You could easily spend the entire three-day Presidents’ Day weekend stocking up on clothing, accessories, appliances and sporting goods.
Even better than bargain hunting, however, would be taking the opportunity to commemorate our best and most humane chief executives. Nobody says you have to fete them all — remember, Presidents’ Day was actually conceived as an amalgamation of two separate holidays: Lincoln’s Birthday (Feb. 12) and Washington’s (Feb. 22).
How best to celebrate? I’ve got a suggestion. Head for Grill ’Em All, the Alhambra brick-and-mortar restaurant that evolved from the three-year food truck venture of Ryan Harkins and Matt Chernus. As their website explains, “The Grill ’Em All Truck blazed a gastronomic path through Southern California with its over the top gourmet burgers and general food truck tom foolery.”
Having won big on the Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race” in 2010, and then being featured on that network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” they found the demand for their burgers exceeded the capacity of even a second truck. So a new stationary venue was selected among the storefronts adjacent to the Edwards Alhambra Renaissance Stadium 14 and IMAX, located at the northeast corner of Garfield Avenue and Main Street, in 2013.
Since then, avid fans no longer have to check out a schedule to find Grill ’Em All. All you have to do is park in the free structure just north of the theater and meander into one of the most vibrant (and that’s putting it lightly) burger joints you’ll ever find in the staid San Gabriel Valley.
Let me issue a warning: If you’re not used to heavy metal, your first impression is going to be extreme culture shock. Don’t worry, it wears off fast as you acclimate yourself to bizarre decor, servers with lots of tattoos dressed in black and TVs blaring videos of bands like Metallica, whose first album “Kill ’Em All” inspired the name of the enterprise. The group, the album and another of their songs, “Jump in the Fire,” are further commemorated by the names of three of Grill ’Em All’s burgers.
Metal rock fans will have a blast figuring out the rest of the menu’s musical references. With help from Google, I got Grill ’Em All’s slogan “Death to False Burgers” (Weezer’s “Death to False Metal”) and burgers called “Powerslave” (Iron Maiden), “Cowboy from Hell” (Pantera), “Waste ’Em All” (Municipal Waste), Napalm Death, Behemoth, Hell on Fire, Immortal, High on Fire, Winger, Pig Champion (all names of bands), Dee Snider (frontman for Twisted Sister), Paul Baloff (Exodus) and Samoa Joe (WWF wrestler whose theme song was written by CFO$). Cool!
But it’s definitely not as cool as the actual grub Grill ’Em All serves up in this temple to metal music and meat — both overwhelming to the senses. Every burger begins as a half-pound mound of fresh beef. The simplest creations such as the Winger are plopped into plump, fresh buns packed with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles and “1K” island ($8).
The Behemoth ($14), one of their most complex burgers, is served on grilled cheese buns with additional cheddar, barbecue, bacon, grilled onion and a pickle. Their Jump in the Fryer ($15) is served on waffle buns with cheddar, fried chicken (in addition to the beef) bacon, maple and Sriracha. I have to admit an unwholesome obsession with this monster hybrid, but so far I’ve fought the urge.
For a mere $4.95 extra, any burger you order will be augmented with a fountain drink, which can be replenished repeatedly at the serve-yourself station, and a humungous serving of piping hot house cut fries — some of the most addictive I’ve ever wolfed down, with or without the incredibly potent mosh pit barbecue sauce, chipotle catsup or creamy malt vinegar aioli, also at the station.
My husband’s favorite burger is the Immortal (bleu cheese, sautéed mushrooms, red onion and field greens — yep, gourmet greens – $10). I alternate between the somewhat twisted Dee Snider (peanut butter, strawberry jam, bacon and Sriracha – $10) and the more mainstream Metallica (swiss, bacon, ranch, lettuce, tomato, red onion and a gorgeous fan of avocado slices – $12).
Even after these belly-busting burger and fries feasts, we often manage to pack in the dessert of the month. Last week it was a huge hunk of feather-light deep-fried custardy bread pudding studded with raisins and drenched in stone fruit (apricot and prune) compote. Yep, gourmet again! And, if you can believe it, this masterpiece of baked/fried artistry for which any haute eatery would be charging upwards of $8 is only a $3 add-on.
If you come at night or aren’t concerned about getting buzzed during daylight hours, Grill ’Em All has a decent craft beer selection on draft and a bar with nine stools you can perch your fanny on while you imbibe and watch the grill chefs work their magic. If you’ve got after-meal plans, as we usually do, it’s probably best to stick with iced tea or soda.
Our most frequent post-burger destination is right across the court to see a film, and we almost always avail ourselves of the bonus refills on root beer and Diet Coke to secret into the theater ( I carry a huge purse) so we don’t have to pay the outrageous in-house prices. I’ve been focusing on escapist fantasies like “Arrival,” “Passengers,” “Fantastic Beasts,” “Dr. Strange” and “Rogue One” since mid-November. But this week we paired our burger blast with a more meaningful movie, “Hidden Figures,” about the first black women to work at NASA in the early ’60s.
It’s still playing at the Edwards Renaissance as I write and checking with IMDB I see it’s probably going to be there at least through Presidents’ Day. Frankly, no matter what your feelings are about our present president, seeing “Hidden Figures” and reliving the strides in human dignity so hard-fought for and won during that era will fill you with a patriotic glow that can’t help but be hugely enhanced when supplemented with a great Grill ’Em All meal!
Grill ’Em All
19 E. Main St., Alhambra