Two weeks ago, on a sunny Southern California lunch hour, I met up with Seth Chadwick -- who posts on the Southwest board and writes the Feasting in Phoenix blog -- while he was visiting my neck of the woods. Although this wasn't Seth's first time in Orange County, I thought I'd pick a quintessentially unique to OC joint for our meet up.
The Kind Burger at Huntington Beach, or "TK Burger" for short, is one of those homegrown greasy spoons us locals love. And because it's located right on PCH, overlooking the beach and the Pacific Ocean, it's a perfect place to take out-of-town visitors.
The joint is so postcard pretty it's no wonder TK is frequently featured in travel magazines and books. The New York Times Travel Section calls it an "eclective dive" with "The O.C.'s best burger". It rightly deserves to be perennially listed as a must for Surf City grubbing under the California sun. It's been one of my all time OC faves.
But since our time budget was too short for Huntington Beach, I proposed we try the TK Burger in Costa Mesa instead. Seth's flight would be landing at John Wayne at around lunch time, and my office was just a few blocks away.
With our rallying point set, I grabbed my Sony Cyber-shot at five till noon and headed out to Bristol St. and Baker.
This outpost of TK is at the former site of Costa Mesa Super Burgers, a mom and pop which, in its heyday, served pretty tight burgers of its own. When TK Burger took over, the cashier's counter was pushed back a few feet into the kitchen, the walls were repainted robin's egg blue, and TK's signature umbrellas replaced those gaudy orange eyesores the previous owners never bothered to change.
Ever since the transformation, the place is always packed. The parking lot, on that lunch hour of my visit, was at capacity. But luckily two cars left as I arrived. One of those recently vacated parking spaces was immediately taken up by a Ford Taurus with Texas plates.
"That's a rental," I thought. "That's gotta be Seth."
My guess was confirmed as he got out of his vehicle and I, mine. We were both carrying cameras -- and only a food blogger would lug a camera to lunch. He identified me just as quickly as I him, and we shook hands heartily, like we had known each other for years.
With our stomachs growling, and our camera batteries charged, we headed in. After we'd placed our orders, Seth stopped me as I took out cash and said he'd be treating me for lunch. I resisted, but Seth's happy persistence, and his instructions to the cashier not to accept my money, left me no other choice but to concede. (You may have won this time Mr. Chadwick, but the next one's on me!)
We took a seat under the shade of those wide umbrellas as we ate our lunch alfresco, traded Chowhound stories, and talked about how we ever got into this crazy food blogging thing.
Seth started on his lunch of a Ribeye Sandwich, which consisted of a thin, grilled slab of beef steak that protruded out of one end of the round bun like a big sloppy tongue. Thick slices of green bell pepper and lettuce were also added to the mix. Seth told me it wasn't bad, but I could tell immediately he wasn't overly impressed.
But I was much more disappointed at my Burger than Seth was of his sandwich. Eventhough the face of the burger was singed and scorched, like Wile E. Coyote after an ACME TNT explosion, all the components were present -- the potato starch bun, the lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayo, pickle, and Thousand Island -- but this was not the beef patty I remember having at the TK's at Huntington Beach.
It was thin and bone dry, with no flavor to speak of. Its juices seemed to have been pressed out of the meat, as if an overzealous cook wanted to speed up the cooking process.
I told Seth that this burger was a shadow of the one I had had before at the original TK's. But there was the other possibility; the Huntington TK's served the same burger, but it was just made delicious by the view of the beach and ocean.
You know how they say a lowly hot dog eaten at the Grand Canyon tastes like a filet mignon? I began to wonder if this was a case in point. Was our view of the less than inspiring Bristol Street traffic really exposing the true nature of TK's burgers? Had it always been this bad? Was I just blinded by the glimmer of the sea water and intoxicated by the ocean breeze?
In a small way, I hoped not. But then the fries were uninspiring too. Something was missing and a bit off with the potatoes. It wasn't until later that I realized what it was. The Huntington Beach TK Burger amped up their fries with a dusting of seasoned salt. These weren't salted at all.
This realization proved a little comforting to me, although it's still sad that this Costa Mesa outlet was marring the good name of its much admired forebear.
Looking at Seth's order of onion rings confirmed this fact further. Just from the sight of those thick, mealy things I could tell that they were overbreaded. Seth dunked them into a cup of Thousand Island but finished little more than half of the batch.
Mediocre food notwithstanding, it was great to meet Seth.
T K Burger
2966 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Here's a link to the PHOTOS: