Being Authentic

Jake's makes the real deal

Friday, January 17, 2014 | 5:49 pm

(Editor’s note: We’re coming to the end of Cheeseburger week, and it’s been filling, I mean, fulfilling. Now, contributing writer Dave Auslender takes us nearer to the finish line with Jake’s.)

I’ve been to Jake’s many times. It’s always been great, and it’s always been to shoot pool. This isn’t a bad thing, but in tonight’s retrospection, the idea suddenly smacks of naivete. “Naive?” You ask, “How’s that?” The answer is unfortunate.  “Because I’ve been walking past one of the best burger experiences in Pasadena time and time again.” Shame on you cue stick for distracting me so.

The BBQ Cheeseburger at Jake's.

The original section of Jakes is a small red octagonal-ish building with a tidy black awning, glass walls, and a single griddle with which they have been feeding burgers to Route 66 adventurers for 66 years. This would explain all those vintage out-of-state license plates nailed up above the milkshake shop style bar stools. Happily, Jakes is still a place for adventure. You’ll find it in the form of the legendary “build it yourself” burger. Conveniently the only equipment you’ll need to start is a menu, a pencil, and a bit of imagination.


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 The menu is a small red and white check sheet that looks simple at first. At second glance, you might find the list of condiments overwhelming. Don’t worry, it happens upon the third glance as well. In fact you might as well keep glancing. There are thirteen different sauces to choose from in “Step 6” of the menu. In the mood for ketchup? No? How about apricot sauce? Let’s not forget about “Step 5” – The “premium” toppings, yes, as opposed to the “standard” toppings. They are delineated by hierarchy. Premiums are things like fried eggs, hot pastrami, fried pickles or bacon, (eleven choices in all), while the “standards”, (only nine options), are more basic; pico de gallo, salsa roja, tomato, etc. “Step 3”, (the cheese choices), you may want some bleu cheese crumbles with your gray poupon. Also pick any kind of meat, or go veggie, or make it a hot dog, or skip the bun and put it on a bed of lettuce.

Luckily, Jake has a list of signature burgers that are pre-built. My choice of the evening was something familiar —the BBQ Cheeseburger – “100% fresh ground beef smothered with tangy BBQ sauce and melted American cheese, served with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onions.”

Seconds later, a patty is flopped onto the griddle. The warmth from the grill comforted me, and the lack of any pretense or attitude from the staff was a welcome change from the plastic fantastic world outside on the boulevard. The burger came served on a traditional red and white checkered wax paper sheet in a plastic tray. The bun was grilled to a perfect golden brown, the burger was medium-well but thick and tender. The BBQ sauce enhanced the perfectly crisp bacon. The crispy red onion held the sweet sauce in check, and the cheese rounded everything out. This is the burger most people try to make at home but just can’t get it right so they come to places like Jakes to see it done and remember the truth.

So the next time you’re sinking that eight ball into a corner pocket, (or not sinking it), and you need a little energy to hustle the next 17 players in line – go upstairs for a moment and have an authentic burger experience. Who knows, it might just sharpen your game, and it will definitely improve your mood.

Jake’s Burgers and Billiards is at 38 W Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105. (626) 568-1602.

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