Julian, 20-something, and Mark, 70-something, are out to find the Mission’s best burger. If you have suggestions, write a comment — or send an e-mail to Julian at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may remember Mark and Julian from the best fried chicken sandwich series.
It was Saturday night and I had just finished watching a zoom performance of Heroes of the Fourth Turning, a 2020 version of The Big Chill. It’s a compelling but unsettling play that left me hungering for a burger.
Julian, I know we had planned to go to Mission Bowling Club this week, but strangely, the Club only serves burgers on Thursday and Friday.
So I put in an order at 16th Street’s comfort-food central, Monk’s Kettle. The Kettle may be known for its extravagant number of beers, but many neighborhood eaters appreciate the unspectacular, consistently satisfying food it serves.
I considered ordering a lamb burger but, given your gastronomic dogmatism, I stuck with beef.
The Monk’s Burger comes with house-ground beef, a slice of gruyere cheese, an onion “jam,” aioli (which I believe you in the South Mission refer to as “mayo”) and a couple leaves of lettuce for the more health-conscious.
I ordered medium rare and got a perfect medium-rare patty. It was bigger than most (even doubles) I’ve eaten recently – thick and juicy, with subtle but undeniably present seasoning.
Not many burgers come with gruyere cheese, which I thought would remind me of the faux burgers I’ve eaten in Paris. But it worked well as an unaffected companion to the meat, making the sandwich a delightful experience without the add-ons or the extra ketchup which I usually order to drown out my disappointments.
I tried a few bites with the onion jam, which is kind of sweet and distracting. Not necessary, I thought, and continued without it.
Coming from the Midwest, I disdain adding mayo or aioli or whatever you want to call egg yolks and oil.
It is worth noting that the very green lettuce leaves were romaine with a crunch and distinctive taste. Also, for you bun fanatics, the toasted bun did not dissolve into a generalized mush, but held up quite well.
For fries, I chose the garlic and parm, as I have learned to distrust fries not consumed on the premises. (Monk’s Kettle does have outdoor dining, but I didn’t want to wait for a table.) Though the fries cooled by the time I got to them, they held their own, the garlic and parm not overwhelming their potatoeyness.
At $15, the Monk’s burger is somewhat more pricey than our previous outings. Adding garlic and parmesan cheese to the fries will set you back another dollar.
Otherwise, the very comforting food I needed.
Thanks, Monk. —MR
Odd things whet your appetite these days, Mark. British detective shows? Contemporary theater versions of mediocre ‘80s college reunion movies? What’s wrong, man? COVID got ya down? Is this what happens when the Warriors aren’t even offering takeout?
For me, it was Sunday, and my housemate E and I had just finished recording our latest TikTok dances. That, my friend, is how you work up a burger hankering during a pandemic.
It is unfortunate that the Mission Bowling Club wasn’t open this weekend, and I was actually feeling a little ambivalent about Monk’s Kettle. Last time, when I reviewed Monk’s fried chicken sandwich, it turned into a bizarre love affair — such that I kept going back, again and again. Of course, I needed to switch it up, so I started ordering burgers.
But that got tiring. Why was I spending $15 (plus $8 for parmesan fries) on a burger that was only slightly more special than what I could find at Double Decker?
On Sunday, I gave it another try. I ordered it medium-rare and added bacon. This was a good decision. The patty was juicy, dense and full of flavor. The sweetness of the bacon collided beautifully with the sweetness of onion jam, and the onion jam jived so well with the gruyere as to create not so much a faux Parisian burger effect, but a burger version of French onion soup.
I loved the mayo on the toasted ciabatta bun (you just gotta get over it, baby — mayo is essential to American burgers).
Yet one question prevailed: Is it worth it? A great burger, indeed — but was it $15 (plus $3 for bacon, and $2 tax) great?
“For $15, it must be perfect,” E said.
That’s a tough endorsement to make, especially when I ordered a hamburger, not French onion soup.
One item I can 100 percent vouch for, however, is the pile of Monk’s Kettle garlic parmesan fries. Absolutely perfect and worth the money. The perfect amount of crispiness and potato. You can actually taste the potato among the fried oil, garlic and cheese. 10/10 — perfect somersault — gold-medal-worthy French fries.
These alone are worth ordering. And, if you’re feeling like Daddy Warbucks, get the burger on the side. — JM
If you need a quick recommendation, here are our ratings.
See all previous outings here.