Burgers the business card of choice at Brookside Grill

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal staff writer
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What's your favorite burger? I'm talking your all-time number one, the one you tell your friends about, the burger that is so oh-my-God good you find yourself indulging in it more than your heart should really handle, according to any good physician. Mike Havis hopes at least one of the 13 burgers listed on the menu at his restaurant, Brookside Grill, will spark a connection between patrons and their bellies that keeps them coming back to his Old Town Auburn eatery. If you really think about it, everybody knows where to get the best burger in town, Havis said. My idea was to have the best burger in Auburn ” the best burger around ” because I would use that as a source of advertising. Havis and his mother, Linda Martell, have owned the Brookside Grill for about four years. He worked there years ago as a server, keeping in touch with the owner over time and jumping when the previous owner opted to sell. Havis and his mother pretty much run the show, and Havis paused our interview a couple times to seat customers or serve plates. The Brookside Grill, at 111 Sacramento St., suite R, is set back at the end of the shops and eateries that occupy the Gold Rush Plaza. I've spied the patio while walking down Lincoln Way, but had never visited the restaurant prior to the Sous Chef assignment. My motto is that we're a little hard to find but well worth the search, Martell said. Brookside is open seven days a week and specializes in breakfast and lunch. The burgers, which range in price from $9.50 to $10.95, are a big part of the lunch menu, and while they might cost a little more than other restaurants, it's for a good reason. I'm not cutting corners. It's a little bit more, but it's a little different, Havis said. Havis was kind enough to walk me through the steps necessary to make both the California and Greek burgers, and was even kinder to share the finished product with myself and Ben Furtado, Journal photo editor, because really, what fun is it to write about food if you don't know how it tastes? The California Burger calls for a beef patty, two slices of jack cheese and two slices of bacon, romaine lettuce, tomato, sliced red onion and avocado, is drizzled with ranch dressing and stacked between two slices of parmesan-crusted sourdough bread. The Greek Burger incorporates the same half-pound patty, but this time with an onion bun, feta cheese, sliced red bell pepper, romaine, red onion, English cucumber and a dollop of tzatziki, a yogurt-based sauce with cucumber. It's like a fresh garden with a good steak, Havis said. Havis uses ground chuck and a secret blend of spices to make the patties, which are hand-pressed. We slapped a couple of these giant patties on the outdoor grill and talked while the meat sizzled and spit. You don't really ever want to press them ” you don't want the juices to go out ” and you only want to flip them once, Havis said before letting me flip the patties. We also heated the bread and the bun on the grill before heading into the kitchen to stack all the toppings. Toothpicks and a good grip are necessary in order to keep these monsters together. They're messy burgers, Havis said. You're going to need an extra napkin and a wet nap. We took our burgers outside to the patio, crossing a little creek in order to find a table. Brookside's patio is gorgeous and green ” kind of like a secret garden, but with burgers ” and quite pleasant. It seems like a nice place to escape, and maybe even take someone for a lunchtime date. I suggested that Brookside's burgers might not make for the best first-date meal, but Havis offered another point of view. Something like that's going to break the ice, he said. In between bites of the Greek Burger, which was both refreshing and sinfully gluttonous at the same time, I asked Havis about his food philosophy. I just want to get creative and think outside the box ” like our French fries, they taste just like a Lays barbecue potato chip, he said. I never want to refill my salt and pepper, because that means I'm not cooking right. I like my stuff to come out with good, bold, strong flavors. For the record, I didn't reach for the salt once. My only complaint about the Brookside Grill would be that I hadn't found it sooner.