For starters, it’s a Texas tradition that feeds the body and soul
By Richard Foss
Steven Banbury is the regional culinary director for the Hopdoddy Burger Bar chain, so he’s used to people asking: What the heck is a Hopdoddy? A misspelling of Hop Daddy?
“We actually have to explain it to almost every guest as they walk in the door,” Banbury says. “The hop is for the hops in beer, and the doddy is the original name for Black Angus beef in Aberdeen, Scotland. The hop fits for us because we’re all about local craft beer; the doddy is part of the foundation of what we do.”
What Hopdoddy does is stretch the definition of what a burger can be, which is counterintuitive when you think about it. Burgers first became popular as consistent fast food — the same from coast to coast, dependable and cheap.
Banbury muses that those burgers fit who Americans once were, but not the freewheeling diners we are now.
“The burger went from being everyday comfort food that people relied on to something that was a food adventure,” he says. “The introduction of different proteins like bison, ahi tuna, turkey and chicken created healthy options for the burger lover who doesn’t want to pack in the calories. Here, there is also a veggie patty that we make ourselves, plus two kinds of grass-fed beef. Then we add decadent toppings like truffle aioli, caramelized onions and brie cheese. The toppings elevate the burger and excite the palate beyond that mundane meat, cheese and bun that we became so used to.”
A topping that Hopdoddy newcomers may not have seen on a burger before is a mix of chili with Fritos corn chips. This makes sense given Hopdoddy’s heritage. The chain was born in Texas. And not just anywhere in Texas, but Austin — the music-crazed town whose slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.”
When I ask if anyone had ever decided to make the ultimate weirdburger by asking for all the toppings, hold the patty, Banbury laughs.
“Not that I know of, but we have had people who piled the toppings so high that the burger couldn’t fit in their mouth,” he says. “You can mix and match any patty, any topping, to create your own gastronomic experience. There are definitely people who like to expand the horizon of burgers, but sometimes they find combinations that really shouldn’t be done. That’s why we offer a lot of well-crafted burgers that are really well thought-out, where the flavors complement each other.”
Banbury’s own favorite is the Goodnight/Good Cause burger made with Angus beef, cheddar, caramelized onions, jalapeno, lettuce, tomato and two sauces. (And yes, that is one of the simpler ones.) He analyzes its appeal with the thoughtfulness of someone who has eaten a lot of burgers in his time.
“What makes it the best is the combination of homemade smoky BBQ sauce and the jalapenos: it really brings out the flavor of the meat. You bite into it and you really know that this is a beef burger. We call it a never ever burger — it has never had any hormones or antibiotics, so you’re getting the naturally raised meat.
“There’s another thing about this one,” he adds. “For every one we sell, we donate a dollar to a local charity. The local restaurant staff decides who gets it, and here it is the Ballona Wetlands. They’re right next door to us, and that burger is our way of adding a little something to our own community.”
On my visit I tried the Primetime, made with Texas-raised cows of the type that produces the famous Kobe beef. In Japan they are fed a diet that includes sake and produce mild, rich meat that can be almost like eating butter. The Texas variety is grass-fed, and while the meat is still rich it has a slightly earthy, herbal flavor. I thought putting brie on top of this might be overdoing it, but the portion of cheese was modest and added a slight rich funkiness that was balanced by the arugula, caramelized onions and sweet ripe tomato.
To honor Hopdoddy’s Texas roots I also tried the chili, which was indeed meaty and spicy by L.A. restaurant standards. I also tried the green chili con queso, which I didn’t really expect to like after I found out what was in it. Green chili con queso is made with chicken broth zipped up with jalapenos, onions, garlic and cumin, to which tomatoes and American cheese or cream cheese are added. I am suspicious of any plan that involves eating American cheese or anything that can be mistaken for it, but in this hot fondue the mild, creamy cheese and green chilies were perfect together. In Texas this is a dip for chips, but here in California it was great as a dipping sauce for fries.
The slow burn from the chili can be quenched with a beer from their mostly local list (as Texans, they also have to carry Shiner, Lone Star and Dos Equis), or if you prefer you can have a cocktail or glass of wine.
The attraction of a burger and a beer on the patio on a warm day brought in a crowd that included young families, businesspeople and some people I suspected might be students. Banbury confirmed that the Playa Vista location was chosen because it fits that demographic.
“A new development like the Runway has a lot of young people coming through, and this was just obviously the place for us to be,” he says. “We like to be by colleges, and with Loyola Marymount University right up the street, we see a lot of students. College kids are the best customers — they always have $5 for a beer and $10 for a burger. I think they budget us in and count it as school supplies.”
Hopdoddy Burger Bar is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at 12746 Millennium Blvd., Ste. 1120, Playa Vista. Call (310) 410-2337 or visit hopdoddy.com.