Eat happy

The guys behind Blue Cow Kitchen tasted 30 burgers in Los Angeles before creating the signature burger for their restaurant, which opened downtown on Feb. 13.

The Blue Cow folks also run Mendocino Farms, one of my favorite places for lunch in Marina del Rey. Mendocino Farms is known for its interesting take on sandwiches and salads. They have a homemade peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwich with apple slices, which is a must-try. It’s one of Kenley’s favorites.

The burger at Blue Cow was among three of the city’s most anticipated in the past six months. (I’ve already written about FukuBurger and Short Order.)

So when Kenley and I returned from our “Eating Our Way Through Las Vegas” trip (yes, we had burgers there, too, which you can read about here), one of the first reservations I made was at Blue Cow, which had opened while we were in Sin City.

To be fair, Blue Cow is much more than just a burger place. In fact, there’s only one burger on the menu. The restaurant is a rustic yet stylish gastropub that serves as a testing kitchen for Mendocino Farms. In addition to sandwiches, the menu features “crunchy bites,” snacks, veggies, salads and a small selection of big plates. It also has a “hopefully intriguing beer list” and cocktails that are just as innovative as the sandwiches. You can even find homemade lemonade.

Kenley and I decided we wanted to try more than just the burger. I ordered it, but he opted for “The Cuban Marries a Madame” — which is a Cuban pork sandwich with a fried egg on top (a variation of what the French call a Croque Madame).

I’m not a big fan of Cuban sandwiches because I don’t like the canned pickled relish that is sometimes piled on top of cheaper versions. But when it comes down to it, both the Cuban and the Croque Madame are variations of ham and cheese, and what’s not to like about that? I’d normally prefer the French version, but Blue Cow’s marriage of the two was pretty good. Kenley said it was basically a dressed-up version of a classic, messy, open-faced sandwich. It was heavy, but he liked the texture and the seasoning.

The burger is eight ounces served with butter lettuce, tomato, spicy remoulade sauce and Point Reyes Toma cheese, which is similar to cheddar, on a buttermilk bun.

Kenley and I now have tried almost 20 burgers in L.A., including all the ones Mendocino Farms owner Mario Del Pero and chef Jason Travi ranked in their top five. (Read their interview with KCET here.)

And while those guys tasted the best burgers in town before creating their own, the Blue Cow burger is not a copy cat. You might be able to tell it was influenced by their favorites — including the burgers from Rustic Canyon and Lazy Ox (Kenley and I just tried this one ourselves. Post to come.)

But the Blue Cow burger stands on its own. In fact, I think the beef patty itself might be the best in town. The patty is full of peppery, savory flavor and doesn’t depend on the sauce or other toppings. The Blue Cow burger is $14, which is less than Comme Ca and Rustic Canyon ($16 to $18), but more than Father’s Office ($12). I’ll be posting our top burger rankings on Hamburger Day in May.

Kenley and I also ordered the baked-then-fried potatoes, a name that somehow makes you think they are better for you than true french fries. The fries come with homemade horseradish ketchup.

For dessert? An ice cream sandwich, of course. This one featured coconut marshmallow ice cream between two chocolate brownie cookies, with some candied popcorn as garnish. Kinda like a brownie sundae in a sandwich.

Blue Cow has a great vibe. It felt cozy on this chilly late winter evening, but there’s also a large patio for warmer days. A large sign on the back wall says, “Eat happy,” and other chalkboard quotes — such as “The belly rules the mind” — decorate the restaurant. It’s the type of place you want in your neighborhood so you can return often.

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