Pop (Up) Goes the Burger
Burger Haven, Haven Gastropub's new pop-up restaurant-within-a-restaurant, offers quick lunches for busy foodies.
By Bradley Tuck 11/08/2012
Fortunate as I am to work from home on pretty much my own schedule, it has been years since I’ve had to cram lunch into a mandated 30- or 60-minute window or be organized enough to brown bag it before leaving for the office. I remember well the anxious watch-glancing of the past, as I waited in line to order coffee and a sandwich, while somebody ahead asked to have the menu options repeated to them again. I once worked at an extremely busy café where we would take orders all the way down the line, figuring that once people had ordered they were less likely to leave, even if it meant that half their lunch break was spent waiting for their meal.
I’m wondering if the lunchtime crowd is what the Haven Gastropub + Brewery pop-up, Burger Haven, is all about. I really enjoyed Haven Executive Chef Greg Daniels' food when I visited shortly after the opening last year. It was far from traditional gastropub comfort fodder, deftly executed and beautifully presented. So I was interested to see what was in store. Pop-ups have been around for a while now. The idea is that a chef takes over a space for a limited time and creates a menu that’s a departure from what the venue usually serves. The one with the highest profile and most coveted temporary tables, Ludovic LeFebvre’s LudoBites, sold out within seconds of the reservation lines being open. In the case of Burger Haven, they’ve taken the back area of the dining room (entered from McCormick Alley) and created a simple menu of burgers, sides, sauces and milkshakes. Instead of the usual table service, you’re greeted at the door by a host and a cash register. The concise menu of six burgers is on a menu in front of you; you order, pay and seat yourself at a table. What you might not expect is that next to the host, sitting in a tub of ice, is a beer keg. That, my friends, is the daily tap, a special $3 beer that is poured into a red plastic disposable cup, such as you might take on a picnic or find at a backyard barbecue. The beer that day was UpRYEsing, brewed by Haven, so I added that to my order and took my place.
Soon enough, out came the burgers. I’d ordered a lamb burger ($12), buoyed by the sentence on the menu: NO WELL DONE PLEASE. No, you can’t have it your way, and very wise too. Sonoma lamb, onion jam, tzatziki and onion sprouts, all crammed into a rosemary bun. My lunch partner got the McCormick Alley ($10) --- Paso prime grass-fed beef, Grafton two-year aged cheddar, bacon-stout jam, shaved red onion, butter lettuce and house sauce on a roasted-shallot potato bun. Because there was not already enough going on there, we ordered a side of fries too.
I’m a big fan of a well-constructed burger. And of lamb. It did not disappoint. It was juicy, rich, a nice slather of sweet onion jam and cool tzatziki, and a bun dense enough to hold it all together without becoming the proverbial lead balloon. My lunch partner buried her face in her bun and announced that it was “the best burger I’ve had in a very long time.” She scraped out the bacon-stout jam, as she doesn’t like onions, and proclaimed it “still amazing.” And the fries didn’t go untroubled by us either. Some restaurants’ fries are so obviously frozen, but these seemed like the real deal. Skinny-cut and a deep golden brown, with a dusting of crack, sorry, sea salt, they were exceptionally good.
If I had anything else to say, I’d say the restaurant-within-a-restaurant concept was a little confusing. The food definitely held up its end of the show. If I am in Pasadena any time from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., when Burger Haven is open, this would be my first choice for a burger. And ordering on the way in definitely speeds up your lunch, so it’s great for anyone on a clock. But both my pal and I thought that the concept could have been taken to its logical conclusion --- maybe some bright tablecloths to differentiate it from the rest of the restaurant. Pop-ups are fun, and this needed just a bit more fun injected into it. But I’m still thinking about that burger, so they’re doing something right.