Epicurious Eating: O’Brothers
O’Brothers is more than just an organic experience
Published Thursday, 16-Jul-2009 in issue 1125
Siblings Craig and Derek Cowling have livened up the food scene at Horton Plaza with an organic burger joint that is pleasantly removed from both the retail area and the mall’s upper-level food court. The organic concept cuts deep into the heart of the menu, extending beyond grass-fed beef and into everything from the hamburger buns to the oil used for making dressings and desserts.
O’Brothers is a smartly designed space with big windows looking out to Broadway Circle from a tucked-away alcove on the second level of the mall. Its concept defies some of the common practices inherent to other burger houses, which a handful of Yelpers and a local restaurant reviewer have challenged.
The menu, for instance, contains only three types of beef burgers, topped either with tomatoes and onions, or with cheddar or with cheese, bacon, avocado, tomato and onion (called the Big O). The patties are quarter-pounders – neither monstrous nor seasoned. They range from $7.95 to $9.50, so they’re not cheap either.
In the bros’ defense, simple choices allow for the spotlight to shine on the rich, supple integrity of the grass-fed meat. And so what if the burgers aren’t obnoxiously big. I’d rather the cow and bun strike an even ratio of texture and flavor, and without having to bust my jaw to enjoy them in conjunction. As for the lack of seasoning in the meat, the grill flames inject adequate savor. If that isn’t enough, then ask for a ramekin of homemade hot sauce. It’s a marvelous purée of tomatoes, jalapeños, Serrano chilies, garlic, onions and cilantro. Our skinny fries fell madly in love with the stuff.
Calorie-counting carnivores on the hunt for turkey burgers will have to instead settle for chicken breast “burgers – not a painful compromise. Or for vegetarians, there’s a Portobello burger with tomato and onion that was meaty and good. The “veggie burger,” on the other hand, is a misnomer because it’s patty-less. The grilled roll is filled instead with a loose mix of avocado, tomatoes and onions. Allow for a little yellow mustard and ketchup, and it tastes nearly like a drippy all-American meat burger.
As for complaints I’ve read about the cost of these burgers, which don’t include salads or sides, the sad reality is that we’re stuck paying a few extra bucks in this illogical world for products that are free of pesticides, hormones and additives. Everything at O’Brothers that enters your mouth (or comes near it) is organic – the cheese, the bread, the produce, sodas, napkins and cups.
As of last week, two new salads were added to the menu. The greens originate primarily from local farms through Specialty Produce. Bravo to the firm and frilly hearts of romaine, complimented by tangy, house-made Caesar dressing and puffy croutons that were as light as rice crackers. My companion’s grilled veggie salad was even better, a bouquet of summer-fresh asparagus, baby corn, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and zucchini. Light vinaigrette dressing and feta sprinkles played memorably off of the roasted flavors of the organics.
A la carte sides of garlic fries (thin like pomme frites) and o’rings are served in white diaper bowls. The latter uses onions marinated in buttermilk, which teases out their sugar. We especially loved their dark, coarse batter, kissed by a good measure of Italian herbs.
In what could be a deliberate avoidance of appearing like another “fun” retro burger destination, the beverage menu is free of milkshakes and fountain drinks. Instead, you’ll find a limited wine selection featuring labels by Leal and Tobin James. Their names aren’t particularly exotic among wine bar denizens, but to find them in a mall eatery is rather impressive.
In the non-alcoholic category, the still-listed inventory of Santa Cruz sodas was recently swapped out for Blue Sky. They’re sweetened with organic cane juice (better for you). The orange soda was throat-quenching, not too sweet and oh so citrusy.
Glass trays at the order counter reveal the day’s desserts. Carrot cake cupcakes boasted a nurturing essence, with tart cream cheese frosting accented by powdered cinnamon. Rock-shaped cookies displayed alongside required an explanation. As it turned out, they’re made of oatmeal, chocolate and peanut butter – a little dry, but then again I’m not really a fan of cookies.
But count me a fan of O’Brothers, and my companion, too, and potentially anyone who needs a clean food fix while wading through mall culture. The respite is rather delicious.