Barney’s Burgers opened over a year ago on San Vicente in Brentwood, their second L.A. location, but it was only recently that I was able to make my first visit. I’m no stranger to Barney’s, wchich has absolutely nothing to do with the big purple dinosaur. The gourmet burger joint originated in Berkeley, where I gained an average of three pounds a year. Sure, three pounds doesn’t sound like much, but that’s fifteen pounds in the five years I was in the Bay area! I made several visits to the College Avenue location, always chuckling that a temple to beef probably had to keep a safe distance from the actual Berkeley campus. So, I wasn’t in any huge hurry to try the L.A. Barney’s, not because it didn’t impress back in college. It did. Except for a recent blog-related bar burger activity, I just completely lost my appetite for hamburgers after watching in absolute horror commercials for Carl’s Jr. aka porn carwash (yep, that’s the one). I was fairly certain that Barney’s couldn’t have changed drastically since all those many, many, *ahem* many years (and miles) ago.
The restaurant occupies a spot that went through several iterations of New York style pizza parlors before the entrepreneurial pizzaiolas realized that no amount of re-branding itself could effectively compete with the incumbent only two blocks away, Frankie & Johnnie’s. Barney’s took over, the beginning of a whole restaurant renaissance for that particular block of San Vicente.
The San Vicente location is actually Barney’s second location, the first southern California location just a long stroll up San Vicente along the dirt running path to 26th Street. It’s quite curious that the first two locations in southern California would be within just a few miles of each other. I would guess that Barney had grown out of his collegiate life in the outskirts of Berkeley and now in his more mature, family-man years has moved to a tiny but very expensive condo in Brentwood, opening the restaurants nearby so that he can manage both. Or maybe not. It’s quite possible that Barney’s ultra savvy market research team found the demand for gourmet burgers in Brentwood so high that two outposts within two miles of each other was quite necessary. Who knows? And more importantly, who really cares? Not me. Can I get fries with that?
The interior is bright and colorful, true to the bright yellow painted exterior, purple accents, and curlie-cute typeface of the sign over the door. The tables are plain and upon walking in, we were a little bit confused by the seating. There was no greeting, just a young lady behind wat appeared to be a seat-less counter. We weren’t sure whether to walk up to the counter to order first, wait by the door for a hostess, or simply seat ourselves. I walked up to the counter, but she told me impatiently to “hold on.” I had no idea if I was supposed to stand there and wait for her, or go back to the doorway. I noted the small sign on the counter that announced mushroom barley soup for the day. Back in the entrance, I picked up an orange to-go menu and scanned the mostly familiar items. Eventually, another young lady seated us at a table in the window, left us with plastic covered menus and took off to grab our drinks.
We decided to share so we could try a little of everything: a salad, the soup of the day, and of course, a burger and fries. Barney’s offers their burgers in beef, chicken, turkey, and vegetarian, in various creative flavor combinations. The greatest variety is on the beef burgers, but we ordered the Hickory Turkey Burger with sugar-laden BBQ sauce, bacon and monterey jack cheese, because, you know, turkey is healthy. LOL! The Hickory Turkey Burger must be something they do well. A woman in her yoga gear, later clear that she was a regular, blasted through the doors, didn’t wait for the staff, snatched up a seat in the window, and when the server came by with a menu, waved it off with “hickory turkey burger, sauce on the side,” without looking up from her copy of Oprah’s magazine, O.
Thank goodness the very fresh salad we ordered was only a small side salad because the cup of mushroom barley soup that we thought would be just a taste came to the table in an enormous mug-shaped bowl. It was so incredibly hot, I burnt my mouth – that’s what I get for being greedy and impatient! The soup was deliciously thick with barley and chopped mushrooms, and creamy, though I am quite sure that there was no actual cream in it. Or maybe that’s just what I was trying to tell myself. It was very very good and only required a healthy self-prescription of NaCl, probably due not to under-seasoning by the kitchen, but over-eager tastebud burning by silly dining guest.
Our Hickory Turkey Burger was well-presented on a plate, seeded bun at a jaunty angle to show how generous the cooks have been with the fat calories. Greens and tomato are off to the side to add only if you feel the need for fiber. Fries arrive in a separate basket, as they should, since you do have to order them separately for $4.50 for a full-order. If you’re on a budget, you can pay a dollar less for a half-order, but then again, if you’re on a budget, you shouldn’t be spending anywhere from six to nine dollars for the burger. We asked for a half-order. ;)
Though the burger looked nice on the plate, sadly it tasted only okay. Why the yoga-nazi ordered sauce on the side for hers is beyond me, for the turkey meat was rather dry, and the bacon was cooked, not to crisp, but slightly overdone to dry as well. She has probably been LA-brainwashed into sauce, dressing, flavor “on the side,” but ends up eating it all anyway, just like me ;)
at disappointing burger can be forgiven for fantastic French fries, and I was hopeful. Since they were hotfresh from the fryer, they received my before-I-even-taste shower from the salt shaker well. I learned my lesson from the soup and had waited patiently for all of three seconds before taking a front-teeth-only bite. Slightly thicker than fast food, definitely thinner than steak frites, they were blonder than I would have expected for such crispness on the outside and soft, potato-y fluffiness on the inside. I ate one, two, fifteen, ignored the rest of my half of the burger and proceeded to inhale the now slightly cooled basket of French fries, carried away in the feeding frenzy that i didn’t even bother with ketchup. They didn’t need it.
Overall, my first experience in many years, and first ever in the LA outpost of Barney’s was okay. The salad had been fresh, the soup was good, the French fries were delicious, but the namesake of the place, Barney’s burger, had only been *hohum* I had also been mildly irritated by the staff. It hadn’t just been the impatient “hold on” in the beginnning. Our young server was not only somewhat condescending, but she was inattentive and slow, which could have been overlooked save for the fact that there were only two other occupied tables in the entire restuarant, including the yoga nazi who didn’t seem to require much service anyway. I wouldn’t normally fault youth (because that also makes me sound old), but I am hoping that we just got unlucky with a high school summer vacation part-time temp who was reluctantly filling in for another flaky employee. Otherwise, I’ll just make a blanket statement that the service at Barney’s was not very good.
As far as returning to Barney’s, I probably will, though not necessarily soon. Barney’s isn’t awesome enough to beat out driving just a few more blocks to Father’s Office, or to try any of the other burger places in the area that I have yet to try first. Oh well, I wouldn’t want to regain my Freshman 15 anyway.