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Last year I started the Burger Bonanza, in hopes of keeping pace with the flurry of gourmet and classic burger establishments opening in Southern California (a large enough drawing board). Devoid of critics, we are not quite the burger police, but reticent to fall for just any patty. I carefully studied the reviews and selected a few standouts to visit, covering more ground in one day than I sometimes would in a month, while being mindful to not overeat, splitting the burgers with the others who partnered on the journey. The original Burger Bonanza was three separate burgers to an excursion, all from within the confines of Los Angeles. This year, I was interested in upstaging my previous efforts, broadening the map to a beginning in Orange County and concluding the burgercurean tour in Los Angeles, visiting four restaurants along the way, with a larger collection of friends and as always trying to find a feasible wine pairing when applicable (unfortunately, only at Mom’s).

The menu du jour quatre fois included a quick pit stop to the Wine Exchange in the city of Orange—to stock up on some wines for this pairing and future events—then off to Peter’s Gourmade Grill, then a brief visit to Compton to try the legendary fare of Mom’s Burgers, a third spot was up to the people who were with me, and finally, ending at Stout. That was the plan and it took some serious resolve to make it work.

I waited for a buddy to carpool with and we headed south. Once at the Wine Exchange I loaded up on Rieslings of all different price ranges, and almost exclusively from Germany, to accompany my newfound preference for sushi and to tag along with the heavily spiced Indian foods that I hope to review. I lost focus among their jaw-dropping assortment of collector wines, priced much cheaper than in Los Angeles, but managed to regain focus and select a sampler of three bottles of Syrah from K Vintners—Morrison Lane, El Jefe and the Cougar Hills—and some more bottles of Vietti Nebbiolo for their already established pairing capacity with burgers, among other more traditional couplings.

After I stockpiled the wines, my friend and I headed out to Peter’s Gourmade Grill and met up with several more friends (new and old) to enjoy some high-end burgers at an unexpected location. Though it is not uncommon to hitch your eatery to a gas station, it just doesn’t conjure the best imaginable burgers and yet, they took top honors for the day. We queued up, placing our orders for the ABC burger loaded with avocado, bacon and cheddar ($5.75), and we shared a plate of Sweet Potato Gooey’s.

There was a major wait at the gas station for these burgers; we watched the cramped kitchen pumping out an endless procession of burgers on the terrifically warm day. Eventually, our meal was plated on soft pastel colors; mine was carrying a generous burger that was a hybrid, a blend of classic with gourmet tendencies. Sourcing the beef, including artisan items and attention to detail while maintaining the cornerstones of burger joints. With a nicely seasoned six-ounce patty, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, homemade pickles, avocado, thick cut bacon, a swath of condiments sitting between a potato bun, and its hidden pearl of a burger, save for the cheese.  The flavors were completely thought out—the bacon added fat and salt, the avocado was creamy and ripe, and the pickles added tartness. The texture of the grind was coarse, making it a signature burger. Everything was measured and worked in concert to create an enjoyably complex bite.

 The side of Sweet Potato Gooey’s was by far the most interesting side I have had at a burger joint, far surpassing fried pickles or chili cheese fries. They were a dessert, reminiscent of a Thanksgiving side, replete with a layer of baked marshmallow atop sweet potato fries and some maple syrup. Spectacular.

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