Barbara), Skyscraper Lug Nut Lager (El Monte) and Green Flash West Coast IPA (San Diego), three unique California selections. The IPA was nice and hoppy. The porter had nice caramel notes, but my beer-loving friend pointed out that a great porter has less carbonation. The Lug Nut Lager was balanced and paired really well with the high-grade beef.
For his 8 oz. Combo ($15), my friend Bryan partnered his 8 oz. burger with white cheddar ($1 extra), a glass of Telegraph Porter and summer truffled potato skins. The skins were crisp at the edges and aromatic from the truffle.
Unlike Father’s Office, which serves a single perfect burger, 8 oz. burgers are available with long lists of extras, condiments and cheeses (for a price). This is a democratic approach to burgers. Too democratic. More focus would have been better.
Estancia Grass Fed Burger ($9) was presented unadorned, which a good idea considering Estancia’s grass-fed Uruguayan beef has such a pronounced bovine flavor. The build-your-own-burger set up was strange. Why not serve the burger with escarole and roasted mushrooms (shitake, oyster, hen of the woods) already on the patty? Also, it’s easy to be suspicious of homemade ketchup. Malcolm Gladwell’s 2004 New Yorker article explored the reasons why Heinz ketchup is virtually unbeatable. Gladwell is terrific researcher and writer, so he made a convincing argument. 8 oz. went to a lot of trouble for no good reason. Their “heirloom tomato” version was fine, but they should switch to Heinz.
Crumbled Potato Salad ($4) was a solid version of a classic side, chunky potatoes folded with herbs and not too much mayo, which loyal Food GPS readers know is a four-letter word.
Banana Bread Pudding ($5) with caramelized bananas and caramel sauce was stellar. It was almost like a bready flan, with sweet bananas and a base of what tasted like gritty caramel-soaked brown sugar.
Vanilla Cupcake ($3.50) sported cream cheese frosting and sprinkles. It was fine, but the cake was a little dry.
Some of the starters were pretty strong, but 8 oz. advertises itself as a burger bar, so it should be judged on its burgers. Using that criteria, 8 oz. is a success, though they could use a more focused menu, and more balance, flavor-wise. 8 oz. is certainly a net positive for Melrose, but isn’t exactly redefining or elevating the burger.
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