(photo courtesy of Lunch.com)
My two sons have tried almost every great burger I have, from Burgers ‘N’ Beer in El Centro to Five Guys in Alexandria, Virginia to Baby’s in State College, Pennsylvania. It will be the years 2015 and 2016, respectively, before they can try the burger at Father’s Office, in Santa Monica, and they’re pissed. I keep telling them how wonderful it is, from the caramelized onions to the Gruyere and Maytag bleu cheeses to the applewood bacon compote to the arugula to the giant oblong roll to the fantastic sweet potato fries that come in a tiny little shopping cart. And they can’t go...at least until they're 21.
Father’s Office, if you haven’t guessed, is a bar, one that’s been a popular hangout for Santa Monica locals for years. Just recently, however, they started serving food after Sang Yoon, the former chef at Chinois at Main and Michael’s, got involved. Talk about a gourmet pedigree! I think Father’s Office surpasses the Pug Burger at The Hungry Cat as the most strikingly original gourmet burger in Los Angeles.
Unlike The Counter, there is one burger at FO, and there are no substitutions. What if you don’t like arugula? Tough. Carmelized onions? Deal with it. I have to admit that this is probably the one gourmet burger that is perfect as is…it doesn’t even have tomatoes or pickles for me to pick off. And, for me, this is where the concept of “gourmet” burgers makes sense, as opposed to The Counter, because this burger is a complete statement from a master chef. It has left no room for error or miscue.
Of course the downside to having an extraordinary burger in a rather small yet exceedingly popular night spot in a city known for being overcrowded…well, I don’t think I have to explain any further. Suffice it to say that I’m a bit claustrophobic, and I almost gave up on getting the burger the first time I went in. In fact, I had to wait outside for a little while for the crowd to thin out a bit. I just couldn’t stand being in there. After a while I finally made it to the bar, miraculously found an empty seat, and stared at the hundred or so microbrew taps in front of me. The bartender was a nice enough guy and made a couple of excellent recommendations, most notably an unusually creamy, smooth brew known as Old Speckled Hen. When I told him I was there for the burger, however, he immediately perked up and took instant care of me. All in all it was much better experience than I had anticipated when I first walked in.
Since then, the service has been a bit more inconsistent. I went once for my birthday, and when the doorman checked my ID (by the way, I can’t think of another burger joint that even has a doorman), he noticed the date. “Maybe you’ll actually get served food,” he replied, and I wasn’t sure if this was a comment on the snobbery of the place, and that I didn’t quite fit into the young, hip demographic there, or if it was just a comment on how busy Father’s Office can be and that it’s sometimes tough to even get an order in. I must admit, however, that I’ve always succeeded in getting my burger. As good as it is, I surely wouldn’t give up that easily.
You’d expect a burger of this caliber to be quite expensive, but I find that $10.75 is more than reasonable for what you get, especially considering Yang Soon’s reputation in LA. Every time I’ve gone to Father’s Office I’ve spent forty bucks or less, and that’s usually food for two plus a couple of the microbrews. The burger is truly huge, and you can make a case for getting just one and sharing it, which is convenient, because it arrives already sliced in half. But as large of an undertaking as it is, I usually finish it. It’s that delicious.
It is a bit daunting, however, to make Father’s Office a regular habit, unless of course you are one of the regulars (and FO seems to be populated with mostly regulars). If you don’t mind eating while squeezed in between two perfect strangers, then it might just be the greatest burger you’ve ever had.