Pasadena, California: birthplace of two iconic figures in food history - Julia Child and the cheeseburger. While various towns lay claim to to the latter, local legend has it that the cheeseburger was invented in the 1920s at the Rite Spot Cafe by 16 year old Lionel Sternberger.
As the story goes, the teenager was working at his Dad’s restaurant when he "accidentally burned a hamburger," says Paul Little, head of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce.
“Rather than throw it in the trash, he flipped it over, put a piece of cheese on it to hide his mistake and served it to a customer who was delighted to have it," Little claims.
The senior Sternberger put the new “cheese hamburger” on their menu, calling it the "Aristocratic Hamburger." It sold for 15 cents.
Almost 90 years later, the classic sandwich is still thriving. This week, the city of Pasadena is celebrating its culinary accomplishment by taking a whole week to pay homage to their hamburger heritage, and over twenty restaurants are participating in the Cheeseburger Challenge.
Here are a few of the highlights of our tasting tour.
Kings Row Gastropub
His big reward comes when he sees patrons doing the “burger nod” - when somebody tastes the burger and then gives a nod to their dining partner as if to say, “Ohhhh yeahhhh!”
The pork is marinated in spices, garlic and sour orange and baked in a banana leaf for tenderness. It’s then placed on a traditional Mexican roll called a talera, along with black bean puree, shredded lettuce, tomato, pickled red onions and queso fresco.
Noir Food and Wine
If it sounds like a bit of excess, Chef Beltran says don’t worry, “You drink enough red wine, and I think you’ll be fine with calories.”
Pie ‘n Burger
The restaurant hasn’t changed that much over the years, but they do offer turkey burgers and vegetarian burgers along with the classic cheeseburger.
POP Champagne & Dessert Bar
The competitive Chef Vasquez came up with the creation just for the Cheeseburger week contest; there is no question he wants POP to win.
They're also offering an alternative to their rich bacon and foie gras burger - a trio of sliders on their homemade brioche bun. One has chorizo, provolone and guacamole. Another has bacon, gorgonzola mayo and a port reduction. And the last is a “Cubano” with Black Forest ham, cheddar cheese, "atomic" pickles and mustard.
The Old School burger is their classic burger served on a brioche bun, with chopped romaine, tomato, pickles, Bermuda red onion, and Tillamook cheddar cheese, served alongside some homemade red relish sauce.
And we had to include one treat for our CNN photographer Gregg Canes, a vegetarian who has been such a good sport shooting a story about cheeseburgers.
The Counter makes their veggie burger with twelve different ingredients including brown rice, mushrooms, black beans, and corn, bound together with panko bread crumbs. The patty sits atop a honey wheat bun, with mixed baby greens, herbed goat cheese spread, red onion, sprouts and roasted red peppers. It’s served alongside a Dijon balsamic vinaigrette.
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