It’s true, pull a rusty hubcap off Olympic Boulevard, simply label it organic, artisan, or my favorite, farm-to-table, and some poor Santa Monican will pay a fortune for it. We are suckers for food fads. Thankfully, the newly opened Pono Burger is taking some of these key buzz words and putting them to good use.
This past Wednesday Pono Burger softly opened its doors on the corner of Broadway and Ninth Street. As early as 11:30 a.m. a line of curious and hungry patrons formed to checkout Santa Monica’s newest burger joint. In the last month, I must have passed by on my bike a few dozen times. That’s when I noticed what looked like a WWII bunker — the historic Quonset Hut — with a “coming soon” sign in the window. That day finally arrived and Pono Burger is now open for business.
Chef Windy “Makani” Gerardi’s philosophy is simple: use organic and farm fresh ingredients for a handcrafted burger made with integrity that above all, tastes great. It says it right on their menu!
As far as the meat and potatoes portion of the menu goes, Pono Burger keeps things simple with a smattering of sophistication. There is only one patty option — beef. Certified organic, grass-fed beef to be exact. But a finery of toppings including artisanal cheeses, wood-roasted Anaheim chilies, Niman Ranch sliced bacon and so on makes it easy to dress your third-pound burger to the nines.
Pono also offers the my-way-or-the-highway Posh Burger with Mycella blue cheese, homemade truffle aioli, sautéed mushrooms, arugula, and a baked in-house brioche bun. It’s a chef-inspired creation where substitutions are not an option.
Perhaps taking a page out of The Father’s Office playbook, or the infamous Soup Nazi of ‘”Seinfeld” fame, it’s a commendable move from Chef Makani to say the customer is not always right. Try it the chef’s way, otherwise “No burger for you!”
Speaking of no substitutions, Pono Burger has one milkshake listed on the menu — a soft serve vanilla ice cream shake with salted caramel sauce and bacon bits. Are you demanding I have bacon in my shake? I sure hope so.
On the side, there is the option of regular or sweet potato fries. The French fries are blanched then fried similar to In-N-Out. However, Pono’s rendition yields a crispier exterior sometimes lost on the In-N-Out variety. Furthermore, Pono’s pomme frites are seasoned with fresh thyme, parsley, and sea salt. It’s the little steps that elevate Pono’s fries above the standard spud.
Pono should have customers coming back for more, especially with options as enticing as their seasonal creation featuring ingredients such as strawberry caramelized jam, wood-smoked onions, and an aged cheddar. To maximize flavor, Chef Makani recommends burgers cooked pink in the middle. When the burger’s juices start to break down the bottom of the brioche to a mere thumbprint, that’s when you know it’s cooked just right.
Abiding to this suggestion, the specialty burger did indeed have optimal succulence. A sweet-savory meld of rendered strawberries, onions, paired with sharp cheddar was a match made in heaven. But a grass-fed organic beef patty dry-rubbed, basted, and grilled over a wood fire meant flavor was not only atop the burger, but the smoky goodness rose from within as well. There was lettuce on it too.
Some of the finer details seem to be working for Pono Burger. Pulling fresh brioche buns right out of the oven is a nice touch. Mixing up fresh squeezed lemons and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker is not bad either. And while the line may have been long, the food arrived promptly after ordering. An outstanding burger experience overall.
Pono will not receive any awards for being the 10,000th burger restaurant in town. However, they have a damn tasty burger that should receive plenty of fanfare for the time being.
If you go
Santa Monica, Calif.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food, or on CityTV hosting his own show, “Tour de Feast.” To reach him visit his website at tourdefeast.net or follow him on Twitter @TourDeFeastSM.