Firemen in Los Angeles risk their lives every day fighting flames and traffic. They work 72 hours a week, around the clock, 24 hours per shift. They do a lot of cooking to keep their hunger at bay, but when they go out, sometimes, often, it's for a burger. They're Eaters in our city and we salute them. To celebrate burger week, we gave them a few burgers to taste -- including one vegetarian option -- to get their thoughts on some of the most popular burgers in the city.
Captain Sterling Johnson was cordial and to the point when we arrived with dinner the other night at Station 61 in Los Angeles. He led us through the station and into the dining area. The smell of the burgers alone wasn't enough to get the guys into the kitchen, so he rang the dinner bell while we cut each of the 14 burgers in half. We brought cheeseburgers from Johnny Rockets, Umami burgers and Big Macro burgers from M Cafe de Chaya.
Six firemen and two medics crowded around the selection of unmarked burgers, peeking inside to see if they could figure out where the burgers were from. (All logos, wrappers, and other marketing materials were removed from the burgers before they were served.)
The foil-wrapped Johnny Rockets burgers received moderate comments: "It's a decent burger," followed by, "is this a Fatburger?" and from another firman, "It's pretty good, it tastes familiar."
A couple of guys picked up the M Cafe burgers right away and started in on them. Their faces were full of question marks, but they kept eating. After getting most of the way through the burgers, one of the guys finally announced, "This is a vegetarian burger." There were some stares, but they kept eating, "it's okay, I like veggie burgers." And later, "that was a really good veggie burger, full of flavor."
On to the last burger: Umami. The Umami hatch burgers and Umami signature burgers were swiped up right away. Some looked at the rare meat inside and raised eyebrows, but they all dug in and moaned with pleasure. "Oh my God," said one fireman, mouth full. Another, "this is the best burger, by far." Nods all around. They fought for the last burger, dividing it in quarters to taste it. Still, Umami wasn't a favorite with everyone. Captain Sterling noted that while he likes steak tartar, he's not a fan of the rare burger. "I like my burgers juicy, grilled and medium-rare to medium. Not red in the center like that." A discussion about burger temperature ensued. The station was divided on how well-done they liked their burgers, but overall they agreed that Umami's burger tasted the best.
They also chatted about of their favorite burger places in the city, including: The Counter, Fatburger, Umami Burger, Burger Kitchen and Father's Office. And then a call came in through the speakers, with all kinds of code about who was to report where and why. Like lightning, they all dashed out to start the fire engine and drove off, sirens wailing, to save the day.