Every January, the city of Pasadena celebrates the 1924 invention of the cheeseburger, right here in Pasadena at a place, now long gone, called the Rite Spot.
As legend has it, a 16-year-old Lionel Sternberger burned one side of a hamburger patty at his father’s Pasadena roadside stand and rather than throw away the spoiled burger, he masked his mistake with a piece of cheese and served it to a very appreciative customer—the first verified instance of someone serving a hamburger with cheese.
About 40 restaurants of varying culinary styles now take part in a celebration all over Pasadena in tribute to that fortuitous placement of a slice of cheese onto a grilling patty. Cheeseburger weeks hit the grill Sunday, Jan. 26 and continues until Sat., Feb, 1.
Here at Pasadena Now, where this reporter has faithfully chronicled local cheeseburgers for at least five years, one change will be evident in our coverage. After quintuple bypass heart surgery last spring, we’ll be adding veggie burgers to the mix this week.
It’s a new year, it’s a new heart — let’s eat.
We visit this burgery off South Lake Avenue every year and have never been disappointed. This year is no exception.
We were offered at least three different cheeseburgers all piled high with a variety of toppings, demonstrating the menu’s versatility. But this time we had one request, of course: Hold the meat.
New owner Jorge Tropea, who purchased the restaurant last year with two brothers, nodded happily and offered, “ I guess that means no French fries, right?” Right.
Our burger came relatively unadorned. Heart surgery or no heart surgery, we still don’t care for tomatoes or onions. So ours had lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup and heaps of avocado slices.
I queried Jorge, “Can you cook this well-done?” And apparently you can. You can even cook them rare, he told me. Apparently, I’ve heard, that some plant-based meats contain beet juice, to duplicate blood when the burgers are cooked. But I digress.
I chomped down for the first bite, and it tasted like a cheeseburger. Maybe not as hot, maybe not quite as juicy, but it tasted like a real cheeseburger. As with most burgers, the seasoning is the key, so some garlic aioli, along with the ketchup and mayonnaise, helped add a little je ne sais quoi to the affair.
Meanwhile, the patty is chewy, and filling, and the average unknowing person wouldn’t question a thing. It seriously passes for a cheeseburger.
Should you be so inclined, the Counter offers a wide range of buns, and toppings, from English muffins and brioches to the aforementioned avocado and bacon, for your burger. I’m sure there is everything in between, as well.
And just because I have been a pretty good patient since That Week in April, when Jorge offered a strawberry shake to finish off the burger with, I asked for “half of one.”
But order yourself a full one. Turns out it’s a berry delicious complement for plant-based cheeseburgers.
The Counter, 140 Shoppers Lane, Pasadena, CA (626)-440-1008.