Does Spruce Make the Bay Area’s Best Burger?

| August 30, 2007 | 6 Comments
  • 6 Comments

A provocative question, especially for a food-loving town in a beef-righteous nation. It’s a question that I can’t even answer, really, not having sampled every burger in the Bay Area, or even the smaller list of San Francisco cult favorites.

But one thing I can tell you is that the burger at the newly opened Spruce is absolutely, unequivocally, utterly delicious.


photo by Jen Maiser

I met a friend there on a recent Monday night about two weeks after it opened. (Was this the most highly anticipated restaurant opening in recent memory or what?) We snagged two seats at the bar and settled in for drinks, I with my bourbon stone sour ($8) and Jen with her Clover Club ($8), a sweet-tart blend of gin, lemon juice, and Hangar One Aqua Perfecta framboise eau de vie. (The former: eh; the latter: double-yum.)

Even though we were splitting a burger at the bar, our meal started with an amuse bouche, a small gift of the world’s best beet chips, vivid vermilion and perfectly salted, with a side of horseradish cream. They hit the spot.

We were in a nibbly mood so we shared two orders ($7 each) of housemade charcuterie — which is surely now the most oft-typed phrase in my restaurant write-up vocabulary — and enjoyed noshing our way through coins of soft smoked chorizo and glossy slivers of spicy coppa. I devoured the onion relish compulsively, and liked the sprinkling of smoked pimenton. We drank, we talked, we admired the view (chocolate mohair walls, soaring steel trusses, a glittering skylight) and took in the crowd, mostly couples and friends hungrily eyeing their food rather than one another.

When the burger ($12) arrived, it was draped, on request, with a melted slice of cheddar but otherwise unadorned, save for a small garden of lettuce, tomatoes, pickled red onions, and thin sheets of dill pickle on the side. Many regulars of the Village Pub, also owned by the trio behind Spruce, liken the “bun” to an English muffin, and that seems as apt a description as any for the thin, textured, somewhat porous bread. My only complaint is that they really overdid it brushing the bun with butter. Other than that, the burger was perfect — hefty enough to feel good in the hand, satisfying, well-seasoned (an area where the kitchen clearly excels), juicy, and flavorful. Every bite was delightful and I would have eaten every last pickle if my mother hadn’t taught me to share.

The fries that came with it were served in a silver cup, and assuming they are the same ones that accompany the bavette steak on the dinner menu, fried in duck fat. Holy Deliciousness, Batman! Crisp, just the right side of greasy, and perfectly salted; odd, however, that we had to ask for ketchup (and mustard). Is it really so rare to want these condiments when ordering a burger and fries? They should just slap them on the side and be done with it.

The service throughout the meal was spot on, though the lamp on the corner of the bar made it hard for our bartender to tell when Jen’s drink had run dry. We passed on dessert, even though they were created by Bay Area wunderkind William Werner, formerly of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay; a girl has to save a little something for the next time.

I perused the dinner menu while I was there and, despite being written by a devoted minimalist, a few things on it popped out at me — watermelon and arugula with cured sardines, for instance, and crudo with vegetables escabeche (did I call this new trend or did I call this new trend?).

I’m looking forward to my next visit.

Spruce
3640 Sacramento Street
(415) 931-5100
San Francisco
Open 7 days a week for dinner, M-F for lunch

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Category: restaurants, bars, cafes, reviews

About the Author ()

I grew up in the South where it was common for a meal to include more platters of food than people. I survived on a childhood of sausage biscuits, fried chicken, fried clams, ham rolls, shrimp cocktail, pickled peaches, homemade ice cream, and lemon tarts, and I thought that getting your tomatoes from a paper bag your neighbor left on the doorstep or knowing the name of your favorite corn was normal (Silver Queen was mine). Now I'm a San Francisco-based freelance food writer who's been published in Olive magazine, Best Food Writing, the Oakland Tribune, The Onion, Northside San Francisco and other local publications. As most of my attempts to reproduce childhood favorites in my own kitchen have ended in crushing disappointment, I eat out four to five times a week and cook healthy meals when I'm at home.
  • wendygee

    I can’t wait to sink my teeth into one of those juicy burgers! Looks like a cool new spot…I will remember to tell them to hold the butter on the bun ;-)

  • Casey

    This all sounds terrific. I’ve had some wonderful food at Village Pub, but the service has been wildly uneven. A very bad experience not too long ago (wine never came, although first course did. we were told that only the sommelier could open the wine and he had had to take a personal call. we insisted on speaking to the manager, who strode to the table and said “Just what seems to be your problem?”) glsd to hear from early reports that service at Spruce is good.

  • Tana

    It looks REALLY delicious. Do we know where the meat is from?

  • Catherine Nash

    Good question Tana. I *think* it’s Niman Ranch but I can’t recall for sure. They also have a partnership with SMIP Ranch, which supplies a huge amount of their produce, and I’m not clear if they raise any cattle — but I think not.

  • Jennifer Maiser

    Sheesh – I thought I commented on this earlier. This was a g-reat burger. Loved it. The service was seamless considering they’d been open for less than 2 weeks. Fab cocktails, comfortable bar, not a scene (please don’t let it become a scene). The beet chips were to die for. I’m looking forward to going back.

  • Tea

    Man, you’ve got me craving a burger now!

    BTW, I just saw your profile photo for the first time–super cute!