Burger Truck Showdown: Baby’s Badass vs. Grill ‘Em All
I’ve been craving a burger since the day I got here (this city has some good burgers) and I thought long and hard about what I wanted my first burger in L.A. to be. Would I go old school at the Apple Pan, or new school at the Oinkster. Would I splurge on Umami Burger, or go cheap at Capitol Burgers. And then of course there’s In N Out Burger, but I ruled that one out pretty quickly. If an In N Out opened up in Manhattan it would be the greatest, most exciting day in Midtown Lunch’ing history… but here in L.A., a new In N Out Burger is like a new Starbucks (and therefore not a Midtown Lunch.)
It was a tough choice, and in the end I went for… none of the above! I know it’s terrible, but if there’s one thing I like more than burgers it’s food trucks… so when I randomly found myself outside of Baby’s Badass Burgers the other day, I couldn’t resist trying it out.
Now as much as I like street food, I hate transparent marketing gimmicks- which in L.A. could put me at odds with much of the food truck community. Since it’s a proven fact that selling food on the street in and of itself is not a lucrative endeavor, it seems as if most entrepreneurs are hoping to use their food trucks as a launching pad to other things; riding the PR wave to a new restaurant, a high profile cooking gig, or a TV show. And I’ve had some pretty bad burger truck as marketing vehicle experiences. Sadly- Baby’s seems to epitomize this strategy, with their scantily clad “waitresses” and PR pedigree, and they’ve taken a lot of flack for it. And to be honest, I kind of wanted to hate them and their Paris Hilton look-alike order taker. But in the end, food trumps all… and their burger kind of kicks ass.
I’m a big fan of grilled onions and mushrooms, so the Original Beauty seemed like the natural choice (swiss, grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms, and Baby’s special sauce.) Every burger can be served “Baby” size (as sliders) or “Maneater” size (a 1/2 pound burger), but as far as I’m concerned that’s no choice at all. Sliders are fun, but if you want to really taste the burger- you need to do it up right.
Default order will be cooked a shameful medium well, so if you want it cooked less you’ve got to ask… I went with medium rare. (Fear of truck meat be damned!) The burger took about 10 minutes (with nobody else waiting) but what came out was a surprisingly well cooked, absolutely delicious specimen. The standard sesame seed bun had a proper bread to meat ratio, and the patty itself had great char, good flavor, and was pink on the inside- which made for a great texture. The borderline raw-ish meat on the inside might be a turn off for many, but when a burger tastes as good as this one it doesn’t matter to me. I have to say, I don’t even remember the mushrooms and onions being a factor at all and the special sauce didn’t significantly add or detract from the burger- which as far as I’m concerned is a good thing (the sauce had a slightly tangy/spicy kick to it.)
As appealing as pig tails sounded to me (that’s what they call their curly fries), I’m a sweet potato fries nut- so I went with those ($3). Not bad at all…
The day I was at Baby’s also happened to be the day they were filming a segment for that new show on Travel Channel called Food Wars. (The where they’ve replaced Adam “Man vs. Food” Richman with a hot chick who they have travel from city to city refereeing battles between iconic foods.) You would have thought Food Wars would have gone obvious with their first L.A. episode (Cole’s vs. Philippe’s or Pink’s vs. Oki Dog) but surprisingly they went new school: burger truck vs. burger truck. Baby’s vs. Grill ‘Em All. According to one of the camera men, one of the founders of Grill Em All worked on the Baby’s Truck for two weeks, quit and opened his own truck… making it the perfec vehicle of a food battle! Controversy aside, I like old school Metallica (Four Horseman FTW!) and figured I’d give Grill Em All a try as well.
Unlike Baby’s, Grill Em All only gives you one size burger and there are no sweet potato fries, but their toppings are out of control. They’ve got five burgers on the regular menu, and a few specials with toppings like blue cheese, potato chips, green chilies, a new special featuring foie gras, and one burger where the buns are actually grilled cheese sandwiches. (Adam Kuban, you’ve created a monster.)
But the choice for me was obvious… The Molly Hatchet ($6.50): a burger topped with seared fennel smoked sausage gravy, applewood smoked bacon, and a mapple drizzle. Let that sink in for a minute. Burger + Sausage Gravy + Bacon + freakin’ maple syrup!?! Oh my lord.
You’d think that this burger would immediately win on the strength of its toppings… and let me assure the toppings were amazing. But the burger wasn’t quite as good as Baby’s, and the bun was way too bready (although maybe they have to do that so it stands up to the gravy?) They were too busy to cook it medium rare (medium is their default) but even so I don’t necessarily think it would have helped. I’m guessing the meat they use is more lean (a plus for many Angelenos, but a negative for this fat guy!) so it had more of a hockey puckish consistency. That being said, the gravy was fucking ridiculously delicious, the bacon was thick cut, perfectly cooked, quality meat and the maple drizzle added that sweetness that tied the whole together. Is it a heart attack on a plate? Yes. Is it probably better for your health that they use a lean meat? I suppose so. But put it on a perfect burger and it might have been one of the greatest things I’ve ever eaten. (And I’m no stranger to slow suicide at the hands of hamburgers.)
I went with fries ($3) instead of tator tots (maybe a mistake?), and the malt vinegar aioli. I love fresh cut fries topped with vinegar- so throw what’s essentially mayo into the mix and you’re going to have a winner. Don’t like vinegar? They have a bunch of other dipping sauces to choose from, and you can (of course) pay an extra $1 for truffle oil. (L.A. trucks love their truffle oil!)
Nobody knows who won the episode of Food Wars, but if you ask me it’s not exactly a fair fight. If you are all about toppings, Grill Em All is easily the champ, and their french fry dipping sauces are a nice addition. But if you’re all about the meat, and medium rare burger from Baby’s knocks the socks off the patty at Grill Em All. I could go either way. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go drink a gallon of that fennel sausage gravy (followed by a maple syrup chaser.)