Last weekend, college players from mostly Division 1 schools across the country learned their football fates at the NFL Draft. The multi-day affair is a spectacle unto itself, with fans cheering their team’s selections in person (then proceeding to boo the living heck out of the much-maligned NFL commissioner Roger Goodell), while the hopeful recruits either wait impatiently in the same room under the hot ESPN lights, or spend the long hours at home with family.
For star Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams, the plan was to stay at his childhood house in small Santee, South Carolina. He and his gathered family didn’t have to hold out long, as the newly minted Los Angeles Chargers took him seventh overall in order to add to their speedy, ball-toss offense backed by QB Philip Rivers. Less than 24 hours after bad cell reception almost bungled his draft status (more on that in a moment), Williams was pressed into a suit, taking Los Angeles by storm with an entourage of Chargers media members, and digging into what may well be the most famous burger in the city at Father’s Office.
Eater caught up with Williams at the Culver City location of Father’s Office, sharing an outdoor table with the 6’4” future NFL standout to talk his whirlwind 24 hours, his future in Los Angeles, and his must-eat list for his new West Coast home.
As one might imagine, there aren’t many restaurants like Father’s Office in Santee, South Carolina, population a few hundred people. The same is true for Clemson (population 15,000) where Williams won the national championship last year. But the formula is familiar: a burger, fries, ordering at the counter — the only real twist comes from the restaurant’s militant “no ketchup” policy, which Williams thinks is a prank on him personally. So have many, many others.
Instead of ketchup there’s aioli, something Williams is fairly certain he’s never tried before in his life. That’s also true of the duck salad we beg him to try, with the promise that it’s basically like a slightly richer version of dark meat chicken. It works enough for him to take a few swipes of aioli with his sweet potato fries and declare that he likes the stuff, but not enough for him to go back for seconds on the duck. Williams won’t touch the plate of sauteed mushrooms we ordered to share.
The star of the show is the Father’s Office burger, in all its glory. The unique bun, the no-substitutions mantra, the dry-aged beef. It’s far from the sort of thing you’d naturally find at a burger place, and Williams is as skeptical as it gets. A few bites in and chef/owner Sang Yoon shows up to all smiles from Williams (and the Eater team, admittedly), who tells Yoon that he is in fact right: There’s no ketchup needed with this thing.
Over more bites and snaps from Chargers PR cameras, Williams admits to not having tried much of the food that Los Angeles is sure to offer. There’s endless Chinese food, but it’s not like what you might expect, we tell him — Mexican food too. There’s Thai food, Filipino food, and an untold number of modern upscale California restaurants that pull influences from all those genres and more. As if to prove the point, Williams reserves the last few bites from his burger because he’s got dinner Downtown in a couple of hours, at Wolfgang Puck’s WP24.
We spend the latter half of our time offering a litany of suggestions on where to go and what to eat. LA Rams star Todd Gurley has fit in nicely to the culinary scene here, well tell him, popping up at hotspots like Catch in West Hollywood while most of the LA Kings roster sticks to the big names in and around Manhattan Beach. He’s coming back to LA in a matter of weeks to start rookie minicamps (and learn the names of the rest of his incoming classmates), and promises to hit the ground running with great restaurants between here and Orange County, where the Chargers will keep their offices and practice facilities.
Oh, and as for that dropped phone call? Williams said that he was understandably nervous all day, waiting for the phone call moment to let him know his future NFL fate. Eventually his phone did ring, but after saying a quick hello, some bad reception garbled the words “hello” and “hold” on the other end of the line, so Williams thought he was being instructed to wait for someone else to jump in with news. Instead the call dropped out altogether, leaving Williams unknowingly holding a phone to his ear with no one on the other line. He soon realized the mistake, tried calling back, but couldn’t get through — and was left for a few tense seconds wondering if he had indeed ruined his draft stock because of some shoddy cell towers.
Now a Los Angeles Charger with a belly full of LA’s most notorious gourmet burger, Williams slips off into the night. Well, there are a few hands to shake and some selfies to take with chef Yoon and a bunch of other well-wishers, but pretty quickly the black Escalade is out front and he and the Chargers crew are off to an appearance on Sportscenter, followed by dinner and a handshake with Wolfgang Puck. It turns out Mike Williams is already eating pretty well for Los Angeles, even if he took a redeye from Santee, South Carolina last night just to make it here on time.