Stewart, one of the people I grew up with, has read this blog before and likes the idea, but on at least two occasions stressed that I needed to go to the Flaming Grill Café, 2319 El Camino Avenue in Sacramento. It was on my short list of places that reportedly serve outstanding burgers (along with Gatsby’s, Golden Bear, Whitey’s, Selland’s, and the out-of-town legends Katrina’s Café and the Putah Creek Café). I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. When he stressed his point again when I saw him recently, I pushed the Flaming Grill Café to the top of the list.
|Unassuming, you can easily miss this
place driving down El Camino Ave.
The first thing that struck me as I parked my scooter next to the place is how funky the building looked. It appeared to be a small building that has awnings in front and around one side. The place was previously Deli Bean, a coffee house and delicatessen, and it seems that it would not be a friendly place to eat during Sacramento’s extreme seasons because there are no doors to the seating area. When a guitarist walked by me playing Mariachi music, it immediately reminded me of some of the places I visited in Mexico when I was a kid—except instead of corrugated tin, the seating area’s walls and roof were made of something that would make the customers happy (and make code). Still, I wonder what this place is like in triple-digit weather or when the cold whistles through the doorless dining area.
A nice woman seated me next to three guys who looked to be in their thirties and appeared to be musicians. They were talking about the songs they did last night and plan to do better tonight. These were all songs by bands like AC/DC, Metallica, and the like, so I figured they were a cover band.
I ordered the “1/2 lb. Kobe Jalapeño Jack,” which is a huge patty of Kobe-style beef, with Jack cheese, fresh jalapenos, onions, tomato, and shredded lettuce on a fresh house-baked bun surprisingly big enough to handle the load. The woman explained to me that the restaurant uses a Thousand Island-type dressing of house sauce in an apologetic tone, if I interpreted her tone correctly. I can understand how she might be a little embarrassed about the foursquare sauce considering all the exotic things that are on the menu. (More on that later.)
When the burger came, the first thing I noticed was that the burger had a steak knife sticking horizontally through the bun and a plastic (?) fork next to the plate. The steak knife handle was at eye level and seemed to be talking to me. Like Freddy the Flute talked to Jimmy in that counterculture kid’s show H.R. Pufinstuf, Nicky the Knife said, “Hey Fatso, I’m not here for my good looks—cut this bad boy in half and bring the other half home. Don’t make a fool of yourself, as usual.” But as king of the Clean Plate Club, I had a job to do, regardless of how I would feel about it later.
Moderation should be the ticket—like the lady on the Special K commercial who selects cold cereal for brunch while her three friends chow down on omelets, waffles, bacon, and sausage. But seriously, who would go to a restaurant and order cold cereal? “Someone who goes out to eat with their friends for the company—not the food, lard ass,” says Nicky the Knife, now resting unused next to the plate. “Okay, point taken, Pointy.” Wait, these guys next to me are now talking about jamming in someone’s living room. I guess someone in the band is not married.
I somehow was talked into ordering specialty fries. The waitress said the burger comes with fries or brown rice (brown rice?), but she suggested specialty fries and before I figured out what I was doing, I ordered the Carne Asada Fries. (Nicky the Knife must have been dozing.) The Carne Asada Fries are garlic fries topped with cheddar cheese, grilled sirloin, pico de gallo salsa, sour cream, and topped with fresh jalapenos. Eating these fries was like eating another main course. The actual fries themselves seemed okay, but I could not fairly judge them in all that cheese, meat, etc.
Why is this listed as an appetizer? We are talking a meal here: beef, dairy, veggies, on a bed of starch—that is another hamburger! The customers at Yelp.com all rave about these fries and I can see why, but do these people eat them along with a burger? Like the Squeeze Inn fries back in the day, these are better shared by two or three people.
|Some self-promotion, but this place
has a loyal following, anyway.
Wait a minute. I am now hearing something about resetting the system or something. These clowns are talking about Rock Band—the video game! How could three grown men be so serious about a video game? Lame, says the guy who runs around town on a scooter writing about burgers.
We are a nation of excess, especially when it comes to food. This burger and these ridiculous (and fantastic) fries are emblematic of America’s, and my, problem. I am reminded of this every time I pick up a fork or look in the mirror.
Since Burger Scoot does not have a rating system like the excellent Burger Junkies, my ratings are based on how the burger tastes at a particular moment, which makes comparisons difficult and certainly not scientific. (By the way, check out Burger Junkies’ review of the Flaming Grill Café’s Hoser’s Monster Sirloin Burger). Still, I would have to place this one at the top. Maybe I would give it the highest rating if I did not have a nagging feeling in a taste test I would prefer the elegance of Ella’s Grilled Ella Hamburger to this sensory orgy of this burger, but it’s a close one, and you can wear cutoffs and a t-shirt to the Flaming Grill Café. You can also rap about your “band” and almost not sound like a loser.
The “1/2 lb. Kobe Jalapeño Jack” came to $10.99, the fries $5.49, and iced tea $1.99. That is a big bill for such a casual place, but I would argue that it is worth every penny. I do not know anything about business, but I would guess the price of the burger and fries has a lot to do with the menu. The Flaming Grill Café has all sorts of exotic fair: alligator, frog, tilapia, ahi, python, and three kinds of beef—Kobe-style, longhorn, and Angus (Niman Ranch)—as well as chicken and turkey. It also has vegetarian alternatives.